LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky football team held its annual Blue/White Game Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium. The first teamers, who went by Kentucky on the scoreboard, won 35-28 over the second team (Wildcats). The first team outscored the second team 35-14 overall, as the Wildcats were spotted 14 points as part of the spring game format.
UK, looking to build on the momentum gained by beating Tennessee in the final game of the 2011 season, put on a show.
There were plenty of positive signs for the first team, both offensively and defensively. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith had a big day through the air, throwing for 353 yards on 29-of-45 passing. With senior quarterback Morgan Newton sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Smith shined. Though he threw two interceptions in the game, he found freshman wide receiver Demarco Robinson for his two touchdowns on the day.
Head coach Joker Phillips, entering his third season as head coach of the Wildcats, was quite pleased with some of the big plays he saw in today’s scrimmage.
“We got an idea of who some of our playmakers are,” said Phillips. “I worked a training camp one time with (former Washington Redskins head coach) Joe Gibbs and one of our coaching meetings said, ‘There’s something to be said about a guy, every time you have a scrimmage, he makes a play.’ Demarco Robinson was that guy. Every time we came into this place (Commonwealth Stadium), he made a huge play for us. Today he made a lot of big plays for us.”
Robinson immediately emerged as Smith’s go-to receiver as Smith went to Robinson multiple times in the first drive and connecting with the freshman for nine receptions in the game. The speedy wide out had a game-high 146 yards receiving on the day, including a long of 69 yards for the first team’s initial score of the game.
Robinson said he and Smith have spent a lot of extra time together this spring, which has helped them build a familiarity with each other.
“Over the spring we’ve been getting a lot of work,” said Robinson. “Extra passes and extra throwing and its really showing that it’s helped. We’re going to keep it up this summer.”
Smith spread the wealth to his cupboard of receivers, hitting eight different receivers Saturday night. When it wasn’t Demarco Robinson making the catches, it was likely junior tight end Tyler Robinson, who caught five passes and fought for 75 yards, many after the catch. Fellow tight end Ronnie Shields, who caught three balls on the day, had a nice catch and run for 23 yards that put the first team offense in position to score in the red zone.
While the numbers looked good in favor of Smith, he felt there was still a lot of room for improvement.
“Well to be honest, I made a couple of bad throws,” said Smith. “Actually, too many. I didn’t think I played too well. I thought as a team, collectively, we played well. We blocked well, ran it well.”
The running backs contributed as well. Both CoShik Williams and Raymond Sanders scored touchdowns for the first team, including two from Sanders. Each back ran the ball eight times, with Williams gaining 38 yards on the ground, and Sanders rushing for 32. Williams was utilized in the passing game with four receptions for 10 yards and a long of nine. Sanders caught one pass for a gain of 10.
Sanders, who is coming back from an injury that limited him to just 40 rush attempts last year, credited his offensive line for his success Saturday.
“I came in and I was able to find the creases, the holes that the offensive line gave me and get good yards out of those,” said Sanders.
An effective no-huddle offensive attack that kept the tempo fast-paced gave the second team defense trouble. The first-team offense amassed 23 first downs while running 63 plays. And despite the speed of the game, the first team did not commit a single penalty on the night.
The first-team defense shined, allowing just one touchdown until the final seconds of the game. The first touchdown came on a defensive breakdown where sophomore quarterback Jacob Russell found daylight in the middle of the line, and took it all the way down the field for a 54-yard touchdown. It was a great display athleticism and speed, as the second-team signal caller led the Wildcats in rushing with a net of 39 yards on 11 attempts. He threw for 96 yards on 8-of-24 passing and a touchdown to junior tight end Anthony Kendrick, which came in the final seconds of the scrimmage.
Defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s defense played fast and had little trouble getting to the quarterback. The first team squad got to Russell with seven sacks on the night, including two from senior defensive end Taylor Windham. The defensive line, anchored by Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, was stout allowing just 93 yards rushing, a number that benefited from nine tackles for loss. Wyndham, Avery Williamson, and Mister Cobble all recorded two tackles for loss, while Williamson led the defensive attack with eight tackles in the game.
It was an encouraging performance for the squad that has had to find ways to replace its playmakers. Losing six defensive starters, players like linebacker Alvin Dupree says the players like what’s happening with the defense.
“Coach Minter’s system is very good,” said Dupree. “It throws a lot of schemes at people as well as different types of blitz zones, pass coverages and things you think you can expect which turns into something else.”
Though they forced no turnovers against the second team offense, they were pleased. The second team defenders, however, got Smith twice. In one instance, Smith tried to force a pass into a group of blue shirts, and a deflected pass ended up in the hands of linebacker Josh Forrest. The second pick was by cornerback Eric Simmons.
The first score of the game came on an 80-yard drive on the first team’s second possession. Sanders got things going for the offense with an 11-yard reception out of the backfield. Smith then looked for his playmaker in Demarco Robinson but came up empty. On the very next play, Smith found a streaking Demarco Robinson down the right sideline for an easy 69-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7.
As the second team offense took over, the first team defense made two big plays at the line of scrimmage. Rumph came up with a big tackle at the line, and two plays later Williamson made a tackle for a loss of four yards. On the ensuing play, Russell broke off his 54-yard scamper and put his team back ahead 21-7 late in the first quarter.
The second team would not score again until 25 seconds left in the game.
Smith led the offense down the field again on his next opportunity. Sanders then took a handoff just inside the 10-yard line for an 8-yard touchdown as Kentucky pulled back to within seven points at 21-14 with 9:17 left in the second quarter.
Demarco Robinson knotted the game up with a slick 21-yard touchdown reception on the right side of the end zone. Robinson went up in traffic and was able to keep a foot in bounds to tie things up at 21 with 1:01 left in the second quarter.
Kentucky found its first lead of the game on a long drive in the third quarter. It picked up a crucial fourth down as Smith found Aaron Boyd for an 8-yard gain. Smith also hit Tyler Robinson twice to move the ball. Raymond Sanders then finished the drive with three rushes capped off with a one-yard rush for his second score of the game as Kentucky went up 28-21.
Williams got the final touchdown for the first team on their next possession. After Shields had two nice catches to set the offense up deep into the Wildcats territory, Williams punched in the score from 5 yards out as they went up 35-21.
The second team had one last opportunity to put some points on the board, and they delivered. After starting deep in Kentucky territory, Russell found Kendrick in back of the end zone for 10-yard score.
Kentucky comes out of spring practice with very limited injuries, sustaining just one today to Cartier Rice (bruised thigh). While some guys are still recovering from injuries that occurred last season, Phillips is encouraged by the fact no serious injuries occurred in the spring sessions.
“For us to do those things for 15 days and not have any major injuries in spring is really big, really key in that we have nobody that has to rehab from now until fall camp,” said Phillips.