Wildcats high-powered offense growing more diverse

BY foxsports • September 15, 2010

Chris Matthews longer has those ''ummm'' moments - when the Kentucky wide receiver would hesistate for a split second wondering which way was the correct way to go.

The senior admits there were times last year when he'd see the ball snapped and didn't move right away.

''You're trying to read the defense, the keys and just trying to get a feel for the speed of the game,'' Matthews said.

Matthews and the rest of Kentucky's receiving corps seem to be all caught up.

While much of the attention during Kentucky's perfect start has been on the versatile exploits of wide receiver Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke, the development of playmakers like Matthews, La'Rod King and Matt Roark has provided signs the Wildcats won't be a two-man show.

Matthews and King both scored their first touchdowns of the season in a 63-28 win over Western Kentucky last Saturday, making a pair of athletic plays in the end zone after the Hilltoppers double-teamed Cobb.

Matthews figures that's the way it's supposed to be.

''Whatever team comes out and tries to double-team Randall, they're going to have to find out how to stop me, La'Rod, Matt and some of the other receivers out there,'' Matthews said.

When asked what he thought of his receivers saying the Wildcats can score points in bunches like they did in 2007, when the school went 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl, coach Joker Phillips just laughed.

''I'm glad they're saying that,'' he said. ''That's what this offense has been lacking, especially in the passing game, is confidence, especially at the wide receiver position.''

That kind of swagger was hard to find the last two seasons as Kentucky's offense relied heavily on the legs of Cobb and Locke after quarterback injuries made the passing game an after thought.

The Wildcats averaged just 140 yards passing a game in 2009, 11th in the Southeastern Conference. Blame it on an injury to quarterback Mike Hartline that thrust freshman Morgan Newton into the starting lineup and a receiving corps that featured Cobb and a group of first-year players.

Wanting to keep the pressure off Newton, the coaching staff opted to keep the ball on the ground and let Cobb and Locke do most of the work out of the ''WildCobb'' formation. While the duo proved effective enough to lead the Wildcats to a bowl game for the fourth straight season, it didn't exactly make for the most exciting football.

''Last year was a fall back, maybe a little more of a learning process for us,'' King said.

Those days appear to be over. Hartline is healthy and is currently third in the SEC in quarterback efficiency. The Wildcats lead the conference in points per game (43.0) and nine different players have caught a pass through two games.

The receivers that spent last fall blocking and running short, conservative routes are now flying down the field.

''Now it's just a matter of 'How can I beat this dude?''' Matthews said.

If the ball is thrown up high enough, it shouldn't be a problem. Matthews (6-foot-5), King (6-4) and Roark (6-5) give Hartline over 19 feet of receiver to throw to when the 5-11 Cobb isn't open. It's a luxury few quarterbacks in the SEC have.

Though he has yet to throw an interception in his 46 attempts this season, Hartline acknowledges he's been far from flawless. He also knows he doesn't have to be for his guys to make plays.

''You always want to throw the perfect ball, but having big receivers like that gives you more margin for error,'' Hartline said. ''You know if you just put it up, they're going to beat a lot of (cornerbacks) to the ball because of their size.''

Hartline has grown tired of the passing game being a liability since he took over as starting quarterback in 2008. He's spent two years leading an offense that has paled in comparison to the fireworks put up by former stars like wide receiver Keenan Burton, tight end Jacob Tamme and quarterback Andre Woodson - all of whom went on to play in the NFL.

While Hartline is not ready to compare this year's group to that talented bunch, he believes the current crop is building a compelling case.

''We might not be as fast, but I think we've got athletes and guys that can go out there and make plays,'' he said. ''I think we can be as dynamic as that '07 group if we just keep building.''

The schedule will give the Wildcats plenty of opportunities to prove it. After hosting Akron (0-2), Kentucky travels to Florida on Sept. 25 to open Southeastern Conference play.

share story