Cards and Cats need major work

09/02/2011 01:59 PM

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips and Louisville Coach Charlie Strong should both send thank-you cards to Western Kentucky QB Kawaun Jakes and Murray State QB Casey Brockman.
That’s because if either of the two had just a little better aim, Strong and Phillips might have both started the season with shocking losses to in-state schools. The Cards and Cats both ended up saving face, as U of L hung on for a 21-9 win while UK escaped 14-3.
Now to assess the damage. As far as the defense goes, both teams get a pass. While there were some breakdowns in coverage, the Cards and Cats tightened their belts when they needed to, even if the competition wasn’t top-flight.
But both offenses looked raggedy. After Louisville jumped to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Cards remained stuck in neutral the remainder of the game. Passes were off-target. Running backs Victor Anderson and Jeremy Wright put the ball on the ground. The offensive line didn’t get much of a push. U of L’s biggest run of the night came via the punter, Chris Philpott, who picked up 40 yards on a first-quarter fake punt.
UK’s struggles were even more perplexing. The Wildcats’ vaunted offensive line was a major flop. They couldn’t keep Western’s D-linemen out of the backfield, and quarterback Morgan Newton faced heavy pressure all night.
Newton also continued his pattern of inconsistency when it comes throwing the ball. He mixed in a few really nice throws (a couple of which were dropped by Wildcat receivers) with some head-scratchers, like the short pass he torpedoed over the head of a UK running back in the flat. The most alarming stat was the three interceptions Newton threw. For a player that the coaching staff gushed about during fall camp, Newton’s showing was disappointing.
Now that we’ve established that both teams looked bad last night, the question is which team has the greater upside moving forward.
As of today I’d say the prognosis looks a little better for the Cards. Stein has shown a better ability to manage the game and get the ball where it needs to be than Newton has thus far. And U of L appears to have more playmakers. Freshman receiver DeVante Parker is going to be a star sooner rather than later. Anderson and Wright are a solid 1-2 backfield combo despite the lost fumbles against Murray.
For the Cats, what, or who, is their offensive calling card? Are the problems even fixable? Newton has yet to turn the corner going into his third year. Not only do the receivers struggle making catches, they also don’t go after the ball with enough zeal Josh Clemons is a nice young back, but it’s hard to pin your hopes on a true freshman unless your name is Randall Cobb.
Plus, U of L’s deficiencies won’t be exposed in the Big East nearly as much as UK’s will in the SEC.
You never want to go overboard off one game, but it’s clear both teams have early-season issues that need to be cleaned up. And they better get them cleaned up this week.
U of L’s next opponent, Florida International is the defending Sun Belt champs, hung tough with Rutgers, Maryland and Texas A & M and has most of its key players. They will come into Louisville expecting to win.
Ditto for Central Michigan, who will be in Commonwealth Stadium for UK’s home opener next Saturday. The Chippewas went just 3-9 last year, but they have one the best traditions in the MAC and have played the Cats tough in the past. Plus, they have a junior quarterback in Ryan Radcliff who threw for 3,358 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2010. He won’t miss all the open receivers that Jakes did.
Bottom line: By the end of the year, both teams might be able to look back at opening week as a blip on the radar screen, a minor speed bump on the road to respectability. But if we see the same Louisville and Kentucky teams show up next weekend that showed up on Thursday night, they could both enter their Sept. 17 matchup at 1-1.

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