LEXINGTON — Kentucky's offense ought to know what to expect from Central Michigan on Saturday.
“Their defense gave up 130 (actually 137) yards (against South Carolina State in a 21-6 win) and swarmed the ball,” UK¿coach Joker Phillips said. “They will be foaming at the mouth to play our offense.”
That’s because the Wildcats managed just 190 total yards in a 14-3 win over Western Kentucky and have plenty of questions going into Saturday’s home open with Central Michigan.
Kentucky junior guard Larry Warford knows the line, which was supposed to be UK’s offensive strength, did not play well last week and would not use an injury to starting center Matt Smith that kept him out of the game or a knee sprain by tackle Billy Joe Murphy that might sideline him Saturday as excuses.
“We just were not focused. We could not get out of the hole we dug,” Warford said. “As a unit, we played terrible. There were great plays individually, but it doesn’t really matter when you are playing on the O-line. You either all do it right or one person messes up and you are all wrong. We can’t have that this week and we are focusing on that and making it right. A lot of people had great plays and a lot did great things, but we also had a lot we did wrong to kill drives.”
He says he was used to play with backup center Jake Lanefski, UK’s sixth lineman who will start at tackle if Murphy can’t go and Smith is back Saturday. He also says playing a late Thursday night game was no reason for his team’s lack of focus.
“(Offensive line) Coach (Mike) Summers tells us what to do and we know what to do. We are good at that and when we practice we were getting on our blocks. It just has to translate to the game,” Warford said. “Any time you go out there, you are playing football. You have to get the mindset that you have to be ready, and we didn’t do that.
“We can never have a game like we did last Thursday again. We are coming out to prove a point that we are the strength of this team. I think this motivated us more. We know people are going to say stuff (about the line) after that game. We are supposed to have a great offense, and we didn’t. We didn’t perform. Coming out this week we are going to show them what we can really do.”
Warford doesn’t think the offensive line, which returned four starters, read too much of its own preseason hype.
“I didn’t really listen to it. Nobody listens to it. We never really thought about it, but we have to be better,” he said. “We have to prove a point and prove everybody right that we are the strength of this team now.”
Central Michigan’s strength last week was 225-pound tailback Zurlon Tipton, who had a career day racking up 199 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Tipton rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries, caught two passes for 14 yards and returned three kickoffs for 99 yards. Quarterback Ryan Radcliff was 14-for-27 passing for 168 yards and two scores. He completed passes to 10 receivers, including freshman Titus Davis who made his first catch a 67-yard score. Cody Wilson had a team-high four catches for 53 yards.
“We expect those guys to be excited to play a SEC team. Last time they were here they battled our tails off (in a 45-36 UK win in 2006),” Phillips said. “Tipton is a big, 225-pound guy we have got to get to the ground and our defense has to accept that challenge. The quarterback is one of the all-time leading passers in Central Michigan history.”
The Chippewas also have sophomore running back Tim Phillips of Louisville and the UK¿coach says he can be dangerous.
Kentucky senior linebacker Danny Trevathan knows Tipton and the Chippewas will come to Commonwealth Stadium believing they can win.
“They are coming in here with a great back. He has good size and is a power runner. He can make you miss in the open field. They are just a team that can win and believes t hey can win,” Trevathan said. “We have to play our best game and shut them down. They are a strong, physical team that likes to pound, pound, pound and then hit you over the top (with a pass). We just have to minimize that.”
Other than letting Western receivers get open deep twice for passes that fell incomplete, UK¿checked the Western offense and limited the Hilltoppers and star running back Bobby Rainey to 234 total yards. After the game, the Kentucky head coach made it clear defense won the game and he indicated again Monday that the defense might have to win more games this season while the offense gets untracked.
Trevathan says the praise was welcome.
“That just let us know that we are going somewhere with this defense. It lets us know that our hard work is paying off,” Trevathan, the Southeastern Conference’s top tackler last year, said. “Guys want to work even more now. After that, they see the reward of hard work and want to put in more time, more effort and watch more film. They know it will make us get better. The offense will pick it up. They will have to hold us, but now it is our job.”
Trevathan said he had “no idea” the last time UK coaches had said the defense won a game.
“Personally, this probably was the first time. Being a leader and hearing that just let me know I¿am doing right and the team is doing right. Guys want to win and if takes better defense to do that, then that’s what we have to do,” Trevathan, who had 13 tackles against Western, said.