Vaught's Views: Cats showed definite improvement in win over Kent State
Aaron Boyd caught 11 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in the win over Kent State. (Victoria Graff / September 9, 2012)
Yet at least the Cats took some steps — even if they were baby steps and against Kent State — in Saturday’s 47-14 win that could leave even the most pessimistic UK fan with some reasons to even be a bit more optimistic than after the opening-game loss at Louisville.
Start with the offense and quarterback Maxwell Smith. Once again he threw the ball quickly and accurately to help the Cats score more point than it did in any game last year and amass 535 total yards — the first time UK has gone over 500 yards since the 2010 season. He threw for four touchdown and a career-high 354 yards by completing 30 of 39 passes and now has as many completions (65) in two games than starting quarterback Morgan Newton did before he was hurt midway of the season.
“He just continues to play well,” said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. “He is comfortable, sees the field, is very accurate. We felt like we were starting to get receivers that could do some things we want offensively.”
Kentucky only had one play over 20 yards in the loss at Louisville. It had four in the first half against Kent and kept pouring it on the second half when it got two more. The Cats got a 67-yard scoring run by Raymond Sanders — he had his first 100-yard rushing game with 115 yards — and a 38-yard touchdown jaunt by Jonathan George. On both plays, the runners broke a tackle and then had the speed to outrun defenders.
“That’s what we can do,” said Sanders. “We just all want to make plays and help the team win. That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter who makes a play, we just have to make the plays.”
Maybe the best play was the 56-yard scoring reception by future star Demarcus Sweat. He dropped a first-half pass from Smith that would gone for a first down, but he showed how special he can be when he took a high pass near the sideline, used a block by Morgan Newton to get going, broke a tackle and then raced to the end zone for his first score. Even better, he didn’t over celebrate. He gave a few cheerleaders and high five and headed to the sideline like he expected to be back in the end zone a lot more in his career.
“I was really pleased (with Sweat). We were wanting to go in the game and run the ball but some of runs call for quick screens out there. We flipped a screen out thinking maybe we would get five (yards). One thing (receivers) coach (Pat) Washington brough is to get the team four (yards),” Phillips said. “That turned into 56 yards. That’s the thing Sweat brings. And did you see who made the block. (Backup quarterback) Morgan Newton. We will continue to expand his role at that position. He’s too good an athlete to be on the sideline.”
And what about the emergence of senior Aaron Boyd, who had 11 catches for 100 yards — all career highs — and one score. He made two nifty catches that required terrific concentration and footwork to stay inbounds.
Defensively, UK looked less than stellar for the first 35 minutes, especially after giving up a 75-yard scoring drive to open the second half that let the Golden Flash cut the lead to 17-14. However, after that UK’s defense made plays — forced fumble, big hits, sacks, deflected passes. More importantly, the Wildcats started playing with emotion and actually looked like they might be having fun on defense — something that certainly didn’t happen when the Cats were shredded at Louisville. And UK¿did it by using a bevvy of young players on defense — a promising sign for the future.
“We are going to keep playing like this only better,” sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree, who had two tackles for loss and one sack, said. “We know what we can do and how to make plays. We started getting excited and quit playing so tense. We weren’t perfect, but we were better, a lot better.”
Bottom line remains that UK is going to have to be a team this year that wins with offense, even though the defense will be better than most teams in the Hal Mumme era when the Cats always had to win with offense because the Cats did still allow 409 yards to an offense that was as bad as the impotent UK offense last season.
“We did lot better getting lined up. Kent had 80 plays. We can’t allow people to have 80 plays. Part of it is we scored pretty quick, but they have got to get themselves off the field,” Phillips said. “But playing the young guys we did on defense is only going to help us down the road. It forces us to be a little more simple by saying these guys are going to play. It forces us to be a little more simple in terms of adjustments and then the other thing is where we are in our depth.
“I don’t want us to be three weeks from now and those guys getting their first snap because someone has gone down (with an injury). It’s time for them to play, get snaps and get confidence as we go instead of putting them in when have to. Playing them is the right thing to do and we will continue to play them.”
He should because if the Kentucky offense can continue to produce playmakers like it has, the Cats could have a chance to become more competitive than originally expected if the defense can improve.
“We can improve,” Dupree said. “We weren’t perfect this game. We did a lot wrong. But at least we got better and that’s what we have to keep doing.”