It looks like all that chatter about Kentucky losing its offensive playmakers carried a little bit of weight to it.
OK, a lot of weight.
The Wildcats' offense looked flat all night as Kentucky squeaked out the 14-3 win over Western Kentucky in Nashville Thursday.
Kentucky had just 75 yards of total offense through the first three quarters before quarterback Morgan Newton drove 80 yards late in the fourth to seal the win. Newton, who entered the drive with three interceptions on the night, set up the final score with a clutch 58-yard run on a third-and-14. Newton's 31-yard touchdown pass to La'Rod King with 4:35 left in the fourth put the game away.
For a team that dominated the Hilltoppers by nearly 40 points a year ago, the Wildcats had every opportunity to lose this one Thursday. They were outgained 234-190 on the night, and if not for some mental mistakes by the Hilltoppers' offense, most notably four interceptions by quarterback Kawaun Jakes, Kentucky might be sitting at 0-1 today.
Kentucky returned four starters on the offensive line, but even they couldn't do much to spring the Wildcats' running backs. Kentucky finished the night with just 93 yards on the ground. However, there was a nice 14-yard touchdown run by freshman Josh Clemons, who the staff is especially excited about, to put Kentucky's first points on the board.
While the offense was hard to look at until that final touchdown drive, Kentucky's defense helped keep the Hilltoppers from becoming a real threat to pulling the upset. A year after giving up 187 rushing yards to Western Kentucky, 184 of them coming from Bobby Rainey alone, Kentucky's defense allowed 141 yards on the ground and limited Rainey to just 105.
Kentucky's defense also held the Hilltoppers to go 6-of-18 on third downs and allowed just 93 passing yards.
For a defense that struggled mightily last season, this was a confidence booster in the worst way.
The bottom line is that Kentucky has a lot of work to do on offense. Newton has had plenty of field action in the past, but his game took a major step back Thursday. He didn't look like the confident freshman who started five games two years ago. He looked like a true, wide-eyed frosh taking his first snaps.
But when Newton, who finished the game 7-of-18 passing for 97 yards, wasn't looking overwhelmed, his receivers weren't doing much to help him. Drops became a common theme for the Wildcats, especially for senior receiver Matt Roark, who had a handful of them.
And Kentucky must find offensive weapons. King was supposed to step right into the role of top receiving target, but he caught just two passes for 42 yards. He has to get better separation in order to help Newton.
Every team has a hiccup game, and it's better for it come at the beginning of the season. Coach Joker Phillips is hoping this is that game because this offense looks like it has a long way to go. You can be assured that practices will be a little more intense next week.