Joker Phillips isn’t sugarcoating anything when he talks about Kentucky’s ugly 14-3 win against Western Kentucky.
It wasn’t pretty and there were way too many offensive mistakes. Phillips has acknowledged as much this week. He watched like the rest of us as his offense, led by junior quarterback Morgan Newton, sputtered along in Nashville.
Kentucky gained a SEC-low 190 yards of offense, including an SEC-worst 97 yards passing. Newton, who started most of his freshman season, was expected to have good command of the offense, but struggled to find in any sort of rhythm. He finished the game with three interceptions to one touchdown.
His passing was more erratic than normal and when he did hit receivers, they had trouble holding onto the ball.
The lack of a passing threat caused Kentucky’s running game (93 yards) to stall more most of the game.
“It’s been said that we’re a better throwing team, but our offense starts with our running game and we could never get our running game going to open up the passing game,” Phillips said. “Once we dropped back, we didn’t do a very good job of protecting.”
One offensive bright spot was freshman running back Josh Clemons, who led Kentucky with 39 rushing yards and a touchdown. Phillips said he wanted to get Clemons the ball more, but because of the way the game went he couldn’t.
Phillips expects that to change from here on out and wants Clemons to be more of a factor.
The main focus for Kentucky’s defense this week has been cleaning up the mistakes -- and we’re talking major spring-cleaning here.
Throwing, running, blocking and catching need to improve, Phillips said, putting pretty much everyone on offense on notice.
What doesn’t help is that the offensive line is more banged up now than it was heading into the season. Center Matt Smith, who missed the opener with an undisclosed injury, is doubtful this weekend against Central Michigan and right tackle Billy Joe Murphy, who was healthy heading into the season, is also doubtful after suffering a knee injury in last week’s game.
Redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared could get the start at right tackle if Murphy can’t go.
But don’t count on Phillips using injuries up front as an excuse.
“We’re banged up, but a lot of people are this time of the year,” he said. “We expect production not to drop off, especially the way it did last week. We expect those guys to go in and play like veterans when they get a chance and we did not do that last week.”
One thing that keeps Phillips hopeful is the play of his defense. The defense didn’t allow the Hilltoppers to find the end zone and forced four turnovers.
If the defense keeps this up and the offense finds a spark, Phillips likes the Wildcats’ chances this fall.
“The way our defense is playing right now, you could win a lot of games if we score 14 points and those guys do what they did last week with shutting people down,” he said.