Five ways UK should improve in week 2

By Cody Porter

It has often been said that the biggest difference in a team can be seen from week one to week two.

Coming off a 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky, many at first glance would think all is well in the Commonwealth, but they would be wrong.

Despite claiming the W, the Cats played some ugly football on the offensive side of the ball.

If the Cats’ performance against the Hilltoppers was any indication, they have several areas to improve upon for their week two match-up before heading into a battle week three with in-state rival Louisville.

Based on what I saw in Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday night, here are my top five areas of improvement for the Cats.

1. Offensive line

Heading into this season it was believed that the Cats’ offensive line would be the one area that would raise no concerns from the coaching staff. It was supposed to be one of the best groups of linemen that UK has ever had, meaning that the passing and running games would have time to grow and learn before heading into the difficult part of the schedule. Needless to say, the Cats were manhandled in the trenches, and in turn, it was the main reason for the struggles throughout the offense on the night. Much of junior quarterback Morgan Newton’s struggles came from the problems on the line. Newton threw three interceptions and was sacked three times. In addition to the passing struggles, the running game couldn’t aid Newton because the holes made available were narrow.

2. Wide receivers

During Monday’s weekly press conference, head coach Joker Phillips summed up the wide receivers’ struggles against the Hilltoppers. “If you’re going to be a pass catcher, you better catch the damn ball,” he said. Of Newton’s 18 attempted passes, only seven of them were caught. A few opportunities for deep balls that would have led to significant gains presented themselves, but the receivers failed to haul in the catch despite Newton putting the ball right into their hands. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that junior wide receiver La’Rod King pulled in a 31-yard touchdown pass, the longest completion for Newton on the night. After the anticipation surrounding Newton had built during the offseason, the junior failed to have his breakout performance against a subpar WKU squad because of many dropped passes.

3. Special teams

“(They’re) supposed to be SEC,” said WKU sohpomore linebacker Andrew Jackson during coverage of Thursday night’s game. When fans think SEC, they think of power and speed. Those same factors weren’t apparent in Thursday night’s game, at least on special teams. The Cats’ biggest gain on a kick or punt return was a 19-yard return by senior safety Winston Guy. The Cats coverage on punt returns didn’t allow senior defensive back Randall Burden to make any Randall Cobb- like plays because as soon as he caught the ball, rather than calling for a fair catch, he was presented with a fierce hit.

4. Pass coverage

When looking at the stats on paper, the Cats’ four interceptions make it seem as if the pass coverage was exceptional, and it was. The problem when breaking down the game film was the deep coverage by the corners, who were often beat, and if it wasn’t for WKU overthrowing the ball or dropping passes numerous times, it may be UK who would have left with a loss. As the season progresses, the Cats will meet more accurate quarterbacks who will be able to take advantage of their receivers’ ability to catch or distance themselves from the defender. The Cats will need to make sure that they can prevent the big play before it hurts them.

5. Composure

If fans couldn’t see that the team was rattled early on, it surely became apparent when Newton’s offense was pushed deep into the end zone after he tripped while taking a snap from center. It could have just been first game jitters, which to an extent is understandable, but on Saturday when the Cats are in front of 70,000 of their own fans, the answers should be made clear as to whether or not it was a one-game problem. If the team is calm and comfortable in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, their ability to play up to preseason expectations should be met.