Rich Brooks isn't one for compliments. Spend 45 years in coaching and there isn't much he hasn't seen a dozen times over.
Still, even Brooks had to marvel at the way his defense dominated Louisville in Sunday's 27-2 blowout victory in the Governor's Cup.
"I think defensively I don't know how we could have played much better than we did," Brooks said. "Myron Pryor played as good a game as anybody I've been around in terms of a defensive lineman in a long, long time. He was a dominant player up front."
Pryor stripped Louisville's Bilal Powell in the second quarter, and Ashton Cobb picked up the ball and raced 28 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 10-0 lead. Pryor sealed the game in the fourth when all 300-plus pounds of him chugged 72 yards to the end zone. He celebrated by depositing some of his pregame meal on the sideline.
Afterward, it was the Cardinals who felt ill after turning the ball over five times and being held to 205 yards, their lowest total in six years.
Brooks, however, isn't worried about the Wildcats getting a little full of themselves.
"We'll point out the things that they did really bad," Brooks said. "Believe me, even on defense there were enough of those. We should be able to get their attention. They can't live on one game."
Maybe not, but the schedule sits up favorably over the next month. Kentucky hosts three straight games beginning on Saturday against Norfolk State and won't leave the comfy confines of Commonwealth Stadium until October.
By then perhaps, the offense will have made some inroads on the defense. Though Brooks credited quarterback Mike Hartline's steady if not spectacular play, he knows the Wildcats will have to learn to stretch the field if they want to be competitive in the SEC.
Louisville constantly stacked eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage and stuffed Kentucky's running backs with a series of blitzes designed to plug the holes.
It worked. The Wildcats ran for just 63 yards as Derrick Locke, Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith struggled to find any room to move.
"Our line was out of sync a little bit," Brooks said. "Sometimes our backs didn't hit the hole. They were running to darkness sometimes when there was a little light. ... We need to run the ball much better than that."
Getting into a rhythm on the ground should loosen things up for Hartline. His longest pass of the day was a dump-off to burly fullback John Conner that Conner turned into a 20-yard gain. Louisville kept Kentucky star receiver Dicky Lyons mostly under wraps, and most of the team's young receiving corps failed to deliver a big play.
"I don't think our receivers played very well, overall," Brooks said. "If we get better, Mike Hartline's job will be a little easier."
Brooks did find time to praise true freshman Randall Cobb, who split time at receiver and quarterback during training camp and was rumored to be the backup plan in case Hartline faltered. Cobb, however, may have proven himself too valuable as a receiver to put in the backfield. He caught three passes for 31 yards and even got the ball on an end-around once.
"You could tell his speed and athletic ability on a couple of those," Brooks said. "I think you'll see his role expand. He'll play more snaps at receiver and returns in the next game."
While the Wildcats escaped the game without a major injury, Brooks said offensive lineman Christian Johnson, older brother of linebacker Micah Johnson, will likely be redshirted due to back problems. Otherwise, the Wildcats are relatively healthy, and Brooks is eager to move forward.
"We've got four weeks before we open league play, and we've got a lot of work to do," Brooks said. "Hopefully our work between now and then will show that we've improved."
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