COLUMN: UK triumphs, Hartline surpasses expectations

They came. They clawed. They conquered.

Senior Mike Hartline was a busy man Saturday. Both in making me eat my words and in proving to everyone, including himself, he is the right person for the starting quarterback job at UK.

He sure showed it.

Following a brief moment of inflatable cardinal disaster (which I’m convinced nobody else is Papa John’s Stadium noticed), UK took the field and went to work. It came out fighting and, frankly, impressing.

The Governor’s Cup was all but begging to be awarded to the Cats after the stunning first-quarter display they put on. But it was truly a tale of two halves for the commonwealth’s leading intrastate rivalry.

In the end, UK put on a show its fans can be happy with. Though a continuation of what viewers saw in the first quarter would have been more pleasing, a victory is just that.

Hartline was solid, delivering a notable performance under center. Don’t worry about the lack of touchdowns, because the team didn’t need them from him (Derrick Locke handled that). Fans should be awed by Hartline’s poise in the pocket and on the scramble. His play was reassuring, to say the least.

“He was the guy I praised the most with our football team,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “Mike’s taken a lot of criticism. You know what? He’s handled it like a man. He didn’t come out here with a sour look on his face. He had a bounce in his step.”

It was a bounce to be respected.

UK’s defense was also exciting. Danny Trevathan made a tackle or two (or eight in the first half), Mychal Bailey came up with a key interception and the Luke McDermott-Ricky Lumpkin duo sacked Louisville’s quarterback at a couple pivotal points. Other than allowing an 80-yard rush, it was another stirring performance on the Cats’ day.

The Blue and White wasn’t all extraordinary, though. Teams are not typically known to win many games while being penalized 11 times. The youthfulness of UK may also be one of its foremost weaknesses early in the season.

“We didn’t play consistently,” Phillips said. “We made way too many mistakes. We had way too many penalties and way too many dumb penalties at crucial times…take away 3 or 4 plays, they had nothing.”

Louisville certainly had something. Senior Adam Froman found some imperative lapses in the Cats’ defense, and the Cards did a good job of keeping themselves in the game. In its toughest non-conference game of the season, UK came away with a victory that could have gone either way. Take nothing away from UK’s success – it was earned.

But for the readers fretting over whether or not the Cats are the real deal, sleep easy. The glimpse of near perfection fans saw in the first quarter is a solid place for the team to build its foundation. With the quarterback discussion silenced and the biggest game for the fans under its belt, UK begins its season.