Breaking Bad: 3 areas to improve in week 10


CoShik WIlliams dives across the goal line in the first half of UK vs Charleston Southern on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. Photo by Britney McIntosh

By Cody Porter | Kernel columnist

Coming off yet another loss last week, this time to Mississippi State, the Cats actually improved in some areas that had recently plagued them.

The passing game managed to complete passes to eight different receivers. Senior wide receiver Matt Roark alone had 13 catches for 116 yards, a career high.

After junior quarterback Morgan Newton was hurt early in the game, freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith stepped up to the challenge and was efficient in leading the Cats down the field on multiple drives. He had struggled earlier this season in the game against South Carolina and Louisiana State, but looked like a completely different player, as he went 26 for 33 and 174 yards.

His ability to find his receivers and make a couple of tough throws, while being pressured, were qualities that stood out.

For the offense, it was the second-best performance of the season, behind the game against Jacksonville State.

Still, some areas need improving.

1. Offensive Play Calling

With the blackout having the fans and players as excited as they may have been all season, UK head coach Joker Phillips decided to take a chance on a fourth-down punt in the first quarter. The ball was snapped and Ryan Tydlacka sprinted toward the right side of the field and up the sideline, picking up the first down in the process. It seemed that weeks of frustration by the fan base was going to change with that play. It was one of the first big risks that Phillips has taken during the season.

But the ensuing drive failed to deliver a touchdown and was a energy killer. Two other decisions, when he elected not to go for a first down on a fourth-and-six in the third quarter, and when he passed up going for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter would also prove to be head scratchers. These type of choices are some of the main reasons UK has failed to take advantage of situations during games that could have improved their record. When your record is lacking wins, taking some risks is what can at least get the fans back on your side, win or lose.

2. Defensive Pass Coverage

Following practice on Monday, junior linebacker Ridge Wilson said the defense was unprepared for the passing game that was thrown at them by the Bulldogs.

This happened because Rick Minter’s defense focused on the successful Mississippi State running game led by Vick Ballard, who still managed 18 carries for 90 yards on Saturday. The combination of Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell and Chris Relf completed 15 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Those totals amount to 75 more yards on 14 fewer completions than that of the Cats.

The fact is, it wasn’t just Saturday night that the passing coverage has struggled. Fortunately for the Cats, they could get a break against upcoming opponent Ole Miss. The Rebels have struggled to find consistency in their passing game over the past few weeks, making it potentially UK’s best opportunity before season’s end to solve its problems in pass coverage.

3. Running Game

The Cats’ running game hasn’t been bad. They have used an assortment of ways to move the ball on the ground and it has been their most viable option on offense.

However, I don’t know why we aren’t seeing junior running back CoShik Williams become the featured back considering his recent success. He has shown that he should be the main threat on offense. Against a difficult Mississippi State defense, Williams was well on his way to rushing for the century mark when, all of a sudden, Jonathan George began getting the hand-offs for the remainder of the game. Where Williams went, I haven’t a clue, but if they choose to mix it up with a different back, that would be fine.

I expect that once Newton returns, his duties will primarily be to run out of the shotgun formation. That could make the defense susceptible to the pass, which is the likely solution to the offensive problems, in addition to the newfound potential found in Smith.