What was that?

Brian Rickerd/State Journal Sports Writer Published:

 “I don’t think the guys were motivated as much. It’s hard to get motivated for games like these.” – UK junior wide receiver Randall Cobb.

LEXINGTON – I have problems with Randall Cobb’s logic in the aftermath of Kentucky’s 49-21 victory over the dreadful Charleston Southern Buccaneers Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

When you play in the brutal Southeastern Conference, where week after week each and every yard can be a physical and emotional grind, where so many games come down to the fourth quarter, wouldn’t you be salivating at the prospect of a dreadful opponent like Charleston Southern? Wouldn’t you be like a high-strung thoroughbred in a starting gate?

Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you just want to knock the stuffing out an an inferior opponent and roll up some numbers you could tell your grandchildren about?

But Kentucky did not take hold of any of my logic in this game. And yes, bottom line, the Wildcats improved to 5-5 and are just one game shy now of bowl eligibility, with lowly Vanderbilt coming to Commonwealth this coming Saturday (12:21 p.m. kickoff).

I’m not expecting a work of art when UK takes on Vandy, either. Because this Charleston Southern game, and I expect the Vandy game, shed some light on why the Wildcats are still not ready to take a step up in the SEC.

A topnotch SEC team would beat Charleston Southern a lot worse than 49-21. For gosh sakes, STONY BROOK beat the Buccaneers, 41-21, a week earlier.

The numbers in Saturday’s game do not tell the whole sad story, outside of the fact that the Buccaneers held the ball for 40 of the game’s 60 minutes.

Kentucky rolled up 502 yards of total offense. The Wildcats should have had 800. They could have scored on every possession.

“There were too many points we left out there,” said Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline, who is not playing especially well down the stretch. “We had too many wasted plays. We weren’t sustaining drives like we should. We weren’t putting up points or threatening to put up points on every drive. We shouldn’t have been getting in third-and-long situations with our offense against their defense.”

Hartline was 15 of 24 passing for 272 yards, with one big interception. That was an end zone interception made by CSU in the second quarter when Kentucky was up 14-7 and driving. Instead, the Buccaneers took advantage of Hartline’s gift and drove 80 yards to tie it 14-14 midway through the second quarter.

Kentucky scored two touchdowns just before halftime to lead 28-14 and then made it 35-14 early in the third period. But the Wildcats never looked especially interested, which is a shame.

Kentucky’s defense wasn’t much better against an opponent that I’m not sure would put a scare into anybody above a high school level. Charleston Southern mustered 269 yards of total offense, which isn’t a lot, but, let’s put it this way – the Buccaneers’ offense reminded me of Western Kentucky’s if the Hilltoppers didn’t have standout running back Bobby Rainey.

I’ll give Hartline bonus points for at least being honest. That’s more than we got from UK coach Joker Phillips. When Phillips was asked afterward if this win would generate the momentum needed going into the Vanderbilt game, Phillips replied: “This is what we’re talking about. We need this momentum, we need this feeling (huh?). I think this is the momentum we need to carry us through the rest of the season.”

UK senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, on the other hand, offered this dose of reality: “We can’t play like this next week (against Vanderbilt). If we do, everybody is going to be singing a sad note.”

>It wasn’t all gloom and doom, fortunately, for Kentucky. Frankfort’s E.J. Fields, a sophomore, played exceptionally well on special teams for the Wildcats in this game. Fields was around the ball on every kick. He made one outstanding tackle on UK’s kickoff cover team and teamed with Winston Guy on another tackle.

Fields earned unprompted praise from Phillips for his efforts.

“We’ve gotten really excited about how E.J. Fields covered (on kickoff coverage) last week (vs. Mississippi State),” Phillips noted. “So we moved E.J. over (on the kickoff team) this week, and he went in and covered the position that Matt Roark had been in.  And Matt Roark has been a beast on the kickoff coverage team, so this allowed us to move someone else off the team that wasn’t covering as well.

“I thought our kickoff coverage guys did an outstanding job.”

Fields also played most of the fourth quarter at wide receiver, but by then the game was far enough out of hand that the Wildcats largely settled for running the ball down the stretch.

Kentucky should have been far enough ahead by halftime for Fields to see a lot more time at wideout than the fourth quarter.
But, whatever. I think  Fields’ increased presence on the playing field for Kentucky, regardless of circumstances, bodes well for him.

Fields may have the killer instinct some of his teammates need.

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