QBs still even after annual scrimmage

All spring long, the search for UK’s next starting quarterback has been a battle between junior-to-be Curtis Pulley and sophomore-to-be Mike Hartline with no clear winner in sight.

That hasn’t changed as both Pulley and Hartline battled each other to a virtual tie in Saturday’s Blue/White Spring Game at Commonwealth Stadium. With matching stats and similar scoring drives, the future of UK’s quarterback situation is no clearer today than it was when spring practice started nearly four weeks ago.

“It’s a really competitive battle,” head coach Rich Brooks said. “I think even without looking at the tape, no one has a clear edge. The good news is, I think they both did some really good things, and I feel confident that our offense is not going to fall off the face of the earth with either one of them at quarterback.”

Pulley’s White squad ended up winning the Spring Game in thrilling fashion, as Pulley rattled off a 17-yard draw play to pull ahead 23-22 in the final minutes. Hartline’s Blue squad had a chance to answer but missed a field goal with eight seconds left.

Brooks was pleased with both quarterbacks’ ability to scramble, one of former quarterback Andre Woodson’s weaknesses.

“The one thing that I do feel will happen with either or both of these quarterbacks is that we won’t have as many sacks as we’ve had in the past two years,” Brooks said.

But heading into summer and fall camp, there is still plenty of room for improvement for both quarterbacks, Brooks said. Both players completed less than 50 percent of their pass attempts, with Pulley going 12-for-26 and Hartline completing 11-of-28.

“(We) need to get more efficiency in our passing game,” Brooks said. “Some of those were called runs, and others were scrambles. We’ll just have to see how all that plays out.”

And with no starter named after spring practice, the competition will continue into fall camp just as it did two years ago with Woodson and Pulley. Even though Brooks said he will eventually name a starter, he didn’t shoot down the idea of playing both quarterbacks, much like Louisiana State and Florida have done for the last two seasons.

“Whether we play both of them or not, we will name a starter in the fall,” Brooks said. “Both are playing at a level that we can win with.”

All the eyes may have been on the quarterbacks this spring, but two other offensive players stole the show for their respective squads.

Senior-to-be wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. — a player Brooks called a “missing link” this spring — exploded for 10 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns for the White squad. Lyons, the most experienced returning receiver, said he expects to be the next great wide receiver to come through UK.

“That’s the goal,” Lyons said. “I came here to get my name here on the wall with my dad, and I’m going to get it done and see it through.”

For the Blue squad, running back Alfonso Smith caught everyone’s attention. The junior-to-be ran 20 times for 170 yards — an 8.5-yard rushing average — but couldn’t find the end zone. Smith helped the Blue squad march down the field on both opening drives of each half, which ended in field goals.

Smith, who at times has been a forgotten link in the deep tailback depth chart, said he came out to prove he could still run the ball.

“I feel like just because of my injuries, a lot of people think I might have lost it or something. So I felt like I had to come out today and prove myself,” Smith said. “Really, I just got to keep doing that every time I get a chance. I have to carry that into the fall.”

Saturday’s game marked the end of spring practice for the Cats. The UK players will have strength and conditioning workouts in June and July before returning to the practice field in August.

“Overall, (I’m) pleased with where we are with the conclusion of spring practice,” Brooks said. “Obviously there are some areas we need to get better at. To be able to split your squad in half and have a game and have it be a reasonable game is very, very pleasing. It’s a testament to where this program has come.”