COLUMN: UK playcalling confusing, inconsistent



By Cody Porter | Kernel columnist

The planned blackout by UK was a success, with a majority of the fans playing along with the “gimmick.” The uniforms worn by the players made them look much more athletic and sleek than any Cats squad seen in quite some time, adding to the expectations Saturday night.

More importantly, the blackout was successful in the sense that the Cats themselves were blacked out by the Mississippi State Bulldogs 28-16, which made the entire gimmick come full circle.

After starting the game with so much energy and excitement, the Cats laid an egg.

Rick Minter’s defense proved to be overmatched despite a great performance by senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, with his 17 total tackles and one-handed interception.

Injuries were abundant early and often. They most notable occurred to junior quarterback Morgan Newton and junior wide receiver La’Rod King.

Even with their injuries, the Cats found some hope in freshman quarterback Max Smith and senior wide receiver Matt Roark, whose play this season has been a vanishing act.

Smith finished the game 26-for-33 for 174 yards. Many of his completions came on the signature UK bubble screen. Of his 174 yards, Smith connected with Roark on 13 of those passes for 116 yards.

Though for the Cats, it wasn’t the nagging injuries throughout the game that could be viewed as the problem. Their most problematic area lied in that of the inconsistent play calling.

Following what appeared to be the so often occurring three-and-out, UK head coach Joker Phillips decided to trick the Bulldogs’ special teams and treat the fans with some unpredictability. Upon receiving the snap, senior punter Ryan Tydlacka launched from his punt formation and sprinted up the sideline for a UK first down that eventually led to a field goal.

It was with that field goal that the life in the stadium was sucked out and the Bulldogs took control, as they jumped out to a 14-3 lead by the end of the first quarter.

More field goals ensued, but it was with the Cats trailing 21-6 in the third quarter that my questioning and the boos arose for Phillips’ choices.

Rather than trying to go for a touchdown, the play called was yet another field goal.

“It was still early in the second half is the reason why we decided to kick the field goal,” said Phillips. “We thought we’d have more opportunities.”

Phillips went on to add that, “The thing that happened to us is every time we scored, they would come back down and score touchdowns. We’d kick a field goal, get three. Got us to 7-3. They would come right back and get it 14-3. We would get another field goal, six. They would come right down the field and make it 21-6. The field goal, like I say, it was early in the second half, early enough in the second half we thought, let’s get away from here with some points.”

So if they were continuously answering, why not go for the touchdown?

For so many times during not only this season, but past seasons, dating back to when Rich Brooks was the head coach, UK’s play calling has been inconsistent, yet the example of not answering with a “risky” touchdown leaves everyone pondering.

During postgame interviews, junior center Matt Smith went with the expected response.

“You know, you always want to get the touchdown, but it was coach’s decision,” Smith said. “We got the field goal, but just didn’t capitalize later in the game when we had the fourth down chance.”

The questioning of game management wasn’t over quite yet when, at the start of the fourth quarter with the Bulldogs lead relatively in hand at 28-9, the Cats finally decided to take the “big risk.” That choice led to a first down on an 11-yardcompletion from freshman quarterback Max Smith to sophomore wide receiver Brian Adams and a touchdown two plays later.

Although it capped the drive with a touchdown, why not attempt the two-point conversion?

If they had done so, they then would have trailed by 11, meaning, barring another touchdown by Mississippi State, that the Cats could have went for two yet again and making the game a barn-burner that could have potentially put junior kicker Craig McIntosh in the spotlight for a game-tying field goal.

When asked about the possibility of going for two, Phillips said, “No. We wanted to try to wait till we got in the fourth quarter to go for two.”

As confusing as his game management, Joker failed to realize that his team’s final touchdown came with 13:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Some could say that Phillips wasn’t comfortable in putting his freshman quarterback in such a situation.

To that I would say you are 3-4 on the season with an offense that has been abysmal for nearly all of those games. What do you have to lose? The game Saturday night against Mississippi State was a now-or-never situation with the opportunities to acquire momentum for a bowl push dwindling.

It seems that I am becoming repetitive in these thoughts as the season has carried on, but the offensive coaching staff isn’t doing anything to help spark a change in momentum because obviously, the “blackout” tonight wasn’t the key.