Plays on both sides of the ball were not as crisp as the first few practices of the spring season. A noticeable crowd of about 200 fans watched Kentucky scrimmage in controlled situations, with a group of officials. There were a few bright spots, as Rafael Little continued his impressive play at running back, and the defense did not allow the offense to get inside the end zone all afternoon, that included a goal line stand against the number one offense.
To be fair, the offensive line is very thin right now, due to some guys battling the flu and some other assorted bangs and bumps. But the brightest spot, to the fans anyway, was the noticeable change with offensive play calling from last year. Yes, Kentucky worked a lot on the run game, as previously stated with the reference to Little's performance. Terrell Bankhead, the walk-on junior college transfer, got a lot of carries on the day.
Andrew Hopewell saw some time carrying the ball. But the crowd gathered to see what new offensive coordinator Joker Phillips' scheme would be like. And they were not disappointed. The first five passes Andre Woodson threw were down the field at least fifteen yards. Gone are the days of the timid passing attack. Hello, wide open, fast break offense.
All the coaches seemed to be pleased after the scrimmage with what they saw on the field. Head coach Rich Brooks said that even with a very thin squad, good things were accomplished. "We were a little thin today," said Brooks. "I thought Andre did some good things. And overall, I thought the defense did some pretty good things, even though we gave up some third down plays that I'd like to see us make. But you have to credit the offense for making some [of those]."
But for the first time this spring, Brooks didn't see the energy he had bragged on through the first few practices. "We looked a little ragged today. Probably a little tired and beat up a little bit at this point. But, hopefully, next week we'll bounce back, get fresh, and get some of these guys healthy again. The flu has been kind of going through our team, and it showed today." Brooks is still searching for an identity for this team, but knows it will be the end of spring practice, maybe, before he has a handle on that. "We're, I think, still, trying to find out what we can do well. And as we go through the spring we'll know a lot more coming out the other end. We're seven practices into it, with eight to go, and we're finding out some good things and some things we don't do as well as we'd like. We'll continue to work on those and see if we can get them better."
One bad thing that shows up as an area of improvement almost every season for UK, and reared its ugly head during the scrimmage on Saturday, was snapping the football, both long snapping and QB-center exchanges. Brooks said that snapping had not been a problem so far this spring. "That's a complete mystery to me. We've got Jason Dickerson, who snapped all last year and did a very good job, and now all of a sudden…now he had the flu, too.
I have to give him a little license on that. But there's no excuse to roll the ball back on the ground. We brought in [C Matt] McCutchan and we had perfect snaps, both on the punt and the field goal. Jason, to his credit, did come back on the last one and snap a good one. So, I know he can do it. I'm shocked at what's going on with him right now."
Joker Phillips seemed more upbeat, except for a five yard false start penalty on his offense that just kept gnawing at him. Phillips said, "We did some good things. We had no turnovers. I think we played fast. Later on, I don't think we got in and out of the huddle as quickly as I would've liked to. We had one five yard penalty.
We can't have those. That's our emphasis. We play fast, we don't have any five yard penalties, and don't turn the ball over." The bad snap exchanges did not seem to bother Phillips, thinking that his quarterback needed to make an adjustment. "One thing Andre needs to do is get out from under the center quicker. He's got a little cheat step that we're trying to iron out. Also, McCutchan's got to get his rear end up a little more.
Andre is 6'5", and he is having to squat." You would think at this point, Phillips would start introducing more to his still learning offense. But the opposite happens now. "We just have to start dwindling down our offense, and start executing the things we feel like we are capable of doing. We are going to go back and grade effort now. We've seen, execution wise, we have executed fairly well. Hopefully after watching the film, we'll be able to find out what we do well."
Defensively, Mike Archer was on the fence after Saturday's scrimmage. Archer said, "I thought there was good and bad. When you compete against your own team, if we stop them every time, then it's not good for the offense. And if they're moving the football, then it's not good for us. I thought our guys competed.
They moved the football against us, but I think that's more of a credit to what our offense is doing right now. The way Andre is playing, and the way the offensive line is starting to come together…yet, we were able to keep them out of the end zone, which is the most important thing. I think right now, our guys are enjoying practice. I think there is a different attitude. And I know that doesn't guarantee anything, but I think the fact that our guys are competing every day, and they're enjoying being around each other, that's how you have a team."
Archer has used that word attitude a lot this spring. He believes the key is changing attitudes, not just with players, but fans and coaches, everybody connected with UK football. And Archer thinks his players, like the fans, are just plain tired of losing. "We have older guys…Durrell [White], and Trey Mielsch, and Lamar Mills, and Muhammed [Abdullah] are starting to step up. I think they're tired of losing. I think they're tired of getting beat around in this league and it's time to step up and say ‘I want to do something here for the University'".