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By ASHLEY SCOBY
What I’ve learned the most about UK fans is that to get their attention, USE BASKETBALL. If a story has anything to do with the dribble-drive offense or the 2012 national championship team, Kentucky fans won’t hesitate to read.
But if the story is about football? Well, there might be some hesitation there.
If I told you that the 2012 Kentucky football offense was not so different in its approach from the 2012 national championship basketball team, I hope you wouldn’t think I’m crazy. Because that’s exactly what I’m saying.
As a disclaimer to those already shaking their heads and frowning at their computer screens, I absolutely do not mean that UK football has an offense that could win a BCS championship. But that also doesn’t mean that this offense can’t put up some good numbers this year and excite a fanbase that has struggled with football optimism this season.
Let’s start with the quarterback: Anybody who doubted Joker Phillips’ decision to make Max Smith the starting quarterback is seeing the light by now. According to the Twitter feed of Cats Illustrated’s Ben Jones, Smith is tied for third nationally in passing touchdowns (6), fourth in completions (65), eighth in total yardage (634) and 17th in completion percentage (73%). Not bad for a true sophomore who didn’t have a solid starting job until a few weeks ago.
Then there are the receivers that Smith has been working so well with. Against Louisville, Smith threw a pass to 11 different guys and against Kent State, it was 10. The receiving corps at UK has been subject of a lot of criticism in the past few years since Keenan Burton, Stevie Johnson, Jacob Tamme and company all graduated. Watching the wideouts consistently drop balls was one of the most frustrating things about recent UK offenses. “Butterfingers” was the term I heard most often from the Commonwealth Stadium crowd, and a lot of the time, it was deserved criticism.
This year, however, the change has been drastic. The quarterback and receivers look more in-sync than they have in a while, and there have been some beautiful balls thrown and caught this season. The talent these receivers have at running after the catch has also been somewhat of a strength so far – the pass that was thrown to Demarcus Sweat this weekend was a short one, but the speedy, young receiver took it 56 yards to the house.
What does all this have to do with the championship basketball team UK had last year?
Unselfishness: spreading the ball around to as many guys as possible to create points. No whining, no fuss about individual numbers. Just team play and positive results.
The Cats won a championship in basketball last year because they put their own selfish desires to the side in favor of a diversified offense where everyone was involved. From watching the first two football games, it looks like the football Cats are trying to use the same approach. Maybe a championship isn’t in sight for Kentucky football, and that’s fine. But they will use an unselfish, exciting approach offensively to improve their chances in SEC competition, not to mention getting fans in the seats at Commonwealth.
Some will say that UK has yet to compete against a strong, SEC-level team this season, and it certainly remains to be seen how these guys will react against teams like Florida or South Carolina. But this offense is fun to watch, to put it simply. And with practice, more reps and an even more improved relationship between Smith and his receivers (not to mention the running backs that have been catching passes), this offense can only become more exciting to watch.