Matthews adds firepower to Kentucky's offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

No, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks doesn’t have some obsession with space travel.

But, yes, he does believe his offense is going to be better this season, particularly his passing game.

The phrase Brooks has used this preseason when asked about his offense is “light years,” as in the Wildcats are “light years” ahead of where they were this time a year ago on offense.

Much of that optimism centers around junior quarterback Mike Hartline, who’s been a more accurate passer this season, not to mention a better leader.

For all the talk over the summer about what Hartline couldn’t do or didn’t do last season, he’s worked diligently to make this his offense.

That’s a little easier to do when you have guys around you making plays. Hartline was victimized by too many drops and too many guys not doing something with the ball after the catch a year ago.

He also didn’t have that second option opposite Randall Cobb. That shouldn’t be a problem this season.

Junior college newcomer Chris Matthews has been the star of the preseason. He’s consistently made big plays, and with a 6-5, 210-pound frame, gives the Wildcats a big, physical presence in the passing game they didn’t have last season.

Matthews has all but earned the starting job for Saturday’s opener against Miami (Ohio), and while it’s always a little risky to expect too much out of a guy who’s never done it at the major college level, Matthews has already made a believer of his teammates and coaches.

You see, a lot of his plays have come against All-America cornerback Trevard Lindley, who happens to be one of the best cover guys in the country.

Lindley has even evoked the Julio Jones comparison when talking about the difficulties in matching up with Matthews, who came to Kentucky via Los Angeles Harbor College.

The Wildcats should find out earlier this season just how much they have improved on offense. Playing Miami (Ohio) in that first game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati won’t be easy, and then comes three straight home games against Louisville, Florida and Alabama.

The Gators and Crimson Tide feature two of the best defenses in the country.

A year ago, Kentucky didn’t run up against a legitimate defense until the fifth game. The 27-2 win over Louisville in the opener was deceiving because the Wildcats only scored one offensive touchdown and finished with 210 yards of total offense. Also, that one offensive touchdown came after Lindley intercepted a pass and returned it inside the 10-yard line.

The next three games were against Norfolk State, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, so there might have been a false sense of where Kentucky was on offense at that point.

The Wildcats won’t have the luxury of easing their way into the season offensively this year if they’re going to have a successful September. Whether they’re “light years” ahead of where they were this time last year remains to be seen.

Still, Hartline’s growth as a passer and the addition of Matthews on the perimeter certainly gives them every chance to be significantly better.

And they’ll have to be if they’re going to make their fourth straight appearance in a bowl game.