Tomorrow's column today: Randall Cobb

The text, as submitted, for tomorrow’s column on the UK-Florida game. As yet unedited. After the column, a few thoughts on writing it. Not sure what the headline will be.

By ERIC CRAWFORD

GAINESVILLE, Fla.

After yesterday’s 63-5 thrashing by Florida in The Swamp, University of Kentucky players trudged off the field as if they were walking through ankle deep water — with one exeption.

Randall Cobb ran off.

That’s the picture UK coaches ought to bring back to Lexington. It’s time to take Cobb and run with him. And pass with him. And anything else the talented 5-11, 185-pound freshman can do for the Wildcats.

This is nothing against Mike Hartline. He’s a young quarterback in a tough spot, and he is struggling.

This has everything to do with Cobb. He’s a young quarterback in a tough spot, and he’s thriving, and he’s the best potential jump start this team has available.

After yesterday’s game, UK coach Rich Brooks emphasized what he has stressed all season — that the Wildcats need both quarterbacks. That both are one hit away from being the starter. But he also said this:

“We’ll evaluate this game, and judge on what we’re going to do at all the positions, really, not just quarterback. . . . And certainly, you know, we’ll look at it and evaluate it and see what we’ll do moving forward.”

What he will see from yesterday is pretty stark. Cobb actually took more snaps at QB than Hartline in the game, though it doesn’t seem like it, perhaps, because Hartline got seven full series, Cobb just four.

Cobb’s average series: 8.8 plays, 42.8 yards, 4:04 time of possession and an average finish of the Florida 24-yard line. Hartline’s average series: 3.6 plays, 8.4 yards, 1:45 time of possession and an average finish of the UK 31. Cobb produced 12 first downs, Hartline two, and Will Fidler three in the game’s final series.

Yes, it’s just one game. Yes, it’s just one game after Hartline found Cobb at receiver for two touchdowns to beat Arkansas. But yesterday, with Hartline at quarterback, Cobb got the ball just twice for seven yards.

At quarterback, Cobb ran nine times for a team-high 52 and completed nine passes for 78 against an elite Southeastern Conference opponent. With Cobb at quarterback, UK ran for 93 yards and 5.5 per carry. With Hartline under center, the Cats ran for 26 yards and 2.9 per carry.

That’s a bunch of numbers that all say the same thing — the offense is working better with Cobb. Running backs are running better. The passing game is producing. The chains are moving.

Cobb came into a difficult situation — four straight three-and outs and a 21-0 deficit late in the first quarter. And after a three-and-out of his own and another Florida TD, he drove UK to the Florida 9, where it had a field goal blocked, then came back to put together UK’s only scoring drive of the game, 14 plays and 76 yards.

Brooks’ reasons for wanting to keep both in action are good ones, and I expect him to stay with them. But eventually, performance has to win out. Cobb’s first half performance seemed to merit more second-half time, but Hartline started the second and had an interception run back for a TD on his first pass. Cobb played only one second-half QB series, a 12-play, 56 yard drive that ended at the Florida 4.

Hartline has thrown for better than 1,200 yards this season and will improve. This isn’t about him — it’s about what adds up to more wins for UK. And that equation, more and more, reads like this:

Cobb + QB.

DISCUSSION:

One thing I wanted to be careful of here was not to trash Hartline. He’s a redshirt sophomore in one of the best football conferences in the country. I think the difficulty of his situation needs to be appreciated. Moreover, I’m not advocating a change because of his play, so much as I am because of Cobb.

Cobb, clearly, is a next-level athlete. When things broke down, he was able to make something happen. He’s the best offensive playmaker on the field for Kentucky, and having the ball in his hands on every snap can only mean good things, not bad.

In 550 words, you can’t really go into all the nuances. Brooks’ initial quote on the quarterbacks was this: “We need both quarterbacks and Hartline did bring us back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to Cobb (against Arkansas) and that combination is good, we just are kind of into that two quarterback thing we thought we were going to be in before Randall Cobb hurt his ankle. They both bring a little something different to the table. It didn’t make much difference what we were doing right now. We’ve got to do a better job getting our guys to execute better.”

I asked “I told him, one, keep his head up. The corner coming off unblocked, he tried to make a throw off his heels, I told him he should have thrown it away, thrown it out of bounds and live to fight another day. That was not the way we envisioned to start the second half.”

At the same time, I thought the stats made the case for Cobb as well as anything. They aren’t close, and the fact that when you take Cobb’s numbers out of of the rushing, UK’s other backs still ran for better than five yards per carry when he was in the game, is even more in his favor.

There’s plenty to dissect from this game. The special teams. The ramifications of loss of this magnitude. The defensive struggles.

But the quarterback deal is the central story right now, and Cobb is the central figure who can help key the turnaround. Sometimes you change because of performance. Sometimes you change because you want the feeling of a new start. At this point, Cobb would seem to fulfill both.

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