Hartline limits mistakes, outplays rival in opener

LOUISVILLE — U of L quarterback Hunter Cantwell was supposed to be the better quarterback when the final buzzer sounded Sunday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

He was more experienced than UK quarterback Mike Hartline, and most experts thought Cantwell would finish with the better numbers.

But at the end of the day, it was Hartline who looked like the veteran. The sophomore quarterback put together an efficient 16-of-31, 147-yard performance without a single turnover.

“I thought Hartline did a great job of managing the offense and not making the critical errors,” head coach Rich Brooks said.

Hartline’s opposition didn’t fair as well. Cantwell threw three picks in the second half alone and finished 20-of-43 for 152 yards.

“I thought I did well, playing my game and not being rattled,” Hartline said.

But the offense didn’t play well overall. UK’s receivers dropped a lot of passes, including touchdowns and first down-receptions, and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips noted that a lot of routes were not run correctly.

If there is one complaint against Hartline during UK’s 27-2 win, it’s a play he made in his own end zone in the second half that resulted in a safety. As he was avoiding a Lousiville defender, Hartline launched the ball out of bounds, well away from any UK receiver, and was flagged for intentional grounding, an automatic safety when committed in a team’s own end zone.

But according to Hartline, the safety was coming one way or another.

“I was going to get sacked, so I threw the ball,” Hartline said. “You can either get sacked or make the ref decide whether or not to throw the flag.”

In the end, UK still won despite an anemic offense.

“We won the game so that’s pleasing,” senior wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. said. “But we have a lot to work on offensively.”

Run game stumbles

Going into Sunday’s showdown with archrival Louisville, the Cats expected to do two things: play solid defense and run the ball well.

Only one of those things was accomplished.

“We’re going to get tuned up on our assignments,” Phillips said. “Some of those runs and passes were close, but we missed assignments.”

In a game where the better rushing team historically wins, neither UK nor Louisville established a solid running game. UK’s main attack of senior Tony Dixon and sophomore Derrick Locke only gained 52 yard combined, numbers that are well below expectations for the Cats.

“I expect to get better in the run game,” Phillips said. “There’s always going to be an extra guy in the box, so our guys have to learn to make them miss.”

Brooks gave a lot of the credit for UK’s disappointing rushing numbers to Louisville’s defensive line, who constantly stuffed the Cats at the line of scrimmage.

“Louisville’s front four was very physical,” Brooks said. “We didn’t run the ball like we have to.”