Hartline, Cobb Will Split Time at QB for Wildcats

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Rich Brooks has tried alternating quarterbacks enough during his long coaching career to know that it never works.

Well, almost never.

The Kentucky coach has been so encouraged by the play of Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb that he's going to continue playing both of them even though his previous experiments with multiple quarterbacks has often blown up in his face.

"What went wrong (before) was neither of the quarterbacks were as good as the two quarterbacks I have, and the teams that I did it with weren't as good as this team," Brooks said. "So I'm hopeful this time it will work."

It worked well enough during last week's romp over Norfolk State that Brooks has no plans to make drastic changes on Saturday when the Wildcats (2-0) host Middle Tennessee (1-1).

"I can see us going through an extended period of time with both quarterbacks," he said. "Both bring a little bit different things to the table and put different strains on the defense."

Cobb sparkled with both his arms and his legs against the Spartans, running for 49 yards and two touchdowns and completing 6-of-11 passes for 87 yards and a score.

"Randall, after looking at it, did a lot of marvelous things," Brooks said. "But he also did some bad things."

Namely throwing an interception and fumbling the ball deep in Kentucky territory, a miscue that led to Norfolk State's only points.

Still, for a true freshman playing in just the second game of his career, Cobb's teammates have been as impressed by his poise as his athletic ability. When Cobb entered the huddle in place of Hartline late in the first quarter, he hardly looked like a guy who entered training camp slotted to compete for a starting job at wide receiver, not quarterback.

"He was ready to go to town," said right tackle Justin Jeffries. "He made the impression upon me that he wasn't really nervous. He obviously made a couple of rookie mistakes, but he's a rookie. I think he did a pretty good job."

Cobb wowed the Commonwealth Stadium crowd, so much so that there were a smattering of boos when Hartline came back in to start the second half. Brooks chastised the fans for their behavior, and took some of the blame for Hartline's relatively modest success. Hartline completed 9-of-15 passes for 60 yards on Saturday, and doesn't have a pass longer than 20 yards through two games.

"We went into the first game with him and we were so intent on not screwing it up that we might have coached a little bit too much caution into him," Brooks said. "We've got to allow him a little more freedom."

A little assistance from the receiving corps wouldn't hurt either. Kentucky wideouts made several mistakes against Norfolk State, running the wrong routes at times and dropping catchable balls at others. Hartline hit E.J. Adams in stride on a bomb, only to have Adams drop it.

"That might have ended up being a TD," Brooks said. "It was an excellent throw and plop ... on the ground. We're not used to seeing that around here."

Brooks said he'd like to see a receiver or three step up and provide some continuity. Doing that would make the job easier for the quarterback no matter who is under center.

"If we can get the ball movement and move the chains and score some points, Mike will feel better, everybody will feel better," Brooks said. "Then we can move forward and have our two quarterback system with some general acceptance of the plan."

Cobb and Hartline's teammates say they're comfortable with either one at quarterback, and the way Kentucky's defense is playing right now the quarterback need only to make sure he doesn't find a way to lose games.

Opponents have managed just five points in eight quarters against Kentucky this year, the first time since 1958 the Wildcats haven't allowed a touchdown in the season's first two games.

The test will get much stiffer on Saturday. Middle Tennessee is coming off a convincing 24-14 win over Maryland, and its spread offense can cause fits for opponents. Just ask Louisville, which allowed the Blue Raiders to roll up 555 total yards last season.

"They do a lot of things that Florida does," said defensive end Jeremy Jarmon. "You've just got to play assignment football and not worry about where the ball is. Just do your job."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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