Defensive woes overshadow offensive output


in the first half of the UK vs WKU home game on Saturday, September 11, 2010. Photo by Brandon Goodwin

The UK offense might be humming two games into the season, but for the second straight week, defensive breakdowns displeased UK head coach Joker Phillips following his team’s 63-28 romp over in-state foe Western Kentucky.

The UK defense has surrendered 601 offensive yards to two non-Southeastern Conference opponents this season; UK’s run defense, which has given up 377 of those 601 yards including several long runs, has been particularly suspect.

“We have to wrap up and we’ve got to gang tackle also,” Phillips said. “Today’s backs are squatty, thick legged. It’s hard to get your arms around them sometimes. We’ve got to gang tackle once we get them wrapped up. That’s not happening either.”

The Cats’ inexperienced front seven have been unable to slow these squatty backs. On Saturday, WKU’s 5-foot-7, 200-pound tailback Bobby Rainey ran through that line for a game-high 184 yards versus the Cats.

A week prior, Louisville’s Bilal Powell notched a game-high 153 rushing yards.

UK’s next game against the Akron Zips, from the Mid-American Conference, will be the final tune-up for the UK defense before facing No. 10 Florida in Gainesville on Sept. 25.

Although the Zips (0-2) come to Lexington on the heels of a 38-37 overtime loss to Gardner-Webb of the Football Championship Subdivision, their two tailbacks, seniors Nate Burney and Alex Allen, each rushed for more than 100 yards in that game.

“I think their offensive line is their strength, both in the running game and in the passing game,” said Phillips, who along with UK defensive line coach David Turner worked with Akron’s offensive line coach, Mitch Browning, at Minnesota.

The UK offense has faith in their defensive counterparts to get up to speed before the conference games start.

“We’re lacking experience (on defense) right now,” sophomore wide receiver La’Rod King said. “But those guys play hard, they go 110 percent and lay the wood down, but we had a couple missed assignments and gave up a couple of big plays. Please believe this week they’ll fix all that.”

Phillips noted that he did think the defense improved from week 1 to week 2, but felt like the immaturity was the reason behind the defense letting up in the second half against the Hilltoppers.

The defense’s goal this week is still clear, however.

“Definitely, stopping the run,” Phillips said. “On kicks, too, I consider that stopping the run. Once the guy has the ball in his hand, it’s no longer a kick, it’s a running play. We have to stop that.”

Backup quarterback position still unsettled

Mike Hartline’s backups, sophomore Morgan Newton and freshman Ryan Mossakowski, both got the chance to play and led scoring drives against WKU after Hartline exited the game late in the third quarter, but Phillips said he still hasn’t designated either backup as the No. 2 quarterback.

Mossakowski redshirted last season, yet Phillips said that he hadn’t considered redshirting Newton because he’s “really not into redshirting guys that can help you, and (Newton) can help us win a game.”

Injury report

Cornerback Martavius Neloms (groin) and safety Dakotah Tyler (ankle) are expected to resume practicing this week. Tailback Derrick Locke (elbow), cornerback Randall Burden, linebacker Danny Trevathan (hip) and tailback Donald Russell (ankle) are probable for the game against Akron.

Tight end Nick Melillo and safety Taiedo Smith are listed as questionable again for this week.