Vaught's Views: Phillips says Cats better than they showed against Louisville, but play Sunday doesn't support that claim
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips says he knows "we are better than that" after watching Louisville dismantle his team 32-14 Sunday. (Clay Jackson / September 4, 2012)
Kentucky’s defense was mainly non-existent as host Louisville went over, around and through the Wildcats during a 32-14 season-opening victory here Sunday.
The Cardinals opened the scoring with a 99-yard scoring drive and also had touchdown drives of 85 and 93 yards — all in the first half. In the second half, Louisville added another 71-yard drive.
Remember, the supposed strength of this Kentucky football team was going to be its experienced defensive front. That front allowed 219 yards rushing on 46 attempts, an average of 4.8 yards per run. Two Cardinals — Jeremy Wright (105 yards, three touchdowns) and Senorise Perry (108 yards, one touchdown) — ran for over 100 yards.
“Give Louisville it’s due. They just beat our tails today,” said Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
“I think maybe we underestimated Louisville a little bit. We were all sure we were going to win,” freshman cornerback Fred Tiller said.
But not with a defense that couldn’t stop Louisville when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was running the offense. He threw for 232 yards and hit on 19 of 21 passes. That’s right. He was 19-for-21 and most throws he did not have to thread the ball into a tight space.
“We just didn’t do a very good job containing things,” Minter said.
Surprisingly, Kentucky’s offense was adequate. Actually, more than adequate. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith was 35-for-50 for 280 yards and two scores — a 1-yard strike to Tyler Robinson and 5-yard toss to LaRod King. Kentucky had 373 yards of total offense, not exactly a monster number but far better than what the Cats did most games last year.
Kentucky left points on the field, too. Running backs CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders both fumbled deep in Louisville territory. Kicker Craig McIntosh missed a field goal when coach Joker Phillips wouldn’t gamble on fourth down at the Louisville 24.
“Lot of missed opportunities by us,” Phillips said. “You can’t be 2-for-6 inside the (Louisville) 25. Missed field, turnovers. We are better than that offensively.”
Phillips repeated the “we are better than that” line several times referring to his defensive front, perimeter blocking, tackling and failed fake punt.
“Our defense can’t have four drives over 76 yards (actually 71). That’s hard (for a team to do). You can’t give up four 76-yard drives for touchdowns,” Phillips said.
Actually, Kentucky can and did and it might have been more if Bridgewater had even played in the fourth quarter — Phillips suggested he was “cramping up because he ran up and down the field on us” — rather than watching from the sideline since the game was safely put away.
“We are better than that,” Phillips said. “Some might call me crazy, but we are better than that.”
But is Kentucky better?
Many UK fans on Twitter during the game were not impressed. Here are a few of the many comments fans sent me:
- “I think I speak for the majority of the UK fan-base on this, this is embarrassing. Flat out embarrassing football.”
- “(Louisville coach) Charlie Strong has more respect for Joker than some of our fans. Need to support the team all the time not just some of the time.”
- “This is absolutely pathetic ... Joker and his staff should be ashamed, no fight no energy .... have they heard of tackling.”
Even ESPN college basketball guru Dick Vitale had a couple of tweets sent to me that infuriated Kentucky fans. During the game, he tweeted, “Let's be serious-how really significant is Louisville - Kentucky in football ? Cats fans r counting the hours to the opening of hoops season.” After the game, he came back with this, “Louisville 32-Kentucky 14 in football - Will this be a magical year 4 Cards vs BBN- Cards will be loaded in hoops baby.”
Many Kentucky fans probably are now turning their attention to John Calipari’s basketball team. Kentucky season football ticket sales are down dramatically and this performance won’t cause fans to rush and buy tickets to see home games the next two weeks against Kent State and Western Kentucky.
Senior center Matt Smith knows even the Cats could be demoralized by a second straight loss at a time when Phillips needed a win to show fans he had the program moving forward after consecutive losing seasons.
"When we get back to practice on Tuesday, we can't let guys walk around with their heads hanging because of what happened,” the senior lineman said. “We’ve heard a lot of talk about our team. We had a chance to prove something today and didn’t. We just have to go back to work and show what we can do.”
It better be more than it was in this game because the defense was gutted, the Cats were fooled by a two-point conversion play by Louisville after the game’s first score and even when the offense clicked it still had fumbles and a missed field goal. Not exactly the way to build confidence — or help a coach regain the trust of his fan base.
“We have a tough week ahead. We all wanted to do a lot better than we did, but we just didn’t do enough to win,” Maxwell Smith said. “We have to get a lot better and do it quickly.”
And there’s nothing crazy about that assessment.