By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said UK “didn’t play well enough to win” because of penalties, turnovers and mistakes in Saturday’s 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky.
“Thought we missed some opportunities in the third quarter when I thought we had a chance to kind of take control of the game. We’ve got to be better on first downs. I think that’s what hurt us. We got behind on the chains and we had a hard time overcoming that,” said Brown after his first game back at UK.
The former Boyle County High School three-sport standout talked about a variety of things after the Cats lost to Western Kentucky for the second straight year.
Question: Did Maxwell Smith make it a quarterback competition again with his play?
Brown: It’s been a competition the whole time. Going into the game, we had a plan to just kind of see how it goes. I thought he did a good job of being mature and handling it. I thought when he came in the game, he made some throws, made some big throws down field. And I thought he played well. It’s hard to say until I get a chance to watch it.”
Question: What happened on freshman Ryan Timmons’ fumble?
Brown: “It’s growing pains. You’re know if you’re going to roll out there with young kids, then you have an idea of what’s going to happen: some of it’s going to be good; some of it’s going to be bad. I thought he was really good with the ball in his hands, which I thought he would be. Obviously the fumble hurt us.”
Question: What about the play of Jalen Whitlow?
Brown: “He made some plays with his feet. He’s got to throw it better. I thought he was nervous. I thought it showed early. But it’s hard to say until you watch it.”
Question: Should he have gone to Smith before the fourth quarter?
Brown: “I don’t know. Ifs, ands, buts, you know what I mean? Jalen beat him there in camp. He played better in camp. We moved the ball. It wasn’t like Jalen was just coming up empty. Third quarter, the third-and-1 that we did not get, where (WKU) No. 4 (linebacker Andrew Jackson) made a good play, I thought that was a big momentum swing. I’m not trying to avoid your question; I just don’t know. He made a good play. I didn’t really notice him a whole lot through the whole game. He’s a good player, but he got us. That’s one I’d like to get back. I thought we left some opportunities out there in the third quarter. We had a chance to grab momentum. We had two pretty good drives.”
Question: What did Whitlow to win the No. 1 quarterback job that he didn’t do against Western?
Brown: “He probably missed a couple easier throws. He didn’t get one of our protections. Should’ve told the back to stay when he got hit. But he did some good things. We’ve got to be better around him. We can talk about quarterbacks for a long time, but we’ve got to be better around them, too. I think that has as much to do with it as anything.”
Question: What about the offensive line?
Brown: “Well, we ran the ball well. We’ve gotta get better in pass protection. We did some good things in the run game.”
Question: Why so many penalties on the offense?
Brown: “I think it hurt us. We struggle when we get behind the chains. That’s kind of who we are right now, and we didn’t help ourselves. Especially on third down, twice. One time we had two of them in a row. We’ve got to be more disciplined than we were tonight.”
Question: Was the tempo what you wanted?
Brown: “You’ve just kind of get in a feel. You’ve gotta make first downs. I think when we got the drives, we played decent tempo at some points. Also, they were doing a good job getting first downs on the other side, and we’re not very deep on defense. So you don’t want to put your defense in a bind. We’ve got to get better on first down. That’s the key. If we get better on first down, then we can play fast, then we can move the chains. But today what happened was we didn’t do a very good job on first down, so you can’t set your tempo. If you look at it, I don’t remember the last time I played a game when I had 15 first downs. We’ve got to be much better at that.”
Question: Were there any standouts for you?
Brown: “I thought our O-line played (well) – other than the penalties. Running the football, they did a good job. Ray (Sanders) did some good things. Jalen did some really good things running the football. Max came in and made some throws. It was encouraging to see Demarco (Robinson) make that play there (on a late touchdown catch). So I think there were some positives. We’re going to have some growing pains. I’m not surprised that we weren’t a finished product here.”
Question: Do you worry the positive momentum will slip away because of this loss?
Brown: “I’ve been pretty realistic about where we’re at the whole time talking to people. We’ve got work to do. Our kids are trying hard. We’ve got a young group that we’re playing with, and we’re going to get better. We’re going to get better. This wasn’t the end-all. Obviously this wasn’t the result we wanted by any means, but it’s not the end of our season. It’s going to be a process. I knew what I was getting into.”
Question: What kind of turnout of fans do you expect for the home opener this week?
Brown: “Hopefully they don’t lose hope. We knew when we took this job, it was going to be a process. We’re playing a lot of young kids. Some of them did some really good things, some of them didn’t. Some of them played like young guys. We’ve got to go back to work, create a winning mentality, and go just from week-to-week. I think coach Stoops said we have 12, one-game seasons. That’s basically what it is. It’s going to be a process. We knew that coming in. I’m not surprised. Not that we didn’t win the game. I felt like we could win the game, but there’s going to be some growing pains.”
Question: What was the most surprising about this game?
Brown: “I didn’t think we would have that many procedure penalties. That was a surprise for me. I thought we would be better on first down. Those were two things I was disappointed in. I guess they were surprising, but more disappointing than anything.”