Breaking Bad: Running, passing game both need work



By Cody Porter | @KernelPorter

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The days of UK’s current pro-style offense and 3-4 defensive scheme are coming to an end.

A 40-0 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores was the nail in the coffin on what has been head coach Joker Phillips’ career as a Cat.

In what has been a season marred by screen passes, aimless runs, sacks, broken tackles and failed pass breakups, Phillips’ current group has two more chances to send the coach out on a good note.

While Samford should qualify as a win for the struggling Cats, it isn’t a pushover. Sitting 7-3, the Bulldogs have yet to play a quality FBS opponent but know how to win.

Ask No. 6 Florida about playing such a team. Until a late blocked punt returned for a touchdown, the Gators were set to be doomed by Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday at the Swamp.

With that said, if the Cats expect to knock off the Bulldogs, providing Phillips at least a second win in his final season, their stale offense must improve significantly.

1. Running game

It’s become evident that for the Cats to find success this season, it must come from contributors in the backfield. However, that wasn’t to be during UK’s previous loss.

At that time, sophomore running back Jonathan George, junior running back Raymond Sanders and freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow combined for 99 yards rushing on 28 carries.

Of those three, George — by far UK’s most successful rusher this season — mustered only 44 yards on 14 carries, the most of any Cat.

Samford’s largest loss of the season, at the hands of Georgia Southern, was attributed largely to the way its opponent ran the ball.

There, Georgia Southern’s quarterback and fullback rushed for a combined 295 yards and four touchdowns.

2. Run defense

Similar to how Georgia Southern treated the Samford defensive line, Vanderbilt ran at will on UK. Four rushers had a combined 43 carries for 216 yards. It wasn’t the first time the Cats have been treated to this type of performance, but needless to say, the Commodores wouldn’t have been expected to do so.

Given its increased performance in recent weeks, the UK defensive line went from a group that wasn’t a concern, to one that will have to be on top of things to slow the Bulldogs’ junior running back Fabian Truss. Truss has rushed for 1,026 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.

3. Passing game

As if the passing game hadn’t been present, the Cats’ inability to find a balance with the running game did little to help create opportunities through the air against the Commodores.

Whitlow continued to have to try to make things happen, often resulting in short passes underneath the opposition’s defense.

Once the reigns were handed over to fellow freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, it appeared the Cats’ play callers were insistent in making the absent passing game something it couldn’t be.

Towles’ attempts quickly skyrocketed late in the game, as he finished with 23, but only eight resulted in completions.

Samford will be a stepping stone to improving the two young passers, but a predominant use of the running game will be what is needed to make that happen.