The Kentucky football team had its second major scrimmage Saturday morning, with the offense and defense each having time to shine.
Chased inside to the Nutter Field House by steady rain, the Wildcats had a one-hour, 35-minute practice, with the last 70 minutes comprised of scrimmage.
The offense got off to a good start, as senior quarterback Andre’ Woodson promptly directed a 60-yard touchdown drive against the first-team defense. The touchdown came on an 18-yard Woodson strike across the middle to sophomore tight end T. C. Drake. It was the only score allowed by the first defense all day.
Two series later, redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Hartline got the second-team offense on the scoreboard vs. the second-team defense. Hartline connected on a 48-yard bomb to senior tight end Jacob Tamme, who used his speed to get behind the secondary, haul in the pass, and race to the end zone. The first-, second-, and third-team defense stiffened after that, with no more scores allowed the remainder of the day.
“We got a look at a lot of people today,” Coach Rich Brooks said. “There were good things on both sides of the ball. I’m pleased with the progress of (sophomore tailback) Antoine Brown. He’s doing some good things. Alfonso (sophomore tailback Alfonso Smith) continues to look like he’s going to be a major factor, even with a healthy (Tony) Dixon and (Rafael) Little. It’s obvious he has some big-play ability and we need to get him some carries next fall.”
Smith and Little shared the tailback duties with the first team, with Smith rushing six times for 21 yards and Little picking up 15 yards on four carries. The leading rusher in the scrimmage was redshirt freshman tailback Trey Bowland. Running with the second and third teams, Bowland ran five times for 39 yards, with a nifty 26-yard scamper being the longest rushing play of the scrimmage.
A focal point of the spring continues to be the competition between Mike Hartline and Will Fidler for the backup quarterback role behind Woodson. Hartline and Fidler each had one series with the first team, one with the second team, and two with the third team on Saturday. Hartline completed 4-of-9 for 61 yards, including the touchdown to Tamme. Fidler hit 9-of-14 for 81 yards. Fidler guided the team into scoring territory on both of his possessions with the third team, only to see missed field goals end the threats.
“Right now neither (Fidler or Hartline) is playing to the level they need to play,” Brooks said. “What we need to do is clean up the things they’re not doing well. The thing they’re struggling a little bit with right now is how quickly they have to make decisions when it’s a live deal. The speed of the game, they have to adjust to that. I think they both have the ability to be very good players throwing the ball. I think they did a better job mentally today, in terms of not getting us in the wrong play or wrong protection, but physically, they to throw the ball better and execute the offense better, moving the chains.”
Brooks has been pleased with the performance of Woodson.
“Andre is playing very well,” Brooks said. “Obviously, he throws the ball very accurately. He knows what he’s doing out there. I’m rolling the dice a little bit, because I’m not going to have any contact for him, maybe clear up to the first game this year. Bottom line, I think he’s playing very, very well and obviously he has some weapons to get the ball to.”
Brooks also has been happy with the recovery of Little, who had arthroscopic knee surgery before spring practice began.
“Rafael looks like he’s got as much speed as he’s had,” Brooks said. “The explosion is back. Last year, when he tried to shift into his second gear, I think he got it about halfway there. It looks like it’s all the way back now. We just need to get him through and keep him healthy.”
The defense did not generate any turnovers during the scrimmage, but there were some big plays. Senior defensive end J. D. Craigman, freshman linebacker Chris Cessna, and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin each had quarterback sacks, with Craigman’s causing a fumble that was recovered by the offense. Defensive end Nii Adjei Oninku also appeared to get a sack when he caused Hartline to fumble, but the quarterback picked up the loose ball and ran for positive yardage, negating the sack.
Cessna incurred what appeared to be the only significant injury of the scrimmage when he sustained an injured knee. He will be tested this week to determine the extent of the injury.
The Wildcats return to practice Monday at 9 a.m. at the Nutter Training Facility as they head into the final week of spring practice, which will conclude Saturday, April 21, with the Blue/White Spring Game.