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Notebook: Evaluating the Louisville performance, on second viewing

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Aaron Boyd earned a starting role after catching three passes for 36 yards against Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Boyd earned a starting role after catching three passes for 36 yards against Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It didn't take an expertly trained football eye to issue a critique of the way Kentucky's defense played Sunday, particularly through the first two-and-a-half quarters.

Especially after an offseason of hearing how the defensive front would be the strength of the team, it's easy to fall into the trap of pinning all the unit's failings on the line. After taking a look at the tape, Joker Phillips sees things as much more complicated than that.

"Everybody puts the blame on the D-line; our linebackers have got to play better," Phillips said. "They've got to play better. They've got to get us in the right calls and then they've got to stay in their gaps. Our D-line didn't play great, but they didn't play as bad as everybody would think because a team runs for (219) yards on you."

UK now has a short week to turn around and prepare for its first home game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against Kent State. With much to address in a short period of time, Phillips sees one clear priority on the defense, and it's something that could help in other areas too.

"Just get lined up," Phillips said. "We were unsound in a lot of things with how we aligned. If we can just get lined up. It really wasn't anybody getting whipped."

In undertaking that task, Phillips looks to himself and his coaching staff first.

"We have to give them a better plan so it's easier to get lined up," Phillips said. "I'm not just blaming the players, I'm blaming us as coaches."

Offensively, there is more credit to go around and blame after the opener. The Kentucky offense was able to more consistently move the ball than at any point last season, registering more first downs than in any 2011 game.

 "It's obvious after looking at it that we've got some talent on offense, got some guys that can make plays," Phillips said.

The work UK will undertake this week will be more about fine-tuning than anything else. The Cats scratched across just 14 points, but four drives that got inside the U of L 25-yard line were undone by mistakes.

"Games like that a lot of times when you play a good opponent, it's just three or four or five plays that make a huge difference," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "And that's exactly what it was. You're never going to execute every one perfectly, but we had opportunity really for about three big plays in there that we didn't take advantage of."

Special teams also showed positive signs as UK recovered an onside kick and returned three punts for 22 yards. In 2011, the Cats had just 35 yards on 19 attempts.

Depth chart shuffling

As is typically the case, performances on the field resulted in some moves on the depth chart between week one and two.

There are new starters at wide receiver - Aaron Boyd and Daryl Collins - and linebacker - where Malcolm McDuffen leapfrogged Tyler Brause. Also, there are no longer any players listed with an "or" next to their names, meaning Ronnie Shields (tight ends), CoShik Williams (running back) and Craig McIntosh (kickoff specialist) are in sole possession of the starting role at their respective positions. Finally, true freshmen Dyshawn Mobley (running back) and DeMarcus Sweat (wide receiver) have each been added to the depth chart as third stringers.

Phillips also reported that more young players will be given opportunities to play as the season wears on, especially on defense.

"Why not?" Phillips said. "Talent will overcome experience any day. You're making mistakes as a sophomore or junior, it's no different than a freshman who's really talented. So you'll see some of the other freshmen getting more reps, especially in the front seven."

Boyd, a senior, is the exception. He has made a push to the top of the depth chart after struggling to make an impact in his first years on campus, but reeled in three passes for 36 yards against Louisville.

"So proud of Aaron," Phillips said. "I am. Aaron stayed the course. He's grown up a lot. Many of you guys have watched him grow. He's a lot more mature. He handles his business the right way. I'm so proud of him that he got an opportunity not only to play, but to make some plays for us."

It wasn't just his playmaking that caught Phillips' eye. Boyd, at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, showed a willingness and an ability to make an impact as a blocker, which is invaluable in an offense that relies heavily on turning short passes into longer gains.

Smith spreading the wealth

Coming into the season, Phillips spoke at length about not wanting a go-to receiver. Instead, he was looking for a group of wide outs and tight ends that shared the load and kept opposing defenses off-balance.

That's what he got on Sunday.

La'Rod King and Daryl Collins combined for 15 catches and 151 yards , but quarterback Maxwell Smith completed passes to 11 different receivers. Nine players caught at least two passes and six players had three receptions or more.

"It definitely helps with the practice tempo," Phillips said. "It helps the attitude of the receivers in practice. Receivers want to catch the ball. They want to handle the ball. They see opportunities, you see a lot more zip in practice. They run an unbelievable amount. It only helps when you see all those guys getting involved."

Phillips doesn't want it to stop there. Running back Dyshawn Mobley was the lone true freshman to catch a pass, while DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree got in late and did not record a reception.

"We expect even more," Phillips said. "We have to get the young freshmen. We have to. Those guys are talented. Down the road, maybe even more talented than the guys that came in last year and made plays. But they're not there yet."

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