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September 2, 2011
Cats escape as offense struggles
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Kentucky football team walked off the field slowly. They hung their heads. There were no cheers in the locker room.
It was a win, but it didn't feel like it.
"It is different," junior wide receiver La'Rod King said. "I feel like offensively, we played terribly. As terribly as we possibly can. We have no choice from here to get better."
The Wildcats beat Western Kentucky 14-3 on Thursday thanks to a strong showing from their defense, but the offense struggled all night at LP Field. Junior quarterback Morgan Newton completed just 7-of-18 passes for 97 yards with three interceptions. The Wildcats had as many punts - seven - as pass completions. The announced crowd of 24,599 stayed until the end, but things didn't get any prettier.
King and senior receiver Matt Roark both dropped multiple passes, and running backs Josh Clemons and Raymond Sanders combined to average just 3.1 yards per carry. Newton took three sacks, including one in which he tripped over his own feet in the shadows of his own goalposts.
"We definitely weren't happy with this one," Newton said. "Maybe when you turn the tape on, it won't be as bad."
The offense showed a glimmer of hope late in the fourth quarter, scoring its second touchdown on an 80-yard drive to put the game out of reach. Newton scrambled for 58 yards and followed that up two plays later with a 31-yard touchdown pass to King.
Those two plays accounted for 46 percent of Kentucky's total yards.
But the defense stymied the Hilltoppers. WKU junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed 9-of-27 passes with three interceptions, and WKU star tailback Bobby Rainey averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. WKU's lone score came when it started a drive deep in Kentucky territory after a Newton interception.
For as solid as UK's defense was, though, the offense was equally inept. The Cats finished with eight three-and-outs.
"I was expecting us to put the ball in the end zone a little bit more than we did," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We have to look a lot sharper than that. I expected us to play a lot cleaner than that. It wasn't anywhere near what I would like or what I was expecting."
King said he was pleased with no part of the offense, and the offensive line, an experienced group that was projected to be a strength of the team, struggled as much as any of the skill positions.
The line was missing junior center Matt Smith, and senior guard Stuart Hines played only part of the game.
Newton said he'd rather take lessons from a win than a loss - even a win that didn't feel like one. Kentucky converted just 3-of-13 third downs.
"Very seldom have we been in this situation where we played as bad as we did offensively and won the game," Phillips said.
Phillips remained upbeat after the game. Most of his offense wasn't so optimistic.
"We made plays, and we won the game," King said. "We were clutch, but other than that, I can't say anything."
Junior quarterback Morgan Newton jammed his thumb on his non-throwing hand on the first drive, but played the rest of the game. His left hand was wrapped with tape after the game.
Junior center Matt Smith, who was not expected to start, traveled but did not play. Senior Jake Lanefski started in his place. Senior guard Stuart Hines did not start, but played. Senior safety Taiedo Smith did not travel. Junior Mikie Benton started in his place.
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu bruised his chest in the first half and did not return.
Senior right tackle Billy Joe Murphy suffered a right knee injury, but it is not considered serious. Sophomore wide receiver Brian Adams had a minor ankle injury.
Junior wide receiver E.J. Fields did not travel with the team, sitting out for a previously unannounced punishment from last season. Senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford and senior safety Mychal Bailey sat the game out after being suspended for violations of team rules.