By LARRY VAUGHT
For offensive coordinator Neal Brown, Kentucky’s open week could not be coming at a better time.
Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith has re-injured his shoulder, six receivers combined to drop eight passes in a loss to Louisville Saturday, and the Cats face Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in their next three games.
“We’re not real deep and we’re a little banged up, so I think we’ll get health (from the open date),” said Brown after Saturday’s loss. “Any time you lose, you’d love to get back out there. I’d love to play tomorrow and get this taste out of our mouth, but can’t change it.
“I approach the bye week just like I approach every day with these guys. Every day, we’re so young and we’re so inexperienced and we’re at the infancy of this program. So every single day I go into every single meeting — this is cliche and you probably won’t like it, but this is the God’s truth — I got into every single meeting, every single practice and think about: How can we get better today because I know what we’re building for. How can we get better today that gives us an opportunity to win on Saturday without losing the effect of who we are.”
Brown lamented Kentucky’s failure to make the “routine plays” against Louisville that thwarted the offense, and much of that was due to the dropped passes.
Here’s more of what Brown had to say Saturday:
Question: What about all the dropped passes?
Brown: Too many. That was kind of our M.O. in the spring, and that’s the thing I was talking about: routine plays. We had drops, we missed routine throws at the quarterback position. Just routine plays. Y Everybody thinks you’ve got to make great plays on offense. All you got to do is make consistent routine plays. And the reason we weren’t productive in the first half is we didn’t make routine plays.”
Question: Did the drops impact your play calling?
Brown: “It hurts you, just because you’re fighting behind the chains. And we’re in a situation now where we struggle behind the chains. I don’t think that’s a secret. But obviously we need to make those plays.”
Question: Why do players drop passes?
Brown: “I don’t know. If I knew that one, I’d be … I don’t know. It’s a couple things. I think No. 1 is focus. Not lack of focus, like being in the game, but trying to do too much after the catch. I think the other thing is maybe nervousness. We’ve got some guys that for whatever reason, we get in these type of atmospheres and we’re not as productive. But we’ve got to get better. We catch a lot of balls. I thought last week we caught the ball well. This week we didn’t, and it was in some crucial situations.”
Question: Did the drops occur in spots where the right play was called if the pass had just been caught?
Brown: “It’s hard to tell until I get back to watch it, but I really felt good about our plan. I felt good about our plan. And even in the run game, when I talk about routine plays, like up front today in the run game, we ran the same plays in the second half that we really had some big runs and in the first half we just didn’t do as good a job up front managing their movement. They move on every single snap. It wasn’t unexpected. We thought we were prepared for it and we got caught with our eyes down and they made some plays. But I felt good about our game plan. Obviously I won’t know how effective it would’ve been. We didn’t execute it as well as I would’ve hoped.”
Question: Are drops contagious?
Brown: “I think they are. I think maybe guys start thinking about it and it gets in your head. But at the same point, you’ve got to fight through that stuff, you know what I mean? You have to fight through it. We constantly talk about a next play attitude and we’ve got to fight through that.”
Question: Despite having two drops against Louisville, is junior college transfer Javess Blue emerging as a dependable receiver?
Brown: “e played well, made some plays. And we need him to. He’s our best threat right now. There’s no question. This is new to him, too, though. In junior college, he went to a great junior college, but they weren’t playing in front of 65,000 on ESPN and in a big rivalry game. He had a couple drops, too, but he made some big plays.”
Question: What positives does he come out of the game with about Kentucky?
Brown: ““I think there’s a lot of positives. Our defense played their tails off. That quarterback’s as good as anybody in the country. Their receivers are as good as anybody in the country. That offense is very talented and is well-coached, and our defense made a lot of plays. Obviously, we didn’t help them out. We couldn’t convert on third down to keep them off the field, and our guys got a little tired in the second half. I thought we played really well in the special teams. Our returns were much improved. I thought we showed some signs (offensively) in the second half of being better. But I think there’s a lot of positives. They’re a good football team.”