September 2nd, 2013

Billy Reed: More of the same for both UK and U of L

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Billy Reed: More of the same for both UK and U of L
Teddy Bridgewater / cover photo from 247sports.com / inside photo from sbnation.com

Only one game into his coaching career at the University of Kentucky, Mark Stoops already is guilty of consumer fraud. By hiring Neal Brown to be his offensive coordinator, he promised Wildcat fans a return to the thrilling “Air Raid” era of Hal Mumme and Tim Couch. The Cats may not win, but they would throw it all over the place and light up the scoreboard.

But Stoops broke his contract with Big Blue Nation. When the Wildcats lined up against Western Kentucky in their season opener Saturday night in Nashville, option quarterback Jalen Whitlow was at quarterback instead of pro-style passer Max Smith. You didn’t have to be in Nashville to hear the air hissing out of the Big Blue balloon.

The result was an “attack,” if you want to call it that, that should be called the MOS — More of the Same— offense. If there was much difference between what Stoops did Saturday night and what Joker Phillips did throughout last season’s 2-10 debacle, it was impossible to see it with the naked eye.

Unlike last season, when the Hilltoppers needed a daring trick play to pull off an overtime win over the Wildcats in Commonwealth Stadium, this year the Hilltoppers simply dominated the Cats from beginning to end by playing good, old-fashioned, fundamental football.

New WKU coach Bobby Petrino, whose credentials as an offensive genius are well-documented, didn’t need to do anything fancy to whip the Cats. All he did was run a balanced offense that accounted for 487 yards. It seemed like 4,870 yards. Simply put, the Hilltoppers had their way with the Cats. The final 35-26 margin wasn’t an accurate reflection of their domination.

So now Stoops has more to do than correct his team’s mistakes. He has to regain his credibility with the ticket-buying public. The way to do that is install Smith as the starting quarterback and give Brown the green light to run the “Air Raid.” He surely can find another spot for Whitlow, a fine athlete who could be an asset as a sort of “Wild Card” receiver/runner.

This also would enable Stoops to find a role for Patrick Towles, the highly recruited sophomore from Fort Thomas Highlands who played only sparingly last season. A classic dropback passer like Smith, Towles would become the backup QB who would get a few snaps every game.

Besides giving UK its best — really, it’s only — chance to have a modicum of success with its dearth of talent, the “Air Raid” would kill the notion that Stoops is a flim-flam man. UK fans went to Nashville expecting to see a Ferrari and, instead, got a used pickup truck with bald tires. At halftime, UK had 16 yards passing. That was beyond pitiful.

Bad as they felt on the way home, UK’s fans had to feel even worse after seeing what Louisville did to Ohio University in its opener Sunday in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. If anything, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater & Co. exceeded preseason expectations, which was thought to be impossible considering how high they were.

Getting excellent protection for his offensive line, Bridgewater was a surgeon, slicing up the Bobcat defense with the deliberation that is his trademark. He threw long and short. He threw under the secondary and over it. His ball-faking and deft touch again had the NFL scouts furiously scribbling notes.

When it comes to Bridgewater, you can forget all that talk-show babble about U of L’s less-than-daunting schedule. This kid is the real deal. We have never seen his like in this state — and, yes, that includes Johnny Unitas, who had such an ordinary college career that he wasn’t even picked in the NFL draft.

Bridgewater got sacked only once, on a fourth-down gamble when the game was decidedly out of reach, and Ohio U. turned that into a touchdown that deprived the Cardinal defense of a shutout. But that was the slightest of bumps. Challenged to live up to the offense’s brilliance, the defense had an answer for everything the Bobcats tried.

Superb as Bridgewater, his receivers and the defense were, the play of the game — the one that portends doom for rival defenses — was Michael Dyer’s 46-yard touchdown run that made it 35-0 early in the third quarter. A stocky kid who can grind out yards between the tackles, Dyer also is deceptively fast, as Ohio U. learned when he turned the corner and turned on the jets.

This was a flash of the talent that made Dyer the MVP of the 2011 national title game when he was playing with Cam Newton at Auburn. He had two seasons of more than 1,000 yards rushing before getting involved in some off-the-field problems that got him kicked off the team. But Strong took a chance on him and Dyer began paying his coach back Sunday.

From what they showed against Ohio U., the Cards should be among the national leaders in total offense throughout the season. Even when he goes to the bench, Strong has talent, as backup quarterback Will Gardner showed when he replaced Bridgewater in the fourth quarter and threw a 30-yard TD pass to Kai De La Cruz.

The Cards have so much talent at receiver that James Quick, the all-world freshman recruit from Trinity High, got only one ball thrown to him. It was a bit over his head and bounced off his outstretched hands. But Quick fans know the day will come, sooner rather than later, when James will have days even better than the one Damian Copeland had against Ohio U. (six catches for 98 yards and two TDs).

This week the Cards should have an easy time at home against Eastern Kentucky. But who knows what to expect when UK plays host to Miami of Ohio? All that’s certain is that if Stoops doesn’t give the fans what he promised — the “Air Raid” offense — the ticket office should begin offering refunds to season-ticket holders.

 

 

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