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The Big Blueprint

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cobb td 1 b.jpgMissed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.

The essentials: John Conner provided the thunder. Randall Cobb sparked the lightning. Behind the power of Conner and the fleet foot of Cobb, the Kentucky football team won its 17th straight non-conference game - which ties UK's school record - defeating Louisiana-Monroe 36-13 on Saturday night in front of 68,203 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. Cobb returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and added another on the ground, and Conner split his two scores with a career-long run and career-long catch. The Cats struggled to move the ball in the second half, but cornerback Randall Burden sealed the game with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"We got accomplished what we needed to do," head coach Rich Brooks said. "(I have) got to give Louisiana-Monroe a lot of credit. Their defensive stuff is something that gave us a lot of problems, and I thought it probably would, but we didn't move the ball well at all. It seems like we scored in chunks rather than drives. ... But we are moving into the next week with a good win against what I think is a pretty good football team and I think has a chance to do a lot of damage in their league."

Play of the game: Take your pick. Conner provided a highlight reel of tackle-breaking runs and Cobb was mighty impressive in the Wildcat package, but the nod has to go to Cobb's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown. The sophomore do-it-all was hit as he was making the catch, but he spun out of the tackle and cut up-field for an easy punt return. It was UK's first punt return since Rafael Little ran one back 84 yards on Nov. 18, 2006, against none another than ULM.
The most astonishing part of the run was the fact that it was Cobb's first career return for a touchdown at any level, college or high school.

"I had like three or four big blocks that really sprung it," Cobb said. "It was just left with me and the punter. I know I'll get a lot of stuff if I get tackled by a punter."

That wasn't going to happen.

Turning point: It didn't take long for the Cats to jump out in front. With a true freshman, Morgan Newton, running the show, John Conner got the call on second down from the 40-yard line and busted a career-long 39-yard run. The senior fullback appeared to be stuffed after a few yards, but he spun out of the would-be tacklers, running it down to the ULM 1. Conner got the nod two plays later for a 1-yard run.

"Being a fullback, you don't know what you're going to get," Conner said. "You might be blocking most of the day, you might get some carries, so I just try to make the best out of what I do."

Thumbnail image for conner td.jpgPlayer of the game: Conner, Cobb. Conner, Cobb. Yes, it's all we're talking about, but they were the stories, quite frankly. So who gets the game ball? Well, I'm going to do what coaches do sometimes and take the easy way out. They both get one for this game.

"We tried not to give Randall as many (touches) but it seems like every time he touches it he does something pretty good with it," Brooks said.

Unsung heroes: The UK defense had its problems getting off the field on third down, but it also sealed the UK victory with its bend but don't break mentality. Three times the ULM offense got into the UK red zone and came up with blanks. The Cats defense also provided nine huge points in the second half on an interception return for a touchdown and a key safety.

He said what? Other notable quotes:

Brooks on Conner's play ...
"John is a pretty special guy. He's one of the best blockers in college football and he showed that he can run. ... I think that he's going to have a future beyond, obviously. He's certainly the changeup in our offense."

Brooks on Morgan Newton's performance ...
"Everyone assumes that because a guy is a highly touted recruit when he comes in that he can automatically step into college football and be an instant savior or star and do a lot of things. It's really hard. It is really, really hard. Morgan continues to do some good things and some of the things he did tonight we're better than he did last week, but we have to be more efficient with the football. We have to make our reads a little quicker and deliver the ball where it's supposed to be."

Joker Phillips on whether anything that Cobb does surprises him ...
"There isn't. I told you he had it. We don't know what it is, but he has it. We're glad we have him."

Injury report: Linebacker Micah Johnson left the game early in the first half with a medial collateral ligament injury. Brooks said they'll determine the extent of the injury in the next 24 to 48 hours. Johnson returned to the field in the second half on crutches and in street clothes. Brooks said the injury is "not major, major, but it is not a band aid injury either."

Linebacker Sam Maxwell dinged his shoulder but returned to the game, and safety Winston Guy bruised his back. Neither of those injuries appear to be serious.

"It seems like we've had to deal with these issues this year and we're going to have to continue to deal with them," Brooks said. "It's not too many years ago when we had one or two of those injuries, we'd be getting killed out there. The good news is we're still able to hang in there and win some games."

Hidden stat: ULM quarterback Cody Wells is downright tough. Making his first collegiate start, the redshirt freshman went 21-for-44 for 267 yards and a score. Wells was at his best when the task was at its tallest. He constantly stood in the pocket and took shots while he was getting hit. He bounced back every time.

Wells did most of his damage on third down. The strong-armed gunslinger helped the Warhawks convert 12-of-19 on third downs. Wells was 10-of-18 for 141 yards on third down alone, with nine of those passes resulting in first downs. On all other downs he was 11-of-26 for 126 yards with a touchdown and two picks.

"(I was) very impressed with their young quarterback under duress," Brooks said. "I mean he was getting hit a lot and still throwing the ball and completing it."

Still, Brooks put part of the blame on his defense.

"Our third down defense was atrocious," he said.

What this one means: It means that any negative feelings there were about this team after a three-game losing streak have suddenly evaporated. Now that the Cats have stuck their heads back above .500, some of those goals Rich Brooks preached about at the beginning of the season don't seem so unlikely anymore.

"We got accomplished what we needed to do," Brooks said.

UK took its hits against teams few in the nation can beat, but now it's winning the games it's supposed to win. Games like Saturday's make fans yawn sometimes, but they count just as equally in the win column as the wins against Louisville in Auburn. 

With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, the Cats can start to dream about taking this already historic thee-year bowl run to new heights.

"I'm not happy (being 4-3), but I'm happy where we are now based on where we were two weeks ago," Brooks said. "I think to get the Auburn win and then come home and get this one, it's critical. It's puts us in position to go back into conference play this coming week against Mississippi State and play a critical football game for us. ... This is a huge football game for both teams next week."

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