Breaking Bad: Passing, coaching need work

By Cody Porter

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It’s been a while since UK has had a loss come down to such an exciting and strange conclusion.

Many fans saw the Cats, who struggled in many aspects, get the wool pulled over their eyes on Western Kentucky’s final play.

“I saw a bubble screen throw back, we’re in man-to-man coverage, only guy you don’t have a man accounted for is the

quarterback,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said.

Although the defense did allow the touchdown, let’s allow the entire team to share the spoils of that trickery.

Now the Cats lie in the sights of the Florida Gators.

Two weeks ago this may have resulted in a relatively close game. But, that’s likely no longer the case.

Florida’s 94-3 first quarter advantage spanning the last four seasons will likely be stretched, much like the Gators’ winning streak.

From last week’s game, here are the areas UK need to improve for a better than expected Florida squad:

1. Passing game

With his first two games in mind, I wouldn’t have expected WKU to give sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith the problems he had in executing the pass.

Fortunately for him, the Toppers didn’t manage to get to him in the same fashion as they did Alabama the week before, where they compiled six sacks.

Three of his four interceptions behind him, Smith finally began to look like what we had seen in past weeks — finding receivers on short to mid passes, while placing the ball firmly on the numbers.

“The thing that Max has to do is make sure he understands where he’s supposed to be,” Phillips said. “Then when he moves out of the pocket, he’s got to reset his feet and throw strikes, which is what he does when he’s lined up the right way.”

With senior running back CoShik Williams banged up and junior Raymond Sanders now third on the depth chart, Smith again will be heavily relied on against the Gators.

After facing ranked teams in Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Gators’ defense has allowed only two touchdowns and nabbed three interceptions.

2. Defense

During his Monday press conference, Phillips noted Florida is “hanging their hats on the run,” something the Cats haven’t been successful in stopping, or even slowing.

“They’ve got a big, experienced offensive line, they’re putting it in their hands, and the tailback who has been around for a long time, he’s playing it smart, running the football,” he said.

The tailback Phillips spoke of is senior Mike Gillislee, whose rushing-yard average ranks No. 20 in the FBS and first in the SEC.

“We have to do a better job of stopping the run, so it should be a big challenge for us,” Phillips said.

Through three games, UK ranks No. 92 in rush defense.

It doesn’t seem as if enough work has been done entering its biggest task yet to slow down a powerful and dynamic Florida running game, which features an assortment of rushers aside from Gillislee.

Remember when running back Trey Burton scored six touchdowns two years ago? Well, he’s still there.

3. Coaching

A common denominator in UK’s two losses is its coaching, notably the defense, which has been brought to the forefront upon last week’s speculation of a confrontation between Phillips and defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

Alignment issues and the use of players in certain roles led to UK’s talented inexperience to take to the field.

It was needed, but it’s like throwing a bone to a pack of wolves, or with the approaching game — raw chicken to gators.

They will improve through the adversity, but it’s also going to make UK vulnerable for this season, which Phillips may not have to give.

Saturday’s loss to the Toppers also had a few more opportunities for scoring that left me scratching my head as to why a kicking game wasn’t established.

Prior to the half, Phillips allowed senior kicker Craig McIntosh to drill a 47-yard field goal, his only of the game.

A few other opportunities presented themselves for McIntosh to shrink the lead held by WKU. For whatever reason, Phillips, or offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, elected to go for it in areas where the veteran kicker had plenty of leg to aid the Cats.