Column: Slow stretch gives Cats a chance to improve

Excuse me while I yawn.

Looking at UK’s next three games can have that effect on a person. The matchups that loom for UK’s football team: the mighty Spartans of Norfolk State on Saturday, Middle Tennessee on Sept. 13, followed by UK’s little brother, Western Kentucky, on Sept. 27.

Not what you’d call must-see games. The only thing I see coming are blowouts, but I digress.

If the Cats can look past the names on the front of the jerseys of the next three foes, they might just realize that these next three games are just as important as the midseason stretch against Florida, Mississippi State and Georgia.

Sure, UK is probably going to cruise in all three. But the most important detail, the thing the Cats need to focus on during this early-season stretch is that it provides a golden opportunity to get better.

And let’s make one thing clear: they need to get better.

As great of a defensive performance UK put together Sunday, there are plenty of improvements that need to be made and none more so than on offense.

“I said (before the season) that I thought that we had a really good football team, and I based that on the players that we have; we’ve got good players,” UK head coach Rich Brooks said after UK dismantled Louisville 27-2 Sunday. “But we’re still a long ways from being a really good football team because we’ve got to get some sync in our offense and get that going.”

The Cats’ 210 yards of total offense Sunday might indicate they need more than a little sync.

Regardless of how young and new the Cats’ skill players are, that was not an offense worth watching Sunday. The only reason we haven’t heard much about it is because the U of L offense was that much worse.

This isn’t to point the blame at quarterback Mike Hartline. He, as Brooks said after the game, managed the game well and didn’t make any costly mistakes. But he also didn’t make any great plays either.

Hartline only completed two passes of more than 15 yards, and both of those were short tosses that UK’s receivers turned up field for extra yardage.

But improvement falls on just about everybody around Hartline. That includes Lyons, who after two early catches and a key punt return, all but disappeared from the game. That includes Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke, UK’s supposed strengths on offense, who totaled just 52 rushing yards combined. That includes Brooks and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, both who need to open up the offense a little more.

Brooks and Phillips, understandably, played it close to the vest since Hartline was making his first collegiate start, but why not use these next couple of games to see what the kid can do? Open up the playbook, coaches.

That, in turn, will open up the run game, and maybe the entire offense.

Even if they don’t stack up 400-plus yards this week like we’ve been conditioned to see here in Lexington, the focus has to be improving.

“I wouldn’t expect it to go from night to day, but I hope twilight will arise in our offense,” Brooks said. “Any week that you don’t get better, somebody is gaining ground on you.”

Like say, Alabama? Before the Crimson Tide, UK’s next real challenge, play the Cats on Oct. 4, they’ll actually square off against some pretty tough competition.

UK, on the other hand, has three snoozers, but that can’t derail the improvement. Because if, and I mean a big if, the Cats improve and play as stout of a defense as they did Sunday, we could be talking a 5-0 team on Oct. 5.

That’d be something worth waking up for.