Cobb helps Cats top ‘Toppers 63-28 in home opener

UK’s Randall Cobb managed a football hat trick in the Cats’ home opener on Saturday.

Cobb, a junior wide receiver, caught a pass for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown and threw for a touchdown helping UK (2-0) to a 63-28 win over Western Kentucky (0-2), which extended its losing streak to 22 games, currently the longest in the nation.

“There’s a lot of things that Randall Cobb does for this football team,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “And he does a lot of things that you guys don’t see also, things in the locker room that mean the most to this football team … he’s the guy that gets up. He’s a different person on gameday.”

The trio of touchdowns by Cobb was just one part of UK’s dominant offensive performance, which included 206 rushing yards and 276 passing yards against its in-state rival.

“We feel like we can throw the ball down the field as well as we’ve been running the ball the past couple of years,” said Phillips, who became the first UK head coach to start 2-0 in his debut season since Paul “Bear” Bryant went 3-0 in 1946 at the helm of UK. “Now, we’ve got a chance to just read the numbers. If the numbers say throw it, we throw it, and if the numbers say run it, we can just run it because of the way we’re throwing the ball right now.”

In addition to Cobb’s do-it-all performance, senior quarterback Mike Hartline came out with his second straight consistent game. He completed 80 percent of his passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns.

“That’s the confidence (Hartline) has in (his receivers) to make those plays, throw the ball down the field and trust that we can go up and make a play for him,” Cobb said of Hartline, whose three touchdown passes were to three different receivers (Cobb, senior Chris Matthews and sophomore La’Rod King).

Hartline returned the praise to Cobb, who he said made his job easier.

“When you have a guy that versatile and he can make plays like that, you just don’t know what he’s going to do,” Hartline said.

Despite the impressive offensive numbers, the Cats got off to a rocky start with WKU scoring a touchdown on its first drive of the game, a 59-yard run down the sideline by junior tailback Bobby Rainey, who finished with a game-high 187 yards. Following the opening touchdown, UK responded with 35 unanswered points.

A WKU kickoff-return for a touchdown for 90 yards late in the first half was followed by a UK touchdown with 11 seconds left in the second quarter to push the Cats’ lead to 42-14.

Even with the game seemingly well in hand at halftime, Phillips said his team did a much better job of finishing strong. Compared to last week’s game against Louisville, Phillips also said he was pleased ­­his team stayed out of penalty trouble — UK had two for six yards this week — but was unhappier with the big plays his defense gave up once again this week.

“On defense, two 80-yard drives in the second half can’t happen … especially if you want to be a great defense,” Phillips said.

In the second half, UK gave a lot of its backups, including quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, a chance to see the field. Notably, third-string freshman tailback Raymond Sanders carried the ball seven times for 32 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns, including the first of his career.

“I joked around with Sanders all week that he wasn’t going to get in the end zone, but he came out and popped in two tonight,” Cobb said.

And what Cobb says, joking or not, makes a difference to his teammates.

“Cobb doesn’t say much during the week,” Phillips said. “But on gameday, he’s the guy that’s vocal in the locker room, getting the guys inspired to play.”

Game notes

UK and WKU will play again next season at LP Field in Nashville…The Cats have won 15 straight games against non-conference opponents at home…It was the second meeting between the two schools: UK is 2-0 against the Hilltoppers…UK’s 63 points were the most points scored in regulation since scoring 77 points vs. UTEP in 2002…Tailbacks Derrick Locke (forearm) and Donald Russell (ankle), and cornerback Randall Burden (lower back) picked up injuries in the game…Sophomore cornerback Martavius Neloms (groin) missed the game because of injury.