UPDATE via Matt May at The Cats Pause: Rich Brooks says that Cobb is now #1 on the depth chart for receiver, and though he may get a package or two, Hartline is going to be the quarterback. He says Cobb is just not comfortable trying to handle all the things the QB must do right now.
After taking the weekend to think about the debacle against South Carolina and reading many comments here and elsewhere, I think Kentucky has come to a bit of a crossroads in the season.
First of all, I don't believe that Mike Hartline's poor performance was the reason we lost on Saturday, it was one of many:
- Poor offensive line play in the running game and special teams;
- Special teams breakdowns that UK hasn't suffered all season, including two very short punts by Tim Masthay and giving up an 80 yard kickoff return. By the way, haven't we now had two field goal attempts blocked resulting in touchdowns for the other team? Don't you think maybe we should address that?
- Downright inexplicable play calling from the bench, including:
- Many routes on third down that were far short of the yardage needed for a first down;
- A bizarre on-side kick call to open the second quarter which, by the way, failed miserably. Will we ever execute a respectable on-side attempt? If not, we should just save it for desperation time.
- Running Cobb at QB for like 2 successful plays, then never again;
- Sharp play calling from the South Carolina bench;
- Good job by the Visor in finding something that worked (i.e. picking on our less experienced corners with taller receivers) and forcing us to stop it, which we never did. After Lindley burned him, I don't think the Gamecocks ever threw another ball in his direction.
- Tough defense by USC;
- Too little pressure on the quarterback;
- Dropped footballs that were catchable;
- Poor decisions by running backs -- how many times did Locke run into a pile when he could have cut back and gain yards? I lost count at about six. Lock is too right-side oriented.
- Unacceptable failure to be ready for a snap that surrendered the winning touchdown.
I could go on, but I think that's enough. To my mind, though, the 'Cats biggest problem is that they almost never look like a threat to score when they have the football. The offense is beginning to look a lot like Auburn's -- calcified and about as threatening as a teddy bear with a Freddy Krueger mask on. Unfortunately, our season is going to look a lot like Auburn's has so far if we don't find some way to move the football and give our defense a break.
If USC hadn't made so many mistakes and our defense hadn't done such a good job of taking the ball away from the Gameocks in the first half, this game would likely have been a very ugly beat-down. We managed to avoid that, but our offense has been exposed, and a significant part of the blame for that has to go to Hartline. Hartline threw very many bad footballs Saturday -- in fact, I am hard pressed to remember a single pass over 10 yards that was thrown right on target. Most of the receptions were balls caught behind, or too high, or just not in any position to make yards after the play. Hartline should have had about six picks instead of only two, as he was repeatedly bouncing footballs off the leaping hands of receivers. No play in football is more likely to result in an INT than a high pass thrown over the middle, and Hartline threw at least five of them.
But that wasn't the only area that Hartline struggled in. Mike continually tried to force balls down the field when the defense was giving him underneath routes and dumps. I saw several times when Locke was in the flat and 5 yards from anybody, while Hartline was heaving another wounded duck to a covered receiver -- why? Where was that much-vaunted decision-making ability? Against a defense as good as the Gamecocks, you just have to take what it gives you, and Kentucky kept trying to force balls down the field. Now, if you had a Woodson, who has a cannon attached to his right side, you might try that. But Hartline's arm is just barely good enough to be an SEC quarterback, and when he repeatedly throws wobbly, sailing passes, he is an offensive coordinator's nightmare.
But at least as troublesome was the poor hands shown by Kentucky's receivers. So many drops were made of catchable balls that it just boggles the mind. Yes, about 70% of them were bad throws, but when a ball hits the receiver in the hands and he doesn't catch it, that one's on the receiver 90% of the time. It is a problem that Kentucky has struggled with all year. And please don't remind me that they are young -- I know that, but this is the SEC, not Romper Room.
So what's to be done? Well, if we don't find a way to force teams out of the box and create mismatches, we are not going to be successful. Most of the time, a stout defense cannot produce a winning season in the SEC with an offense that can't convert more than 1 third down per game. I have said that Randall Cobb is not the answer, but neither is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result -- that is the definition of insanity.
So I think we must split the snaps between Hartline and Cobb almost evenly, and try to run a two-quarterback system like Florida did a couple of years back. Neither of our QB's is ready to be an SEC quarterback yet, but perhaps in combination we can come up with one. Cobb forces defenses to play honest and not sit on routes. Linebackers have to key on him, and that forces them to lose vision of receivers and backs running underneath and mid-routes, and it likely to result in one of our dangerous athletes getting isolated in space -- a fearful situation for any defense. It also forces the safeties to play honest, and not cheat the pass, which could result in some vertical opportunities one-on-one. Cobb isn't as experienced as Hartline, though, so going to him exclusively would probably not work.
Finally, if the receivers aren't going to catch the football, we need to find someone who can, pure and simple. Move Locke into the slot where Lyons usually plays and get him the football -- at least he has proven he can catch it. This dropping of footballs has got to stop, and I don't care if Rich Brooks makes the receivers dress up in drag and carry the football around campus in one of those papoose-style baby carriers, something has to be done. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, "This offense needs an enema."