COLUMN: Nonconference play proves no real test for UK

Despite the fact I upset the majority of my readers (all nine of them) in my last column, I still work here. I can’t knock out my aspiration to be the most-hated columnist in Kernel history in just two weeks.

Let’s move forward.

I realize a coach rarely sees a “flawless” game from his football team, but the latter three-fourths of Saturday’s game had to come pretty close for UK head coach Joker Phillips. It is fair to say the Blue and White faithful were taken aback after one quarter of lackadaisical play (frankly, so was I), but all the Cats needed was time.

“Offensively, we had been talking about finishing and playing fast in the second half,” Phillips said. “But we neglected to start fast, like we had been doing. It is like trying to patch up holes in a dam — you get one part of your game fixed and another hole appears somewhere else.”

UK’s defense certainly didn’t play nicely (pardon the pun) either. The players piled up enough sacked lunches to feed a small village. The offense was also terrific, racking up 544 total yards, and looking remarkable while doing so. A stunning 10 different receivers hauled in at least one pass in the game.

Second-, third- and even fourth-string athletes saw playing time all around. Backup running backs Donald Russell, Raymond Sanders and CoShik Williams combined for major yards and two touchdowns on the day. Heck, the backup place kicker even got into the game.

So, fans can be happy with how UK played Saturday — but the Cats won the game before the battle had even begun. In fact, that was the case for the third consecutive game for the Cats.

These early statistics really do not mean much.

UK has now won 18 consecutive nonconference games in the regular season, but is looming around the .500 mark in the Southeastern Conference in recent years.

The illegitimacy of early, nonconference games is hard to discount. Just look at the numbers. Shoot, the UK team notes someone handed me after the game is littered with “first time” and “never before.” I honestly do not see how it prepares the team for, say, Florida. Phillips and the team know better than anyone else playing how they did early against Akron will lead to a monstrous deficit to an opponent like Florida.

Senior tailback Derrick Locke has notched 372 yards through the first three games, putting him on pace for 1,488 this season, a number which seems enormous, considering he only reached his 2,000th career yard on a scamper against Akron. Even the confident (bordering on cocky) Locke shares my sentiment, if not feels it stronger.

“Nothing,” Locke said when asked what the milestone meant to him. “That number should have been here a long time ago. It’s good, but oh well. Some backs reach close to that number in one season, so I can’t be proud of that.”

The Cats have not committed a turnover yet, though, which is something to hang a hat on.

But I venture to say UK and Phillips generally learned little from the opening quarter of the season because the opponents they saw were no better or more diverse than the players they face in their intrasquad practices each week.

The athletes cannot be blamed for taking advantage of the mediocre adversaries either — they had nothing to do with the scheduling.

The program needs to do a better job at inking opponents who will legitimately prepare the team for the brutal play it faces in the Southeastern Conference. Until then, UK’s record (and inconsistent stats) will reflect these types of schedules.