LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's offensive line, which coach
Joker Phillips paraded in the preseason as the team's strength,
finally recovered from injuries to allow all five first-stringers
to start last week against Florida.
Now they're preparing for the team's biggest challenge of the
season, playing at No. 1 LSU on Saturday.
The unit has been banged up since preseason camp with various
injuries, and three of the five have missed at least one start this
season for the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1). Though all five started last
week, they didn't get a full week of practice.
Center Matt Smith missed each of the first three games with an
ankle injury. Left guard Stuart Hines sprained two knee ligaments
in the preseason and missed the season opener. Right tackle Billy
Joe Murphy suffered a knee injury in the opener against Western
Kentucky and missed two games before returning Saturday against
"It feels good to get back," Murphy said. "It was really
frustrating to sit out considering that I've never missed a game
before. I grew up playing three sports and never missed a game.
That was very frustrating for me to see everybody else out there
With reserves swapping in and out across the line, Kentucky's
offense has suffered early in the season without the protections it
expected from a veteran group that returned four starters from
2010. The Wildcats rank 10th in the Southeastern Conference in
total offense at 280.8 yards per game, and their eight offensive
touchdowns rank 11th among the league's 12 teams.
The line has also given up 16 sacks this season, which ties for
the most in the SEC. Kentucky only gave up 19 sacks all last
The Wildcats are faced, for a second-straight week, with running
the ball against one of the nation's best rush defenses without
starting tailback Raymond Sanders, who had arthroscopic knee
surgery on Sept. 15 and is expected to miss at least one more week.
Reserve Josh Clemons suffered a hamstring injury after three
carries in the Florida game, but he is expected to be available
after participating in individual practice drills on Tuesday.
Through four games, LSU ranks second in the SEC, allowing just
1.9 yards per carry.
Even just one game with the entire first-string line brought
instant improvement, Smith said.
"I think we rushed the ball better last week," Smith said. "I
think we put more yards on Florida than anyone else has yet, which
is a good thing even though we weren't able to win. It's
improvement. We still have a lot of improvement to do. We felt
solid on our pass protection-a lot better than we had, anyway.
There wasn't as much pressure on (quarterback) Morgan (Newton), but
it still needs to be better. It needs to be perfect."
Phillips said now that the line will have a full week of
practice to prepare for an opponent and to re-acclimate as a unit,
he expects the five to work toward becoming the strength of the
Wildcats he said it would be in August.
"Our first few weeks our footwork was atrocious," Phillips
said. "I think now, it's a lot cleaner how we're playing because
of the guys we have back going into their second week back
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)