Stacey Poole and the men's basketball team helped feed hungry fans during the Big Blue Madness camp-out. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Bundled up in temperatures that feel distinctly like fall, thousands of fans seeking tickets to Kentucky's Big Blue Madness have surrounded Memorial Coliseum. On the final day before ticket distribution at 7 a.m. Saturday, a record 570 tents have been set up.
I'd like to call the 2011 total insurmountable, but I know better than to bet against the Big Blue Nation.
Last year's camp-out was the previous record holder with approximately 525 tents, but UK fans needed only until Friday morning to top that. Since 9 a.m. this morning, another 20 tents have been erected on Stoll Field across the street from the basketball complex.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, UK staff handed out control cards to fans. Patient Kentucky fans have been distracted by visits from John Calipari and members of men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball teams.
This week's episode of UK Rewind is posted and ready for viewing. Make sure to head over to UK Interactive to see a new episode each week. Also, if you missed it this past Monday, I sat down to talk with Stacey Johnson, the regular host of UK Rewind to learn a little more about her and the show, so check that out.
It has been four years already, but Kentucky fans don't need much reminding about the last time the Wildcats beat LSU. It was 2007 and the Tigers were on the way to a national championship when UK defeated Les Miles' team 43-37 in one of the biggest wins in school history.
The game was actually the last matchup between UK and LSU, two teams who are preparing for a meeting this Saturday in Baton Rouge, La. As in 2007, the Tigers enter the game as the nation's No. 1 team with UK looking to dethrone them. The personnel may have changed, but Joker Phillips says the theory the Wildcats used to upend the Tigers last time around won't.
"We have to use the same formula to beat them," Phillips said, "and the formula was getting the ball back to the line of scrimmage."
Against an attacking defensive unit like the Tigers had in 2007 and have again in 2011, taking care of the football and avoiding negative plays are the clear priorities. By "getting the ball back to the line of scrimmage" and holding on to the football, UK was able to hang around against the eventual national champions. Once that happened, it came down to late-game execution.
"We found a way late in the game to make some plays, to have a chance to upset them," Phillips said. "And it will be the same way that we'll have to do it this week. We can't turn the ball over. We have to make some stops on defense, make them travel the whole field."
Unfortunately, that task has been easier said than done for the Wildcats so far in 2011. UK has committed 10 turnovers in just four games, including four in a loss to Florida last week. If UK commits turnovers, LSU is more than capable of scoring defensive touchdowns but even if the Tigers don't, the short fields those turnovers will create for LSU's bruising running game will be back-breaking.
Last week, Florida had five drives start in UK territory and the Gators scored on all five. On the other 11, UK's defense actually did a reasonably good job limiting the Gators.
"We have to make people travel the whole field," Phillips said. "We have given them the short field way too many times and a lot of that has to do with turnovers."
If UK is indeed able to force LSU into extended drives, that's when turnovers can really be forced. LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee has been effective taking care of the football this season, throwing just one interception in three games, but he threw 18 picks in 398 pass attempts in his first three seasons, including 16 in his only full season as a starter in 2008.
Lee, like nearly all the players on both of these teams, was not on the field the last time UK and LSU matched up, but Phillips said he has used the example of the game to emphasize to his players what needs to be done to win. Beyond that, the impact is somewhat limited because players' memories are short these days.
"You can use it a little bit, but some of the guys on this team don't remember that game," Phillips said.
Even the ones that do remember have never played on the road against LSU. One of the most hostile venues in the nation, Tiger Stadium is notorious for raucous crowds that make defeating the always strong LSU team that much more difficult. UK has practiced this week with speakers imitating crowd noise directly behind the offensive huddle, which should help the Cats cope come Saturday. Even so, fully preparing for what they'll face is impossible.
However, there may be no better coach than Phillips to help them do it. Phillips played in Baton Rouge at UK in 1983, catching a pair of touchdowns as the Wildcats won 21-13.
"I went in there was a player and as a coach and came away successful," Phillips said. "You can expect a loud, hostile crowd. I can remember Coach (Jerry) Claiborne taking us to walk the field, walk the stadium prior to the '83 game when we did play there and won."
Phillips can remember what Jerry Eisaman, his offensive coordinator in 1983, said to acclimate his players to the surroundings.
"He asked us just to smell the popcorn, smell the grass and all those things that come with being on a college football field," Phillips said. "Those things helped us mentally in understanding and preparing ourselves for what was about to happen the next day and to give us an opportunity to go in there and win, because we were prepared. None of the things shocked us."
However he accomplishes it, Phillips will need to have his players in a similar state of mind when the two teams play a rare day game at Tiger Stadium. Games are almost always played under the lights in Baton Rouge and LSU has historically been much more successful in home games at night. Although he does like the fact his team doesn't have to while away the time on Saturday before kickoff, Phillips knows football is still football.
"When the whistle blows, you can throw out all that stuff," Phillips said. "We'll try to use that mentally but when the whistle blows, you can throw out all that stuff and it's you against me and that's the attitude that we have to take."
Fans get a pleasantly surprising wake-up call from Terrence Jones, who was handing out McDonald's breakfast to campers. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With 50 new tents setting up last night and this morning, the tent count at the Big Blue Madness camp-out has climbed to approximately 550, breaking the record of 525 set last year.
Walking around the campsite this morning, there are still plenty of campers arriving and setting up across the street from Memorial Coliseum. Amazingly, there is still room for more people at Stoll Field as we enter the final day before ticket distribution tomorrow at 7 a.m. We will have one more official count late this afternoon when that record number of tents will assuredly be improved upon.
Campers have been treated to visits from coaches and players from a number of different teams, including a early morning breakfast delivery from the men's basketball team on Friday.
Wideout LaRod King likes what he has seen on the practice field this week--he just wishes he had seen it earlier.
"They're motivated. It kinda makes me mad that it takes a loss to Florida to get them motivated. It should have been that way from day one," King said.
What about the dropped passes, a malady that has affect King and almost everyone else in the wide receiver corps.
"Definitely it is a mental thing. Everybody here can catch," King said. "We've got a lot of young guys and when you get to the game, the atmosphere is totally different and it's something that comes with experience."
Football coaches always preach about the importance of field position and here are some stats to drive that point home as it pertains to the Wildcats.
In the last two games, UK has started only one drive outside its own 40-yard line--and the Wildcats converted that one good-field-position-opportunity into a touchdown. Once UK crosses the opponents' 40, Morgan Newton's completion rate is 61 percent but it drops to 45% when the Cats are inside their 40-yard line. Inside his own 20, Newton's completion rate falls to 38 percent (numbers courtesy of cfbstats.com).
If Kentucky is fortunate enough to cross LSU's 40 this Saturday, then the numbers say put the ball in the air. LSU is allowing a 73 percent completion rate but less than one yard per rushing attempt.
Turnovers have been the biggest thorn in UK's side through four games. And LSU ranks fourth in the nation in turnover margin, with 11 takeaways versus only three turnovers commited by the Tigers. And turnovers have been a big problem for Kentucky. This season and last, in seven SEC losses, the Cats have given it away 21 times. It's hard to beat mediocre teams doing that, much less really good ones.
Joker Phillips had one of his best nights as a player when Kentucky won at LSU in 1983, 21-13.
Phillips caught two touchdown passes from Randy Jenkins to spark a second-half comeback for the Wildcats. UK scored only its only first-half points on the game's fourth play, when cornerback Kerry Baird picked off a pass and returned in 35 yards to paydirt.
Cawood Ledford would later note in his radio broadcast that the final score was "Franklin-Simpson 21, LSU 13," since Phillips and Baird were both FSHS products. Phillips says some folks in his hometown had bumper stickers printed up with those words on them.
With over a day and a half left before tickets are distributed on Saturday morning, the tent count at the Big Blue Madness camp-out has climbed to approximately 500 on Thursday at 4 p.m. At the same time during last year's record-setting camp-out, there were 435 tents.
With the tent count above the 500 mark on Thursday afternoon, there stands a good chance that the record of 525 tents from last year's camp-out will fall at the next official count tomorrow morning.
When Mitch Barnhart took over as Athletics Director in 2002, he set out his vision for the success of all 22 varsity teams at the University of Kentucky. During that time, UK has seen unprecedented levels of achievement across those sports, especially during the last athletic year.
Between rifle's national championship, men's basketball's trip to the Final Four, softball's berth in the Super Regionals, the appearance by men's tennis in the Elite Eight, volleyball's sixth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, football's fifth straight bowl game and UK Hoops' second consecutive NCAA berth, 2010-11 was arguably the best season in the history of UK Athletics.
As good as last year was, this one is setting up to potentially be even better. Teams with high expectations like rifle, men's and women's basketball and softball have yet to begin their seasons, but fall sports have the 2011-12 athletics year off to an amazing start. The fall sports teams have a combined record of 27-9-1 among those with win-loss records, while teams that play tournaments or participate in meets have four first place finishes in eight opportunities.
Here are some of the top storylines from the first month of the season:
Volleyball rallies from early season adversity
Craig Skinner presents junior libero Stephanie Klefot with a game ball commemorating her 1000th career dig. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Knowing UK would be hosting a regional in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats had high goals entering the season, wanting to position themselves to potentially play in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Memorial Coliseum. The season, though, did not get off to the best start. Volleyball lost two of its first four matches, both by sweeps. The second came at home against Cincinnati and the Cats did not hesitate to call the performance "embarrassing".
Since then, the Wildcats have been anything but embarrassing on the floor, winning 10 of 11 matches to run their record to 12-3 on the season, 3-1 in SEC play. In the 10 wins, UK has won an astounding 30-of-33 sets. The lone loss came in the toughest game the conference has to offer: on the road against No. 6 Florida.
After winning SEC Libero of the Year a season ago, junior Stephanie Klefot has been a defensive stalwart. Averaging nearly five digs per set, Klefot became the 11th player in school history with 1,000 digs three weeks ago. UK's attack is a balanced one, with five players averaging at least two kills per set, including junior Ashley Frazier with a team-leading 2.73.
Men's and women's soccer making a mark
Both the men's and women's soccer teams recently entered conference play having established themselves as contenders during difficult non-conference schedules.
Senior forward Kelsey Hunyadi has tallied 20 points in 10 games this season (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
At 8-2-0, Jon Lipsitz and his women's team rank 12th in the nation in the RPI, the highest rating in program history. Seven of the Wildcats' 10 games have come against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, with UK winning five. The team started the year with six straight wins, but a loss to No. 24 Dayton on Sept. 17 ended the streak and forced Lipsitz to cut the beard he promised to grow until his team's first loss.
After losing their next game at Alabama in the SEC opener, UK bounced back with a 4-1 win over Auburn in which Kelsey Hunyadi tied a career-high with five points. Her two goals and one assist moved her point total on the season to 20, putting her on pace to make a run at the school record.
Since arriving at UK before the 2009 season, Lipsitz has built the program quickly. The Cats advanced to the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals a season ago and appear poised to improve upon that finish in a difficult conference that features nine teams in the RPI top 50. Next up for UK is a pair of road games this weekend against South Carolina and Florida.
Ian Collins and the men's team (7-4-1) currently are ranked 21st in the nation. Right off the bat, UK made a statement with a home upset of then-No. 9 ranked Michigan en route to a 4-0-1 start. The Wildcats are in now the midst of a stretch of games that called for them to travel nearly 10,000 miles in three weeks and face some of the country's top teams. Though the Cats have lost four games during that time, three of the losses have come at the hands of teams ranked in the top 20 and all have been on the road.
Most recently, UK suffered an overtime loss against No. 10 Central Florida, but sophomore Tyler Riggs scored his team-leading ninth goal. Riggs leads one of the nation's top attacks and ranks among NCAA leaders in both points and goals. Junior Matt Lodge also keys UK's high-octane offense and has tallied seven goals and seven assists.
Don't let the record fool you, because UK is more than capable of making noise in the post-season. With that stellar offense, an improving defense and the experience of playing an exceptionally tough schedule, there won't be a challenge the Cats face that they won't be capable of overcoming. UK next faces Florida International at noon ET Sunday in the second game of play in Conference USA.
Orta leads cross country's strong start
Junior Luis Orta has twice won SEC Runner of the Week this season. (UK Athletics)
Following a strong first two seasons at UK, junior Luis Orta entered the season with high expectations. Looking to improve on his three top-five meet finishes from a year ago, Orta has exceeded the goals head coach Don Weber set for him.
In the opening two meets of 2011, the Caracas, Venezuela, native has dominated, leading the men's team to a pair of wins in the Belmont/VU Opener and the Tennessee Invitational. Orta placed first in both meets, including finishing the 8,000-meter course at the Tennessee Invitational over 17 seconds faster than his nearest competitor. Orta was named SEC Men's Runner of the Week after both wins, the second and third times he earned the award in his career.
The women's team has also had a successful start to the season, placing first in the Tennessee Invitational and third in the Belmont/VU Opener. Junior Chelsea Oswald has paced the Cats in both meets.
The men's and women's cross country teams are in action again this weekend in the Greater Louisville Invitational in Louisville, Ky.
Men's, women's golf in full swing
Women's golf head coach Golda Johansson Borst is in her second season as head coach and is looking to build on a successful first year that saw the team advance to post-season play for the first time since 2008. Things are looking good so far as UK finished third in its first tournament of the season, the Texas A&M "Mo"Morial. The finish is the best of Borst's tenure. Senior Ashlee Rose and junior Ashleigh Albrecht each finished in the top 10 of individual play to lead the team.
Women's golf is the only fall sport with a home event this weekend, as they host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational Friday through Sunday.
Men's golf has had three events already this season, including a first place finish in the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational two weeks ago. Sophomore Cody Martin has been steady for UK, earning top-five finishes in all three tournaments. UK next plays in the Bearcat Invitational in Hebron, Ky., Oct. 10-11.
A problem for UK much of this season has been allowing one mistake to turn into another. Joker Phillips said after practice today that comes from becoming tense after the error is made. Phillips said he wants his team to "let it rip" against No. 1 LSU on Saturday.
"That was one of the things we talked about," Phillips said. "There are going to be some mistakes in this game. You can't play perfect."
Phillips knows mistakes are inevitable, especially against an opponent as strong as LSU. His focus has been on making sure his players know how to respond.
"The thing we've got to do is once a mistake is relax, regroup and go play ball," Phillips said. "Don't try to make up for it. The thing we can't do is make a mistake get all tense and get all tight and let it mount."
Phillips also talked about his team's injury situation. Wide receiver Gene McCaskill will be unable to play this weekend and will not travel with the team, while running back Josh Clemons was able to work with the first team throughout practice on Thursday and is expected to start. Running back Raymond Sanders and defensive end Collins Ukwu will be unable to play this weekend, but knee injuries to both are healing well and Sanders could even return next week against South Carolina.
Senior Ashlee Rose finished 10th in UK's season-opening tournament. (UK Athletics)
On Thursday, head coach Golda Johansson Borst and the women's golf program launched a brand new UK Interactive site. The site features photos, videos and other exclusive content about players, coaches and the program as a whole. The site is designed for recruits and fans to learn about what makes the women's golf program so special.
The team is fresh off a third place finish in its first tournament of the year at Texas A&M. Top ten finishes by senior Ashlee Rose and junior Ashleigh Albrecht paced the Wildcats in their opener. Beginning on Friday, Sept. 30, UK will host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational at the University Club in Lexington, Ky.
To keep up with the latest in UK women's golf, I encourage you to check out the Kentucky Women's Golf Blog over at UK Interactive. Borst is taking time to write a post after each of the team's major events and it's a great way to hear about the team directly from the coach herself.
These fans were among the first to set up at the Big Blue Madness ticket camp-out. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
We're still almost 48 hours away from the actual distribution of tickets, but the population of "Tent City" is swelling. The number of tents packing the lawn surrounding Memorial Coliseum and the Joe Craft Center is up to approximately 445 as of 9 a.m. Thursday, up from just under 400 late Wednesday afternoon.
On the second morning of last year's camp-out for Big Blue Madness tickets, the tent count sat at 395. The 2010 camp-out would go on to set a record of 525 tents and this year's edition is on pace to top that record.
I had a chance to walk around the camp-out a bit this morning and mingle with a few people and I overheard a conversation that reminded me just how unique this event is. A woman was passing through the camp-out on her way to work and she stopped to chat with a camper. It turned out the woman had just moved to Lexington and had absolutely no idea why people were camping out, so she was naturally curious.
She asked the camper why all the tents were set up and he explained they were waiting for tickets to a UK basketball event. The woman responded by asking who UK would be playing and the camper told her it was actually just a practice. Surprised, the woman asked how long everyone had been there. The man said most of the campers had arrived early Wednesday morning. The woman took the answer in stride, but then said, "Wait, you SLEPT out here?"
To those used to being around Kentucky basketball, the Big Blue Madness ticket camp-out may seem normal. The event happens every year so it becomes almost routine. Hearing and seeing someone totally unfamiliar with the tradition ask questions and learn about exactly what's going on reminded me this camp-out is anything but routine, anything but normal.
In sports, the passion of UK fans knows no equal and I'm not sure there's any time that passion is more on display than this week.
Before fans were officially able to line up for tickets to Big Blue Madness at 7 a.m. Wednesday, they gathered across the street from Memorial Coliseum in a sort of pre-camp-out. When they finally were allowed to cross the street and set up camp, the scene was reminiscent of Christmas when parents finally let the kids storm into the living room to open their presents from Santa Claus.
John Calipari stopped by the annual Big Blue Madness ticket camp-out to greet fans. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
For less than 12 hours, fans have been able to officially line up for tickets to Big Blue Madness. In that time, approximately 398 tents have packed the lawn around the Joe Craft Center and Memorial Coliseum even though tickets aren't available for more than two days.
Wildcat faithful have not allowed construction around Memorial or occasional rain to get in the way of their quest for tickets to the first open practice opportunity for UK's men's and women's basketball teams. The line for tickets begins at the doors to the Joe Craft ticket center and wraps around the entire perimeter of the building from Lexington Avenue to the Avenue of Champions to Rose Street.
At 4 p.m. on the first day of the 2010 camp-out, fans set a record with approximately 360 tents. The 2011 camp-out trumped that number by nearly 40 and fans are already being directed across the street from Memorial to Stoll Field since all open space adjacent to the building has been claimed.
I'm not sure how, but Kentucky fans keep topping themselves. Just when anticipation for Big Blue Madness seemed to be at an all-time high in 2009, the 2010 camp-out shattered the previous year's count with 525 tents. With this year's camp-out well-ahead of the 2010 pace, it would seem that last year's impossibly high number is in danger of being topped. Throughout the next two days, I will have more counts to see if the Big Blue Nation can break last year's record.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, control cards will be issued to those fans camped out at that time. Tickets will be distributed at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1.
Head coach John Calipari stopped by the campout this afternoon to chat with fans and sign autographs. Here is a photo gallery with some images from Calipari's visit and all the other goings-on.
Freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith saw the first action of his UK career on Saturday against Florida. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
On signing day last February, you could hear the excitement in Joker Phillips' voice. The 26 high school seniors who had committed to play football for Phillips at UK formed one of the most decorated recruiting classes in school history and Phillips could not wait to begin coaching them.
Upon their arrival over the summer, the football offices were abuzz with the measurables and physical profiles of many of the newcomers. As the weeks wore on into fall camp, the freshmen did nothing do dampen optimism and a few even began to look like they may earn playing time. Now a month into the season, UK is in a place it never expected to find itself.
On the Wildcats' two-deep depth chart, 10 true freshmen are listed on offense and defense. Three of them, all on offense, are currently starters at their positions. The way the freshmen have competed in practice and earned playing time is a credit to how strong the group is as a whole.
"It's probably, from top to bottom, one of the top two or three classes we've had, if not the best," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "A number of freshmen are playing and it's good not all of them are having to play right now, but it's a good class from top to bottom."
No matter how talented a freshman may be, coming in and playing, let alone starting, within the first four games of a college career is a challenging proposition. Mental and physical errors are inevitable from freshmen, but the way the veterans around them have duplicated those mistakes is what has caused many of UK's early season issues.
"Anytime you're playing freshmen, you know you're going to have mistakes," Sanders said. "If it's just the freshmen making mistakes, you can understand that, but when it starts rubbing off and getting contagious, that's when you get concerned."
Correcting those mistakes and bouncing back from UK's current two-game losing streak is the team's clear priority heading into a road matchup with top-ranked LSU on Saturday, but the value of the experience being gained by those freshmen should not be overlooked. Sanders is focused on improving this season, but he says the playing time the freshmen are getting is helping to lay a foundation for the future.
"There's no question that's happening," Sanders said. "The old saying is, the worst thing about freshmen is they're freshmen, and the best thing is they'll be sophomores next year. There are some benefits to be had there and hopefully we'll get this season straightened out and get better right now instead of next year or the year after."
According to co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter, there is no substitute for the on-the-job training so many members of the 2011 class are getting.
"Experience in life is everything," Minter said. "Sometimes it comes quicker to some than it does others."
For those getting experience more quickly, they are learning things now they otherwise would have had to learn later.
"One of the great benefits of experience is seeing a lot of things," Sanders said. "They've seen a lot of different looks and they've had a lot of different things happen to them. These guys don't have a lot of experience, so when something out of the ordinary happens you don't always get the reaction you want."
No matter how much a player prepares in practice, things are always different on game day. No matter how much theoretical knowledge Sanders imparts to his players, he knows it does not sink in until it is learned on the field.
"It's one thing to see things happen on film and see how Randall (Cobb) responded to it or Chris (Matthews) or Mike (Hartline) or Derrick Locke," Sanders said, "but when you're the one that's out there doing it and having to respond to it, it's different."
Although he plays back-up behind Morgan Newton, quarterback Maxwell Smith is a player who had his first chance to put theory into practice this weekend. With the outcome of the game determined, Smith came in to play the final few series of the Cats' loss to the Florida Gators. Poise and leadership are immeasurable qualities a quarterback must possess to succeed at this level and they don't necessarily reveal themselves until a player is tested on the field. In that regard, Smith acquitted himself well in his first action.
"It will be a great benefit for him and it was good for us to see how he handled it," Sanders said. "I don't think the situation was too big for him."
Sanders may have been pleased with how Smith carried himself, but he was not so thrilled with some other aspects of his play. Even so, the chance to play did nothing but show Smith what he needs to improve for the next time he gets to play.
"He certainly didn't manage things the way I would expect him to or make some of the decisions or checks I would expect him to, but the fact that he's been out there can only reap benefits in the future," Sanders said. "I think it just (provided) a renewed emphasis on how fast he has to learn and how fast he needs to improve."
With a veteran like Newton ahead of him, Smith was not expected to play a great deal his first year. Offensive tackle Darrian Miller was in the same boat. With five returnees having solidly established themselves as starters along the line entering the season, Miller expected to compete for playing time, but only in a backup role. Instead, Miller found himself as UK's starting right tackle for the Cats' home opener. A couple weeks later, the injuries to Matt Smith and Billy Joe Murphy that forced him into duty have healed and he has returned to his expected backup spot.
"I planned on coming in and competing, but I never thought I would play this early," Miller said. "There's a good group of five in front of me and I'm actually glad they're all back and able to mesh again."
Although he is happy UK's starting group is intact again, the fact he will know what to expect the next time when his number is called is a blessing.
"I guess what kills people when they initially come in is the uncertainty, but having that uncertainty relieved is going to help me a lot," Miller said.
On the defensive side, freshmen have not been forced into as much playing as on offense, but the newcomers are biting at the heels of the veterans.
"They haven't gotten that much playing time yet, but they're right there," Minter said. "They're on the depth chart and some of them are playing more than others."
One player that fits into that category is safety Ashely Lowery. The Cleveland, Ga., native is behind junior Martavius Neloms on the depth chart, but saw his first extended playing time on Saturday against Florida, making a pair of tackles, including a crushing blow on the opening kickoff. Lowery said the main reason why he and so many of his fellow freshmen have been able to see the field so quickly is the ability to learn from the mistakes they inevitably make.
"We've got a fine group of competitors with big hearts and will to compete," Lowery said of his freshman class. "We come out, work hard every day, listen to the coaches and take coaching well so we're able to learn from our mistakes and get on the field."
Lowery plays the same position as the most highly touted recruit from the 2011 class: Glenn Faulkner. The athletic four-star safety was late to arrive on campus and missed time soon after arriving due to a death in the family. Sooner or later, his impact will be felt as he learns the new system and adjusts to his surroundings.
When it comes to Faulkner and the incoming class as a whole, Minter has words of caution. No matter how much, how little, how well or how poorly freshmen play, wait until enough time has passed to judge what they'll bring to the program.
"What's so unfair in this world is we judge freshmen within the first six months, or in this case two months, of their arrival," Minter said. "The best time to judge this freshman class will be about two years from now."
The Kentucky Wildcats have yet to play a true road game this season and it doesn't get much more difficult than the first away game they'll play this weekend. Seating nearly 100,000, LSU's Tiger Stadium is known as one of the toughest places to play in the nation and even though the game on Saturday will be a rare day game in Baton Rouge, La., head coach Joker Phillips knows he has to do everything he can to prepare his team for what they'll face.
At practice on Wednesday, UK pumped in artificial crowd noise, something that Phillips said "definitely helps." Replicating what the LSU faithful will sound like is impossible, but Phillips was happy to report the offense had no miscues with the speakers directly behind the quarterback.
"I'm not sure if we had the same effects as we will have down in Tiger Stadium, but we did work with it," Phillips said. "We didn't seem to have any miscues with the crowd noise."
When the speakers were off and he was actually able to speak to his team, Phillips' message at practice today was a simple one.
"'Treat yourself like a man,'" Phillips said. "If you embarrass yourself by not knowing what to do, then that's not treating yourself like a man."
Players old and young ask for respect from the coaching staff and their teammates, but Phillips wants to make sure emphasize how important it is for individuals to show respect for themselves by being prepared and focused.
There are no new injuries to report after today's practice and Phillips had encouraging news about running back Josh Clemons. The freshman, who is starting in place of the injured Raymond Sanders, participated fully in practice today after straining his hamstring against Florida. He is expected to start against LSU.
Whether it's on the blue-painted streets of Nashville during the SEC Tournament, an airport where a few Kentucky fans happen to run into one another or somewhere out celebrating a big win, wherever the Big Blue Nation goes, the "C-A-T-S, CATS, CATS, CATS!" chant will follow.
Now you have a chance to upload and share your video or photo renditions of the chant or other displays of your UK fanaticism with both the university and your fellow fans.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 25:
Men's tennis: Alejandro Gomez
Continued to perform well this fall by claiming the division II singles title at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Athens, Ga.
Is 10-0 so far this fall with all 10 wins coming in straight sets.
Football: Winston Guy
Men's tennis: Ryuji Hirooka/Maks Gold
Won the division II doubles championship at the Southern Intercollegiate in Athens, Ga.
First time the tandem have played together in doubles, posting a 5-0 record at the event.
Faced three match points in the semifinals but fought back hard to claim the match and then won the championship on Monday.
Women's soccer: Kelsey Hunyadi
Kelsey Hunyadi tied her career high for points in a game with five in helping the Wildcats to a 4-1 win at Alabama ... Hunyadi recorded her first multi-goal game of the season and her second at UK ... She added an assist to equal her career-best five point outing against Vanderbilt last season ... Hunyadi also netted her second game-winning goal of the season which helped UK beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the first time since the 2003 season
Football: La'Rod King
Five receptions for 50 yards
Men's soccer: Matt Lodge
Junior Matt Lodge had another prolific week, including helping No. 21 Kentucky to a 3-2 win over red-hot Evansville on Friday night with two assists and one goal ... Lodge netted the go-ahead goal in the second half vs. Evansville, assisting on Josh Mulvany's goal that evened up the game at 1-1 ... His highlight on Friday came on Sam Brooks' game-winning goal in the 85th minute, making a sliding cross across the six-yard box in traffic to Brooks at the far post who netted the winning tally ...Took six shots on the week, with all six coming on target, five forcing saves and one going as his goal ... On the year, Lodge leads UK with 21 points in 11 games, owning seven goals and seven assists ... The Rossington, England, native leads UK with 54 shots and 24 shots on goal, with two of his goals going as game-winning tallies ... Just 11 games deep into his junior season, Lodge ranks seventh in UK career history with 46 points, including 17 goals and 12 assists.
Volleyball: Becky Pavan
Senior Becky Pavan had an exceptional weekend for the Wildcats during their first SEC road trip of the season. Pavan charted team-highs with 28 kills and a .469 hitting percentage. She also took a team-high 49 swings, while committing a mere five errors combined. She totaled 10 or more kills in both matches including 15 in a victory over South Carolina. Against the Gamecocks she also paced the team with a season-high six blocks. With the five block assists, Pavan moved into ninth place all-time at UK with 310 career block assists.
Men's tennis: Eric Quigley
Made an impressive run to the finals of the division I singles bracket before falling to No. 6 Wil Spencer of Georgia in a tightly contested match 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Quigley took down two ranked foes en route to the finals appearance, defeating No. 24 Sadio Doumbia and No. 107 Hernus Pieters both of Georgia.
Sophomore forward Terrence Jones was named Preseason Player of the Year by Athlon. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It seems like a week doesn't pass without a preseason publication naming one or multiple Kentucky Wildcats as picks for All-America or All-SEC. This week is no different. This time around Athlon came out with its preseason publication and five players from John Calipari's 2011-12 squad were tabbed.
Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones earned first team All-SEC honors; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was named to the second team; and Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb were third-team honorees. Jones was named Player of the Year and Davis Newcomer of the Year in the conference. The reigning SEC Tournament MVP and the Cats' most experienced returning player, Darius Miller, was not included, though I believe he may have something to say about that on the floor before all is said and done.
Athlon predicted UK would win the SEC, with Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama on the Cats' heels.
Jones and Davis also figured in when Athlon named preseason All-Americans, with Jones earning first team honors and Davis on the second team as the only freshman among the top 10 players named.
Craig Yeast has never been one to listen to the skeptics.
He'd no doubt be considerably richer if he had a dollar for every time someone told him he was too small to play football. And yet the former Harrodsburg High School star became the all-time leading receiver (in catches and yards) at the University of Kentucky and now ranks number two to Randall Cobb on the all-time touchdown list, before heading off to play professional football for several years.
This past summer, Yeast took on another challenge--his first head coaching job, for a Bryan Station team that won only one game last season. Six games into his rookie season as a head coach, Yeast has guided his team to a 4-1 record. Last Friday, the Defenders won the first city game of the year, rallying from a 22-6 deficit to defeat Tates Creek.
Yeast says changing the mindset on his team started with demanding more.
"To be honest with you, when I came in, I was very, very tough. I tried to change the mindset and get the kids to understand, if you want to win and want to be successful, you have to work hard and be disciplined when you do it. The staff, we have worked diligently with our kids to try and change the mindset and those are the things--work hard and be disciplined and understand what you need to be doing and just do right. That was one of the main things for us was to enstill in them," said Yeast.
Yeast's final two seasons at UK coincided with the arrival of coach Hal Mumme and his "Air Raid" offense and the emergence of Tim Couch as a prolific passing quarterback. The "Couch-to-Yeast" pass that sealed the historic win over Alabama in 1997 is one of the famous plays in Wildcat football history but Yeast says he has learned that a coach has to fit his system to his talent.
"We aren't running the air raid. We are not in the position to line up and throw the ball every play, but we do have a system that we open it up a little bit," he said. "We run the ball and our mindset is that we are going to take what the defense gives us and if we need to throw the football, we will. We are a no-huddle football team, so the things I learned in college and in coaching have rubbed off on me and it makes things easier when you have the athletes."
Before the win in Yeast's first game, the Defenders did not have a good week of practice. Yeast said he had a "heart-to-heart" with them and he was pleased to see the passion with which they responded on Friday night.
"It's funny because when you get into coaching-- I had Hal Mumme say this to me when I first got into coaching--as a player, it's all about the game and as a coach, it's about the practice," Yeast noted
Mumme is one of several coaches whom Yeast turns to for his advice.
"One of the main guys that I have always talked to was my high school coach, (former UK administrator) Alvis Johnson. A lot of the things I do, or moves I have made, he is one of the guys I have always consulted. Our superintendendant was a coach, and I could give him a call. I speak with Hal Mumme on a regular basis. I talk to Tony Franklin. I am really good friends with Mark Berry at Central Hardin and I worked with him at Washington County, but those are just a few of the guys I work with on a regular basis that have helped me out in my journey," Yeast said.
Yeast was touched by all of the text messages and phone calls he received from former teammates and coaches after that win in his first game.
"It's good to have people behind me," he said, "that want to see me succeed."
Back in his playing days at Kentucky, coaching was not something Yeast ever considered.
"When I was in Kentucky, I thought I would play football forever and I that I would never be a football coach. It wasn't until my playing career began in Canada when I was up there a few years, I was asked by some coaches up there if I'd be interested in coaching some high school football and I agreed to do it," Yeast explained. " I enjoyed it and when I retired and came home, once I started coaching, I fell in love with it and knew that's what I wanted to do."
And has always been the case with Yeast, he's a natural.
Joker Phillips spoke to the media after Tuesday's practice and opened his comments by talking about how competitive practice was when the first and second teams were matched up with one another, though he did say work against Kentucky's scout team needs to be improved.
"I thought we competed well today going ones versus ones and ones versus twos but we've got to learn how to practice against scouts because they are giving us more of LSU looks," Phillips said.
The scout team is responsible for mirroring the play of UK's opponent this weekend, LSU, as closely as possible. The work UK does against the scout team is very important, but with an opponent like LSU, replicating the size, speed and athleticism of the Tigers is a near-impossible task. That, along with the high level of competition when UK's top players face off, is causing Phillips to consider shaking things up.
"It's hard to simulate what we'll see on Saturday, especially this week, because of how big, physical and fast these guys are," Phillips said. "We might work a little more against each other tomorrow."
On a typical Wednesday during the season, the opening 15 minutes of practice will feature the first and second teams going toe-to-toe, while the last 40 minutes are spent working against the scout team. That balance could change tomorrow.
As for injuries, safety Martavius Neloms practiced with no contact as planned and "got a lot of reps. He experienced no setbacks and is expected to play Saturday. Running back Josh Clemons was only able to take part in individual work and his strained hamstring is still being evaluated.
Alfonso Smith rushed for 975 yards and eight touchdowns for his UK career (UK Athletics)
During the NFL preseason, I posted an "In the pros" update for former Kentucky running back Alfonso Smith, who is with the Arizona Cardinals. Then, it appeared the Cardinals' starting running back Chris "Beanie" Wells had sustained a season-ending injury, opening the door for Smith to earn a roster spot and playing time. Well, it turned out that Wells' injury was not as severe as originally feared.
Wells played in the Cardinals' first two games, posting solid numbers. Wells, though, sustained a hamstring strain during practice this week and missed the Cardinals' game on Sunday, opening the door for Smith, who has been a member of the team's practice squad since 2009.
Veteran Chester Taylor earned the start against the Seattle Seahawks, but Smith ended up being used as Arizona's featured back. The speedster carried the ball 17 times for 54 yards in his NFL debut. He was unable to break the big run (his longest carry of the game was nine yards), but he provided a steady presence in running game while also catching three balls for 21 yards in a 13-10 loss to the Seahawks.
Wells is expected to return to action this week, but Smith's solid effort could earn him more consistent carries as a change of pace runner in backup role going forward. Smith is a player that showed flashes of potential while at UK, but injuries and depth in the backfield kept him from ever being a featured runner. Since graduating in 2009, the Louisville, Ky., native has worked hard to get where he is and everyone here at UK wishes him success in his rookie season. Alfonso Smith gains experience, increased confidence (John Boes, Arizonasports.com)
On Monday night, a student lottery distributing tickets to Big Blue Madness was held in Memorial Coliseum. All full-time students were able to participate as 1,100 tickets were distributed free of charge. Students began lining up for a spot in line well before doors opened at 8:00 p.m. Once the first of the 1,800 students who participated entered Memorial, they waited for an hour before students were selected in the lottery.
Nearly the entire first and second deck of one side of Memorial was filled with students hoping to win a seat at the annual season-opening spectacle that is Big Blue Madness. If it's possible anticipation for this year's event is even higher than usual with John Calipari bringing in a top recruiting class and sporting one of the early favorites for the 2012 national championship.
Students that were unable to attend or who did not receive tickets are still able to attend regular Madness ticket distribution on Saturday, Oct. 1. Fans wishing to line up ahead of time for tickets are able to do so beginning at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
We will have coverage of the annual Big Blue Madness camp-out once it begins, but in the mean time here are a few videos interviews from Monday's lottery.
Students flood Memorial
Sophomore Andrew Granchelli talks before the lottery
Joker Phillips talked about UK's philosophy with respect to facilities upgrades at his weekly press conference on Monday. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
When Joker Phillips returned to the University of Kentucky as wide receivers' coach in 2003, both the school's football program and facilities had room to grow. Since that time, Phillips has risen to offensive coordinator and, eventually, head coach and has seen the program and facilities grow by leaps and bounds.
On the field, the Cats have gone from ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions to making five consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history. In terms of facilities, the university has invested approximately $14 million into upgrades since 2005. With the intimate involvement of both Phillips and the now-retired Rich Brooks in the decision-making process, the administration has focused on the players for the majority of these improvements.
Even though such investments aren't easily visible to those not involved with the program on a daily basis, Phillips and the administration recognize games are won by players.
"When we got back here in 2003 there were some things that we thought needed to get done and one thing we wanted to do was take care of the players," Phillips said. "Everybody on the outside doesn't see the things we have done for the players."
Among those upgrades have been new playing surfaces for Commonwealth Stadium and Nutter Field House, newly built locker rooms at both Commonwealth and Nutter Training Center, and "state-of-the-art" meeting rooms. Additionally, UK has added a new practice field complex, providing everything from new playing surfaces to a new drainage system to new lighting.
Such upgrades have played a part as Phillips has helped bring in some of the best recruiting classes UK football has ever seen.
"(When) recruits come to our campus, you never hear them saying we don't have good facilities," Phillips said. "You never hear that. Usually they are saying they like the facilities."
Phillips, though, knows UK can never afford to be complacent when it comes to providing the players with what they need. Technology is ever evolving and the time will come that even UK's newest facilities will demand attention.
"It's like mowing a 100-acre field, as soon as you get it mowed you've got to mow it again," Phillips said. "As soon as we've done the things we've done to the Nutter (Facility), I'm sure in a couple years we'll have to do more. It's never ending. I've been to a lot of schools and none compare to this place in terms of facilities. We've got good, working facilities here."
Phillips and the administration also know the time for investments to be made in the fan experience. Accordingly, new video boards, ribbon boards and sound system costing approximately $6 million have been installed in Commonwealth Stadium and have already added to the atmosphere of UK's home field.
"Now, there's some things we have to do, and that's take care of the fans, we have started that," Phillips said. "We recognize that and we have started that with the video boards and those things, and now you know we have got plans also."
Highlighting those future plans, said Phillips, are additional upgrades to Commonwealth. Any such decision must be made with the awareness that the football program is a part of the university as a whole, but the prospect of updating the facilities is an ongoing process.
In the meantime, Phillips is happy with what he and his staff have to work with, but they will never be content.
"We have done the things we need to do to continue to grow this program," Phillips said.
The next two weeks against Louisiana State and South Carolina., Kentucky football will be playing at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. Today, television coverage details for the LSU game were announced, including all channels nationally that will be televising the game on Oct. 1. Here are the stations in Kentucky that will show the game.
Head coach Joker Phillips held his weekly press conference (video above) to discuss this weekend's game against the LSU Tigers, a team that is fresh off a 47-21 victory over West Virginia that sent them to the top of the Associated Press top 25. Here are some notes from Phillips' comments.
In spite of results, Phillips sees steady improvement from his team
On paper, it looks like the Kentucky Wildcats have regressed from game one to game four this season. After opening the season with a pair of wins, UK has dropped two in a row, culminating in lopsided 48-10 loss at the hands of the Florida Gators. Assuming that's case, a win against top-ranked LSU would come as a surprise and a sign of drastic improvement.
Head coach Joker Phillips doesn't quite see things that way. To be sure, upsetting the Tigers is going to require a great deal of improvement, but Phillips doesn't buy into the fact that his team has taken steps back as the season has worn on.
"We have made some steady improvements on offense, and (a win over LSU) would mean that we have improved a lot," Phillips said. "We just have make that same type of improvement we made from game one to game two, game two to game three, but then play smarter. I think we have improved in techniques and assignment, now we have to improve in taking care of the football."
In losses to Florida and Louisville, mental mistakes have been the Cats downfall. Missed assignments, dropped passes and turnovers have plagued UK and one error has led to the next.
"You can't allow it to be infectious," Phillips said. "As soon as we are going along pretty good and then a mistake happens, and then another mistake happens and another mistake."
The mistakes the Wildcats made against Florida weren't as many in number as in the 24-17 loss to Louisville, but it may have seemed like it because the ones that were made jumped off the page. Opponents like Florida and LSU waste no time in turn those kinds of mistakes into big plays.
"We didn't make as many mistakes, but our mistakes were very, very, very glaring," Phillips said.
If those mistakes are eliminated, beating LSU is not without precedent for UK. Joker Phillips was a part of a win on the road against the Tigers as a player and was the offensive coordinator for the 2007 upset of the top-ranked Tigers, so he knows what such a win would mean.
"It would be huge for our program if we could somehow put a together a clean game, both sides of the ball, which is what it will take to beat those guys," Phillips said.
Phillips remembers the recipe he and the offense used in 2007 and plans to put it into practice again. The Tigers' swarming defense thrives on negative plays and turnovers and the Wildcats simply cannot feed into that.
"We have to use the same formula to beat them, and the formula was getting the ball back to the line of scrimmage," Phillips said.
Phillips' philosophy will be for his team to make plays when they are there, but not to force it when they are not. His goal will be to hold onto the football and "end (each) series with a kicking situation, whether it (is) a field goal, extra point or a punt."
Leadership a work in progress for Cats
With the loss of Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke and Chris Matthews, a lot of attention was paid in the preseason to replacing the offensive production and playmaking ability of the four. Not as much was made of the leadership void they left. So far this season, that missing leadership has shown itself at times on the field. The passionate example of a player like Cobb and the calming presence of Hartline under center are not easy things to replace.
Phillips said the coaching staff has to play a role in developing the next crop of leaders.
"A lot of those kids don't consider themselves leaders, so we as coaches have got to teach them how to lead," Phillps said.
One player the coaching staff targeted as someone needing to step up this offseason was linebacker Danny Trevathan. His evolution is proof that it can be done.
"This past offseason, it was one of our goals to get Danny Trevathan to be a more vocal leader," Phillips said. "I think Danny Trevathan has become that guy."
A major reason why Trevathan was become a more vocal presence is confidence. Having established himself as one of the top linebackers in the SEC in 2010, Trevathan has the respect of his teammates. For players not playing at as high of a level as Trevathan, it's more difficult to speak up.
"The thing is you have to be playing well yourself to be that type of guy," Phillips said. "Some of the upperclassmen aren't playing up their abilities."
Phillips cited linebacker/safety Winston Guy and guard Larry Warford as players doing well enough on the field to step up as leaders, along with a couple others who are trying to take the leap.
"La'Rod King is trying to be a leader on offense," Phillips said. "Stuart Hines is trying to be a leader. We need more of the upper classmen to be those types of guys."
Cats to play without Sanders, Ukwu against LSU; Crawford returns
Phillips would like to have all hands on deck for a matchup with the top-ranked team in the nation, but that will unfortunately not be the case. Starting running back Raymond Sanders will miss at least one more week while recovering from surgery to repair torn knee cartilage while defensive end Collins Ukwu will be held out against the Tigers with a knee strain that also caused him to miss the Florida game.
Freshman Josh Clemons, who started in place of Sanders this weekend, is "questionable" with a strained hamstring. Phillips went on to say he is hopeful Clemons will be ready to go, but expect to see plenty of CoShik Williams and Jonathan George in any case.
Safety Martavius Neloms, who suffered a concussion against Florida, has shown no ill-effects but will practice this week with no contact in order to keep him healthy. Wide receiver Gene McCaskill is questionable with an injured back.
In a bit of good news, the suspension imposed on defensive tackle Mark Crawford that has caused him to miss all four games this season has been lifted. Phillips is pleased with the work Crawford has done to be reinstated and stay in game-ready condition.
"I'm really proud of the way he's handled the suspension and the time he's been off," Phillips said. "He's done a lot of stuff on his own with extra conditioning.
"We challenged him to be ready when the time came for him to play and we think he's definitely done everything we've asked him to do. He'll get a chance to get some reps on Saturday."
UK-South Carolina to be televised on SEC Network
SEC television selections for the weekend of Oct. 8 were announced today and the Kentucky Wildcats will face off against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C., at 12:21 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The game will mark the second consecutive Saturday the Cats will play on the SEC Network at that time.
Football - Kentucky and Florida met for the 62nd time in school history with the Gators winning 48- 10, Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. - UK earned 299 yards of total offense against the Gators and 134 rushing yards, which is the most Florida has allowed this season. - Kentucky had a two-play, 14-second drive that ended in a touchdown, marking the fifth time this season UK has had a touchdown drive that needed two minutes or less. - The Wildcats' defense forced three turnovers in the game, getting an interception and recovering two fumbles. It marked the second time this season that the UK defense has forced three of more turnovers. Volleyball - UK hit the road for a pair of SEC East matchups and split for the weekend, winning at South Carolina and falling at No. 6 Florida. - Senior Becky Pavan led the attack for the Blue and White with an average of 4.0 kills per set on a blazing .469 hitting clip. Pavan also took a team-high 49 swings and committed a mere five errors. - In Kentucky's win at South Carolina, the Blue and White charted a season-high .398 hitting percentage and had three players top 10 or more kills for the match. The trio combined for 40 kills and committed a combined two errors. - Senior Ann Armes was flawless for the match with 11 kills on a squad-high .647 hitting clip. Women's soccer - The UK women's soccer team posted a weekend split in Alabama, dropping a 4-1 affair at Auburn before securing a 4-1 win at Alabama Sunday. - The win over Alabama was the Wildcats' first in Tuscaloosa since the 2003 season. The win also marked the first time since 2004 that UK opened the conference season on the road and collected a win. - In the win, Kelsey Hunyadi and Caitlin Landis each recorded multiple goals. Hunyadi also recorded an assist tying her career high for points in a game with five. It marked Landis' first career multi-goal game. - Hunyadi ranks second in the league in points with 20 and is in the top five of four different offensive categories. Hunyadi's 20 points is the most by a Wildcat since Giuleana Lopez finished the 2006 season with 25. Men's soccer - The No. 21 Kentucky men's soccer team completed a two-game week with a 3-2 win over Evansville Friday night, getting a game-winning goal from senior Sam Brooks in the 85th minute in the back-and-forth affair. UK also fell 2-0 at No. 3 Creighton on Wednesday night in Omaha. - UK's trip to Florida will wrap up a brutal stretch for the Wildcats. Over a 15-day travel period, including trips to California, South Carolina, Nebraska and Florida, UK will have traveled more than 9,700 miles. - UK has been paced by an explosive offensive attack, netting 25 goals in 11 games, ranking second in the NCAA in goals scored in stats released Tuesday. Overall, UK has taken 17.1 shots per game and is averaging 2.27 goals scored per contest, owning a 77-45 lead in corner kicks. - Kentucky has been led offensively by Matt Lodge, who has seven goals and seven assists through 11 games, including two game-winning goals. Sophomore Tyler Riggs has eight goals and four assists, including two game winners, while Charles Pettys has a team-high seven assists and one goal.
Men's tennis - UK senior and No. 3 ranked player, Eric Quigley, sophomore Alejandro Gomez, and doubles duo Maks Gold and Ryuji Hirooka, advanced to the title match at the Southern Intercollegiate. The Southern Intercollegiate will award five winners at the event. Of those five title matches, Kentucky is represented in three of them, which is more than any of the 25 other schools at the event. - Quigley took down two ranked foes Sunday, defeating No. 107 Hernus Pieters of Georgia in the quarterfinals and No. 24 Sadio Doumbia of Georgia in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 in the semis. - Gomez will represent Kentucky in the Division II finals after posting two straight-set wins Sunday. Gomez has played brilliant tennis so far this fall season, posting a 9-0 record with all nine wins coming in straight sets. Upcoming schedule
Monday, Sept. 26 Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.) Men's golf at Inverness Intercollegiate (Toledo, Ohio) Tuesday, Sept. 27 Men's golf at Inverness Intercollegiate (Toledo, Ohio)
Wednesday, Sept. 28 Men's soccer at UCF - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 30 Women's soccer at South Carolina - 6:00 p.m. Volleyball at Arkansas - 8:00 p.m. Women's golf hosts Bettie Lou Evans Invitational Women's tennis hosts UK Invitational
Saturday, Oct. 1 Football at LSU - 12:21 p.m. Women's golf hosts Bettie Lou Evans Invitational Women's tennis hosts UK Invitational Cross Country at Greater Louisville Invitational (Louisville, Ky.)
Sunday, Oct. 2 Men's soccer at Florida International - 1:00 p.m. Women's soccer at Florida - 2:00 p.m. Volleyball at LSU - 2:30 p.m. Women's golf hosts Bettie Lou Evans Invitational Women's tennis hosts UK Invitational
UK student Stacey Johnson is the host of the weekly highlight show, UK Rewind. (UK Athletics)
Stacey Johnson, a senior community communications and leadership development student from Burlington, Ky., is the regular host of UK Athletics' new highlight show, UK Rewind. The show, produced by UK Sports Video, airs each week on UK Interactive and recaps the latest in Wildcat sports with video highlights and commentary. Cat Scratches sat down with Johnson to learn more about the host and talk about the show. Cat Scratches: How did you end up deciding to attend the University of Kentucky?
Johnson: "We're a really big UK family. We're all big Wildcat fans so I guess it was kind of ingrained in me as a little girl that UK was the college I wanted to go to. For a while, I thought about Northern Kentucky University if I wanted to stay at home, but I said 'I'm going to UK' and so I came. I fell in love with it after the first semester." CS: How did you find out about the opportunity to host UK Rewind?
Johnson: "Derek Kirk, one of the producers, is one of my really good friends and I've worked with him on other things too. He always talks to me about the different stuff that he's doing so he asked me 'Do you want to do it?' and I said 'Sure!' I didn't even know that UK Rewind was coming up and he talked about it and said they needed an anchor." CS: How does the weekly production of the show work?
Johnson: "Derek will email me the weekly sports overview on Monday and then I usually will read over it on Monday and start writing a script. On Tuesday, I have a break from 12 to three (in the afternoon) and I'll come in, finish the script and film."
CS: With eight UK sports in action right now, there is a lot to keep track of for the show. What do you do to prepare?
Johnson: "I'm actually a really big sports fan anyway. I'm really interested in that so I go to the games anyway. To me it's not like work, it's fun and something I love to do. It's more like playing than it is like working!" CS: What is it like to see the finished product after all the work put into the show?
Johnson: "It's really fun. It's really exciting. I always send it to my mom. When you're up there in front of the green screen, you're just talking to a camera. When you get to see the clips being put in with what you're saying and all the graphics, it puts it all together and looks really cool."
CS: How much do you enjoy being in front of the camera?
Johnson: "I actually really like it a lot. Even though I don't want to admit it, I like being on camera. I'm a pretty outgoing person, so I don't really shy away from that kind of stuff."
CS: How has working on UK Rewind compared to your past experiences in broadcasting?
Johnson: "I love it. It's so different because I also worked UK SportsZone with Wildcat Student TV last year. I did an intramural segment with them so I had some experience coming in, but so far it's been completely different." CS: How much has this experienced helped you improve your on-camera presence?
Johnson: "Being able to see the finished product, sometimes I see things and say 'I could have done that better' or 'That kind of sounded weird, I should work on that next time.' I think I've improved a lot, especially since last year when I was just volunteering with student TV. I can tell that I'm more comfortable in front of the camera and I'm not afraid for people to be around watching me. I was really kind of shy at first but now it doesn't bother me at all."
CS: How did your interest in broadcasting develop in the first place? Could you see yourself pursuing a career in it after college?
Johnson: "I didn't even think about broadcasting or anything like that until two years ago. I worked with ESPN as a runner when they came to do one of the football games. The producer asked me to go out with a camera man to 'tent day' for Big Blue Madness. He had me asking questions and it was really fun. I came back and I was really excited and I wondered if I should look into it some more. That's when I got connected to Wildcat Student TV.
"After talking to my parents, they said 'You really should try that out' and I might think about it. My major isn't broadcast journalism or anything like that, but I would love that be my career after college. I'll wait and see. I have some time and that probably won't be something I do right out of college, but maybe eventually."
CS: A few months ago, you did not even know about UK Rewind. How much have you enjoyed this unexpected opportunity?
Johnson: "It's been really cool to have this opportunity when it's not my major. I'm just an outgoing person and I enjoy being on camera and it's worked out for me. It's all the things that I love in one: talking to people and talking about sports."
The Southeastern Conference officially announced on Sunday that Texas A&M University will join the conference effective on July 1, 2012. The Aggies will begin competition in all varsity sports beginning in the 2012-13 academic year. The announcement marks the first time the SEC has expanded since South Carolina and Arkansas each joined the league in 1991.
Texas A&M's brings the current SEC membership up to 13 institutions and the Aggies immediately add to the standard of athletic excellence of the conference. Texas A&M boasts a tradition-rich football and three national championship programs from 2010-11: men's and women's track and women's basketball.
University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart worked under current Texas A&M Athletics Director Bill Byrne while at Oregon in 1983 and reacted to the news on Twitter this evening.
"On behalf of the coaches, administrators and student-athletes at UK, I would like to welcome the Texas A&M Aggies to the SEC," Barnhart tweeted. "Coming off its best year athletically in school history, Texas A&M adds a strong athletic program along with its academic prowess. I look forward to competing against one of my mentors, Bill Byrne, for years to come."
La'Rod King caught a touchdown against Florida, his fourth straight game with a receiving touchdown. (UK Athletics)
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
The essentials: In Kentucky's 25th straight loss to Florida, the Wildcats fell the Gators by a score of 48-10 in front of 65,134 fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday evening. Behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Florida rolled up 405 rushing yards while the Kentucky offense committed four costly turnovers.
After holding Florida to just 23 yards on nine plays on its first two drives, the Gators scored touchdowns on the following three possessions en route to a 21-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. Two of the three touchdowns in the first quarter were scored following UK turnovers and head coach Joker Phillips said the giveaways and the poor field position that stemmed from them was the Wildcats' downfall.
"For five minutes in the game we looked like a pretty good football team," Phillips said, "and then the things that we had been doing in the past started showing up: turnovers (and) giving short fields."
UK did manage regroup a bit in the second quarter and establish some momentum, recovering a fumble forced on a sack by Danny Trevathan and scoring a touchdown on a pass from Morgan Newton to La'Rod King, marking the fourth consecutive outing with a receiving touchdown for the junior wide receiver. In the end though, Florida's speed and the Wildcats' own mistakes proved too much to overcome.
Phillips could not complain about his team's effort, but said his team must correct the errors that have plagued them all season.
"Our kids are fighting, scratching and clawing," Phillips said. "We're just not playing very smart. They'll continue to fight. I believe in those guys, but we've got to get some things corrected, and this begins with me." Turning point: Kentucky's intensity was there from the opening kick. Freshman Ashely Lowery laid a big hit on Solomon Patton to pin the Wildcats' deep on the opening kickoff and the defense responded with a prompt three-and-out to set up the offense in good field position. UK punted back to Florida, but the defense again held to set UK up with the ball at its own 36-yard line.
Newton opened the drive with a nine-yard strike to King, but on second-and-one freshman running back Josh Clemons fumbled and the loose ball was recovered by Omar Hunter. Florida wasted no time in capitalizing. Quarterback Jeff Brantley found Gerald Christian on a seam route and the tight end burned safety Martavius Neloms for a 45-yard touchdown.
From there, Florida grabbed hold of field position and of the game. The Gators next two drives spanned 43 and 28 yards and the lead was 21-0 before the Commonwealth crowd could even recognize what had happened. Phillips said it was a case of mistakes begetting mistakes.
"I think it gets infectious sometimes when a mistake gets made, and then another one comes and another one comes," Phillips said.
Play of the game: Clemons' fumble may have propelled the Gators to their early big lead, but it was a run later by Demps that put the nail in the Wildcats' coffin. UK got the ball to open the second half with a chance to cut Florida's 31-10 lead, driving 31 yards into Gator territory before Newton threw an incompletion on third down.
However, Ryan Tydlacka uncorked a beautiful punt to pin Florida inside the one-yard line. With the crowd behind them, the Cats forced the Gators into third-and-six situation. UK, though, could not prevent Rainey from converting the first down with a six-yard run. Two plays later, Demps broke free from the UK defense, racing 84 yards for a touchdown and an insurmountable 38-10 lead.
"The biggest play, I think, in the second half to me was when you've got them third-and-seven and they run the ball right at you for seven yards and get the first down," Phillips said. "That's a huge, huge play, and then two plays later they go 80 something yards for a touchdown."
Player of the game: It sure seems like Demps has been around for a while and it probably seems like that even more so to the opponents that have to chase him. The NCAA 100-meter champion put on a display, dicing the UK defense to the tune of 157 yards and two touchdowns. Even more impressively, he needed just 10 carries to tally a career-high total in rushing yards as he gained 15.7 yards per carry.
Demps was far from the only Gator to damage on the ground though. Rainey also topped 100 yards with 108 on 15 carries while Mike Gillislee chipped in with 84 yards on six carries.
Unsung heroes: With the outcome of the game determined, Phillips took the opportunity in the second half to play freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith. Knowing that Smith could be called upon to play meaningful snaps this season in the case of an injury to Newton, the experience was very valuable.
"I just think it was an opportunity to get a young guy in the game," Phillips said. "I would have had no problem with keeping Morgan in the game, but it's an opportunity to get Max Smith (playing time).
"He'll be a better player by getting this experience that he was able to get tonight."
Smith didn't have eye-popping numbers, but he showed some of the form that has the coaching staff so excited about his future. The California native completed 6-of-11 passes for 41 yards, made some nice throws and displayed sound decision-making. Not everything Smith did was positive, but considering the situation, the coaching staff was pleased.
"There were a few things that surprised me to the good and there were a few things that surprised me to the bad," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "The guy is a true freshman and for his first action to be against Florida, that's a pretty tall order."
For Smith, he was just thankful to finally be able to play.
"It felt great to finally get out there," Smith said. "The first couple balls came out kind of bad, but I put them in a good spot and our receivers made some good catches."
Smith and Newton are two quarterbacks who have competed with one another since Smith arrived on campus, but you wouldn't know it from the way they treat one another. Newton went out of his way to support Smith as he was preparing to enter the game.
"He wanted me to go in," Smith said. "We had talked about it at halftime. He said 'be ready' and gave me some tips and pointers. Morgan and I are good friends. I want him to do well and he wants me to do well."
Smith did play pretty well, but make no mistake, Newton is this team's starter.
"We don't have a quarterback controversy," Phillips said.
Injury report: Center Matt Smith and tackle Billy Joe Murphy have dealt with injuries, but both made it through the evening without aggravating them. Four other Cats, though, did sustain new injuries. Neloms suffered a concussion, running back Josh Clemons exited in the first quarter after he strained a hamstring, Winston Guy sustained bruised ribs and Mychal Bailey bruised his left forearm. X-rays on Bailey were negative.
Hidden stat: Florida sports an elite defensive unit. All season long, the Gators have suffocated their opponents. The Cats did struggle at times, but there were extended periods where UK moved the ball effectively.
"We're a football team that looks good at times, and definitely tonight there were some good things, and that's the thing that's lost in this," Phillips said. "We did some good things at times. We threw the ball, we moved the football."
The 299 yards UK gained on offense were the most Florida has allowed this season. Additionally, UK gained 134 yards on the ground, marking the first time an opponent of Florida's has topped the century mark in 2011.
What this one means: There wasn't much learned in this game that wasn't already known. The Wildcats knew going in that if they duplicated many of the mistakes made in the first three games of the season it would be a long night and a long night it was. The same will be true in the Cats next two games. Facing heavyweights LSU and South Carolina on the road the next two weeks, UK's margin for error may even shrink a bit more.
UK did show improvement in some areas, but it's going to take much more dramatic improvement for the Cats to have any kind of chance against the caliber of opponents awaiting them. Phillips said that improvement will have to start in the realm of turnovers.
"I've got to get this football team to know how precious the football is," Phillips said.
Fortunately, Phillips has a team he knows is going to work.
"We've got a team that's battling, there's no question about that," Phillips said. "They're fighting and trying. We've just got to get some mistakes corrected."
Current associate head coach and former UK tennis star Cedric Kauffmann is one of six 2011 inductees into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. (UK Athletics)
In conjunction with tomorrow's football game against Florida, UK Athletics is hosting Hall of Fame Weekend Friday and Saturday. Six former student-athletes are being recognized as a part of the 2011 class: Jeff Abbott (baseball), Pam Browning (women's basketball), Ilkka Jantti (men's soccer), Cedric Kauffmann (men's tennis), Bill Ransdell (football) and former administrator Russell Rice.
Jeff Abbott (1991-94) was a UK baseball All-American and a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1994 after setting single-season school records for batting average (.445), hits (102), home runs (23), total bases (203) and slugging (.886), all of which still stand today. Abbott also holds the UK single-season on-base percentage mark of .533 set in 1992 and ranks in the top five in eight career offensive categories, including batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, slugging percentage, walks and on-base percentage. UK won at least 30 games in each of his four years, including a then-school-record 41 wins in 1991. Abbott's class posted more wins in a four-year span than any other class in school history. He went on to play five seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox.
Pam Browning (1974-78) is one of only two players in UK women's basketball history to be named All-America by Street & Smith's annual publication (1977). She ranks fifth on UK's career scoring list with 1,598 points and she continues to hold the school record for highest scoring average in a season, averaging 25.5 points in 1976-77. As a member of the first women's basketball team at UK in the modern era, she led UK to its first two wins over ranked opponents in program history with victories over No. 2 Tennessee Tech and No. 18 Indiana during the 1976-77 campaign. Browning averaged 14.9 points during her four-year career.
Ilkka Jantti (1998-2001) was the first All-American in UK men's soccer history. The four-time NSCAA All-Region honoree was named the 2001 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, the 1998 MAC Newcomer of the Year and earned All-MAC honors in all four years at UK. Jantti took Kentucky to three NCAA Tournament appearances and led UK to back-to-back MAC regular-season championships in 2000 and 2001, as well as MAC Tournament titles for three straight years from 1999-2001. In addition to being named to the All-Tournament team twice, Jantti was a first-team NSCAA/adidas Scholar All-American, a Verizon Academic All-American, a winner of a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and he was named to the conference academic honor roll three times. Cedric Kauffmann (1995-98) was the first three-time All-American in singles play in Kentucky men's tennis history. Kauffmann went 121-61 during his four-year career at UK and finished in the top 10 in the country from 1996-98. He climbed as high as No. 2 in 1997. Kauffmann was a National Clay Court Singles Championship finalist in 1997 and a National Indoor Singles Championships semifinalist in 1996. He played on the ATP Tour after his time at Kentucky and reached as high as the world's No. 170 ranking. Kauffmann competed in the 2001 French Open and the 2000 United States Open, losing in a fifth-set tiebreaker at the 2001 French Open to tennis legend Pete Sampras. He was hired as the UK men's tennis assistant coach in 2005 and currently serves as the associate head coach.
Bill Ransdell (1983-86) is one of the top quarterbacks in UK history. He set Wildcat season records for most offensive plays, total offense, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yardage, completion percentage and consecutive passes without an interception. He held single-game UK records for total plays, pass attempts, completions and completion percentage and notched then-school career records for total offense (5,456 yards), total offensive plays (996), pass attempts (816), completions (460), passing yardage (5,564) and completion percentage (.575). Ransdell also helped lead the Wildcats to a 9-3 record and Hall of Fame Bowl victory in 1984 and went on to a two-year career in the NFL. He has been an analyst on UK TV network telecasts and also has served as president of the K-Association lettermen's group.
Russell Rice (1967-87) is a former UK Athletics administrator who was associated with UK Athletics for more than a half-century. Rice spent 20 years on the UK staff from 1967 to 1987, including 18 as a sports information director. He wrote several books chronicling the history of Wildcat men's basketball and football programs and served as media coordinator for several NCAA men's basketball tournaments hosted by UK. Rice was also a president of the SEC Sports Information Directors Association. For more than 20 years since his retirement from UK, Rice has written a weekly column for The Cats' Pause magazine and has been a historical resource for UK Athletics. A World War II veteran (U.S. Marines) and a UK graduate, Rice spent 16 years in the media after graduation, including five years as sports editor of the Lexington Leader, before joining the UK staff.
The Hall of Fame was established in 2005 as a way to honor notable contributions to the athletic program. Following departure from UK, candidates must wait five years before becoming eligible. Election of new inductees is carried out each year by a committee of Hall of Famers, media, campus representatives and current coaches and administrators.
Blocked punts by Florida have been a big issue for Kentucky in recent years, including two of them in the first quarter of the 2008 game in Gainesville. And eventhough the Gators have a new coach, Will Muschamp is just as commited to special teams success as Urban Meyer was.
Florida blocked a punt last week in its win over Tennessee, its second of the season, and since '08, UF has recorded 17 blocked kicks.
"We have some good players, that's the first thing," Muschamp said on the SEC coaches teleconference this week. "We've got some guys that have got special ability. There's been a huge emphasis on special teams from when Urban (Meyer) was here and I've carried that over. Special teams are very important to me."
Muschamp, a one-time Eastern Kentucky University assistant under Roy Kidd, says he subscribes to Bill Parcells' line of thinking when it comes to special teams.
"'If you're not a quarterback or an offensive lineman and you don't play special teams, you're a selfish football player' and I live by that. Our guys understand our best players will play on special teams," he said. "And we've got good speed. To create 'space' plays on special teams, you've got to have guys that can run. And our special teams coordinator does a great job. He does a great job of scheming to get guys free. You take a combination of all those things and that's why we are where we are."
Muschamp says blocking a punt is an almost certain ticket to victory.
"The percentages of winning the game go through the roof," he said. "I don't know that I've won many games where we've had a punt blocked. The momentum of the game can flip pretty quickly."
Newton's, UK's character to be tested
"Really this is the first season where he's been 'the man.' We've seen a lot of progress from week one to last week."
That's what grad assistant coach Andre Woodson had to say this week, when asked about the progress of his protege, junior signal-caller Morgan Newton.
Back in 2006, when the Cats were getting pounded in a loss to Louisville, then coach Rich Brooks later said he learned a lot about Woodson that night, to see how he kept battling back despite taking a beating.
Newton was sacked six times last Saturday and now faces an even better defensive front this week and Woodson says the current coaches can learn about Newton in how he responds to these challenges.
"Absolutely," Woodson said. "These next (few) games are going to judge his character, how he competes. (These) games are going to say a lot about the quarterback we have. He has a fire in him and that's what we need from the quarterback position and he delivers. We just we can continue to improve as an offense and see where we are from there."
He added that it's important for all of the players to rally around each other at a time like this, when many outside the program are jumping off the bandwagon.
"It's tough," Woodson noted. "But that goes to the character of the players. It has to be the players that build that bond, that family, that trust and it doesn't matter what anybody else says. They know they're playing for each other and they're going to stick through it."
Hall of Fame inductee Ransdell recalls win over Florida
It was 25 years ago this November that Kentucky last beat Florida, prevailing in a 10-3 slug-fest on a chilly, damp day at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We controlled the ball enough to try and keep it out of their guys' hands," recalled quarterback Bill Ransdell. "We had goal-line stands and the play that sticks out to me (involved speedster Ricky Nattiel). He does a square in (pattern) and Tony Mayes is covering him and Tony made up some ground and stripped the ball and I got to go out and drop to a knee and call it day,"
Ransdell actually set a school record for accuracy that day, hitting 20 of 23 passes in the less-than-ideal conditions. Of course, the Kentucky guys liked the turn for the worse in the weather.
"When it was good and cold, you'd see the Gators over there bundled up," Ransdell noted, adding he wishes the series would return to a November date.
Those kinds of memories will resurface this weekend when Ransdell is honored as part of the latest class of inductees into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. For his introduction at tonight's dinner, Ransdell has asked head coach Joker Phillips to do the honors.
"He and I were roommates during the season, off season. I've stayed in touch with him through the years," said Ransdell, "and there's not too many people who know more about me."
The "Cat Walk" will take place Saturday at 4:45 p.m. Fans wishing to
participate in cheering on the Wildcats as they enter the stadium
Saturday should be between the corner of Jerry Claiborne Way and College
Way outside of Commonwealth Stadium gate one. The team bus will arrive
at approximately 4:45 p.m., when the team will unload the bus and walk
to the stadium. Guests are asked to line up on each side of the "Cat
Walk" to allow for ample space for the team to walk from the buses to
Commonwealth Stadium. Map of the "Cat Walk."
GuestAssist service now available: "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.
Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guests' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).
"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.
Terrence Jones returns for his sophomore season after averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Blue Ribbon is releasing its annual College Basketball Yearbook and, with that, its choices for All-Americans before the start of the 2011-12 season. From John Calipari's talented group of returners and newcomers, sophomore Terrence Jones and freshman Anthony Davis were honored.
Jones is a member of the first team, while Davis is on the fourth team. Davis, the top prospect in the 2011 class according to many outlets, is one of just two freshmen tabbed by Blue Ribbon along with UConn's Andre Drummond. Two other players from the Southeastern Conference, Alabama's JaMychal Green and Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, were named third-teamers.
Here are the complete teams:
First Team Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So., Ohio State Harrison Barnes, 6-7, So., North Carolina Kris Joseph, 6-6, Sr., Syracuse Terrence Jones, 6-8, So., Kentucky Jordan Taylor, 6-3, Sr., Wisconsin
Second Team Perry Jones, 6-11, So., Baylor William Buford, 6-6, Sr., Ohio State Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, So., Connecticut Trevor Mbakwe, 6-8, Sr., Minnesota Tyler Zeller, 7-0, Sr., North Carolina
Third Team John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., Vanderbilt Tu Holloway, 6-0, Sr., Xavier Ashton Gibbs, 6-2, Sr., Pittsburgh Jamychal Green, 6-8, Sr., Alabama Draymond Green, 6-7, Sr., Michigan State
Fourth Team Marcus Denmon, 6-3, Sr., Missouri Orlando Johnson, 6-5, Sr., UC Santa Barbara Tim Abromaitis, 6-8, GS, Notre Dame Andre Drummond, 6-10, Fr., Connecticut Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr., Kentucky
Player of the Year: Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So., Ohio State
Newcomer of the Year: Andre Drummond, 6-10, Fr., Connecticut
Maybe it's a sign of how much Kentucky's football program has progressed over the past few years, but the Wildcats' 2-1 start to the season has been a disappointment to coaches, players and fans alike.
The upcoming schedule offers no respite for UK. Following a narrow defeat at the hands of the rival Louisville Cardinals, Kentucky jumps right into Southeastern Conference play against No. 15 Florida. The Wildcats understand the challenge that lies in front of them, but they also know that ending a 24-game losing streak at the hands of the Gators would make their early season struggles a distant memory.
"You have to take that kind of approach," Phillips said. "We're in this thing together. We have to take that kind of approach and use that energy to beat a team like this."
UK knows it has no choice to turn the page on the first three games of 2011, because the Gators will make the Cats pay if they play the way they have for much of the season so far.
"It is a whole new challenge because of the speed with which these guys play," Phillips said. "If you execute the way we have at times the first three games, it could be really ugly."
In those games, UK has relied on a number of young and inexperienced players. For many, this is the first serious adversity they have faced in their football careers, but Phillips says it is a test for newcomers and veterans alike.
"Not just young guys, old guys (need to respond) too," Phillips said. "You can see how all of us bounce back. It's our job to prepare them and we haven't prepared them very well obviously. We have to get them better."
The majority of UK's troubles have come on the offensive side of the ball. While the defense has performed admirably, the offense has had trouble getting on the same page. One game, nothing is working; the next UK can run but not pass; then the passing game gets it going but the running backs have no space to make plays. Phillips said the team has focused this week on identifying the strengths of the unit and focusing on them.
"We have thrown the ball fairly well at times," Phillips said. "Also, if you look at the second game, we ran the ball efficiently. The thing we've got to do is put them all together, figure out which runs we can execute and which passes we can execute."
No matter how much UK practices though, the speed that Florida possesses simply cannot be simulated.
"We could try to go the track team, but even that wouldn't be close," Phillips said.
As fast as Florida is on defense, offense is where the real burners are. Running backs Chris Rainey and Will Demps are world-class sprinters for the Gator track team and have combined for 751 of Florida's 1,327 yards from scrimmage (56.6-percent) through three games. For a swarming UK defense, it will be all about not allowing Rainey and Demps the chance to use their speed.
"We've got to make sure when we get an opportunity to get our hands on them, we've got to wrap them up and get a chance to tackle them," Phillips said.
Quarterback Jeff Brantley is in his second season as Florida's starter, while head coach Will Muschamp is in his first year after being hired from Texas. Phillips says the move from former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow to Brantley was more of a transition than the coaching change from Urban Meyer to Muschamp.
"They haven't changed," Phillips said. "They're Florida. They have great athletes. They were in a transition last year, if you ask me, transition with the quarterback change. That was their transition. This quarterback has been the starter for two years. I don't consider (the coaching change) a transition."
In spite of all of the due respect he has for Florida, Phillips does not see the Gators as some insurmountable juggernaut. Without a doubt, the Wildcats will have to play much better than they have at any time so far this season, but Phillips believes his players have that kind of performance within them. By no means is he looking for perfection, but he is definitely looking for the Cats to capitalize on what's available to them.
"I just think you have to take advantage of opportunities that are given to you," Phillips said. "You can't have drops. You can't have turnovers. You can't (allow 14 tackles for loss, as UK did against Louisville).
"I don't think you have to play perfect, but you have to play smart."
John Calipari has had his first chances to work with his new team this week. Teams are allowed a limited amount of skill instruction time each week before the official opening of practice (for UK, that's Big Blue Madness), after which Calipari and all coaches are allowed the full allotted time of 20 hours per week.
After practice, Calipari stopped to chat for a CoachCal.com video briefly describing the work the team is doing. Offense is the focus right now and the dribble drive is being taught to the newcomers. Calipari also said pick-and-rolls and hand-offs will also be a big part of UK's attack. Hand-offs, in particular, were used to great effect last season in the Wildcats' Final Four run despite the fact Calipari has not used them significantly in the past.
The Wildcats may be replacing Victoria Dunlap, one of the top players in school history, but UK boasts a young and promising roster with a number of highly regarded newcomers and returnees. Senior point guard Amber Smith and junior guard A'dia Mathies will lead the team this season as the Cats play four games on the ESPN family of networks, including two Big Monday games on ESPN2.
Below is the complete schedule of televised games with home events in bold:
Dec. 18 (Sun) at Notre Dame ESPNU - 1 p.m. ET Jan. 1 (Sun) at Florida - CSS - 1 p.m. ET Jan. 8 (Sun) MISSISSIPPI STATE - FSN - 3:30 p.m. ET Jan. 12 (Thurs) TENNESSEE - FSN - 7 p.m. ET Jan. 22 (Sun) FLORIDA - SECN - 2 p.m. ET Jan. 29 (Sun) ALABAMA - CSS - 2 p.m. ET Feb. 13 (Mon) at Tennessee - ESPN2 - 7 p.m. ET Feb. 20 (Mon) VANDERBILT - ESPN2 - 9 p.m. ET Feb. 26 (Sun) at Mississippi State - ESPNU - 5:30 p.m. ET
The Kentucky football team had its final full practice before this weekend's matchup with the No. 15 Florida Gators at 7 p.m. Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium. Head coach Joker Phillips talked to the media about it, calling the practice "a little cleaner" than those earlier in the week. However, there were a few issues on special teams that will be addressed in the film room.
"We had a special teams review and had a couple blunders there that we have to get corrected in the film room because all the physical preparation is over," Phillips said.
Phillips called special teams "very, very critical" against a Florida team known for making plays on punts, kickoffs and field goals.
On the injury front, Phillips announced after the end of the video below that junior defensive end Collins Ukwu has sustained a sprained knee and is questionable for Saturday's game.
"Collins Ukwu has a sprained knee and we're trying to get him evaluated," Phillips said. "It's similar to Stuart Hines and Billy Joe Murphy's, but not as bad."
There's a reason they call the yards gained or lost on special teams "hidden": it's because that part of the game is not talked about noticed nearly as much as it probably should be. That's not so much of an issue this week, as Florida's special teams unit and what UK must do to combat it on Saturday have very hot topics. I wrote on the subject yesterday and so did Michael Grant of the Courier-Journal. Clearly, UK will need to hold its own in the battle for field position to win this weekend.
Facing the difficult challenge of playing the third-ranked team in one of the nation's best venues, the men's soccer team succumbed to Creighton by a score of 2-0 last night. Though disappointing to the team, there is no shame in dropping a road decision against a defensive unit that has yet to allow a goal this season. The No. 21 Wildcats (6-3-1) returned to Lexington very early this morning and will immediately begin preparing for a home matchup against Evansville at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The turnaround will be tough, but UK has shown the ability to rebound from losses this season. Head on over the UK Soccer Complex tomorrow evening to see one of the most entertaining teams on campus take the field.
While men's soccer is returning home, volleyball is getting ready to hit the road. After a month-long home stretch that saw the Cats win nine matches in a row and 27-of-29 sets, UK (11-2) hits the road for a pair of tests this weekend. It begins in Gainesville, Fla., with the most difficult match the SEC has to offer against the No. 6 Florida Gators. Balanced performances have carried UK to its recent success and those will need to be duplicated as UK begins its run at the SEC title in earnest this weekend.
New kick returner Mychal Bailey will look to build on his 36-yard return of the opening kickoff against Louisville. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Any way you slice it, Florida is a tough opponent. Even though 2010 was a relative struggle for them, as they went 8-5, the Gators have been one of the dominant programs both in the Southeastern Conference and nationally over the past few years.
They have shown themselves to be more than capable of inflicting damage on both offense and defense, but nowhere has the Gators' ability to dominate been more evident than on special teams. Placing a focus on putting its best players on the field for special teams, Florida has broken the back of many an opponent with a big play on a punt, kickoff or field goal attempt.
Among the teams on that list is Kentucky. In the past three matchups between the two teams, Florida has blocked four UK punts or field goals, all of which have led to Gator touchdowns. UK special teams coach Greg Nord says Florida's success boils down to a few simple factors.
"They've got great personnel, they've got sound schemes and they've experienced a lot of success over the years so they all believe in what they're doing," Nord said.
As the Wildcats look to end a streak of 24 consecutive losses to Florida, special teams will be called upon to do what Florida has done to so many teams: win the battle for "hidden yards."
"Anytime you go out there, you have a chance to change the game in special teams," special teams coach Greg Nord said. "You're going to either flip field position or you have to maintain or get possession of the ball."
The importance of special teams has been obvious in UK's first three games. In a win over Western Kentucky, the Wildcats rode a sterling effort from punter Ryan Tydlacka to overcome offensive struggles. In a loss to Louisville, the Cardinals used special teams to continually shorten the field and upend the Cats.
"It's an overlooked aspect from the fans point of view," Tydlacka said. "You saw in the Western game how much field position can help. This last game, Louisville had us pinned deep a lot so field position affects defense which affect offense, so that's huge."
The first priority against Florida will be ensuring Tydlacka is able to get punts off cleanly. One way UK plans to do that is by switching up schemes throughout the game.
"You want to make sure you're not ever doing the same thing all the time," Nord said. "As you watch Florida, some of the things that they've done and been successful with have been against teams that have stayed the same over time. They have a way to get their best players matched up on a guy they feel is your weakest player."
Against Louisville, UK turned to a rugby style punt in response to a heavy rush by the Cardinals. One of Tydlacka's rugby efforts was very effective, while the other took a poor bounce. Tydlacka also expect to use more directional punts to avoid speedy return men like Chris Rainey. Though he prefers when he is able to let loose and boot the ball downfield, Tydlacka is on board with the philosophy behind rugby and directional punting.
Rainey is the player that most catches the attention of Nord and Tydlacka. His return ability is well-known, but he also has a blocked punt this season. The block, amazingly, came on a play when the Gators had just 10 players on the field.
"They've got a guy that's blocked punts and he's returned them for touchdowns, so that's not an average player," Nord said. "You start getting players like that and all of a sudden there are a lot of things that look better."
Rainey has not yet returned a kick this season, but the Gators have plenty of talent in that area. Andre Debose, Solomon Patton and Jeff Demps are Florida's listed returners, but Nord knows to have his team ready no matter who lines up because they can't afford to allow the momentum swing that accompanies a long kickoff return.
"They've had five different returners return kicks over 50 yards over the last couple years," Nord said. "They're one of the top kick return teams in the country, so usually when you're kicking off you've just had something good happen to your team and all of a sudden they pop a big return and they switch the momentum."
In spite of how dangerous the Gators are, UK has reason to be confident in its kickoff coverage unit. Joe Mansour has handled kickoff duties and returners have managed just an average of 14.7 yards on seven attempts.
Kentucky's returners haven't made much of an impact either. Four different Wildcats have had opportunities this season, combining to average just 20 yards per return. However, in UK's last game against Louisville, first-time returner Mychal Bailey ran the opening kickoff back for 36 yards, only to be tackled by the Cardinal kicker. Next time, Nord said Bailey will need to break that tackle.
"We popped open a kickoff free to the kicker," Nord said. "Every return you have is designed to try to get on the kicker, that's the one guy you don't block. He's the returner's guy. That's the guy the great returner makes miss. If you make the kicker miss, you score a touchdown there."
On punt returns, the Wildcats have done even less damage, but some of that is because situations have called for being conservative. Punt returner Randall Burden has just five yards on five returns this season, but he has completed his No. 1 objective: take care of the football. On the few occasions when there has been an opportunity for a return, the blocking hasn't been there.
"The couple that we did have a chance to return, we have a gunner get away from us so you get a zero-yard return," Nord said. "To get a return, you have to block the gunners and the returner has to make someone miss."
If Burden picks up some blocks, makes a man miss and pops a big return, it could be just what the doctor ordered for UK against favored Florida.
Tyler Riggs has scored eight goals in 2011 and his 20 points rank second in the nation. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Tonight at 8 p.m., Ian Collins and the No. 21 UK men's soccer team travel to Omaha, Neb., to face the third-ranked and unbeaten Creighton Bluejays. Brent Ingram will be traveling with the team and will be hosting a live blog beginning a few minutes before kickoff that you can follow here.
Two weeks ago, the UK men's soccer team was flying high. The Wildcats had just closed out a five-game home stretch with a 4-0-1 record. With the four victories, including one over then-No. 9 Michigan, Kentucky had risen to No. 15 in the national rankings.
Much of the next two weeks, the Wildcats would spend their time literally flying.
Playing six matches over the following 16 days in California, South Carolina, Nebraska and finally their home state, head coach Ian Collins and his team faced one of the most difficult scheduling stretches that can be conceived, and that doesn't even take into account the quality of UK's opponents. Traveling 6,106 miles over barely a two-week span, Collins knew the team would be tested, but that's exactly what he wanted.
"This is a tough stretch," Collins said. "Sometimes when you're looking to set a schedule, you want to challenge your team. We're in a league that involves a lot of travel and there's no better way to get prepared. It's brutal. It's very, very hard and we've been from East Coast to West."
Highlighting the brutal stretch is a trip to Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday to face one of the nation's top teams in Creighton. The itinerary for this brief jaunt borders on the insane. To minimize missed classes, the team flies out of Lexington at 1 p.m. on game day and arrives in Omaha in mid-afternoon. The Cats will take on the Bluejays at 8 p.m., shower and head directly to the airport for a flight back home that will land between 3 and 4 a.m.
"It's tough, but at the same time we're trying to test our players with one of the best schedules in the country," Collins said. "To do that you have to play good teams on the road and you can't always get perfect dates for that. We've got to deal with it and we can't make any excuses."
So far, UK is just 2-2-0 during the road stretch, dropping its record on the season to 6-2-1. The undefeated record may be gone because of those two losses, but the gains that have been made in terms of chemistry more than make up for that.
"Guys are starting to learn each other's personalities and figure each other out," Collins said. "We've got a lot of guys who didn't play last year and it was their first chance to travel with us. We've got a great group of guys and I think they're starting to figure each other out. I think that carries over onto the field."
Sophomore forward Tyler Riggs said the experience has engendered a sense of closeness into the team that did not exist before.
"It's definitely brought us all a lot closer together," Riggs said. "There used to be a few cliques with the team, but now it's like one big clique. Everyone hangs out with each other."
Perhaps more than any other sport, soccer is a game where team unity on the field of play is of the utmost importance. Players that know, like and understand one another can take their play as a collective whole to another level.
"I feel like I've gotten to know my teammates a lot more and we've bonded a lot," junior forward Matt Lodge said. "It helps us on the field knowing we can trust each other and rely on each other."
For Lodge, who hails from Rossington, England, and a roster featuring 10 players from outside the United States, it was a chance to experience parts of a country they are still getting to know.
"I was excited because I knew it would give me a chance to explore the country," Lodge said.
The exploration started out west with UK heading to the Golden State to take on Stanford and California. Things began inauspiciously, with the Wildcats playing their worst game of the season in a 3-1 loss against the Cardinal. Two days later, Collins' bunch righted the ship and performed much better against the No. 13 Golden Bears, but still lost by a score of 3-2.
"It's tough for any East Coast team to go out West and win games," Collins said. "We didn't play well in the Stanford game and we should have won the Cal game. We gave it away with two bad mistakes but we played much better."
It was at that point that the team, according to Collins, was faced with two choices: quit and use the challenges as an excuse or step up and embrace the situation as an opportunity. In practice over the following week, Collins laid down the gauntlet and the team answered as he hoped.
"Practice was physically difficult," Collins said. "We didn't give them any respite and they responded the right way. We trained hard all week and that's our M.O. for the season. We're going to train as hard as we can and trying to keep get better."
Next up for the Cats after that week of practice was a trip to Columbia, S.C., for the Gamecock Invitational. UK faced another two quality opponents and rose to the occasion. Lodge propelled the team to victory on Friday against High Point with a golden goal in overtime, setting up a showdown with No. 15 Brown. With the tournament title on the line, the Wildcats dazzled, smashing the Bears by a score of 5-1.
For Riggs, the performances were evidence of how far the team has come.
"Especially being able to bounce back from the two losses, it shows how much we've been able to grow as a team," Riggs said. "We started the season really well, then had those tough losses, but this weekend said a lot about our team that we were to beat some pretty highly rated teams."
Riggs has been at the center of all UK has accomplished. His two goals against Brown ran his tally on the season to eight in nine games. The sophomore is also the NCAA leader in points with 20 and has raked in both national and conference awards for his play.
"Tyler is a very smart kid on and off the field," Collins said. "Some of the movements he makes are exceptional. He has a knack for movement off the ball. Last year he did very well, but this year he's starting to refine his game. I've been very hard on him and I've pushed him every day. I've kept challenging him and all he does is respond."
The greatest challenge that Collins has issued Riggs is the target of scoring 20 goals this season. Such a high mark would shatter school records at UK but he would be very near the lofty goal if he maintains his current pace.
In his freshman season, Riggs impressed, scoring five goals and earning all-freshman honors in Conference USA. His play, though, has risen a level in 2011 and he credits his teammates and coaches for helping pave the way for his improvement.
"It's a little bit of everything," Riggs said. "The team has been helping me a ton, but it's also been some of my focus and determination. Coach Collins has definitely helped me with getting my mind focused to I can take advantage of every opportunity I have."
Riggs' numbers would suggest he has been a one-man wrecking crew this season, but that couldn't be further from reality. Lodge is fourth nationally in total points while Charles Pettys and C.J. Tappel each rank in the top ten in assists. Collins is a coach known primarily for his defensive prowess, but coaching an offensive juggernaut has been a pleasure for him.
"We've got some talented kids and it's really fun to see kids express themselves," Collins said. "We're playing good soccer and we've got good passing movement. Defensively, we have to keep getting better, but if we can keep scoring like this, we'll always give ourselves a chance to win games."
That offense, which ranks second nationally with 2.44 goals per match, will need to be in high gear against Creighton. In six games, the Bluejays have yet to allow a single goal and they are the only team in the nation that has shutout all of its opponents so far this season. Making things even more difficult is the fact that Morrison Stadium, the Bluejays' home venue, is among the toughest places to play all of the NCAA.
"I don't think there's a harder game in the country than where we're going to Wednesday," Collins said. "I think it's the toughest place to play in America and I think it will really challenge our guys. They'll enjoy it, but it will be a heck of a challenge."
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 18:
Volleball: Ann Armes
Senior Ann Armes provided the spark for the Blue and White in UK's perfect 2-0 weekend. Armes was sensational both offensively and defensively. Armes posted a career-high seven rejections and added her third match with 10 or more kills in UK's victory over Georgia to preserve Kentucky's ninth consecutive victory. Armes struck for the 11 kills on a .450 hitting clip. In Kentucky's victory over Auburn, Armes posted seven kills and did not commit an error with a .778 hitting percentage. Her two aces in the win over the Bulldogs was also a season-high. Only one other player has tallied seven or more blocks in a match this season for the Wildcats. Armes currently ranks second in the SEC in hitting percentage and sixth for blocks in conference matches.
Men's tennis: Tom Jomby
Jomby went 3-1 at the Olympia Fields Invitational, including his first career win over a ranked foe at the collegiate level when he took down No. 28 Casey Watt of Notre Dame in dominating fashion 6-2, 6-0.
Volleball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior Stephanie Klefot posted a pair of 17-dig matches to help preserve UK's unbeaten streak in the month of September. Klefot has now charted 10 or more digs in 12 matches this season and 50 in her career. With 34 digs this weekend, she moved into eighth place all-time at Kentucky with 1,062 career scoops. Furthermore, Klefot's serve-receive line continues to be incredible. She received a team-high 42 serves in UK's two victories and did not commit an error.
Men's golf: Cody Martin
Finished in second at the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational with a final score of 1-over par.
For the second-straight tournament, Martin led the Wildcats with the lowest score on the team.
Led UK to the team title at the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational.
Men's tennis: Alex Musialek
Musialek had a great start to the fall season, earning two wins over ranked foes at the Olympia Fields Invitational. The senior defeated No. 113 Ben Chen of Texas and No. 45 Nick Andrews of California at the event. Musialek went 3-1 at the tournament with his only loss coming to No. 7 Dennis Nevolo.
Football: Morgan Newton
Set career highs by completing 27 of 41 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Volleball: Lauren O'Conner
Freshman Lauren O'Conner continues to soar for the Wildcats, this time charting a team-high 22 kills and committing just four errors on 57 attempts in UK's 2-0 week. O'Conner tallied a career-high 14 kills in UK's victory over Georgia to keep UK's record in the month of September unscathed. She also charted her first career service ace in the victory as well. Furthermore, O'Conner's .364 hitting clip against Georgia matches a career-high. O'Conner has been a consistent performer for the Blue and White with at least seven or more kills in Kentucky's nine consecutive victories. She has posted six matches with 10 or more kills in that stretch.
Cross country: Luis Orta
Won the Tennessee Invitational, his second-consecutive first-place finish this season.
Led the men's team to its second team title in as many events this year.
Men's soccer: Tyler Riggs
Sophomore star Tyler Riggs continued his breakout season with three goals during No. 29 UK's conquest of the 2011 Gamecock Classic ... Riggs led UK to a 2-1 win over High Point on Friday and a shelling of No. 15 Brown, 5-1 on Sunday ... A native of Louisville, Ky., Riggs netted the first goal of the game vs. High Point on Friday, putting UK in position to win the Gamecock Classic with a match with Brown Sunday ... Riggs led UK to the dominating win, netting two goals as UK posted its second win over a top-15 foe in 2011 ... He sparked UK's first five-goal outing since the season opener in 2008 ... In the win Sunday vs. Brown, Riggs fired a six shots in just over 80 minutes, with all six coming on target ... Riggs' three goals came against two quality opponents, as No. 15 Brown finished in the NCAA Elite Eight in 2010 and High Point is coming off a 16-win season and an unbeaten slate in conference play ... Through nine games, Riggs has an eye-popping eight goals and four assists, ranking among the NCAA leaders in goals scored ... Riggs was honored with NSCAA Player of the Week, C-USA Offensive Player of the Week and Soccer America National Player of the week honors during the opening weekend after helping UK claim the 2011 UK Invitational Championship.
Men's tennis: Anthony Rossi
Rossi, who is ranked No. 95 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, had an impressive run to the Duke Fab Four singles title, earning arguably the best singles win of his career in the semifinals on Saturday when he took down Duke's top-ranked player and No. 4-ranked Henrique Cunha. Rossi wrapped up the tournament with a dominating 6-3, 6-3 win over Luke Marchese to claim the tournament title.
Joker Phillips spoke after Tuesday's football practice, saying his team's performance was good, but not quite good enough. Tuesday practices are those when the game plan for the upcoming game is installed and Phillips said this one was an improvement over the past few, but not up to what he was looking for.
"In order to beat these guys we're going to play, you've got to have a great practice," Phillips said.
Playing against the Florida Gators presents a unique set of challenges because of the speed they bring to the game. Running backs Chris Rainey and Will Demps get the most attention for their world-class sprinting pedigree, but the Gators can fly on both sides of the ball. Phillips said that it will take physical play for the Wildcats to defeat Florida.
"The thing that can slow them down is to put a hat on them," Phillips said. "We've beaten teams who are faster than us."
As for injuries, UK is getting closer to full strength along the offensive line. Tackle Billy Joe Murphy guard and Larry Warford were uncertain heading into today, but they participated and "looked good." Center Matt Smith also participated and Phillips said that he turned in a "good, solid practice."
Stevie Johnson had 73 catches for 1,211 yards and 14 touchdowns in his two-year UK career, including this game-winning catch against No. 1 LSU. (UK Athletics)
With the success of the "Where are they now?" series, every so often here at Cat Scratches, we're going to (try to) post an update on a former Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks. Because there are so many former Cats playing in the pros, we've decided to pick one each time and offer a brief highlight of what they're doing. The updates will generally coincide with each season's sport. Today is former UK wide receiver Stevie Johnson.
The skinny Stevie Johnson, a former All-SEC wide receiver and fan favorite at UK, is a fourth-year player for the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
UK background A San Francisco native, Johnson came to Kentucky as a transfer from Chabot College in California. With two years of eligibility remaining, big things were expected of in 2006. As is the case with many junior college transfers, he took some time to adjust to Division I football and to Andre' Woodson, his new quarterback. He had just nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in the regular season, but had a breakout game in UK's Music City Bowl victory. He caught three passes for 67 yards, cause for optimism entering his senior year. In 2007, he and the Wildcats put together a banner season, winning the Music City Bowl for the second season in a row. Johnson was a key cog in UK's high-octane attack, catching 61 passes for 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns. Three of his touchdowns that season were game winners, including an overtime touchdown to send UK past No. 1 LSU and a long fourth quarter touchdown against Louisville that spawned the phrase "Stevie got loose." Earning All-SEC honors from College Football News, Johnson went on to be drafted by the Bills in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Professional update Being picked in the seventh round is no guarantee of a roster spot and Johnson has worked tirelessly to establish himself as an NFL receiver. His first season the league, Johnson worked his way into the Bills' receiving corps late in the season, totaling 10 catches for 102 yards. He scored his first two professional touchdowns in weeks 15 and 16 of 2008 against the New York Jets and Denver Broncos. The following season was a trying one for Johnson, as he was plagued by a severe rib injury that limited him to just two catches for 10 yards all season.
He responded with hard work, earning a starting role to begin 2010. He briefly lost the job early in the season, but regaining it in week three when he began a stretch of five consecutive games with a receiving touchdown. The streak was highlighted by a breakout performance against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught eight passes for 158 yards. Two weeks later, he would outdo himself with an 11-catch, 145-yard game against the Chicago Bears. Another two weeks later, he captured everyone's attention with three touchdowns and 137 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. For the season, Johnson had 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Before the 2011 season, the Bills trade away No. 1 wide receiver Lee Evans, meaning that Johnson would carry even more responsibilities. Contending with a groin injury, Johnson has not disappointed through the first two weeks of the season. With quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick often looking to Johnson, the Bills have raced out to an improbable 2-0 start. Johnson has caught a touchdown in each of the games and had eight catches for 96 yards in a week two win over the Oakland Raiders.
Joker Phillips held his weekly press conference early this afternoon, discussing the loss to Louisville and an upcoming matchup with the Florida Gators (3-0). Video of his comments can be viewed above, but here are some of the most important storylines that emerged. Phillips expresses concern over offense, ideas to improve
There's no getting around the fact the Wildcats' offense has struggled over the first three games of the season. UK has averaged less than 20 points and 300 yards so far and has committed six turnovers along the way.
Morgan Newton had the best passing day of his career in a 24-17 loss to Louisville, throwing for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns, yet UK was unable to run the ball consistently. The Wildcats rushed for just 35 yards on 32 carries while allowing 14 tackles for loss. Phillips acknowledges the problems, comparing them to the start of the 2008 season.
"I'm concerned about our overall offense," Phillips said. "We've got to get going offensively. This is a similar deal to 2008, when we lost all the production. Our defense had to carry us for a few weeks."
Losing Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline, Chris Matthews and Derrick Locke from last season's efficient offense, UK turned to an experienced offensive line to lead a young group of players at the skill positions. With quality starters like Stuart Hines, Larry Warford and Matt Smith returning, the problems UK has had along the front line are unforeseen by nearly everyone around the program. As the coaching staff searches for answers, Phillips will not lose sight of how good the offensive line has shown it is capable of being.
"It's the million dollar question," Phillips said. "We got to get them better. We have to get them playing better, us as coaches. That's our job. We're not giving up on those guys. Those guys (have played) a lot of ball around here and have had a lot of success around here."
The line has been a lightning rod for the offensive troubles, but that doesn't absolve other groups from blame. Newton has held the ball for too long at times and made some ill-advised decisions, while the wide receivers have had more than their share of drops. All in all, Phillips said those struggles wouldn't seem nearly as bad if not for the turnovers that the offense has committed.
Phillips, though, was ready to put the first three games in the rear view mirror and focus on improving the offense entering a very challenging game against No. 15 Florida. One specific alteration to look for on Saturday is a faster-paced offense.
UK's hurry-up attack was effective on Saturday against Louisville, generating a touchdown and a last-minute drive deep into Cardinal territory that nearly tied the game. Don't expect the Wildcats to play that quickly against Florida, but changes in tempo throughout could be in store.
"We've got to play faster," Phillips said. "It looked like we played a little faster when we went into a two minute mode. Not sure we'll go that fast, but we'll try to do some no huddling."
With Phillips as offensive coordinator under Rich Brooks, UK consistently relied on the no-huddle, which actually turned out to be an effective way to control time of possession.
"If you can remember, when we were a big no huddle team, we'd burn up the clock," Phillips said. "Our time of possession was a lot more than the opponents had."
Phillips has also spoken of scaling back UK's offensive playbook entering the Florida game and eschewing some plays and sets that have simply not worked.
In short, there are no lengths Phillips and his staff will not go to in order to resolve the issues that have plagued the team this season. He does want it to be remembered UK is 2-1, not 0-3, but Phillips recognizes much work has to be done. As a player and coach, Phillips has helped the program to overcome situations worse than the one it finds itself in now.
"We've been here before, battled our way out of it," Phillips said. "We'll continue to battle our way out of this."
Phillips has spent the better part of his life as a football player and coach as a Wildcat and takes it harder than anyone else when a loss like the one against Louisville happens.
"I care about this program more than anybody in here," Phillips said. "There's not one person in here that cares more about it than me."
Florida a different class of opponent
Louisville played good football this past weekend, but make no mistake about it, UK is in for a challenge the likes of which it has not faced this season against the Gators.
"They're better," Phillips said, when comparing Florida to UK's three opponents this season. "You can look at the statistics and see. We talked about the team speed. They're definitely better."
Speed is the first word that comes to mind when talking about Florida and this team does not disappoint. Urban Meyer has retired, but the personnel he recruited remains for first-year head coach Will Muschamp.
"Urban (Meyer) built this team," Phillips said. "He said he wanted to be the fastest team in the country and they probably are."
Up and down the roster, regardless of position, the Gators feature speed, but nowhere is it more evident than at running back. With a pair of world-class sprinters in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey in the backfield, staying in front of the ball carrier will be both vitally important and extremely difficult. The two have combined for more than 800 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns in three games, so when the Cats are able to make contact with either of them, they better make sure they take them to the ground.
"We've got to make sure when we get an opportunity to get our hands on them, we've got to wrap them up and get a chance to tackle them," Phillips said. "We have to gang tackle, get off blocks and get to those fast guys."
As for whether there is greater opportunity to knock off the Gators because Muschamp is in his first season, Phillips doesn't think so.
Phillips said UK doesn't have to be perfect to beat Florida, but they have to be much closer to it than they've been so far this season.
"We've got to play a clean, fast game with no mistakes, playing field position, taking our shots on offense, running the ball when they give it to us, making them snap the ball (when UK is) on defense to have an opportunity to win this game," Phillips said.
Murphy headlines injury list
Tackle Billy Joe Murphy was unable to practice or play last week, but did run on Monday. He will be evaluated on Tuesday and if swelling is down in his knee, the senior will take part in individual workouts and potentially full practice later in the week. His status for Sunday is unknown. Safety Taiedo Smith is in a similar position and will practice this week if able. Guard Larry Warford hurt his ankle late in the loss to Louisville, but was able to return to action. He will not practice tomorrow to protect him from further injury. He is termed "day-to-day" but is expected to play. Running back Raymond Sanders is still recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair torn knee cartilage and will again miss this weekend's game.
It was announced on Monday that tickets for the 2011 State Farm Champions Classic will go on sale Oct. 6, at TicketMaster.com and the Madison Square Garden office. The event will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and will be a doubleheader pitting four of college basketball's national powerhouses against one another.
With the Wildcats, Jayhawks, Blue Devils and Spartans playing in one of basketball's most hallowed venues, fans will be treated to a pair of games between perennial contenders. Kentucky and Kansas will face off at 9:00 p.m. ET in New York City, preceded by a matchup at 7:00 p.m. ET between Duke and Michigan State. Each of the games will be televised in primetime on ESPN as part of the network's annual Tip-Off Marathon.
For the next three years, the Champions Classic will feature a pair rare marquee early season matchups. Following this year's games in Madison Square Garden, games will be played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., in 2012 and at the United Center in Chicago in 2013.
Football - The Kentucky football team dropped its first game of the season Saturday, falling to in-state rival Louisville 24-17 at Commonwealth Stadium. - Morgan Newton threw for career-highs with 255 yards and 27 completions. - Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan paced the UK defense with his 12th-consecutive game of 10-plus tackles. Trevathan leads the SEC in tackles this season with 38.
Volleyball - With two victories this weekend, UK has now rattled off nine straight wins. In the stretch, UK has captured 27-of-29 sets. - Kentucky has opened with a win in SEC action in five-of-seven seasons under Craig Skinner. - In the win over Georgia, senior Ann Armes became the second player this season to total seven blocks in a match. - Freshman Lauren O'Conner posted a career-high 14 kills in the win over the Bulldogs.
Women's soccer - UK women's soccer suffered its first defeat of the season Saturday night against No. 24 Dayton, 2-1. UK's Kelsey Hunyadi netted Kentucky's only goal off a penalty kick in the 86th minute of the game. - Hunyadi has scored five goals through the first eight games of the season, making it one of the best individual starts in program history. Hunyadi has also added five assists to give her a team-high 15 points on the season. - Kentucky will enter SEC play this weekend with a 7-1-0 record that is tied for the best record in the conference with Tennessee.
Men's soccer - The No. 29 men's soccer team completed a dominating weekend with a 5-1 shellacking of No. 15 Brown on Sunday, claiming the 2011 Gamecock Classic, also picking up a 2-1 win over High Point on Friday. - Kentucky posted a 2-1 win over High Point, getting goals from Tyler Riggs and Matt Lodge, with Lodge netting the golden goal just under two minutes into overtime. On Sunday, UK got two goals from Riggs in the win, in addition to the first goals of the year from Josh McCrary, Josh Mulvany and Brendan Murphy. UK's five goal outing marked its highest scoring output since the season opener in 2008. - Kentucky has been paced by an explosive offensive attack through nine games, ranking as the Conference USA leader in nearly every offensive category. Overall, UK has scored 22 goals in nine games and owns a 161-84 advance in shots and a 69-33 lead in corners against its opponents. UK is averaging 2.44 goals per game and an eye-popping 17.9 shots per game. The Wildcats have been led offensively by Riggs and Lodge, with Riggs ranking among the NCAA leaders with eight goals in nine games. Lodge has netted six goals with five assists.
Cross country - The UK men's and women's cross country teams each earned first-place team honors at the Tennessee Invitational, a dual meet between UK and Tennessee. The men's team accumulated 23 points and the women's team had 26 points. - Junior runner Luis Orta won his second-consecutive meet of the season with a time of 25:07.34 on the 8K course. The men's team's win was also its second-consecutive win of the season. - Junior Chelsea Oswald led the women's team for the second straight meet. Oswald ran the women's 5K course in a time of 18:13.22, the second fastest women's time.
Men's golf - The UK men's golf team shot a 3-over par 287 Sunday at the University Club of Kentucky to secure the team title at the UK Bluegrass Fall Invitational. The men's team finished the tournament with a final score of 12-over par 864 to win the team title by four strokes. - Sophomore Cody Martin continued his hot start to the 2011-12 season with his second-consecutive top-five finish. After finishing in a tie for fourth at the Marshall Invitational last week, Martin finished in second this weekend with a final score of 1-over par 214. - Sophomore Matthew Anderson, who played as an individual, finished in a tie for third with a final score of 3-over par 216. - Senior Mads Kristensen, juniors Joseph Barr and Chase Parker, and sophomore Stephen Powers and freshman David Snyder each finished in a tie for 13th place at 6-over par.
Men's tennis - Junior Anthony Rossi started the 2011 fall season in style, taking down No. 4 Henrique Cunha of Duke en route to the singles title at the Duke Fab Four Invitational. Rossi, who is ranked No. 95 in the nation, went 4-0 at the event and is now 49-20 in his career. - UK also received good play from sophomores Alejandro Gomez and Tom Jomby at the Olympia Fields Invitational in Chicago. Gomez went 4-0 on the weekend, defeating key players from several top-25 teams in Illinois, Texas and Notre Dame. Jomby totaled a 3-1 record at the event, including his first career win over a ranked foe when he defeated No. 28 Casey Watt of Notre Dame. - No. 20 Alex Musialek went 3-1 at the event, posting wins over two ranked players. The Frenchman took down No. 113 Ben Chen of Texas and No. 45 Nick Andrews of California.
Women's tennis - Sophomores Khristina Blajkevitch and Cece Witten took fifth place in doubles at the Kansas Invitational. - After winning in doubles, the duo of Caitlin McGraw and Jessica Stiles also excelled individually in their singles matches. Stiles faced Marcela Rivero cruising through the match to win in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. McGraw took on Daphne Friedrichs and won the match 6-3, 6-2.
Wednesday, Sept. 21 Men's soccer at Creighton - 8:00 p.m.
Friday, September 23 Men's soccer hosts Evansville - 7:00 p.m. Volleyball at Florida - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer at Auburn - 8:30 p.m. Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.)
Saturday, September 24 Football hosts Florida - 7:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.) Sunday, September 25 Volleyball at South Carolina - 1:30 p.m. Women's soccer at Alabama - 2:00 p.m. Men's tennis at Southern Intercollegiate (Athens, Ga.)
Sophomore Tyler Riggs ranks among national leaders with eight goals in just nine games this season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
In case you haven't noticed, fall sports at UK are in full swing and the result was a packed weekend. Joker Phillips is holding his weekly press conference this afternoon and we will have coverage as always. Before then, let's run down the action you may have missed as you get your week started on a rainy Monday.
Headlining the weekend was the No. 29 men's soccer team, who won a pair of games on the road to claim the 2011 South Carolina Classic. The title was punctuated by an upset win over the No. 15 Brown Bears. The Wildcats are in the midst of road stretch that has sent them to the West Coast one weekend and the East Coast the next, with another trip to the Midwest to play third-ranked Creighton in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday. Before the game, I will speaking to head coach Ian Collins and a couple of his players about their play, this long road swing and their offensive explosion so far this season with a feature story to follow.
Believe it or not, the volleyball team lost a set this weekend. The Cats, though, won two matches to open SEC play over Auburn and Georgia to run their winning streak to nine matches. Over that stretch, UK has won an astounding 27-of-29 sets to run its record on the season to 11-2. Ann Armes and Christine Hartmann paced the team in a 3-1 victory over Georgia on Sunday. Armes posted 11 kills at a .450 hitting clip while Hartmann directed a balanced UK attack with 42 assists.
Nine former Wildcats saw the field in NFL action this weekend. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson made the biggest splash, catching eight balls for 96 yards and a touchdown as the Buffalo Bills had a comeback win over the Oakland Raiders to move to 2-0 on the season. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard started for the Denver Broncos, tallying 13 total tackles in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Randall Cobb, the reigning NFL Rookie of the Week as voted by the fans did not quite match his season-opening performance, but he did have a pair of catches for 25 yards. Head on over to KyForward.com to see a full rundown of how all the former Cats fared yesterday.
Coming off of a pair of tough losses on a West Coast trip, the Kentucky men's soccer team hit the road again for the Gamecock Classic. The Wildcats used an overtime golden goal from Matt Lodge on Friday to advance to Sunday's championship game.
This afternoon, Ian Collins and his 29th-ranked team took on No. 15 Brown. With the title on the line, UK (6-2-1) turned in what may have been its best performance to date, dismantling the highly ranked Bears by a score of 5-1. Sophomore Tyler Riggs scored a pair of goals, pushing his scoring total on the season to eight, which is tied for the national lead through nine games.
Collins and Riggs spoke after the game about the Cats' bounce back weekend. Sophomore forward Tyler Riggs
Morgan Newton passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 loss against Louisville. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
The essentials: The Kentucky football team's fourth-quarter comeback came up short against the rival Louisville Cardinals and the Wildcats fell by a score of 24-17. UK drove into the Louisville red zone in the final minute, but quarterback Morgan Newton's pass for La'Rod King sailed high on fourth-and-six. The annual battle for the Governor's Cup was played in front of 68,170 fans in Commonwealth Stadium.
Newton had a season-best game through the air with 255 yards and two of touchdowns, but the Wildcats were held to just 35 yards rushing on 32 attempts while the Cardinals had six sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Louisville, on the other hand, rushed for 181 yards and survived an injury to starting quarterback Will Stein.The loss ends a four-game winning streak the Wildcats had owned in the series with Louisville.
According to head coach Joker Phillips, it came down to missed opportunities. The two teams have had their struggles this season, but he was confident in his assertion that UK and Louisville are quality football teams.
"Regardless of what anybody thinks, two good football teams were out there playing today, and it was missed opportunities," Phillips said. "When a person in a backyard brawl drops his hands and gives you his chin, you've got to take it. You've got to take it, and we missed opportunities by putting the ball on the ground, not playing clean, which allowed them to take advantage of us."
Play of the game: UK did have a fourth-and-six on its final drive, but it was a third-down play that epitomized the missed opportunities Phillips talked about post-game. On third-and-two, the Cardinals brought a heavy blitz. Newton hit wide receiver Demarco Robinson on a short hitch route and the freshman caught the ball past the chains for an apparent first down.
In an effort to shake a tackler, Robinson then fumbled the ball backward to the Louisville 18-yard line. He was able to recover the loose ball, but the fumble cost UK a first down and a timeout the Wildcats used to stop the clock.
"We've got a chance to have the ball first-and-goal, I think it was inside the 10 yard line, and we catch a hitch route and they just got the ball out," Phillips said. "I didn't see a replay, but it can't happen."
Phillips went on to say the situation was exactly what he wanted.
"It's zero coverage, which means they bring an all out blitz, we expect our guys to make people pay when they bring zero coverage," Phillips said. "We throw a hitch route, make a move and walk in the end zone."
For Newton, the play was frustrating, but he knows blaming Robinson won't get the team anywhere. He can remember what it was like when he was a freshman and knows mistakes like Robinson's come with the territory.
"I was a freshman just two years ago," Newton said. "There were so many plays in this game, you can't be mad at the kid for that play. There were so many opportunities where guys could make plays and they just didn't get it done."
Turning point: The UK defense was forced in poor field position much of the second half, including the Cardinals' final touchdown drive. A 40-yard Ryan Tydlacka punt started Louisville at the UK 46-yard line, but the defense stiffened and forced the Cardinals into a third-and-10 at the 25-yard line.
With freshman Teddy Bridgewater playing quarterback for Stein, UK perhaps anticipated a running play to better position the Cardinals for a field goal that would extend their lead to two possessions. Instead, Bridgewater kept the ball on a play action pass, finding Josh Bellamy on a fade route down the left sideline for a touchdown to put UK in a 24-17 deficit that would not be overcome.
In general, Phillips was pleased with the performance of his defense, but that touchdown and two previous touchdown passes of 25 yards or longer were its undoing.
"I thought our defense battled their tails off, had a couple short fields and did a good job," Phillips said. "But we just can't give up the big play."
Player of the game: Facing a tireless pass rush, Morgan Newton set a career high in passing yards and very nearly put together a stirring comeback that would have sent the game to overtime. Newton was sacked six times and hit countless more, but he did not relent, completing 27-of-41 passes for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Newton's first two games of the season were marked by sporadic play and he completed just 16 passes. He very nearly matched that total in the first half alone, completing 15-of-21 passes and putting together a 1:09 scoring drive to close the first half, culminating in a 15-yard toss to King with just 10 seconds remaining.
"I felt more in a rhythm," Newton said.
Unsung heroes: A big reason for the rhythm Newton found was the emergence of a second threat at wide receiver in E.J. Fields. The junior was suspended for the season opener and did not make a catch last week, but he turned in a seven-catch, 57-yard effort against Louisville. The majority of his catches resulted in first downs and he also tallied a touchdown. Fields has been waiting a long time for such an opportunity, but he would have liked it to come in a winning effort.
"It felt really good to get my opportunity to play and make some plays on third down, and then the touchdown," Fields said. "But it's a little bittersweet because we couldn't come away with the win."
In a game rife with missed opportunities, it was good for Phillips to see a player fully capitalize on a chance he was given.
"I thought that E.J. Fields really stepped up and did a really good job for us," Phillips said. "Again, when another receiver is struggling, he gets a chance to go in the game and was a guy that took advantage of an opportunity."
Now, it will be up to Fields to sustain that level of play.
"We've been expecting it from E.J. a long time, but he's got to show it to us every day, and I expect him to do that every day," Phillips said.
Injury report: Wide receiver Gene McCaskill and guard Larry Warford were added to UK's injury list tonight. McCaskill sustained a first quarter back injury that kept him out of the rest of the game, while Warford hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter, but later returned. Both will be further evaluated tomorrow along with tackle Billy Joe Murphy, who missed the game against Louisville.
Hidden stat: Louisville's advantage in the ground game (181 yards to 35 yards) and the 14 tackles for loss yielded by the Cats stick out so they don't exactly qualify for this category. Those statistics were obviously decisive, but UK's struggles in the punting game were also important.
Entering the game, Ryan Tydlacka had averaged 47.8 yards per punt, playing a crucial role in a pair of hard-fought wins to start the year. Louisville, though, brought a punt rush that threw off the Wildcats. The Cardinals blocked one of Tydlacka's efforts, resulting in an 11-yard punt when UK could have pinned Louisville deep in its own territory. After that play, UK turned to a rugby-style punt on a few occasions, which was ineffective.
All told, UK averaged just 36.0 yards on seven punts. If Tydlacka had posted the same average as in his first two games, UK would have improved its field position by 80 yards. What this one means: UK now faces a trio of games as difficult as any team will play this season. UK hosts Florida next weekend, and then travels to LSU and South Carolina in back-to-back weeks. All three teams are currently ranked in the top 20. The loss to Louisville means that UK will sit below .500 through five games unless the Wildcats can pull a big upset.
The schedule softens a bit after those three games, but the Wildcats will likely be considered favorites in, at best, two games the rest of the way as they look to book a trip to a sixth-consecutive bowl game.
As the team heads into the SEC, Phillips emphasized there is a lot of football to be played.
"It's still a long season," Phillips said. "We're only three games into it, and it's good that a lot of these young players were in a game like this, which is an SEC atmosphere. I think that really helps the young kids that we're playing with. We'll go to work tomorrow and get ready for our SEC opener."
Morgan Newton and the UK offense will be looking for a breakout game en route to a fifth-straight win over Louisville. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The hours are ticking down before this evening's kickoff between Kentucky and Louisville. The weather should be perfect for football (and tailgating), so come out early to Commonwealth Stadium and wear your blue. If you're looking for some reading to get you ready for the annual Governor's Cup battle, here are some links from around the web:
Danny Trevathan and the Kentucky Wildcats face the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday in the annual battle for the Governor's Cup. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
Time: Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET Location: Commonwealth Stadium (67,942), Lexington, Ky. TV coverage: ESPNU with Clay Matvick, Brian Griese and Allison Williams Radio coverage: UK IMG Sports Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel (630 WLAP-AM in Lexington); Check for an affiliate in your area http://www.ukathletics.com/multimedia/affiliates.html Satellite radio: XM 201; Sirius 218 (you must have the "Sirius Premier" package to hear the game on Sirius) Digital coverage:Cat Scratches' live in-game blog; Gametracker; Twitter updates; Text alerts Game-time weather:70 degrees, most sunny, 10 percent chance of precipitation Arrive early: Fans are highly encouraged to arrive at the stadium early to avoid parking delays and also to enter the stadium early to avoid long entry lines at the stadium gates. Directions and traffic into Commonwealth Stadium. http://www.ukathletics.com/athletic-dept/commonwealth-directions.html Parking: Parking information can be found on UK's Gameday site
GuestAssist service now available: "GuestAssist" is a communications service that enables one-to-one text messaging between Commonwealth Stadium guests and stadium operations personnel.
Fans can ask questions about game-day information and/or report concerns regarding behavior through the convenience of their cell phones. Stadium operations personnel will monitor and respond to guests' game-day inquiries on a real-time basis and if needed, dispatch support, security, etc. to the guests' location. Fans wishing to utilize the service should text, "CATS, your message and your seat location" to 78247 (CATS must be the first four characters in the message body. Standard text message rates apply).
"GuestAssist" is not intended for emergency use. In the event of an emergency, guests should contact the nearest stadium event staff and/or dial 911.
In the second half of a 27-13 win over Central Michigan, the Kentucky Wildcats put together their best 30 minutes of football so far this season. Behind a rushing attack that rolled up 230 yards and an aggressive defense that allowed no points over the final three quarters, UK moved to 2-0.
As the Wildcats get to battle for the Governor's Cup against rival Louisville, UK will face off against a similarly aggressive Cardinal defense that will look to handcuff the rushing attack that paced Kentucky last weekend. According to head coach Joker Phillips, Morgan Newton and the passing game are going to need to take a step forward if the Wildcats are to win their fifth-consecutive game against Louisville.
"They definitely stack the box and dare you to throw it," Phillips said. "Teams have had some success throwing the ball on them. We'll have to throw it consistently to have a chance to get them out of the box so we can run the ball."
Kentucky has managed just 105.5 yards per game through the air while Newton has completed fewer than 50-percent of his passes. It stands to reason, then, that Cardinal head coach Charlie Strong will be looking to force the Wildcats to beat his team through the air.
"We expect the box to be stacked even more this week," Phillips said. "We have to complete some passes to get them into some coverages.
Based on the statistics, it may seem that asking Newton to open the game up through the air is unrealistic, but that is not the case. Yes, the junior has had his share of struggles, but he has shown the ability to throw the deep ball, though his receivers have often been unable to convert well-thrown balls into the long completions they should have been.
With some help from his receivers, Newton is more than capable of punishing a Louisville defense has also shown itself to be susceptible to the big play. Florida International receiver T.Y. Hilton scored touchdowns on 74- and 83-yard catches to propel his team to an upset victory over Louisville last Friday. Hilton does have the kind of game-breaking speed that no Wildcat has, save for maybe freshman Demarco Robinson, but his big play success shows there are holes to be exploited in the Cardinal secondary.
To capitalize on those opportunities, Newton will more than likely turn to junior wide receiver La'Rod King. Newton targeted King on 13 of his 18 passes last weekend and King responded with five catches for 100 yards, including game-tying touchdown on a 34-yard bomb in the third quarter.
"La'Rod's been open quite a bit," Phillips said. "He's gotten behind defenders. Defenders are a little bit tighter on La'Rod and that gives him an opportunity.
If Newton is able to hit King or another of his targets for a long pass or two early, Louisville could be forced to sink into pass coverage and its rushing defense, which has allowed just 94.0 yards per game on 2.5 yard per carry, could be softened.
UK will rely on an extremely inexperienced group of runners to attack the Cardinal defense, whether it has been softened by the deep ball or not. Freshman Josh Clemons, who has 165 yards in his first two games, will start in place of the injured Raymond Sanders. Redshirt sophomore Jonathan George, who has just nine carries on his young career, will serve as Clemons' backup.
UK, though, does have a ball carrier with significant experience at quarterback. Newton was a crucial part of UK's running attack in each of UK's first two games, rushing for 72 yards and a touchdown. Whether it's a called run or a scramble, Newton is a weapon that could do damage against Louisville's aggressive defense.
"We always thought for us to have success with him, he's got to be able to run it because he can be a force," Phillips said. "The guy is 235 pounds, he runs well. "
Because Newton is the only experienced quarterback on UK's roster, Phillips knows that he needs to be protected. However, he does not expect Newton to hold back in any crucial situations. In the season opener against Western Kentucky, Newton had a bruising 58-yard run on third-and-long to seal UK's win.
"I don't expect him, if it's third down and 10, like it was the other day, I don't expect him to get on the ground at eight, nine yards," Phillips said. "I expect him to lower his shoulder like he did and get us the first down."
Against Louisville, nearly every play is crucial and Phillips knows he doesn't have to tell his team that.
"You don't have to say much," Phillips said. "Our kids know about this rivalry."
It's the nickname for one of the most famous plays in Commonwealth Stadium history, Stevie Johnson's 57-yard touchdown catch that beat ninth-ranked Louisville in 2007. Johnson also made the catch that provided the margin over victory over number one LSU later that year but he says the one against the Cards stands out.
"The Louisville game is the best one for me. It did a lot for the team, it did a lot for Lexington and it just put the Kentucky Wildcats over the Louisville Cardinals," Johnson told "The Leach Report" radio show this week.
Johnson caught a touchdown pass last Sunday in the Buffalo Bills' shockingly easy win over Kansas City. He has emerged as the Bills' go-to receiver over the past couple of years after coming into the league as a seventh-round draft pick. What was the key in making the transition from college to the NFL?
"Mental toughness. I didn't come in and play right away. Being patient and waiting for my turn," Johnson said. "Coming from Kentucky, we ran that pro-style offense and it was easy to pick up the playbook."
And Johnson hopes the week one performance by the Bills portends big things for 2011.
"It's only one win but at the same time, it showed a lot, with a new group of guys around here in the locker room. We gotta have confidence. In the NFL, you gotta have confidence, period," he said. "It's about going there and doing what we're supposed to do."
= = =
While Kentucky's offense struggled to move the ball through most of the first two games, an improved and aggressive defense kept the opponent sufficiently in check to assure a victory.
But Donte Rumph says there's no need to worry about the defensive guys lamenting the pressure on them.
"We're all brothers here. We have our brothers' back. They depend on us to do our job, just like we depend on them to do their job," said the sophomore defensive tackle. "Fortunately, it worked out well for us."
= = =
So who does freshman running back Josh Clemons remind you of?
I've heard suggestions like former UK stars Artose Pinner and Sonny Collins but Clemons' teammates have another idea.
"They joke around with me and say I run like him and I'm big like him. He was a really good running back," Clemons said. "I don't think I can put myself up there right now."
= = =
Perhaps Clemons' emergence will give a much-needed boost to the Wildcats rushing attack. Coach Joker Phillips knows that is a crucial element to this offense finding its identity.
"It gives you confidence when you run the ball at will. We haven't been able to do that yet," said Phillips. "The running game is about attitude."
Over the next week, UK Athletics will be participating in the "Together We Can" food drive. The drive benefits God's Pantry, a local food bank, and is coordinated by UK and the Southeastern Conference.
At the following three UK home events, fans will be able to participate:
Sept. 16, 2011 - Volleyball game vs. Auburn at Memorial Coliseum Sept. 23, 2011 - Men's Soccer game vs. Evansville at the UK Soccer Complex Sept. 24, 2011 - Football game vs. Florida at Commonwealth Stadium
At each of the three events, student-athlete volunteers will be collecting canned goods, non-perishable food items and monetary donations. Food collection bins will be located at entrances to Memorial Coliseum and the UK Soccer Complex. Fans donating five canned goods or perishable food items will receive free admission to volleyball and soccer games.
At the football game, student-athletes will circulate throughout Commonwealth Stadium parking lots with collection buckets.
To encourage participation, volleyball senior Ann Armes organized this video with fellow student-athletes. UK's student-athletes are going out of their way to get involved with this effort and I encourage you to support them.
True freshman Josh Clemons will start at running back on Saturday with Raymond Sanders out due to injury. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
With Raymond Sanders out between two and three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee, UK is left searching for a replacement for the sophomore running back. Fortunately, Kentucky is coming off a fall camp that saw a stable of six backs intensely compete for playing time.
Through two games, only Raymond Sanders and freshman Josh Clemons have seen action, but the other four will have ample opportunity to play this weekend. UK figures to play at least two in the backfield through the course of Saturday's game and likely more.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how UK will fill the temporary void left by Sanders' injury.
Freshman Josh Clemons - Joker Phillips said today that Clemons will step in as UK's starter. Two games into his first season at UK, the Georgia native leads the team in rushing with 165 yards on just 25 carries. He has scored a pair of touchdowns, including an 87-yard burst in Saturday's win over Central Michigan that left the Commonwealth crowd buzzing and put the Wildcats in the lead for good.
Clemons will be making his first start, but he has already established himself as a reliable runner. His 5-foot-10, 201-pound frame gives him a blend of power and speed that make him dangerous on every play. There are few concerns about a drop-off in the running game with Clemons, but his abilities as a blocker and receiver are somewhat more unknown. He does not yet have a catch in his career (Sanders had 16 in his freshman season in backup duty). Clemons has the frame to be an excellent pass protector, but knowledge of assignments is always a concern for a freshmen. Redshirt sophomore Jonathan George - According to Phillips, George is slated to be the primary backup. Like Clemons, he has good size at 5-foot-10, 209 pounds to go with speed that won him state titles in the 200- and 400-meter dash in high school. George came to UK from Lincoln, Ala., and had nine carries for 25 yards as a redshirt freshman. UK fans have not seen much of him so far, but the UK-UofL rivalry has been full of plenty of surprise heroes over the years. What could be a better time for George to introduce himself than against UK's in-state rival?
Freshman Marcus Caffey - Caffey came to UK from Atlanta, Ga., as a highly touted recruit, ranking in the top 40 running backs nationally. At 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, he was expected to compete for playing time right away, but injuries hampered his fall camp. He is healthy now though and is competing for carries this week. He was praised in high school for his vision and balance.
Redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer - Gainer is the kind of back that first-year running backs coach Steve Pardue likes. He has the ability to run powerfully between the tackles and will fight for the extra yard. A surprise signee on National Signing Day in 2010, the four-star prospect according to ESPN.com has the ability to break tackles and the willingness to pass protect. The year he spent at UK as a redshirt also gives him a familiarity with the offense that his fellow freshmen lack. Redshirt junior CoShik Williams - The most experienced runner on the UK roster, Williams carried the ball 38 times in his first two years on campus for 186 yards. Over half of those yards came in 2010 against Charleston Southern when he rushed for 95 yards and three touchdowns. At 5-foot-nine, 178 pounds, he is the smallest of UK's backs, but still has the ability to break tackles.
An injury like this one to Sanders is the very reason why Phillips and his staff have worked so tirelessly to build depth on the UK roster. Sanders will certainly be missed but, as Phillips said today, "the game doesn't stop."
In case you haven't seen it yet, UK Sports Video has started a brand new web video series called UK Rewind. The show will air weekly and will break down the best in UK Athletics from the preceding week with highlights, statistics and commentary. Make you sure you check back each week at UK Interactive for the latest episodes on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
This week's episode hosted by UK student Stacey Johnson went up this morning, take a look.
After practice on Thursday, Joker Phillips announced that starting running back Raymond Sanders has sustained a slight cartilage tear in his right knee. The injury occurred on a kickoff return in last Saturday's game against Central Michigan. Sanders underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on the knee this morning and is expected to miss "two to three weeks".
The injury leaves UK without half of the "thunder and lightning" duo that I wrote about yesterday for this weekend's game against Louisville http://www.ukathletics.com/blog/2011/09/running-game-relying-on-unique-edition-of-thunder-and-lightning.html. Freshman Josh Clemons will take Sanders' starting spot. The Wildcats lose the back with the most experience on the roster, but the injury affords an opportunity to other players whom the staff has wanted to play but hasn't had the chance to so far this season.
"Josh will start and it will give us an opportunity to see some of those other backs," Phillips said. "We've been wanting to get them in the game; now we have to get them in the game."
Phillips said that the first in line to pick up the slack will be sophomore Jonathan George, but said that others like freshman Marcus Caffey, junior CoShik Williams and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer could also get opportunities.
Sophomore Raymond Sanders rushed for 62 yards on just eight carries on Saturday against Central Michigan. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
At all levels of football, balancing carries between two or more running backs has become a popular approach.
Recognizing the burden placed on a runner asked to carry the ball every time and the upside of keeping players fresh, coaching staffs have recently tended to split the workload in the running game. Oftentimes, those two-back systems feature a pair of ball carriers with differing skill sets. Numerous duos have been branded as "thunder and lightning", boasting a power back and speed back.
So far this season, UK has tried its hand at a two-back system with sophomore Raymond Sanders and freshman Josh Clemons. Sanders and Clemons are coming off of a dominant second-half effort that propelled the Wildcats to a 27-13 victory. Sanders offered this appraisal of the duo.
"He's bigger than me," Sanders said of his mate in the backfield. "He runs strong and he's a big guy that's hard to tackle. I'm shiftier and I can make guys miss. He's more 'I'm going to run through a tackle,' but he has great speed as you could see on Saturday."
Afterward, Sanders applied the old "thunder and lightning" moniker to the pair of Georgia natives.
"We're a thunder and lightning package where the thunder has a lot more speed than those other thunder guys I see," Sanders said. "It's going to be a great duo going into the future."
Sanders calls Clemons the "thunder" half of the duo, though he is not your typical power back. The nickname belies the speed Clemons' displayed in the 87-yard jaunt against Central Michigan that Sanders referenced.
Sanders said that the two had been waiting six quarters for one of them to break off a big run with plenty of trash-talking preceding it. That friendly back-and-forth is something that Sanders and Clemons use to motivate one another.
"It helps us to go out and play hard," Sanders said. "I know it motivates him and it keeps him going. He comes to me and says 'what are you going to do on this play? How many guys are you going to make miss?' It keeps us going and I'm going to keep talking trash to him and make sure he keeps working hard because that's what drives him and I feel like I'm making him become better."
Sanders, in spite of being just a sophomore, has taken up the mantle of leader among a group of inexperienced backs. He is only a year removed from his first season playing in the SEC, so there's a lot of guidance he can offer to Clemons.
"We talk a lot," Sanders said. "I'm always on him. He's always asking questions and I'm quick to answer them. It's a good thing that we have and hopefully we can keep growing."
Running backs coach Steve Pardue has been primarily responsible for molding Sanders and Clemons this season. In his first year at UK, Pardue is happy to be coaching them.
"We've got a lot of youth in there," Pardue said. "Raymond, it seems like he's been around a long time but he's just a sophomore. It's a young group but they keep me on my toes."
Pardue has been happy with the progression of his youngsters, but he doesn't lose sight of the fact that mistakes come with the territory.
"We're not where we want to be but I think we're moving in the right direction," Pardue said. "We're playing with a lot of young guys and with that you're going to have some mistakes. If you're playing freshmen, you better accept they're freshmen."
Sanders and Clemons are the only two backs that have seen the field so far this season, but they were a part of an intense competition in fall camp that involved as many as six backs. Sophomore Jonathan George, freshman Marcus Caffey, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer and junior CoShik Williams have yet to play, but Pardue said that Sanders and Clemons aren't the only backs he believes can contribute, which is important as UK prepares for play in the grueling Southeastern Conference.
"I feel like we've got more than that," Pardue said. "They're the two that are playing right now but you better have four, five or six because you never know."
Heading into a game against rival Louisville, any one of those players could hear their numbers called under certain circumstances. Three of UK's six runners are freshmen and will suit up against the Cardinals for the first time. In light of that, what advice would Sanders offer to any of them when they step out on the field?
"'Just keep doing what you're doing,'" Sanders said. "'Run hard, make it hard for the other guys to tackle you and make sure you're understanding the blitz pickups.'"
Each of them would do well to remember those words, but there's one thing above all else that Sanders would want them to remember.
After expressing some disappointment at his team's performance following Tuesday's practice, Joker Phillips said that he was more pleased with his players on Wednesday. With that said, he is looking for further improvement in tomorrow's practice just two days prior the big matchup with Louisville on Saturday.
"We were better today but we have to get even better tomorrow," Phillips said. "We have to get sharper in our assignments, sharper on our alignments and sharper on the adjustments we have to make."
Phillips had good news on the injury front, saying that center Matt Smith was able to practice today. The second-year head coach was pleasantly surprised by what he saw out of Smith as he lined up with the second string.
"Matt Smith did practice today," Phillips said. "He practiced with the twos and looked pretty good. I told him I was expecting him to look like a freshman, but he didn't. He looked like a guy who's played a lot of ball around here."
Phillips went on to say that Smith is expected to be available for Saturday's game, though Jake Lanefski is still slated to start. Wide receiver Brian Adams is also recovering from injury and the coaching staff hopes he will be able to play this weekend.
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu registered a career-high seven tackles in a win over Central Michigan on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Picture your dream home.
Odds are you thought about how the house would look or how much acreage would surround it. Maybe you imagined how many bedrooms it would have or whether it would be built with brick. You probably aren't thinking about the foundation. You can't see it from the outside, but your dream home is pretty much worthless without it.
Much like a house, the foundation cannot be ignored when putting together a football defense.
"The first thing you do when you're building a house is pour a foundation," defensive line coach David Turner said. "That's the defensive line,"
Without a strong and deep line, a defense can only go so far.
"We have to be solid up front, we have to be productive players, we have to be good players and we have to be technique-sound," Turner said. "Any great defense, professional, college or high school, is going to start with the defensive line and that's what we're working towards."
Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy are unquestionably the faces of Kentucky's defense. With 49 tackles and three interceptions between them through just two games, Trevathan and Guy are usually involved when there's a play to be made. Talking to the pair of seniors, both are very much aware of the importance of UK's foundation. Outsiders may not always pick up on the dirty work undertaken by UK's defensive linemen, but their teammates do.
"My d-line, they keep those big guys off me, especially with this new
scheme," Trevathan said. "They're always stunting and doing different things
to keep the offensive linemen on their heels. It helps me be able to
roam around and not get blocked as much. They do a lot of the dirty work
It's a job the group is happy to do.
"Our job is to keep the big guys off our linebackers," defensive tackle Donte Rumph said. "We treat them as an offensive line would treat their quarterback. We're kind of their protectors so that's how we feel. We all just have to stick together and we have each other's back."
Defensive end Collins Ukwu echoed Rumph's sentiments and is also grateful that his teammates recognize the work that he and his fellow linemen do.
"I'm glad they're mentioning us," Ukwu said. "We do a lot of the tough work, but that's part of playing together. I'm glad they're making the plays also, because they're supposed to. We love them and I feel like we have two of the best linebackers in the nation."
The defense built around Ukwu, Rumph and company has been solid so far this season, ranking in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense. Ukwu's leadership has been crucial.
"He's a guy I think the other guys up front rally around and follow," Turner said. "He's a great leader and he does it every day on and off the field. He works hard, he practices hard and spends time studying the game. He's a guy I hold up to the other guys as someone they should try to be like."
Ukwu set a career high with seven tackles in Saturday's win over Central Michigan and has been happy with his start to the season, but knows he and the line as a whole have room for improvement.
"I thought I had more tackles than that, but I feel pretty good," Ukwu said. "This is something that's expected from me. We didn't have any sacks last week, so that's something I want to improve on this week."
Turner was also disappointed in the lack of sacks, but he pointed out that Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff was under pressure much of the afternoon.
"If we're doing what we're supposed to and we don't get there, it's OK as long we get pressure," Turner said. "We hit the quarterback a few times Saturday and we hurried some throws. Sacks come in bunches and hopefully we'll get our fair share before the year is out."
Facing off against a Louisville offensive line that has allowed seven sacks in two games (104th in the nation), the defensive line will look to get after Cardinal quarterback Will Stein. However, Turner cautioned not to get caught up in numbers, saying that the Louisville offensive front is more than capable.
"They're well-coached," Turner said. "They have a good offensive line and they have a good offensive line coach. They've got great skill guys and they know what they're going to go out and do. It's about execution. If they come out and execute better than us up front, it's going to be a long day. If we do what we're supposed to do and what we're capable of doing, it will be a good game."
The Wildcats will focus on putting themselves in positions where they can pin their ears back and attack.
"It all starts on first and second down," Turner said. "If you're doing a good job on first and second down and putting the offense in third-and-long situations, you have a chance to get sacks. We have to make sure we handle our jobs on first and second down; third down normally takes care of itself."
This season, any number of UK linemen could find themselves in opposing backfields. The coaching staff has long worked to develop the depth necessary to compete for SEC titles, particularly along the defensive line. The fact that Turner now has as many as nine players he can turn to allows starters like Ukwu to feel comfortable going all out on every play.
"You have no worries because you can go as hard as you can and know that there's somebody behind you that plays just as hard and is just as good," Ukwu said. "It's really helping and I'm really grateful that I'm the situation of having people behind me that can bring in that same tempo."
Turner is pleased with how far UK has come in that regard, but continuing to dig a deep foundation is a task that will never be complete.
"Right now, we've got some numbers," Turner said. "I'd actually like to play more guys to be honest, but depth is something you always try to develop. It's a work in progress."
In our continuing (and totally unplanned) theme of Randall Cobb Day here at Cat Scratches, ESPN Sport Science broke down Cobb's 108-yard kickoff return for the Green Bay Packers, focusing on the tackle-breaking spin move that made it possible.
The Kentucky football team held its first full practice in preparation for Saturday's Governor's Cup showdown against Louisville. Joker Phillips spoke after practice, grading the practice as a "six or seven" on a scale of ten.
"Good thing we've got tomorrow," Phillips said. "It was so-so. We did some good things. This is the first day of putting in the game plan so obviously you're going to have some mistakes."
Phillips said he expects the team to settle in to the new game plan during Wednesday and Thursday practices. He also is demanding a great deal of intensity from the Wildcats with Louisville being such a big game and Phillips is trying to set the tone.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm from me," Phillips said. "I know how important this game is and the coaches do also."
The Kentucky head coach was asked about Louisville coach Charlie Strong's comments that essentially said UK is the better of the two teams. Phillips invoked the name of Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz, for whom both Phillips and Strong have worked in the past, in his assessment of the remarks.
"We both were with Lou," Phillips said. "Early in the week you're a terrible football team, later on you have a chance and by the end of the week the other team doesn't have a chance."
Phillips provided updates on his two injured offensive linemen, Matt Smith and Billy Joe Murphy. Neither participated in practice, but Smith was able to run on the side, which pleased Phillips.
"Neither one practiced today," Phillips said. "I did get to see Matt Smith out there running. The biggest for him if he is healthy is conditioning and he ran pretty good today."
Phillips went on to say that he hopes at least one of the two is able to play on Saturday.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 11:
Volleyball: Whitney Billings
Sophomore Whitney Billings has simply turned into a different player since shifting to the right side. In UK's biggest non-conference rival match of the season, Billings had the best match of her career. She led the team with 11 kills on a career-high .450 hitting percentage. She was unstoppable defensively, as well picking up a season-high 15 digs and adding four blocks. Behind her career-day, UK swept Louisville for the first time since 1988, and has now beaten them consecutively for the first time since 1993. Billings, did not stop there, however. She would go on to have another double-figure kill effort and continue to shine for UK in the passing game. As the Wildcats' No. 2 primary passer, Billings picked up 3.69 digs per set and had three matches with 10 or more digs for the week. She had season-highs in every category on the week including 2.62 kills per set and a .316 hitting clip. In 51 attempts, Billings only had three service errors.
Football: Josh Clemons
Had a career game vs. CMU with 14 rushes for 126 yards, including a 87-yard TD rush that was the fourth-longest rush in school history and the longest rush by a UK player since 1970. The rush was the longest ever by a UK freshman. Clemons leads the Wildcats in rushing, while sitting eighth in the SEC. Both of his touchdown runs this season have been game winners.
Football: La'Rod King
Earned a career-high 100 yards receiving, including a 34-yard touchdown pass in the Kentucky win against Central Michigan. King caught five passes in the game, which tied a career-high in receptions.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior libero Stephanie Klefot had another week to remember for the Wildcats. With 69 digs on the weekend, in a match vs. Houston, Klefot became the 10th player in school history to post 1,000 or more digs in a career. She moved into 10th place all-time for career digs surpassing former All-America setter Sarah Rumely. Klefot was named to the UK Invitational All-Tournament team, and has been an All-Tournament team member in back to back weeks. She averaged 5.31 scoops per set for the week. She posted two matches with 20 or more scoops and has now charted more than 20 digs in a match on 47 occasions and four times this season. Loyola Marymount broke her streak of 10 or more digs in a match, when the Lions purposefully avoided Klefot's portion of the floor. Instead, sophomore Jessi Greenberg had her first career 10 or more dig match because of Klefot's prowess. Her three assists in a win over West Virginia as well as three aces, were both season highs as she contributed to the offense. Klefot led the way for UK in the serve-receive line as well. Klefot had 80 balls served her way, and missed on just one for a .988 average.
Men's soccer: Matt Lodge
Kentucky junior Matt Lodge had another dynamic week while leading a potent Wildcat offensive attack ... Lodge netted three goals and had two assists in the three games during the week, including a hat trick in UK's 4-2 win over IPFW on Tuesday night ... Lodge's hat trick on Tuesday was UK's first hat trick since 2006 and just the seventh in program history ... A native of Rossington, England, Lodge has totaled staggering numbers through the first seven games of the season, leading UK with five goals and three assists, firing 36 shots and owning one game-winning goal ... In UK's games with Stanford and No. 13 Cal during a two-game road swing in California, Lodge notched assists in both games, with both goals giving the Wildcats a lead.
Volleyball: Lauren O'Conner
Freshman Lauren O'Conner continues to have a positive impact for UK. Since becoming a permanent fixture in the starting lineup, Kentucky has rattled off seven consecutive wins thanks in large part to O'Conner. This week, the freshman led UK in kills twice and she has reached double-figures in the kills column in five of UK's last seven matches. Her 13 hammers in UK's win over West Virginia ties a career-high. O'Conner also began contributing in more ways than just offensively. She tied a career-high three times with a trio of digs in three of UK's four matches. She also averaged more blocks per set this week than her season average. Currently, she ranks second on the squad in kills per set and points per set. However, in Kentucky's seven-match winning streak it is O'Conner who leads the team with 3.36 kills per set on a team-high .255 hitting clip.
Women's soccer: Kayla Price
Kayla Price was perfect on the weekend, earning All-Tournament team honors after posting a pair of shutouts on Friday and Sunday ... Price made four saves in Kentucky's 2-0 win over in-state rival Louisville ... In Sunday's shutout over SE Missouri she came up big on a SEMO shot in the 58th minute to preserve a scoreless tie. A Redhawk got free and unleashed a hard shot from nearly 18 yards out, but Price dove to her right to make the save and thwart the Redhawk threat ... It was her third shutout of the season, already just one shy of fourth on UK's all-time freshman shutout list.
Football: Danny Trevathan
Record 13 tackles for the second consecutive week and currently leads the SEC in tackles with 26. Also had three tackles for loss and his first career interception against Central Michigan. Has now earned 11 consecutive games of 10-plu tackles.
Since "seven" is a magic number in football, we decided to look for the seven most memorable performances for Kentucky in its annual game with Louisville.
Here they are, ranked in my opinion of their significance:
1994: Donte Key saves the day
After pushing for the series with his alma mater for several years, UofL coach Howard Schnellenberger was headed for a victory in the first installment--until Donte Key came to the resue.
With the game tied at 14, Key forced a fumble at the Cards' 33-yard line and from there, UK marched in for what turned out to be the winning score. But Key wasn't done. Louisville drove to the Kentucky 19 in the game's final minute, only to have Key pick off a Marty Lowe pass to seal the Wildcat victory.
Key won a national player-of-the-week award for his performance. And it would turn out to be UK's only victory that season.
2008: Myron Pryor rumbles
Kentucky was looking for its first set of back-to-back wins against its arch rival since 1998 and the Wildcat defense made sure that goal would be achieved.
UK limited UofL to only 205 total yards and forced five turnovers. The last one was a fumble, picked up by 300-pound defensive tackle and Louisville native Myron Pryor. The big fella rumbled to paydirt, opening up in not-quite-Secretariat-like fashion on a Louisville lineman who gave a futile chase.
Pryor became a media darling, thanks in part to the fact that the cameras didn't catch him loosing his lunch on the sidelines after his triumphant jaunt to the promised land for linemen.
2009: Randall Cobb's game-winner
Late-game heroics from Randall Cobb became the norm in his time at Kentucky and he needed every inch of his sub-six-foot frame to make the game-winning play in this 31-27 Wildcat win over the underdog Cards.
With under five minutes play and the Big Blue Nation in fear of an unexpected setback, Cobb came up big. Fade patterns are normally thrown to tall receivers but as we all know, Cobb was a break-the-mold kind of player. He climbed the ladder to snatch a floating Mike Hartline pass for the touchdown that put the Cats ahead to stay.
2002: Ragone takes a pounding
Louisville brought a number 17 national ranking into this matchup and appeared headed for a then unprecedented fourth straight win in the rivalry. That is, until the game started and the Kentucky defensive front began pounding away at UofL quarterback Dave Ragone.
With tackles Jeremy Caudill and Dewayne Robertson taking turns making hits on Ragone, the Cards' QB managed to complete only 14 of 39 passes and Louisville could muster only 55 net rushing yards.
Taylor Begley nailed three clutch field goals and Ernest Sims turned a short pass from Jared Lorenzen into a 63-yard score and Kentucky held on for a 22-17 upset win.
1998: Tim Couch's big day
It was the grand opening for Louisville's new stadium but Tim Couch and Craig Yeast stole the show.
"The Deuce" completed 29 of 39 passes for a school-record 498 yards. The 801 total yards of offense was also a school record and Yeast caught nine balls for 150 and two scores.
1997: Tim Couch throws three first-quarter TD passes
This performance by Couch ranks higher only because it made more of a statement.
Kentucky had been defeated decisively the previous two years but new coach Hal Mumme's Air Raid offense had rejuvenated the fan base. This debut mission would be the proof of the promise of a more exciting style of play as Couch connected on three touchdown passes in the first quarter of a 38-24 win.
2007: Stevie Johnson's catch
Louisville was ranked ninth in the nation as it south a fifth straight win over UK and it looked like that would happen when a 15-yard penalty pushed the Wildcats back to their own 43 on their final drive.
But then "Stevie got loose," as fans have dubbed the play that turned the game around. Andre Woodson found Stevie Johnson on a 57-yard touchdown throw that provided what I would guess is one of the top three ovations in Commonwealth Stadium history.
Johnson was so wide open that he said his biggest concern was keeping a straight path to the endzone once he made the catch.
Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats enter Saturday's game against Louisville with a 2-0 record. (UK Athletics)
The countdown is officially on. The annual battle for the Governor's Cup between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals is just five days away and Joker Phillips held his weekly press conference this afternoon discussing the matchup as well as UK's performance in Saturday's win against Central Michigan. Video of Phillips' comments can be viewed here, but these are a few of the storylines I took away from today:
Clemons' importance to UK's running game increasing
After being the most buzz worthy freshman on the UK roster during fall
camp, most expected Josh Clemons to make an immediate impact in the
backfield. Scoring touchdowns in each of his first two games and posting
126 yards in just his second outing, he has surpassed even the most
Phillips says that the staff knew the reigning SEC Co-Freshman of the
Week was capable of that kind of production when they saw his
consistency in camp.
"He was the back that showed up every day," Phillips said. "(He) didn't
miss a day. So he's really durable and really understood our offense.
Then when we went into our first scrimmage, some of the cuts he made,
his vision, his balance, those things, his ability to secure the
football, those are the things that told us that we thought he could be a
pretty good back for us."
Clemons, along with sophomore Raymond Sanders, has carried the load in
the running game so far this season, which figures to continue. The pair
combined for a big second half against Central Michigan, which Phillips
said needs to continue all season. With the ability to run the ball
effectively, the deep ball in the play action passing game becomes a
"The thing that gives us the best chance to throw over their heads is
running the ball efficient," Phillips said. "I think that is what is
giving us the chance last week to throw over their heads, putting it in
one of the running backs' belly, pulling it out, and now throwing over
the top of them because the safety is starting to have to get involved."
Morgan Newton has shown the ability to throw the deep ball this season,
though it has not always been capitalized on due to drops from wide
receivers. The deep ball will be a big part of the offense this season,
as will Newton's ability to run. With players like Andre' Woodson and
Mike Hartline under center, running with the quarterback has not really
been an option.
"When you get the last two quarterbacks we had, you get in the
(shot)gun, you were limited with Andre' and Mike Hartline, you were
limited with what you could run in the running game," Phillips said.
"With Morgan, you can run a lot more downhill plays with him."
For Newton's effectiveness to be maximized, Phillips says his ability to run has to be utilized.
"We've got to run Morgan," Phillips said. "We've told him that from day
one: 'we're going to have to run you more'. He's a big, physical runner
also, especially when he gets in the secondary, guys start bouncing off
of him. He's faster than he looks. Morgan Newton is faster than he
looks. He showed it in the first game. He's got some speed."
However, that has to be balanced with the fact that Newton is the only
experienced quarterback on the roster. UK cannot afford to lose the
junior to injury, so the staff will be conscious of minimizing the hits
that he takes. Newton will also be asked to be aware of keeping himself
"We have to be a little careful," Phillips said. "Morgan has to be
careful and smart in how he runs also. He's a little bit of an upright
runner when he does run. (He) can't take those type of shots." Phillips wants UK, Louisville to be judged on the field
Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said after his team's loss to Florida International on Friday that UK is the better of the two teams that will take the field this weekend. Phillips, though, doesn't buy into that notion.
The UK head coach said that there is no way to know how UK would have fared against Louisville's schedule or how Louisville would have against Kentucky's. He doesn't pay much heed to the talk that UK is the favorite or that the Wildcats have more talent. Such things cannot be determined anywhere else but head-to-head on the field.
"The way to judge that is play each other," Phillips said. "We do play each other this week so we'll be able to know after this game."
The Cardinals may be coming off a disappointing loss, but Phillips expects Saturday to be a stiff test for his Wildcats.
"It will be a huge challenge for us," Phillips said. "(It will) give us another opportunity to see where our program is at. We (have) to prepare our guys for this tough in state battle."
Phillips was also quick to point out that Louisville's offense has been effective so far this season, averaging over 400 yards per game. Will Stein quarterbacks the attack for the Cardinals and has a number of weapons at wide receiver, including a pair of freshmen with size, speed and athleticism in DeVante Parker and Michaelee Harris.
"DeVante Parker has two touchdowns," Phillips said. "Michaelee Harris (is) averaging about 16 yards a catch. (Josh) Chichester is averaging about 18 yards a catch."
Phillips also said that the offense will have its work cut out against an aggressive Cardinal defense that is allowing just 16 points per game. Their strength is against the run, where they allow just 94 yards per game on 2.5 yards per carry.
Injury-riddled offensive line still a revolving door
UK has not been healthy along the offensive line since the start of fall camp. When one projected starter recovers from injury, it seems that another goes down immediately.
Right now, senior center Matt Smith and senior right tackle Billy Joe Murphy are the ones contending with injuries. Both are recovering with the goal of playing on Saturday in mind, but neither will practice on Tuesday. Last week, Smith seemed to be healthy enough to practice, but was unable to make it through an entire day.
"He wasn't as close as we thought he was," Phillips said. "But he's still getting treatment, trying to get himself back to where he could be an asset for us."
Phillips said that Murphy is in the same position.
The injuries to various offensive linemen has allowed players who did not expect to see significant playing time this season to hit the field, including true freshman Darrian Miller. Phillips said that no one would have expected the newcomer to be starting a game this early in his career, but he played well enough to earn a helmet sticker.
"I can tell you this: there was no one in here that guessed Darrian Miller would have been a starter in a game this year," Phillips said. "I'm happy to have him there because the guy has a chance to be a talent and also he gives us a lot of depth. You very seldom see a true freshman go in there and play."
Football - Kentucky won its sixth-consecutive home opener dating back to 2006 when it defeated Central Michigan 27-13. The win improved Kentucky's record in home openers to 92-23-6 all-time. - The Wildcats were led by a solid offensive performance in the second half behind true freshman tailback Josh Clemons' 87-yard game-winning touchdown. The 87-yard run was the fourth longest rush in school history and the longest for any UK player since Bernie Scruggs' 88-yard scamper vs. Georgia in 1970. It was the longest rush by a UK freshman in school history. - UK quarterback Morgan Newton also played well in the second half, leading the Wildcats' comeback victory by throwing a 34-yard touchdown pass to junior La'Rod King and rushing for a one-yard score to seal the UK win. - Kentucky's defense earned its second consecutive second-half shutout, limiting Central Michigan's offense in the final two quarters. The Wildcats had three players with double-figure tackles, including seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy gathering 13 stops apiece.
Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team concluded nonconference action on a seven-match winning streak to improve to 9-2 on the young season. In UK's seven-match winning streak, the Blue and White have yielded just one set and swept six of seven opponents. - Kentucky began the week by defeating its rival Louisville in a 3-0 match. It marked the first sweep for UK over the Cardinals since 1988. Sophomore Whitney Billings led the team with 11 kills on a career-high .450 hitting clip. She contributed a season-high 15 digs and also turned back four opponent attacks to lead the charge. - Junior Stephanie Klefot picked up 69 digs for the week and became the 10th player in school history to chart 1,000 or more digs in a career.
Women's soccer - Kentucky won its second championship in as many weeks, posting a pair of 2-0 wins over Louisville and SE Missouri in the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Wildcats are 7-0-0 to start the season, their best start since the 2001 season. UK is the last undefeated team left in the Southeastern Conference, - The Wildcats have scored four goals off corner kicks in the last four matches. - Kayla Price has tallied three shutouts this season, including two over the weekend. She is one shy of fourth on UK's shutout list among freshmen. - Senior captain Kelsey Hunyadi has a team high 13 points on four goals and five assists, both team highs.
Men's soccer - The 15th-ranked Kentucky men's soccer team wrapped up a grueling stretch with the two games in the Golden State, falling to Stanford 3-1 on Friday night and suffering a 3-2 setback vs. No. 13 Cal on Sunday, with UK owning a 4-2 win over IPFW on Tuesday. - The Wildcats have been led by junior forward and All-America candidate Matt Lodge, who paces UK with five goals and three assists through the first seven games of the year, firing a staggering 36 shots. Sophomore forward Tyler Riggs leads UK in scoring with five goals and four assists, including a team-best two game-winning goals. - Overall, UK owns a staggering 129-63 advantage in shots and a 57-25 lead in corner kicks against its opposition. Women's golf - The University of Kentucky women's golf team is tied for first in the Texas A&M "Mo"Morial after one round of action. The Cats are led by junior Ashleigh Albrecht who is currently tied for first overall. - The Cats shot a 299 leaving them tied for second with Texas and only three strokes behind the leader, Auburn. - Albrecht shot a 2-under 70 that has her tied for first place. Senior Ashlee Rose also finished the first round in the top 10 with a 2-over 74.
Monday, September 12 Women's golf at Texas A&M MO-morial Men's golf at Marshall Invitational
Tuesday, September 13 Women's golf at Texas A&M MO-morial Men's golf at Marshall Invitational Friday, September 16 Men's soccer vs. Brown - 5:30 p.m. (Columbia, S.C.) Volleyball hosts Auburn - 7:00 p.m. Women's tennis at Ohio State/Kansas State Fall Tournaments Men's tennis at Olympia Falls Invite/Duke Fab Four
Saturday, September 17 Football hosts Louisville - 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer at Dayton - 7:30 p.m. Men's golf hosts Bluegrass Fall Invitational Women's tennis at Ohio State/Kansas State Fall Tournaments Men's tennis at Olympia Falls Invite/Duke Fab Four Cross country at Tennessee Invitational
Sunday, September 18 Men's soccer vs. High Point - 5:30 p.m. (Columbia,S.C.) Volleyball hosts Auburn - 2:00 p.m. Men's golf hosts Bluegrass Fall Invitational Women's tennis at Ohio State/Kansas State Fall Tournaments Men's tennis at Olympia Falls Invite/Duke Fab Four
Having played its best 30 minutes of football so far this season in the second half against Central Michigan, Kentucky heads into its highly anticipated annual grudge match against the Louisville Cardinals 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Joker Phillips is holding his weekly press conference early this afternoon and we will be bringing you coverage of the happenings from that. In the mean time, here are a few notes to wrap up a busy weekend:
First of all, John Calipari and his Dominican Republic National Team finished up play in the FIBA Americas Championship, winning a bronze medal with a 103-89 victory over Puerto Rico. The medal was first in Dominican history, but the team fell just short of clinching a bid in the 2012 Olympics though it did earn a spot in a last chance qualifying tournament next summer. Calipari posted a message last night on his website to discuss the tournament and what's next as he gets back into the swing of preparing for the college season. Here is an excerpt:
Now, what will I be doing now that this over? For the next six or seven days, I will be in homes and in schools of the recruits we're involved with. I'll be in Lexington for one day this week but I'll be back on the road recruiting that night.
Even though I've been in South America for the last few days during the contact period, I did three home visits from the speakerphone. Obviously, it's not as effective as sitting face to face, but I wanted those young people to know that even though I was coaching a national team, they were on the forefront of my mind.
We will have individual skill instruction sessions with the team Wednesday, which I've been thinking about for two weeks. I can't wait to get back at it with this team that I'll be coaching. I miss those guys, and they know that. I've texted and talked to them all.
I'm looking forward to having another experience with another brand new team and a group of young men that are committed to each other. As long as they'll be their brother's keeper, we'll have a lot of fun again this year.
Morgan Newton and the UK offense may have gotten off to a bit of a slow start to the season, but not so for the Wildcat defense. After most of the nation has played two games, UK ranks ninth in the country in scoring defense, 10th in passing efficiency defense and tied for 10th in turnovers forced. Although the level of competition will take a step up as UK enters SEC play, the improvement that the defense has already shown in Rick Minter's first two games as co-defensive coordinator has been extremely encouraging.
Anchoring the defense are seniors Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, who are first and second in the SEC in total tackles. Trevathan also is tied for fourth nationally in tackles per game while Guy is tied for 13th. Another of UK's most consistent performers has been punter Ryan Tydlacka. The senior in 10th in the nation in yards per punt at 47.8. Tydlacka and his punt coverage unit also are fifth nationally in net punting at 46.3 yards per punt, meaning UK is allowing just 1.5 return yards per punt.
Freshman running back Josh Clemons had a breakout game this weekend, rushing for 126 yards on just 14 carries, including an 87-yard touchdown burst to put UK ahead for good. For his efforts, Clemons was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week, so congratulations to him.
Women's soccer equaled its best start in school history with a pair of 2-0 wins on Friday and Sunday. Moving to 7-0-0 in 2011, Jon Lipsitz and the Wildcats defeated Louisville and Southeast Missouri to win the Tropical Smoothie Invitational hosted at the UK Soccer Complex. UK has scored at least two goals in each of its first seven matches of the season. The Wildcats have one final non-conference match on the road against Dayton on Saturday before beginning SEC play.
Volleyball also continued its winning ways this weekend, defeating Houston, Loyola Marymount and West Virginia en route to winning the UK Invitational. Ashley Frazier won MVP honors and Stephanie Klefot and Gretchen Giesler joined her on the all-tournament team. In three matches, UK dropped a single set, meaning the Wildcats have won 21 of 22 sets in seven straight wins since a loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago. SEC play starts for the 9-2 Cats at home this Friday against Auburn. They also face off against Georgia on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
Junior quarterback Morgan Newton rushed for a career-high 43 yards on 13 rushes Saturday afternoon against Central Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
No, it wasn't pretty. But after the dust settles and the head-scratching stops, the University of Kentucky football team can say it is 2-0, a statement many other teams cannot make.
For all of the dropped passes, missed assignments, turnovers and plain old bad plays, the Wildcats kept their heads up, never panicked and leave their home opener at Commonwealth Stadium with a 27-13 victory and a second half performance they can build off.
In the beginning, it was ugly. Kentucky's time of possession at halftime barely spanned over one-third of the 30 minutes played, the Wildcats had been outgained by 133 yards and mustered just 94 yards. Kentucky converted on just one third down and only had six first downs to show for itself.
"Last week we probably played the worst game we could play offensively," UK junior quarterback Morgan Newton said. "This week we probably played the second to worst game we could play offensively. But we made things happen and we're 2-0.
"I know as well as everybody that if we come out and play like we did in the first game and first half of this game - I don't know how long we're going to be unblemished."
Well, thanks to a few stellar plays on the offensive side of the ball in the second half, and a defense that clamped down after having been slapped in the face the entire first quarter and partway into the second, the Wildcats can say they're unblemished and that's what's most important for UK fans.
Give credit to the Central Michigan Chippewas, they came out fighting, accumulating 228 yards on their first three drives, spanning 15:49 on 37 plays and putting 13 points on the board. But in the game's next 42 plays and 10 drives, Central Michigan gained just 170 yards, took 18:37 off the clock, turned the ball over two times and never scored.
"Our defense played outstanding after the third series," UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "I think they scored on the first three series, and after that our defense threw a shutout, which is what we expect for those guys."
So while it looked bad at the beginning, when looking back on the game you have to ask yourself whether you're a glass half-empty type of person, or half-full. If you're a half-empty person you say, 'Wow, Central Michigan scored on each of its first three drives and passed and ran at will.' If you're a half-full person you say, 'The Kentucky defense held Central Michigan to just 170 yards and zero points in the final 40:20 of the game.'
"We just started adjusting to what they were doing," senior linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "They were checking a lot, kind of motioning a lot, and there's going to be teams that do that to the type of defense that we play. I think our defense is suited well where we can adjust well to those types of things. ... Guys just leaned on each other and made plays and we trusted each other."
Early on it looked as though Kentucky's offense was still in Nashville, Tenn., with dropped passes, missed throws and a non-existent running game that put together just 23 yards on the ground in the first half. But again, Kentucky rebounded and put together a second half they can be proud of.
Junior wide receiver La'Rod King finished with five receptions for a career-high 100 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back Josh Clemons had 14 rushes for 126 yards, including the longest run by a freshman in program history, an 87-yard touchdown scamper that swung the game in Kentucky's favor by giving them a 20-13 lead.
"Like last week, it wasn't pretty, but we found a way to get it done," said Clemons who spoke glowingly after the game with a smile from ear to ear. "This week, not a good first half, got some inspiration at halftime, and we just went out there and played like a team. Defense held us in there and the offense found a way to score."
And that's just it; Kentucky showed at the end of the game what they are capable of. As rough as it was in the first half, it was equally clean in the second half, and that's what the Wildcats and Big Blue fans must remember. With in-state rival Louisville coming to town Sept. 17, all hands will need to be on deck.
"I think definitely there was progress," Phillips said. "We definitely played better. We didn't play very clean in the first half, but I thought we played pretty clean in the second half."
Some of the progress Phillips is talking about comes from Newton. The Kentucky quarterback showed more confidence in the second half and showed off his wheels, rushing for a career-high 43 yards on 13 carries, including a one-yard touchdown run off a naked bootleg on fourth and goal with under six minutes to go in the game.
Those plays, that energy and that confidence is what Kentucky will be looking to build upon.
"I think this was a really good team win," Phillips said. "That's what we have to see.
"They say there's no such thing as an ugly (win). Well, we just had another not so pretty win," Phillips said. "But we are 2 0. Probably about a third of the teams across the country are 2 0. We found a way to win this one."
And isn't that the most important statement a team can make?
Josh Clemons (20) celebrates with Tyler Robinson (89) after his 87-yard touchdown run against Central Michigan. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Missed the game? Watched it but can't get enough or can't believe what you saw? Cat Scratches will break down the nuts and bolts from each and every game, including some postgame reaction and comments from the players who made the difference.
The essentials: Down 13-3 midway through the second quarter, the Kentucky football team rallied to defeat Central Michigan 27-13, outscoring the Chippewas 21-0 in the second half at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats were led offensively by the play of true freshman running back Josh Clemons and junior wide receiver La'Rod King. The pair combined to gain 228 of UK's 344 yards. For the second consecutive week, UK overcame a slow start to post a victory, the 21st straight non-conference win for the program.
The win sends UK to 2-0 for the 2011 season as the Wildcats prepare for their annual rivalry game against the Louisville Cardinals next Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Playing its best football of this early season in the second half, head coach Joker Phillips hopes the confidence the offense built translates to next week.
"I hope they build off of this," Phillips said. "We have some good players on offense. The thing that our guys got to do is just relax and play. Our offensive line is starting to play, starting to come, starting to get healthy."
Play of the game: Clemons has gotten plenty of attention throughout fall camp and the beginning of the season as a true freshman capable of making a big impact. The Georgia native scored a touchdown in the season opener and played well enough to prompt Phillips to say he needed more touches against Central Michigan. Phillips followed through on that, giving 14 carries to the well-built newcomer. Clemons responded with 128 yards, the first 100-yard rushing performance in school history since Arliss Beach in 2002.
He was solid throughout the afternoon, but dazzling on an 87-yard run late in the third quarter. Taking a handoff over the right side, Clemons spun off a tackle a few yards past the line of scrimmage, then turned on his afterburners to jet past a Chippewa defensive back and into the end zone.
"I just ran up in there and the guy didn't wrap up, so I bounced it out," Clemons said. "It was a footrace then."
Turning point: Central Michigan gained 228 yards and scored 13 points on its first three drives, but the Wildcat defense responded. On the next five drives, the Chippewas managed just 32 yards and UK managed to minimize the deficit in spite of offensive struggles.
"Our defense played outstanding after the third series," Phillips said. "I think they scored on the first three series, and after that our defense threw a shutout, which is what we expect for those guys.
The following drive, though, was when the game really turned. Central Michigan had a fourth and inches from its own 34-yard line and head coach Dan Enos opted to go for it. Quarterback Ryan Radcliff handed to running back Tim Phillips, who was stuffed for no gain by Collins Ukwu and Winston Guy
"I think the turning point was the fourth down," Phillips said. "Our guys did a good job on fourth and inches of stopping them, then our offense did a good job of converting to get us back in the game."
When the offense took over, Morgan Newton went deep to a wide open King, who scored a touchdown to tie the game at 13.
Player of the game: This award could easily go to either Clemons or King, but linebacker Danny Trevathan earns it for his solid all-around play from start to finish. The anchor of the defense, the senior captain tallied 13 tackles, an interception, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pass break-up. He was all over the field, which has come to be expected, and was a key element in the way the defense rebounded from allowing points on the first three drives of the game.
"I think that shows the maturity of this group," Trevathan said.
This game will likely prove to be most memorable for Trevathan because of the interception he made, the first of his career. He was happy about the interception, but was not happy that he was tackled at the 11-yard line after a 28-yard return.
"I got tripped," Trevathan said. "My first interception and I don't know who tripped me or how. I saw blue grass and I was just running toward it."
Unsung heroes: Sophomore running back Raymond Sanders was overshadowed by Clemons, but he gained 62 yards of his own on just eight carries. Perhaps inspired by his competitor in the back field, most of his yardage came after Clemons' big run in the third quarter. Going forward, Phillips said that handing it to the sophomore-freshman combination of Sanders and Clemons will be a key element of the Wildcats' attack.
"You have to start with the run," Phillips said. "We have to start with the run, then get people committed to the line of scrimmage, then have an opportunity to stick in it our running backs' belly and try to get behind people."
Two of the players that the backs were trying to get behind were true freshmen D.J. Warren and Darrian Miller. Warren started at fullback for the second consecutive game while Miller got his first start in place of injured right tackle Billy Joe Murphy. Phillips has been excited about this year's freshman class since signing day, but playing three at the same time was not in his plans.
"I've been bragging on those guys, but I didn't want to see three of them in the game at the same time either," Phillips said.
In his first start, Miller did make one significant mistake on a missed assignment. Outside of that, Phillips didn't notice Miller, which is a good thing for an offensive lineman. "I didn't even notice him being out there until I saw two true freshmen going at tailback, started counting them," Phillips said. "Then I noticed we had another one at right tackle. When you don't notice them, (that means) he played good enough to win." Injury report: UK missed two offensive linemen on Saturday: center Matt Smith and Murphy. Both will continue to rehab with the goal of playing next weekend. As for new injuries, only safeties Winston Guy and Martavius Neloms are added to the list. Guy "tweaked a hamstring" and Neloms sustained a shoulder stinger, but both were able to return to the game and play with the injuries.
"Besides that we got out of this game pretty healthy," Phillips said.
Hidden stat: Quarterback Morgan Newton didn't have his best passing day, completing 9-of-18 passes for one touchdown and one interception, but he was productive in the running game. Removing lost yards from sacks, Newton had 60 yards on the ground. He was part of a rushing attack that outgained Central Michigan 230-88 on the afternoon. The athletic junior adds a dimension to the UK offense with his legs which figures to help all season. What this one means: It was another win for the Wildcats in a performance that was less than spotless, but it was a win nonetheless.
"They say there's no such thing as an ugly (win)," Phillips said. "Well, we just had another not‑so‑pretty win. But we are 2‑0. Probably about a third of the teams across the country are 2‑0. We found a way to win this one."
Attention now shifts to the matchup with Louisville. Cardinal coach Charlie Strong said after last night's loss to Florida International that UK has the better team of the two, but Phillips opted to let such things be decided on the field.
"We'll see next week," Phillips said. "I mean, we'll see next week. When we play those guys, everything goes out the window. We understand that. It's become a real healthy in‑state rivalry. We'll enjoy this one and get ready for it tomorrow afternoon."
After starring for three years at UK, Randall Cobb had 175 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut. (Joey Wilkinson, UK Athletics)
I sat on my couch and could not believe my eyes.
I believe I was as excited as most people were Thursday night for the beginning of the NFL season after a painful offseason littered with repeated stories of zero progress in labor negotiations. But when former University of Kentucky Mr. Everything Randall Cobb caught that pass on a crossing route - a route he later admitted to running wrong - I just about lost it.
"Go Randall, go!" I screamed at my TV as if Cobb could hear me and was taking my directions. "Jump! Jump!" And as Cobb leaped from the four-yard line into the end zone at hallowed Lambeau Field, sheer joy rushed over me like I was a proud papa (though I'm only a couple years older than him).
But Cobb wasn't done there. The guy who electrified Commonwealth Stadium for three years showed off his immense talents under the bright lights with a kickoff return that defied logic.
The first player born in the 1990's to ever play in an NFL regular season game should not also be the co-owner of the longest kickoff return in NFL history and be tied for having the second longest play in NFL history. But that's Randall.
When he caught that kickoff eight yards deep in his own end zone and began to sprint forward, I said what many people probably said, including his head coach, Mike McCarthy, "Oh no, Randall. Don't go." But this time, he didn't hear me - and that turned out to be a good thing.
The play, a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 35-20 lead with 8:26 left in the third quarter, has been replayed over-and-over on TV stations around the country, and was the highlight of the night for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Kentucky is seen as a basketball school to many, there's no hiding from that, but one game into the NFL season, one of the greatest football players to ever play at this university is the talk of the nation, gracing the front pages of countless newspapers and websites, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Yahoo!.
Cobb has the work ethic, on and off the field, and the personality, on and off the field, that any athletic department or organization would love to have. When he puts his mind to something, he's going to get it done. He did it for three years at Kentucky and in one game he's already left his mark with the Green Bay Packers.
Everyone was surprised by the two plays the rookie from Alcoa, Tenn., had made. They had to be. But if you're a Kentucky fan and you really break it down, you want to just say, 'I told you so.'
This is a guy who was a leader at Kentucky from the second he set foot on campus. As a freshman, he was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team. As a sophomore he was named to the All-SEC first team. And as a junior he was named an All-America first team selection. He holds the SEC record for most all-purpose yards in a season with 2,396. He's very, very good, folks.
So I sat there on my couch and shook my head, trying to send out text messages as fast as I could to make sure all my friends saw what just happened. And then I stopped and realized I could believe what I just saw. I'd already seen it for the past three years.
Watching the Kentucky offense leave the field after last week's season opener against Western Kentucky, it hardly looked like a unit that had just won a game. In a 14-3 victory, the offense did not feel like it had done its part. Riding a defense that forced four turnovers and held the Hilltoppers to just 234 yards and a special teams group that consistently flipped field position, UK came out on top in a low-scoring affair.
Heading into a matchup with Central Michigan 12:00 p.m. ET Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, the offense is out for redemption. You won't hear any bold proclamations from anyone around the team, but the offense has put in the work during a long week of preparations and is ready to take the field.
"We've got to play better offensively and I think we will," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We've gotten a lot of things corrected."
Even so, Phillips knows that UK's offensive issues won't be addressed overnight. As the offense develops, the defense and special teams will be asked to continue their strong play.
"Defensively, they have to continue to play with same intensity that they played with last week," Phillips said. "(It's the) same with special teams. We've got to continue to play great special teams and dominant defense as our offense gets going."
For the offense to get going, it will have to start with junior quarterback Morgan Newton. Playing with sprained thumb that he sustained on his non-throwing hand, Newton struggled, completing just 7-of-18 passes for 97 yards and three interceptions. He has been solid in practice this week according to Phillips, but the coach knows it's impossible to predict how he'll react when he takes the field.
"You worry about how they're going to react the next week, but Morgan understands it," Phillips said. "He understands how important his presence is. He knows that those guys will feed off of his body language and I think his body language has been good this week. It needs to be because he's the guy who touches the ball every time and he needs to be on point."
Newton's leadership will be important to a group coping with inexperience, injuries and a subpar performance last Thursday. UK's offensive line will be without starting center Matt Smith and tackle Billy Joe Murphy.
Injuries plagued the line last week and all throughout camp, but junior guard Larry Warford refused to blame their struggles on anything but himself and his teammates. He also still believes in the group.
"We do have a great O-line," Warford said. "We weren't focused, and we had too many mistakes. That kind of made us look bad."
Struggles at the wide receiver position came as less of a surprise. Considering the loss of Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews and the lack of experience of the players replacing them, no one expected the passing game to fire on all cylinders from the opening snap. Phillips, though, was not happy with the play of the wide outs and said that changes will be made at the position. Players like Demarco Robinson, Aaron Boyd and E.J. Fields saw only a handful of snaps combined but had an opportunity this week to earn more playing time.
Phillips will take production wherever he can get it against a Central Michigan defense that allowed just six points in its own season opening win. The Chippewas did not force a turnover, but allowed just 137 yards and 11 first downs to South Carolina State.
"Their defense played well in the opener, gave up 130 something yards and really swarmed the ball," Phillips said. "They didn't allow South Carolina State to get started. So they'll be foaming at the mouth to play our offense."
Having to wait nine days after the first game to play the second, Kentucky's defense is feeling the same anxiousness to get on the field.
Second-year starting quarterback Ryan Radcliff will lead the way for Central Michigan. The junior started all 12 of his team's games in 2010, throwing for nearly 280 yards per game, but he managed just 14-of-27 passing in the opener, throwing for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Phillips expects him to play much more like the quarterback that finished the 2010 season strong.
"Offensively, they're led by their quarterback," Phillips said. "Radcliff competed 60-percent of his passes last year. He really did a good job especially late in the season last year."
Radcliff has a stable of backs to hand the ball to in the running game in Zurlon Tipton, Paris Cotton and Louisville, Ky., native Tim Phillips. Tipton was the most effective back last weekend, rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
"He's a big, 225-pound guy that we've got to get to the ground," the UK head coach said. "Our defense has to accept that challenge."
The defense had no problem accepting the challenge of facing off against Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey, one of the nation's top rushers in 2010, and pacing the Wildcats in a victory. Joker Phillips would have no problem accepting another win in a defensive battle, but he doesn't expect his offense to stay quiet on Saturday.
"There is nothing wrong with winning with defense and special teams," Phillips said. "I know this place has been accustomed to scoring a lot of points, but sometimes you've got to win games like that.
"Offensively you want to score more points than that, and we expect them to."
Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats played the 2011 season opener in Nashville, Tenn., against Western Kentucky. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
On the heels of Kentucky's season-opening win in Nashville, Tenn., the topic of non-conference scheduling for football has been a hot one.
The lackluster attendance caused some fans to wonder if playing Western Kentucky at LP Field was the best alternative. Some wondered why UK would simply not play Western in the comforts of Commonwealth Stadium, while others still asserted the Wildcats would be better off playing an opponent from a BCS conference.
In an increasingly complex college football landscape, non-conference scheduling is becoming a more and more difficult endeavor with countless factors that must be weighed. While the circumstances surrounding the game against Western Kentucky were far from ideal, the decision to play the game was made in conjunction with Joker Phillips and his coaching staff and not without due consideration.
"There are no scheduling decisions in our football program that we're making without consultation and joint approval of the administration and coaching staff," Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in an exclusive interview with Cat Scratches this week. "We would never make a decision separate from our coaching staffs. We want them to know we have their best interests at heart and that we're not going to put them or our team in a position of risk."
When it comes to scheduling, the ultimate goal is to best position the team to compete on a high level. Barnhart said the non-conference schedule has to be arranged in such a way that allows the squad a chance to stay healthy throughout an entire SEC schedule.
"From a depth perspective and an experience perspective and giving our kids a chance to grow into our schedule, which is challenging enough, I think this is the best thing for us," Barnhart said. "You can call it what you want, but the reality is that my job is to protect our football program and give us the best chance to prepare for SEC, postseason play and hopefully championship runs."
Stemming from that priority, Barnhart's goal is to schedule a minimum of seven home games each season with four coming in SEC play and at least three in the non-conference. Doing so positions UK for success on the field while also allowing fans plenty of opportunities to see the Cats in Commonwealth Stadium. With four SEC home games, UK is left with one "swing game" one way or another, Barnhart said.
Eight of 12 regular season games are accounted for by SEC play. Playing in the nation's top college football league assures the Wildcats will play two-thirds of their games against top-level opponents, leaving four spots on the schedule. One of those spots is filled by a rivalry game with Louisville that is important to coaches, fans, players and administrators alike.
The series with the Cardinals alternates between Louisville and Lexington each season. For years when the game is played in Lexington, UK has a choice between trying to schedule an eighth home game or to hit the road for a game. When making that decision, financial considerations must be made.
A home game against an opponent from outside BCS conferences is an extremely expensive proposition. UK is forced to compete in the marketplace with schools that earn revenue from stadiums that seat 90,000 to 100,000 fans, driving the price for a home game against such an opponent to $750,000 to $1 million. Paying the price for that kind of game takes away from the money UK could invest into the football program: investments like the $6.5 million UK spent this offseason on new scoreboards in Commonwealth.
Not only that, but the administration also must consider the importance of football's financial success to other sports programs. UK is in the unique position of having a money-making men's basketball program, but football remains the most profitable of UK's 22 varsity sports.
"Football is our bread-winner," Barnhart said. "If football does not make it, it becomes very difficult for the rest of our sports programs to get along. We've got 20 sports programs that depend on the welfare of two in football and men's basketball."
Financial and competitive considerations led UK to develop the concept of playing games at neutral sites against opponents that would otherwise demand up to seven figures to play a single game in Lexington. In 2009, the Wildcats opened the season against the Miami (Oh.) RedHawks, who were considered the home team in a game that was played at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Other than avoiding the steep cost of paying for a home game, the reasons for creating a neutral site game were threefold. First of all, the raucous road environment of a game played on an opponent's campus that becomes the biggest game of that team's season, which is not something Barnhart wants to subject the team to.
"I think it's preferable to us," Barnhart said. "It's always more difficult to play that game in a Bowling Green or in Oxford. Those are hard venues to play in. Your crowd has no chance to get tickets and it becomes a very hostile environment for your team."
Although Miami (Oh.) would have liked the chance to play a home game against a major conference opponent, the neutral site game affords the opportunity for the school to generate more revenue.
Thirdly, playing a game in a professional stadium is a treat for current players and an enticing possibility for recruits.
"Our kids like to play in pro venues," Barnhart said. "They get the feel of what it's like to play in that venue and line up in the locker room of the Bengals or the Titans or whoever it happens to be."
Over 40,000 fans attended that 2009 season opener, many of which were Kentucky fans who otherwise would have been unable to go. The success of that first venture into playing at a neutral venue emboldened the administration to attempt it again against Western Kentucky in Nashville. Barnhart acknowledged that the attendance this time around was a disappointment, but only because of the circumstances surrounding the game.
"We have tried this twice," Barnhart said. "It worked relatively well for us up in Cincinnati. This time, (it was) not as successful, but more borne out of the date. If the date had been different, we would have been fine."
The date was something that was beyond the control of anyone at UK. On the weekend of the season opener, Tennessee State owned the first right of refusal to play at LP Field on Saturday. They exercised that right, which left Thursday, Friday and Sunday as possibilities for when the game would be played.
"Television was going to pick up Thursday night and Sunday would have given us a short week coming into this weekend with Central Michigan," Barnhart said. "Also, the SEC has traditionally refrained from playing on Friday nights to protect high school football. That left Thursday night as the only viable option."
It was then decided by ESPN that the game would be played at 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPNU, which created a "perfect storm" of variables that made for underwhelming attendance. Although the attendance left something to be desired, Barnhart does not believe the game to be an indictment of the scheduling strategy.
"It was clearly not what we had hoped," Barnhart said, "but having said that, we have gotten two home games out of this home-neutral piece against opponents that will hopefully benefit in the long haul and we played in two venues that our kids want to play in."
As for those that call the situation to be addressed by simply playing a more difficult non-conference slate, it is important to recognize that UK's approach to non-conference play is similar to the rest of in the SEC. Recognizing the challenges of an eight-game conference schedule, eight of the other 11 teams in the SEC play three of their four non-conference games against non-BCS opponents similar to the ones that UK schedules.
Take Florida for example, who plays an annual rivalry game against Florida State, much like UK plays Louisville each season. Florida's other three non-conference games in 2011 are against Florida Atlantic, UAB and Furman.
Barnhart, though, is unwilling to rule out the possibility of more high-profile non-conference games in the future. The prospect will be evaluated year-to-year as UK focuses on preparing for SEC play in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
"I think there are so many moving pieces right now it's hard to gauge," Barnhart. "We'll gauge more of that two or three years down the road, maybe the same time we have addressed some of those depth issues that we talked about."
Those moving pieces come in the form of the conference realignment talk that punctuates nearly all conversations about the future of college athletics. The implications of possible realignment are unclear at this point, leaving more questions than answers.
"There's going to be a lot of stuff that goes on in terms of conference realignment," Barnhart said. "You've got some stuff going on in the world today and I think a lot will be predicated on how that plays out. Is there conference realignment? Are we going to be asked to play nine conference games? Are we going to be at 12 regular season games? Will there be more to it, less to it?"
For all that realignment could change, Barnhart and the administration's commitment to positioning the football program to compete at the highest level will remain.
"We've got to give our fans some excitement," Barnhart said. "We have a responsibility to give them something to get excited about and travel for and we get that. I think people think they're the only ones that care, but we do this because we want to compete and we want to win. It is absolutely about competing for championships. That's what we are all here to do."
Randall Cobb graced front page of ESPN.com after his NFL debut on Thursday night.
In case you missed it last night, Randall Cobb has a decent game in his NFL debut. The former Wildcat tallied 175 all-purpose yards as he handled return duties and saw spot duty at wide receiver. He scored a pair of touchdowns, one on a 32-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers and the other a record-tying 108-yard kickoff return.
You can see video of the two touchdowns on my post from last night, but plenty of other people are talking about Cobb this morning. Here are some of the best links from around the web talking about Cobb's performance.
"He's shown that from the first day of training camp," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "When other players talk about a player having a chance to be special, he is one of those guys. He's very raw. He's picking up our system. But he knows what to do when he gets the football in his hands, and he knows how to get open. He's a gifted young man with a lot of good football in front of him."
Cobb touched the ball on five live plays Thursday night. One was a 108-yard kickoff return, tied for the longest touchdown return in NFL history. Another was a 32-yard touchdown reception. That both came after what Cobb admitted were "rookie mistakes" only added to the significance of his debut. Namely: In his first NFL game, and 17 days after his 21st birthday, Cobb turned two busted plays into thrilling touchdowns in a nationally televised prime-time game.
"That's special," receiver Greg Jennings said, "and I don't care who does it or how."
"I got hit, I spun, and John Kuhn was there to pick me up, and when he picked me up all we saw was grass and we all took off," Cobb said. "That's definitely a team record. It may go in the books as an individual record, but that was definitely a team task right there."
Fellow receiver Greg Jennings is curious to see just how much Cobb will help the team after such a dynamite debut.
"Yeah, we need him," Jennings said. "He's going to be a huge asset for us, especially in that special teams category."
Cobb, a second-round draft pick out of Kentucky, caught a touchdown from Rodgers and ran a kickoff back 108 yards for a score in the third quarter -- tying an NFL record for the longest kickoff return in history, set by New England's Ellis Hobbs in September 2007. It also was the Packers' first kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum in 2000.
"It was amazing," Cobb said. "The feeling of being in Lambeau Field and just having all of the guys around me coming off of the Super Bowl and just trying to do anything I can to contribute, and I certainly tried to make the most of my opportunities."
Cobb, a second-round pick, sheepishly admitted after the game that both of his touchdowns happened on mistakes. The first, a 32-yard touchdown catch, occurred when he ran the wrong route. The second, a 108-yard kickoff return, occurred after he broke the commonly accepted special teams rule of not returning a kick that is more than five yards deep in the end zone.
"Both of my touchdown were messups," Cobb said. "Fortunately, we were able to make something happen, but I'm going to get negatives out of them tomorrow. I just have to learn from them and move on."
During Cobb's performance, Twitter was abuzz talking about his success and offering him congratulations. Here are some of the best reactions:
It is evident that this student athlete has made much progress since arriving at UK. He is currently working on a double major in international commerce and Spanish, with a minor in Latin American Studies. Orta added with a smile, "I love Lexington; it is an awesome place. I'm happy and comfortable, and I really appreciate the safety here. It's a dream come true."
The future looks bright for Orta. He will compete in the Pan American Games hosted by Guadalajara, Mexico, in October. This particular event is second only to the Olympics in terms of importance to the sport of cross-country. Orta will participate in the 5K race and the 3K steeplechase event, both conducted on regular track surfaces. When asked about what Orta needs to do in preparation for the Pan American Games, UK cross country head coach Don Weber said, "What he can do is to continue to work hard and be daring on the track. He has to be willing to take risks during the race to discover his full ability and potential."
Junior offensive lineman Larry Warford won't pull any punches when it comes to acknowledging a subpar outing for him and his mates in UK's front wall. But the preseason All-SEC right guard is also confident in how that group will respond.
"If we're going to be the strength of this team, we can never have a game like that--and we won't from here on out."
Warford says most of the breakdowns were technical and thus, can easily be corrected in time for tomorrow's game against Central Michigan. And being at home will be a nice boost, too.
"We need our fans with us. We need support. We have a great fan base here and that's not going to be a problem."
= = =
The O-line wasn't the only part of the offensive unit to draw the ire of the Big Blue Nation.
With seven dropped passes, the wide receiver corps got a big share of the criticism after the 14-3 win over Western Kentucky and wideouts coach Tee Martin has had a simple message for his guys this week.
"Make the plays when they come to you. Pretty simple. If we had made some plays early, we would feel a whole lot better about the (Western) game," said Martin.
Martin says confidence is a big key for a receiver and so as their coach, he's not going to join the critics in piling on.
"We got keep giving those guys confidence and keep believing in them. We have who we have. We're going to mix some guys around. Guys have got to be consistent and make plays. We're coaching them up and I'm confident in these guys," Martin explained. "Those are my guys.
"I was on a national championship team where the first game was uglier than that and we won it by one point. We learned a lot about ourselves, what they do well and what they don't do well," he continued. "It's one game. I look forward to Saturday and seeing how much better they'll get."
A freshman, Demarco Robinson, figures to play a bigger role in the offense this week. Martin says the rookie from Georgia flashed a confident attitude last week.
"He didn't flinch at all and that gave me some confidence that the little man might be ready to go do it," said Martin. "We're going to put him out there and see what he has."
= = =
Central Michigan won its opener 21-6 over South Carolina State last Thursday and CMU radio voice Don Chiodo got a chance to catch the second half of the UK-WKU game on TV.
"It looked like a first game for a team that was struggling on offense and we kinda had the same thing," he observed in an interview on Wednesday's "LeachReport" radio show.
CMU ended a run of four consecutive bowl games with a 3-9 finish last season.
"Last year, we had a lot of close games. We lost five games by a touchdown or less," he noted. "Had a lot of trouble with the kicking game." A negative-11 turnover margin was also a major factor, he said.
When the Chippewas threw a scare into Kentucky back in 2006, they had an NFL-caliber dual-threat QB in Dan Levour. Ryan Radcliff runs the show now for CMU.
"(He) has a better arm than Dan but he doesn't move around as well in the pocket. If he's on, he throws it about as well as anybody in the midwest," Chiodo said.
= = =
UK grad assistant coach Tommy Cook is one of the few people in the UK football program right now who was on the campus here when 9-11 happened a decade ago.
"I had just gotten done with a 6 a.m. lift and the news was on and the entire group was huddled around, trying to find out what was going on," said Cook, then a wideout for coach Guy Morriss' team.
"We didn't practice. We came in and (coach Morriss) addressed the team in a meeting and said 'go home, call family and friends'. We didn't know about our game that weekend and it was a little bit of an adjustment. But that was the least of everybody's concerns because we did have some guys on the team with family members up there," he continued. "They found pretty quick that everybody was okay.
"You just took a step back and see what really mattered," Cook added, "and what matters today."
Tonight, the nation learned what UK fans have known for three years: Randall Cobb is good at football. Making his professional debut for the Green Bay Packers in first game of the 2011 season, Cobb wasted no time in making an impact.
Handling kickoff return duties, Cobb took the opening kick-off of the NFL year 27 yards. A few series later, Cobb saw his first action at wide receiver. Two of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' five passes on the drive were completions to Cobb, the second of which was a 32-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
The former Wildcat wide receiver/quarterback/kick returner/punt returner wasn't done. On his next touch, he tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. I'd try to describe the run, but I don't think I could do it justice. Just watch it, even if you've already seen it 10 times already.
As debuts go, it's hard to imagine one much better, particularly for a guy who only recently returned to practice after a two week absence due to a pair of knee bruises. That's all for now, but we'll be talking more about Cobb's big night on Friday morning.
Through two seasons as head coach of the Kentucky's women's soccer program, Jon Lipsitz had yet to coach the Wildcats to an overtime victory. The team had had plenty of success in his tenure, but in nine overtime games, UK had fared no better than a tie.
Lipsitz, though, refused to shield his team from the streak. In preparation for the 2011 season, the streak of overtime failures was repeatedly addressed. The Wildcats were intent on addressing the weakness.
Just four games into the season, they had their chance. Tied with Central Michigan after regulation, Stuart Pope headed in a cross from Kelsey Hunyadi to send UK to a 2-1 victory. The overtime victory had come at long last and was a validation of all the work they had done.
"Friday night, the issue was getting over the top," Lipsitz said. "Once we did that, I think it gave us extra energy and confirmation that the mental strength and togetherness we've seen on a daily basis really does exist."
For this year's team, that togetherness manifests itself in somewhat of a unique way. The Wildcats take care of their work during practice, but once they step on the field, their focus is having fun.
"It's about being more carefree," Lipsitz said. "It's about worrying about how hard we play and how much fun we have rather than worrying about mistakes. We talk about all the little details that we have to take care of on the field based upon your position, your roles and things like that, but the reason we spend so much time working on those things is so that when it's game-time, it's just fun."
The shift to a more carefree approach served them well not only in the overtime victory, but all season long. UK is off to a spotless 5-0-0 start heading into a showdown at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against Louisville. In such a matchup, the inexperienced team Lipsitz will field would often be a concern, but Lipsitz expects UK's relative youth to help the team stay loose.
The Wildcats have seen how well they play when they're having fun and they don't intend to change that even for a big game like the one against Louisville.
"Once you get a taste of that, you realize how much better you play when you're relaxed," Lipsitz said. "There's a difference between being calm and being casual. Calm is fantastic for soccer; casual is horrible for soccer. What I keep talking about is whether we can play hard and battle, but yet be calm and relaxed."
Perhaps no Wildcat better illustrates the philosophy of enjoying the game than Hunyadi. The forward was the lone senior to play in last Friday's overtime victory and has scored 11 points already this season. Her play has been stellar, but her evolution into an encouraging leader has been equally important to a team that relies so heavily on youth.
"We have a lot of perfectionists on the team who notice every mistake they make, but a lot of times they don't notice the good things," Lipsitz said. "What Kelsey has really worked on is being very positive and just talking a lot. Those things aren't natural for her, but she's become better at it."
Hunyadi has been one of those perfectionists in the past. Embracing Lipsitz's emphasis on having fun on the field has allowed her to become much more comfortable being vocal with her teammates.
"I take things a little too seriously and I recognized that was something I needed to change," Hunyadi said. "I needed to go out there and enjoy it more. That made it a lot easier to be more vocal and to be that kind of leader. The only reason I can that do is the players that we have. We have such a great group of people to be around every day and I think that's the only reason I've been able to do what I have."
Hunyadi knew she was going to be asked to do a great deal for the Cats this season, but she hasn't batted an eye. She leads the team in goals (four), assists (three), shots (18) and shots on goal (10).
"She's an incredibly special player and I don't think people got to see that last year because of her injuries," Lipsitz said. "Kelsey has a unique ability to both set players up and set herself up. She's very dangerous and we've designed an offense where her position is being played differently than at any time in my coaching career."
Hunyadi will once again be called upon to do big things if UK is to win Friday's rivalry match. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the senior spent her first two years playing at Louisville before transferring to play for Lipsitz. In spite of all the relationships she has with people on the other side, she refuses to let herself get caught up in that.
"I wish I could say it's a bigger game for me, but I can't because I think it would almost be selfish," Hunyadi said. "I don't see it that way. We're 5-0 and we have a chance to be 6-0 if we win this game and it's our home field. The only reason I see it as a bigger game is because it's a rivalry."
There's no doubting that the Cardinals will have plenty of motivation. Kentucky won two matches last weekend on the Cardinals' field while Louisville lost a pair in their own tournament, an event the Wildcats won.
"It changes a lot for them because I can see their mentality being 'they came onto our field and won our tournament and now we need to show them who actually is the better team,'" Hunyadi said. "For us, now we're actually playing that team. It is our biggest rival in the country and going there winning the tournament is a huge statement for us. Now we have to go in there and back that up at our own field."
Whether last weekend had happened or not, any match against Louisville is a big one for Lipsitz, though he doesn't expect it to be the Wildcats' last of the year.
"I don't treat it the same way because I'd be lying," Lipsitz said. "I've never believed that it's just another game because coaches say that and then the players basically don't listen. It's not another game, it's Louisville, but it's still 90 minutes on the field and it still comes down to the work we do in that game that dictates our success or our failure. Of course it's a big game, but we hope it's the first of many this year."
Tickets for UK's annual Big Blue Madness will be available on Oct. 1. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Get your tents and sleeping bags ready, it's almost time for Big Blue Madness.
It was announced today that tickets for the annual season-opening men's and women's basketball practice will be distributed on Oct. 1 at 7 a.m. at the Memorial Coliseum ticket windows on Euclid Avenue. Tickets will also be available online at that time at UKathletics.com and Ticketmaster.com. Once again, tickets are free and will be limited to two per household.
Madness itself will take place Friday, Oct. 14, at Rupp Arena. Times and information about television and radio coverage have not yet been announced.
Fans wishing to line up for tickets at Memorial will not be able to begin doing so until Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 7 a.m. Restroom facilities will be made available, but propane tanks, other open flames, alcoholic beverages and tobacco are prohibited.
Randall Cobb makes his professional debut in the 2011 NFL season opener on Thursday night. (Joseph Wilkinson, UK Athletics)
Randall Cobb's first NFL preseason hasn't exactly gone as planned.
After being selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Cobb's time with his team was cut short due to the NFL Lockout. Once the labor situation was resolved, Cobb impressed in camp, but sustained two bruised knees a kickoff return during the Packers' second preseason game. Injury forced Cobb out of practice and cast his availability for the first game of the regular season in doubt.
Cobb, though, returned to practice this week. The time he missed in the preseason likely will limit his contributions in the passing game, but the former do-it-all Wildcat will handle both kick and punt returns in his NFL debut. The Packers won a Super Bowl last season in spite of being one of the worst return teams in football a season ago and Cobb will be asked to make a major impact right off the bat.
The Packers and New Orleans Saints face off in a highly anticipated matchup tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. If the Packers take the opening kickoff, the beloved UK'er may just be the first player to touch the ball this NFL season. Packers hope for a return to relevance through Cobb (Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Setter Christine Hartmann had 36 assists in UK's straight set victory of Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Coming into a rivalry match against Louisville, confidence was the operative word for UK volleyball. Having posted three consecutive sweeps in the Kentucky Classic, the Wildcats had every reason to believe in themselves. Immediately following a loss to Cincinnati that the team called "embarrassing", UK rounded into form to defeat three quality opponents soundly.
Just when it looked like Craig Skinner's team was playing its best volleyball of the season, the Cats took it up a notch, summarily dismissing the Cardinals in yet another straight set victory.
So, where does that leave the team's confidence now?
"It's through the roof," junior setter Christine Hartmann said. "Coming off three wins, sweeping our tournament and sweeping a team like Louisville, it's great for our confidence. It gives us momentum in our next few matches and it's good to know we can trust our teammates in any situation."
Hartmann was at the center of the UK attack, dishing out 36 assists. Hartmann did not start at setter to begin the season, but she was inserted on Friday against Western Kentucky and the team has not looked back.
"She's a very confident player," Skinner said. "She's a very tough competitor and she makes people around her better. That's what she's brought since she's been on the court: an edge, a toughness and a confidence that this team needs."
Hartmann's approach was contagious on Wednesday night. Ten Wildcats saw the floor and each of them brought something to the table. The kind of balance that UK showed is just what Skinner has been preaching from day one.
"That's very important to beat good teams, and Louisville is a good team," Skinner said. "We've stressed that since the beginning of practice that we're going to have to be balanced to beat the teams we're going to face this year."
Whitney Billings, Lauren O'Conner and Ann Armes all posted double-digit kills on the night. Stephanie Klefot led the defense with 21 digs, covering an unbelievable amount of ground in the process. Billings and Jackie Napper contributed on defense with 15 and 13 digs respectively. Armes, Billings and Becky Pavan each had at least four blocks.
There were contributions up and down the lineup, but the common denominator in each statistical category was Billings, who had her best game of her first two years at UK. Skinner recently moved Billings to the right side of the floor and tonight the move paid off. Her hitting percentage of .450 was a career high and she was in the middle of seemingly every crucial point.
"She's a big block and she's already proved herself as a passer and defensive player," Skinner said. "She's doing four or five facets in the match and that is huge for your right side player to be able to do that."
Billings along with O'Conner was a big part of crucial second set victory. Having won a tight first set 25-22, UK found itself facing set point in the second at 23-24. O'Conner had a kill to save set point, then, with Billings on serve, O'Conner had another kill and a block to give UK a 26-24 set victory.
"Those were big points," Skinner said. "You need big individual plays in close matches, and we had a couple. Most importantly, they followed the game play to a 'T' and all the things we wanted to execute, they did and our players really bought in."
The Wildcats would go on to dominate the third set, 25-11.
Skinner admitted the importance of the match coming into tonight and reasserted how big the win was afterward. The way the Wildcats played reinforces in their minds just how good they can be, but they know they have a lot of work ahead.
"Wins like that mean a lot," Skinner said. "Louisville is a big RPI match for us, it's a rivalry match and it shows that we're able to compete at a high level. I've been in it long enough to know that one match doesn't take you into six or seven in a row and you have to play each match. The biggest thing is that it proves to our players we can do a lot of good things."
A little over two years ago, Twitter was an unknown to most of the Bluegrass. Things changed when John Calipari became head men's basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
Calipari took to Twitter and Wildcat fans did what they do better than any other fan base in the country: mobilize. It didn't take long for his follower count to climb into the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and eventually seven figures.
The micro-blogging platform gave Calipari a means to communicate directly with fans without a filter and its power was abundantly clear. It wouldn't be long before nearly the entire athletic department had a Twitter account (or three), from coaches to players to even Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart.
It seemed to me that no university and its fan base had so embraced Twitter, thereby demonstrating the fervor of the Big Blue Nation. What I sought out to do was to quantify that claim by seeing how some of UK's top tweeters stack up with their counterparts at other schools throughout the SEC and nation.
Comparing Calipari's number of followers to his peers is a nearly pointless endeavor because he blows them all out of the water. He is the only head coach at the professional or collegiate level with more than a million followers.
WeFollow.com compiles lists of the most followed users on Twitter and Calipari is the only college basketball coach to rank in the top 250 sports users. In fact, Calipari ranks 12th among all athletes, coaches, teams and journalists, sandwiched between @espn and @orlando_magic.
Going beyond the world of sports, Calipari ranks 377th in followers among all Twitter users on the face of the earth according to Twitaholic. I recognize that not all of Calipari's followers live in Kentucky, but his 1.1 million followers are equal to over one-quarter of the entire state's population. @UKAthleticsNews climbs the ranks (24,257 followers)
Almost 25,000 followers might not seem like a lot compared with Coach Cal, but the official Twitter account of UK Athletics is just one of five athletic department Twitter accounts to have more than 20,000 followers. Here is how UK stacks up:
Further evidencing the power of Wildcat fans, @UKAthleticsNews sat in fourth place a few hundred followers behind Oklahoma when Calipari asked his followers to help UK "climb this Twitter ladder." A few hours and a bunch of retweets later, UK had moved up to third place.
Second place is well within reach and first isn't far off either. Let's see what Cats fans can do.
The football field isn't the only place where the "RISE" theme applies. Among all head football coaches in the SEC with official Twitter accounts, Phillips has the second most followers. Phillips joined Twitter just over a year ago and Les Miles is the only SEC coach with more followers.
1) Les Miles (LSU) - 36,310 followers (national leader) 2) @jokerphillips - 25,983 followers 3) Mark Richt (Georgia) - 23,379 followers 4) Derek Dooley (Tennessee) - 21,273 followers 5) Will Muschamp (Florida) - 19,202 followers 6) Houston Nutt (Ole Miss) - 9,749 followers 7) Gene Chizik (Auburn) - 7,784 followers 8) James Franklin (Vanderbilt) - 3,383 followers
Twitter is only beginning to enter the world of athletic directors, but UK's Mitch Barnhart has already jumped on board. One of just four SEC athletic directors with Twitter accounts, Barnhart is closing in on 10,000 followers and only Mississippi State's Scott Stricklin (former associate AD at UK) has more. Nationally, Michigan AD Dave Brandon leads with over 14,000 followers according to my research.
National leader: Dave Brandon (Michigan) - 14,229 followers 1) Scott Stricklin (Mississippi State) - 10,545 followers 2) @UKMitchBarnhart - 8,652 followers 3) Jeff Long (Arkansas) - 6,165 followers 4) Pete Boone (Ole Miss) - 3,264 followers
With back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a trip to the 2010 Elite Eight, Matthew Mitchell and UK Hoops have emerged on the national level. The emergence on the floor has been accompanied by one in the world of social media. Mitchell is second in both the SEC and nation in followers, trailing only Pat Summitt of Tennessee among women's college basketball coaches with Twitter accounts (again, according to my research).
Because you're reading this story right now you already know that the University of Kentucky athletics department has a blog, Cat Scratches, and you probably know that we tweet out a lot of news and links to stories on our Twitter handle: @UKAthleticsNews. If you didn't know that, well, now you do.
@UKAthleticsNews isn't the only account you can follow on Twitter to get the latest news about UK Athletics. Most of UK's 22 varsity sports programs have individual Twitter accounts, as well as a number of UK coaches. We have put together this convenient page to allow you to find out who from UK is on Twitter and where you can do to follow them.
Twitter may be your outlet of choice to get news about the Wildcats, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that many of you do not know about the many other platforms we offer for you to follow your favorite teams and student-athletes.
One of my favorite places to go is the UK Interactive site (http://interactive.ukathletics.com/). Each of the varsity sports teams at UK has an interactive page. Each page is filled with pictures, fancy graphics and video, and gives the teams a cutting edge look. The interactive site was launched in the fall of last year, and is being promoted more heavily this year. Be sure to check out some of your favorite teams' sites.
On the interactive pages you'll see many videos. Some of these videos are produced by, and can be found at, UKTube (http://www.ukathletics.com/allaccess/). As the name suggests, similar to YouTube, this is a site for Kentucky athletics videos. Often times the news conferences we film are later posted to UKTube. Want to see highlights for a game? Visit UKTube and you might be able to find what you're looking for.
Now I know many of you are fans of Twitter. (Guy Ramsey has put together a really cool post that will be published shortly chronicling just how much the Big Blue Nation loves Twitter). Well, for those of you who have Twitter and also for those of you who do not have Twitter, UK Athletics offers another service where you can receive sport-specific news, scores and updates straight to your phone. Sign up at Textcaster.com, pick the sport you want your phone to receive news about, and that's it. Depending on what you sign up for, you will always be in the loop on your favorite team. No longer will you have to search Twitter feeds. With Textcaster, text messages will be sent directly to your phone informing you of breaking news.
And if you want to talk to us during a big game and get our opinions on certain things, join our live blogs. We will live blog all home football and men's and women's basketball games and many other games and matches. If you don't want to comment, don't worry, no problem there - just sit back and see what others are saying. If you do want to comment on the live blogs or pick our brains about something, fantastic. We'd love to talk to you.
If you already knew about all of these resources then props to you and thank you for following Kentucky athletics. We're always trying to get better and always appreciate your comments and suggestions.
Junior libero Stephanie Klefot is the reining SEC Defensive Player of the Week heading into Wednesday's matchup with Louisville. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Last week, the Kentucky volleyball team was not exactly long on self-assurance. The Wildcats had just suffered a disheartening sweep at the hands of the visiting Cincinnati Bearcats and it wasn't pretty. UK fell to 2-2 on the young season with another four matches to be played over the following week.
Any number of adjectives can be used to describe the loss, but it was nothing if not attention-getting.
Craig Skinner's team was not willing to let it happen again in the Kentucky Classic. Playing three matches in two days on their home floor, the Wildcats rebounded with three wins after a few solid days of practice.
"I'm excited for them and I'm happy we responded in the way we did," Skinner said. "We needed to. We certainly couldn't have gone down the path we were going, performing the way we did against Cincinnati. We had to fix a couple things and our team has never come into the gym not wanting to get better."
The work was evident. UK swept through three straight matches against Western Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia Tech en route to a tournament title. Heading into a matchup with rival Louisville on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum, the hardware was nice, but the confidence the Wildcats reestablished in claiming the title was much more important.
"We were down after Cincinnati and I think we realized we can't play at a mediocre speed," junior libero Stephanie Klefot said. "When we started playing well against Western we saw how good we can be and our confidence shot up from there."
When Klefot talked about her team's performance against Cincinnati, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week did not mince words.
"We knew that we shouldn't play at that level and we were embarrassed," Klefot said. "It was an embarrassing match and we decided we don't want to embarrass ourselves. We know what we're capable of and we showed that this weekend."
Coaches often say they prefer to teach from wins rather than losses, but Skinner recognizes that the sense of urgency that comes out of a performance like the one last week can't be duplicated.
"I don't know if you want to call it necessary, but you certainly learn a lot more about yourselves in situations like that than if you cruise through every win," Skinner said. "Having an experience like that was motivating to the staff and the players and hopefully we continue to learn from it and never take anything for granted."
Skinner credited the Wildcat upperclassmen for their role in the improvement of last weekend. Seniors Becky Pavan, Gretchen Giesler and Ann Armes have been around the program for a long time and have evolved into coaches on the floor.
"I would say that our core group of upperclassmen made a difference," Skinner said. "They have been here for a while and they understand what it takes to be successful. They weren't going to give at all and they proved that last week. I give credit to all the upperclassmen and we're going to need that from them all year."
Recently, Klefot has joined Pavan, Giesler and Armes in sharing that leadership role. Skinner said that her confidence and ability to focus on the point at hand has allowed her to step forward.
"I think she really believes in herself and trusts herself," Skinner said. "She doesn't have to think too much, she just plays the game. When you have that type of ability and confidence to shed bad plays off and move on to the next one, you're always conscious of the point you're on and you're able to play at a higher level."
From the moment she set foot on campus, Klefot has been a solid performer. She earned All-Freshman team honors in the SEC in 2009 before winning SEC Libero of the Year as a sophomore. In spite of her success on the floor, leadership doesn't come naturally for Klefot.
"It's a little scary," Klefot said. "I'm a little shy and so calling people out and saying things to people has been different for me. I came from a club that is very vocal, but I've never been the vocal one. Taking that step, I had to have a push from the team."
Klefot has always been a model teammate, but it has taken a bit of coercing from her teammates to mold her into the leader she has become.
"She's an exceptional player and a competitor and a great teammate too," Skinner said. "I think our team really responds to her and wants her to be vocal and energetic and do the things that she does. She makes spectacular plays and that motivates people around her."
Klefot will have a little extra reason to be vocal when she takes the floor on Wednesday. She is a Louisville, Ky., native with plenty of ties to Cardinal coaches and players. She played high school volleyball for Assumption and Anne Kordes is the daughter of her coach, Ron Kordes.
"It means a little more to me than other people," Klefot said. "It's a big rivalry game and everyone's excited to play. There is going to be a lot of people here with their new coach and we have a lot more fans coming this year. I think we're ready to show everyone this year that we can beat them and we can play as well as any team in the nation."
While some coaches might try to downplay a rivalry match like this one as just another regular season match, Skinner knows that it creates an opportunity to help Lexington's burgeoning volleyball scene continue its pattern of growth.
"We need matches like this," Skinner said. "The volleyball community in Lexington has grown leaps and bounds the last six years and still has a lot of growth ahead of it. Games like this in the Coliseum against a quality opponent like Louisville can only add to it. I really hope our fans come out like they usually do and even build on it. I think it will be about as exciting a volleyball match as you will see in the country."
Skinner has seen volleyball in Lexington grow exponentially in his six years at UK. He estimated that two to three times more middle schools have volleyball programs compared with 2005 and attendees at UK's summer camps have gone from 60 to more than 1,000.
Klefot appreciates the big picture impact of the series against Louisville, but she's much more worried about the match itself. She says that the two teams may come out on edge to begin with, but expects a highly competitive match.
"I think it's going to be a little rough in the beginning and nerves are going to be flying," Klefot said. "After it settles down I think it's going to be a great competition."
Ronnie Sneed had 10 tackles and an interception in UK's season-opening win over Western Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
In the wake of a season-opening 14-3 win over Western Kentucky, the UK defense has been in somewhat of a unique position. After shutting down the Hilltoppers, the defense has been primarily credited for carrying the Wildcats to victory.
On the defense, Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy have deservedly gotten a great deal of attention for their performances in the win. Trevathan led the way with 13 tackles and Guy chipped in 10 tackles of his own, along with a pair of interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss in a new hybrid role.
In spite of their stellar games, Trevathan and Guy are far from the only members of the defense who deserve credit. Foremost among UK's unheralded stars are linebacker Ronnie Sneed and safety Martavius Neloms. Sneed, for one, couldn't be less concerned with accolades and recognition. He's simply worried about playing the game.
"I just go out there and play," Sneed said. "I'm not really in it for the fame; I do it just because I love the game. I try to play hard for my team and great things happened for me last Thursday."
Neloms takes it a step further, saying that the lack of attention he receives helps him when he steps on the field.
"They don't really expect me to come out and make big plays so that gives me a chance to be around the ball a lot," Neloms said. "If they expect me, they shy away from me a little more so it gives me a chance to make more plays for the defense."
If Neloms continues to play as he did last Thursday, opponents won't be able to afford ignoring him for long. The junior from Memphis, Tenn., made five tackles and had a direct hand in two of the four turnovers the Wildcats forced.
"He got one and caused one," co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "His striking ability caused a turnover and his ball skills and presence of mind to be a center fielder forced another takeaway."
In the third quarter, Neloms delivered a hit that dislodged the ball from a Hilltopper receiver. On the deflection, Sneed grabbed an interception. In the fourth quarter, Neloms had an interception of his own, picking off a Kawaun Jukes pass in the waning minutes to all but seal the outcome.
The game was Neloms' first at safety after being converted from cornerback this offseason. When told of the transition, Neloms immediately embraced it. He felt his playmaking skills would be best-suited as a ball-hawking safety in Minter's aggressive new scheme.
"I thought it was a great idea because I feel like I'm a natural safety," Neloms said. "I was pretty good at corner but I felt like I could make a lot more plays at safety."
The way Neloms played in just his first game at the new spot was a signal that big things could be in store for him this season.
"He did his job quite well, which means the safeties are capping off on the back end and we didn't get any balls thrown over our heads," Minter said. "He did a nice job in his first game at the new spot. I'm glad we moved him there and I look forward to a bigger year out of him."
Sneed, having made an interception thanks to Neloms, was also completely in favor of the move.
" 'Tay' is aggressive," Sneed said. "I think that was the best move for him. He's all about hitting. He's like a small linebacker and he's playing pretty good."
Neloms was one of a number of defensive players to switch positions over the offseason, but Sneed stayed put at middle linebacker. However, new responsibilities have made Sneed feel like he is playing a new position as well.
"With this new defense, it's almost like I did have to move to a new position because everything that I'm doing is a whole lot different," Sneed said. "From my pass coverages, to the way I (play the run), and my whole leadership role in this defensive scheme, it's almost like I am in a whole new position. With our old scheme, I didn't have to make as many calls as I do now."
Sneed was effective in leading his teammates and making calls during the opener, but he still had time to make plenty of plays of his own. He was tied with Guy for second on the team in tackles with 10 to go with that interception and a pass break-up. The combination of production and leadership that Sneed brings is just what Minter is looking for.
"We ask a lot of our linebackers, particularly the man in the middle," Minter said. "That's Ronnie Sneed right now and he makes a lot of calls for us. He gets us lined up in what we try to do. Danny is taking great ownership of that also. I've been told Ronnie played one of his better games in a while and that was good to see that we can get that kind of production and leadership out of our senior linebacker."
Sneed was thankful to have made as many plays as he did because of how competitive he is with his fellow linebackers. That competitiveness accompanies a sense of team that could carry the group to new heights.
"The first thing we did when we got on the bus was check the stat sheets to see who had the most tackles," Sneed said. "We're very competitive but we love one another and we're out there doing it for each other."
All the plays the linebackers made would have been impossible if not for the work that UK's defensive line did. That fact is not lost on Sneed. He thinks of defensive lineman like Luke McDermott, Donte Rumph and Collins Ukwu as the true unsung heroes of Rick Minter's unit.
"My d-line, they keep those big guys off me, especially with this new scheme," Sneed said. "They're always stunting and doing different things to keep the offensive linemen on their heels. It helps me be able to roam around and not get blocked as much. They do a lot of the dirty work for me."
Jon Lipsitz and women's soccer enter this week's matchup with Louisville a perfect 5-0-0. (UK Athletics)
Women's soccer is preparing for a showdown on Friday evening against the rival Louisville Cardinals. At 5-0-0, the Wildcats are off to their best start in 10 years. UK's Twitter-savvy, bearded head coach, Jon Lipsitz conducted an interview this weekend with Jenna Pel of All White Kit covering a number of topics. Head on over to this link to check out the interview and here are a couple of Lipsitz's answers:
The team picked up a bright prospect in Arin Gilliland. What does the acquisition of a recruit like that mean for the program?
I think it is very important. When Arin is at National Camp and the other players ask her why Kentucky, instead of one of the traditional powers, she is proud to talk about what we are building here and her love for the program. This pride, from a player of her talent, is important and special. Arin choosing UK also makes a statement nationally about where we plan to be in the next few years. Lastly, Arin has a great chance to end up playing for our full national team, so choosing UK puts a responsibility on all of us to continue to take pride in individual development, in addition to team wins.
How would you best characterize the style of soccer you're trying to bring to Lexington?
Well this has evolved a great deal since my arrival. Admittedly my first year we were painfully behind the SEC in athleticism and technical ability, so we definitely sat back, and at times even bunkered. My second year we began to "play" more and it worked, but I think we still relied on the counter too much. Now there is an even greater emphasis on possession and knocking it around. This is who we want to be! I want us to be exciting, dynamic, and high scoring. I want us to have fun and take risks. I want us to be great with the ball all over the field!
I will have a story on the team later this week as we approach the UofL game, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Every Tuesday, UK Athletics recognizes outstanding performances for our student-athletes. These are the honorees for the week ending Sunday, Sept. 4:
Football: Winston Guy
2.5 tackles for loss
Volleyball: Christine Hartmann
Setter Christine Hartmann started her first three matches of the season and directed Kentucky to a trio of sweeps en route to earning All-Tournament team honors as the Wildcats claimed the Kentucky Classic. Hartmann passed out 10.3 assists per set as four players averaged 2.20 kills per frame or more in UK's impressive weekend. Hartmann notched 32 or more assists in all three matches while also contributing 11 kills of her own including a 5 kill performance on .667 hitting in an impressive sweep of Western Kentucky, a team receiving votes this week in the AVCA poll. Hartmann saved her best performance for UK's clinching win over Virginia Tech with a season-best 39 assists as UK charted a .215 hitting clip and three players reached double-figures in the kills column.
Women's soccer: Kelsey Hunyadi
Kelsey Hunyadi had a banner weekend in helping the Wildcats win the Cardinal Classic championship ... Hunyadi assisted on the golden-goal in UK's 2-1 overtime win against Central Michigan on Friday night ... She then scored Kentucky's first goal in Sunday's 2-1 victory over previously undefeated Baylor ... She wasn't finished though, as she delivered another perfect corner kick that was headed home for the game-winner in the 84th minute ... She finished with a goal and two assists on game-winners for the weekend ... She leads the team with 11 points on four goals and three assists, also team highs ... Hunyadi is off to the hottest individual start in program history ... She has scored a point in every match this season and her 11 points is the most by any Wildcat in school history through the first five games.
Stephanie Klefot was named MVP of the Kentucky Classic.
Volleyball: Stephanie Klefot
Junior Stephanie Klefot was the epitome of consistency for the Wildcats this weekend en route to capturing the Kentucky Classic in sweeps of three opponents. Klefot was tabbed the tournament MVP for her performance in which she averaged 5.00 digs per set for the weekend and a 5.25 digs per set for the week. Klefot also added a bit of offense to her performance with a squad-best five aces in the three matches - including a season-high three in a win over Ohio. She currently leads the SEC with 5.17 digs per set for the season and she has topped 10 or more digs in every match this season.
Men's soccer: Matt Lodge
Kentucky junior Matt Lodge had a dynamic weekend, pacing the No. 21 Wildcats to the title in the 10th annual UK Invitational ... A native of Rossington, England, Lodge tallied two goals and an assist in the two games, with a goal in each contest ... Spearheaded a UK attack that fired 52 total shots in two games, with Lodge taking a team-best 14 efforts, including a career-high eight-shot game in a win over Wright State on Friday night ... Netted his first goal of the season on Friday vs. Horizon League power WSU, a gorgeous strike that gave UK the win ... On Sunday, gave UK an early lead with another eye-popping goal amongst traffic inside the box ... Took a team-high six shots on Sunday, with UK firing 28 total team shots, ranking tied for fourth-most in UK single-game history ... Lodge had several close calls on the weekend, hitting the crossbar and the post twice each in the two games ... A two-time All-Conference USA honoree and UK's first freshman All-America selection in 2009, Lodge owns 12 goals and six assists in his career, including five game-winning goals.
Volleyball: Lauren O'Conner
Freshman Lauren O'Conner broke out as UK's top offensive threat en route to three consecutive sweeps in capturing the Kentucky Classic this weekend. O'Conner was simply spectacular topping the team with 3.09 kills per set which included three matches with 10 or more kills as she paced the UK attack in all three victories and earned All-Tournament team honors for her efforts. Her 13 hammers in a tournament-clinching win over Virginia Tech is a career-high. O'Conner smashed seven kills in the final stanza that UK won 29-27 to preserve its unblemished mark in its home tournament. She had not totaled more than seven kills in a match in her previous four appearances. O'Conner also had a career-high .364 hitting clip in a win over Ohio. Her breakout performance began against Western Kentucky, a team receiving votes in this week's AVCA poll, with a then career-best 11 kills on .216 hitting with career-bests in digs (3) and blocks (3). She now is tied for the team lead with three matches with 10 or more kills in a match, and is the only player on the team to string together three straight matches with that output.
Cross country: Luis Orta
University of Kentucky junior runner Luis Orta began the 2011 cross country season on the right foot Friday evening by winning the Belmont-VU Opener with a first-place time of 15:22.40. Orta's time on the 5K course at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn., led the men's team to a first-place finish. Orta has led the Wildcats in six of the last seven races dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season.
Women's soccer: Stuart Pope
Stuart Pope netted the golden-goal in Kentucky's 2-1 overtime win over Central Michigan ... It was her second goal of the season ... She connected on the goal, heading in a corner kick in the 95th minute ... Pope finished with five shots on the weekend
In three years as the starting quarterback at Indiana's Carmel High School, Morgan Newton led his team to the state championship game each season, winning it all as a junior. In those three years, Carmel lost only seven of 45 games.
Bottom line? Newton is a winner.
"He is a competitor and he wants to win. If he can get other guys to come along with him, he will win," declared Dr. John Newton, Morgan's dad, in an interview on The Leach Report radio show earlier this summer.
And it is that competitive spirit that Newton will tap into this week, as he attempts to bounce back from a performance that was disappointing for him and the offensive unit he leads.
As a freshman, Newton was expecting to redshirt only to be thrust into action midway through the season when starter Mike Hartline went down with an injury. Last season, Newton got only mop-up minutes until being once again surprisingly named as the starter for the bowl game when Hartline got suspended. In 2011, Newton knows the job is his and he's had plenty of time to prepare for the campaign.
To me, Newton carried himself with a kind of quiet cockiness--the good kind--throughout August's practices, suggesting he has no doubts about what he's capable of accomplishing.
"Well, I don't know if its cocky. I think it is confidence because he has done really well with sports, he puts the pressure on himself to excel because he is thinking about competing and he will not go out and give a half effort," said Dr. Newton. "He is going to give all that he has in order to win and he has done that through the years and hopefully it will shine through very soon."
Earlier this summer, Newton raised a few eyebrows with a tweet in which he suggested some of his teammates weren't showing up often enough for some voluntary workouts. Dr. Newton said his son realized that was not the best way to get his message across.
"He has said the guys have been responding to his communication and I think he found out very quickly that tweeting was not the best way to communicate with these guys. That is what the young guys are doing now but you need to clean it up a bit and make sure it doesn't give direction in a negative manner," Dr. Newton noted. "Morgan needs to step up with his communication and I tell you something else, he went and helped out at the Manning Camp and he picked up a whole lot of things from Peyton and Eli and Archie and Cooper and has developed friendships with some of the big quarterbacks from the other schools like the Luck kid (at Stanford), the Moore kid from Boise (State).
"Being around those guys and hearing what they will do for their team, I think helped him a bunch and hopefully the guys will listen because I think Kentucky football is just a hair away from taking things to the next level," he added. "It is how those fellas carry themselves and their attitude toward winning, their swagger about winning. Some of the guys are not bigger than he is and don't throw any better, but it's the attitude and if our guys can get that attitude, (Morgan) thinks they can compete with anyone in the South there. So he is just making sure that everybody has the attitude about winning."
Dr. Newton has seen more maturity than ever from his son this summer and a willingness to be more of a verbal leader.
"He also doesn't mind teaching guys what they need to know, he is a good instructor in letting guys know where they need to be and when they need to be there," said Dr. Newton. "Morgan, how he usually leads is socially he gets around the guys or goes one-on-one and visits with them and that sort of thing. He has stepped it up and has spent time working out with the offensive lineman and he has guys on defense that are his friends and he is trying to change the attitude and trying to get on this winning trend and he wants to be the messenger for that."
After quarterbacking the Cats to wins at places like Auburn and Georgia in 2009, Newton was confident in his chances of winning the starting job last August. When Joker Phillips named Hartline the starter, Newton's body language conveyed his disappointment but his dad says Morgan grew from that experience.
"You saw a little body language from Morgan but he doesn't bend very much from the highs and the lows of football. He is a very even keel guy and there was a perception out there that he was down a lot with the initial announcement-- and he was down a little bit--but he is a competitor and he wants to win at everything he does and if he is around the house or if he is out at the playground with young kids playing four square, he is trying to beat them, he is trying to win," explained Dr. Newton. "There was a competition all the way through and he was trying to get better and learn from Mike and he snapped out of it and hopefully we will see some fruits of his accomplishments of working through summer."
We have yet been able to post video of Joker Phillips' comments from this afternoon's press conference, so I thought I would run down some of the more interesting notes and quotes to tide you over: As soon as video is available, I will post it.
Phillips did not mince words about the performance of his offense on Thursday. He was sure to point out that the Wildcats are happy to be 1-0 and that the offense will improve, but that doesn't excuse anything. He said that quarterback Morgan Newton simply has to hit open receivers when they are there for him. Phillips said Newton did not get the help he needed from his offensive line and that the group did not play up to the high standard it set for itself last season and in camp. Phillips was hardest on his receivers though. "There will be some changes at the wide receiver position, and rightfully so," Phillips said. Guys like Demarco Robinson, E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd will have opportunities to earn playing time this week in light of Thursday's performance.
Fields, along with safety Mychal Bailey, was held out last week due to disciplinary issues from last season but will return to action against Central Michigan. Defensive tackle Mark Crawford has not yet been fully reinstated.
In terms of injuries, UK has a handful of players coping with bumps and bruises. Newton sustained a bruised thumb during the opening series Thursday, but Phillips is not concerned about him in the least. Center Matt Smith, who missed the opener, started practice on Monday, but was unable to finish. He will continue to work to play on Saturday. Defensive end Collins Ukwu sat out on Monday with a chest bruise but is expected to play. Billy Joe Murphy (sprained MCL) is day-to-day and wide receiver Brian Adams sat out practice on Monday with a sprained ankle.
Defensively, Phillips was pleased in general, but he singled out Winston Guy for praise. Playing his first game in a new hybrid safety/linebacker role, the senior played "exactly" how Phillips and co-defensive coordinator envisioned when they put him in the new role. Guy and linebacker Danny Trevathan set the tone for the entire defense with their intensity, effort and professional approach to the game. "I thought our whole defense played well," Phillips said. "But I think but Winston Guy and Danny, I think you're seeing more guys play like Winston Guy and Danny. Our guys played with great effort. It's infectious."
One group that has been "infected" by the senior duo's leadership is UK's defensive tackles. Phillips was excited to talk about the depth at the position with five players who have the ability to deliver quality reps. First and foremost, Phillips gushed about the play of sophomore Donte Rumph. "Ninety-nine played as good as anybody that we've had around here," Phillips said. "We think he's got a chance to be a big time player." Taylor Wyndham, Luke McDermott, Mister Cobble and Christian Coleman also saw time and the position and all graded out well leading Phillips to say that defensive tackle "will be one of our strengths on defense before long.
Although he was critical of his team in some areas, Phillips said they had "buried" the tape from Thursday's game and were ready to move on. The second-year head coach does not forget the close game that Central Michigan played against UK when they visited Lexington in 2006 and expects the Chippewas will be ready to play again.
Saturday's 12:00 p.m. game against Central Michigan will be Heroes Day. All military, police, firefighters and other first responders can present their service ID at the Gate 4 entrance of Commonwealth Stadium and receive a complimentary ticket. First responders will be honored throughout the game
After Joker Phillips' weekly press conference, Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Larry Warford spoke to the media about the season-opening 14-3 win over Western Kentucky and the team's preparations for Saturday's matchup with Central Michigan. We will have video of Phillips' comments later, but here are interviews with each of the three players.
Football - Kentucky started its season last Thursday with its fifth-consecutive season opener win, taking down in-state foe Western Kentucky 14-3 at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. - The Wildcats were led in the game by an impressive defensive performance, with three players recording double-figure tackles, including a game-high 13 by senior Danny Trevathan. Kentucky also earned four turnovers in the game, including two interceptions by senior Winston Guy. - Defensive lineman Luke McDermott paced the UK defensive front, limiting WKU's rushing attack, while tying a career high in tackles with four stops, including a sack. - Offensively, Kentucky freshman Josh Clemons started his collegiate career in solid fashion, leading UK in rushing with 11 carries for 39 yards and his first career touchdown. Clemons became the first UK true freshman running back to record a touchdown in the season opener since Donnell Gordon in 1993. - The Wildcats improved their winning streak to open the season to five. It's Kentucky's best start to a season since 2001 when UK opened up with seven straight wins.
Women's soccer - UK claimed the 2011 Courtyard by Marriott Airport Cardinal Classic championship with a pair of 2-1 wins over Central Michigan and Baylor. Kelsey Hunyadi, Danielle Krohn, Alyssa Telang and Ashley VanLandingham were named to the All-Tournament team. - Kelsey Hunyadi assisted on both game-winners on the weekend. Hunyadi also scored a goal, her fourth of the season, giving her a team-high 11 points. Hunyadi is off to the hottest individual start in program history. She has scored a point in every match this season and her 11 points is the most by any Wildcat in school history through the first five games. - Freshman Arin Gilliland scored her second goal of the season against Baylor, it was the game-winner, giving her two game-winners this season, tying fellow freshman Stuart Pope for the team lead in that category.
Men's soccer - The 21st-ranked Kentucky men's soccer team continued its hot start to the 2011 campaign in claiming the 10th-annual Kentucky Invitational championship over the weekend with a win over Wright State and a weather-shortened draw with IUPUI on Sunday at the UK Soccer Complex. - The Wildcats have showcased a dynamic offensive attack through the first four games of the year, including a breakout weekend that saw UK take 52 shots and register 30 corner kicks in two games. Headlining UK's offensive charge was junior Matt Lodge, who turned in an epic weekend with two goals and one assist, firing a staggering 14 shots in the two games. Lodge hit the crossbar twice and the post twice during the weekend, with a pair of magnificent goals in each game. - Overall offensively, UK owns eight goals and 11 assists through four games, allowing four opponent goals, with three goals coming on penalty kicks. UK owns an 88-25 shot advantage and a 43-9 advantage in corner kicks through the four season-opening games. - Sophomore Tyler Riggs has led UK with four goals and an assist, while Lodge opened his scoring with a pair of goals this weekend. Senior C.J. Tappel owns a goal and an assist, while senior Brad Walker has added a header goal on a corner kick.
Volleyball - The Kentucky volleyball team enjoyed a 3-1 week which was highlighted by three straight sweeps to capture the Kentucky Classic crown this weekend. - Junior libero Stephanie Klefot led the way with 5.25 digs per set for the week and she earned MVP honors of the tournament for her efforts. - Freshman Lauren O'Conner had an unforgettable coming out party as she was tabbed to the All-Tournament team following three consecutive performance with 10 or more kills. She paced the UK attack with 3.09 kills per stanza which included a career-high 13 in a tournament-clinching win over Virginia Tech. - Setter Christine Hartmann was the final Wildcat to earn All-Tournament team honors after directing UK to a tournament-best .220 hitting clip and leading four players to 2.20 kills per set or higher.
Cross country - The Wildcats got off to a strong start to open the 2011 season with the men's team winning the Belmont-VU Opener and the women's team finishing in third place. The men's team accumulated 62 points while the women's team had 76 points. - Luis Orta won the 5K men's race with a time of 15:22.40. Orta defeated 99 other runners and the win is Orta's second consecutive season-opening win. Orta has led the Wildcats in six of the last seven cross country races. - Kentucky freshman Mackay Wilson put together an impressive first race with the third fastest time on the team and the 14th fastest overall. - The women's team was led by Chelsea Oswald, who finished the 4K race in 11th place overall. - Megan Broderick, who completed four strong years with the women's tennis team, did very well in her first-ever collegiate cross country meet, finishing in 16th place and recording the third-fastest time on the team. Upcoming schedule
Tuesday, September 6 Men's soccer hosts IPFW - 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday, September 7 Volleyball hosts Louisville - 7:00 p.m.
It may be Labor Day, but there is still plenty going on around UK Athletics on this rainy Monday morning. I'll be heading to Joker Phillips' weekly press conference shortly and will have coverage of that this afternoon as well as real-time updates of any particularly notable happenings on @UKAthleticsNews. Before I do though, here are a few notes:
Football will have its home opener on Saturday against Central Michigan. The head coach of the Chippewas, Dan Enos, spoke this morning on the Mid-Atlantic Conference's weekly teleconference. Opening the season with a 21-6 win over South Carolina State, Enos sounded a lot like Joker Phillips did after the Wildcats' 14-3 win over Western Kentucky. He was very pleased with the play of his defense, calling its outing "dominating", but wanted more out of his offense. The defense allowed just 137 total yards and just 1.4 yards per carry. As for UK's defense, Enos said he was very familiar with Rick Minter from a few of his past coaching stops and was very impressed with the way his unit played on Thursday. Offensively, he said that he knows the Wildcats are better than they played in the opener and singled out junior quarterback Morgan Newton and freshman running back Josh Clemons as players that concern him. All in all, Enos had a perspective that applies to UK. With the lack of a preseason, expecting teams to come out and play perfectly from the opening kickoff is unrealistic. Enos said that defenses are often ahead of offenses at this time of year and that is to be expected.
I talked a bit about the early season success of the men's and women's soccer team on Saturday morning, but both teams played again on Sunday. The women's team concluded play in the Courtyard by Marriott Airport Cardinal Classic, moving to 5-0-0 with yet another thrilling victory. Freshman Arin Gilliland headed in a corner from Kelsey Hunyadi in the 84th minute to send the Wildcats past Baylor, 2-1. With the win, UK claimed victory in the Cardinal Classic.
The men's team also won a tournament this weekend. No. 21 Kentucky took the UK Invitational after tying 2-2 against IUPUI on Sunday. In spite of launching 28 shots, fourth-most in school history, the Wildcats settled for a tie when a thunderstorm forced the game to be called before overtime could be played. Ian Collins' team will head west next weekend to play Stanford and California on Friday and Sunday.
After a disappointing effort last week against Cincinnati, the volleyball team got on the right track in the Kentucky Classic this weekend. Playing three matches in two days, the Wildcats swept Western Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia Tech, improving to 5-2 on the season in the process. Senior setter Christine Hartmann entered the starting lineup, keying the Wildcats' attack. She was named to the All-Tournament team along with libero Stephanie Klefot and outside hitter Lauren O'Connor.
There are a number of home events this week, but there are a couple that merit some special notice. Volleyball hosts Louisville at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Women's soccer also plays the Cardinals at home with kickoff taking place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at the UK Soccer Complex.
John Calipari's Dominican Republic National Team is currently playing against Panama in the first game of the next round of play in the FIBA Americas Championship. The live stream can be viewed here. There are eight teams remaining and each will play four games with the points from the preliminary round transferring. The top four teams after that set of four games will advance to a semi-final knockout phase. If you're confused, fret not, because I am too.
Terrence Jones is on the cover of Sporting News' annual college hoops outlook. (Image via Rick Bozich's Courier-Journal blog)
Incredibly, it's the time of year for the release of college basketball outlook issues. Kentucky sophomore forward Terrence Jones is front and center of Sporting News' annual yearbook. The Wildcats are ranked second in the preseason by the publication and freshman forward Anthony Davis was named a first-team All-American.
Jon Lipsitz and UK women's soccer remained unbeaten with an overtime victory over Central Michigan on Friday evening. (UK Athletics)
It may be college football's kickoff weekend, but European football is demanding the attention of the Big Blue Nation. With both of their seasons in full swing, Kentucky's men's and women's soccer teams remain unbeaten.
Playing in the 2011 Courtyard by Marriott Airport Cardinal Classic, Jon Lipsitz and the women's soccer team won a heart-stopping 2-1 victory over Central Michigan to move to 4-0-0 on the young season. UK jumped out a first half lead on a goal by Taylor Parker before the Chippewas tied it up early in the second half, eventually sending the game to overtime. Four and half minutes into the extra period, Stuart Pope scored her second goal of the season on a corner kick header from Kelsey Hunyadi. The overtime win was the first of the Lipsitz era at UK.
Not to be outdone, the newly-ranked Wildcats posted a 2-1 win over Wright State in their first of two games in the UK Invitational at the UK Soccer Complex, moving to 3-0-0. No. 21 UK was led by Matt Lodge, who scored and assisted on Brad Walker's goal just 2:16 into the game, the eighth-fastest goal in school history. Wright State scored in the 90th minute, but the performance remained a dominating one for Ian Collins' team.
Both the men's and women's team will be in action again on Sunday. At 12:00 p.m., the women take on Baylor in Louisville, Ky., while the men play at 2:30 p.m. against IUPUI at the UK Soccer Complex. Another pair of wins and UK's two teams could both be ranked come next week.
John Calipari and the Dominican Republic National Team head to knockout play of the FIBA Americas Championship after a 79-74 upset of Brazil. (UK Athletics)
In what has become a regular occurrence for the Dominican Republic National Team in the FIBA Americas Championship, John Calipari's team rode Al Horford, Jack Michael Martinez and staunch defense to victory. This time, the Dominicans pulled off an upset of tournament favorite Brazil by a score of 79-74.
Horford scored a game-high 22 points, Martinez posted yet another double-double and Brazil committed an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers in the Dominican Republic's final game of group play. Calipari and company were already headed to the knockout phase of the tournament, but the win served notice that the Dominicans are a team to be reckoned with as countries from North and South America look to earn berths in the 2012 London Olympics.
Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done, but the job Calipari has done cannot be overlooked. His defensive coaching chops were already well-known at the college level, but the way he has gotten a diverse group of professionals play for their country is quite impressive. Here is a box score for the game tonight and I also encourage you to head on over to CoachCal.com to read Eric Lindsey's piece about the win and how Calipari is trying "transform the image" of basketball in the Dominican Republic.
With a few hours to decompress following UK's narrow 14-3 victory over Western Kentucky, head coach Joker Phillips held his weekly teleconference. Here are some notes and quotes from his comments:
Having had the chance to watch tape from last night, Phillips reiterated that the offensive line did not play up to expectations. "The offensive line did not play well at all," Phillips said. "They'd be the first to tell you that." The unit was slated to be the strength of this year's team, but injuries plagued the group during fall camp, but Phillips refused to accept that as an excuse. Tackle Billy Joe Murphy, the lone starting offensive lineman to avoid injury during camp, sustained a sprained MCL on Thursday night and his status is unknown.
Quarterback Morgan Newton was another player to sustain an injury Thursday. On the first drive of the game, he sprained his thumb on an opposing player's helmet. He was evaluated at halftime and Phillips said he was actually surprised he returned. Phillips praised his toughness and also said that the tape showed Newton didn't play nearly as badly as his numbers suggest. "He threw the ball a lot better than his stats read, but he's also got to get better," Phillips said. "He missed some easy throws, but (I'm) proud of the way he performed in the second half because we weren't expecting to have him."
Last on the injury report was defensive end Collins Ukwu, whom Phillips said was playing at a very high level before leaving with a bruised shoulder. He will receive treatment all week and is considered day-to-day. Fortunately for all the Cats who are banged up, UK has a couple extra days to rest before playing Central Michigan next Saturday in the Commonwealth opener.
A pair of freshmen caught my eye last night: tailback Josh Clemons and linebacker Alvin Dupree. Clemons was the talk of camp, earning raves for his SEC-ready body and running ability. He earned the backup role behind starter Raymond Sanders and Phillips said that he will get even more opportunities moving forward. "I thought he played pretty well," Phillips said. "He was a guy that was seeing cuts and seeing things really well. We've got to get him there a little bit more because I thought he blocked well, he understands our schemes (and) he can catch the football, so he definitely deserves to play more." Dupree was only recently moved to linebacker on a full-time basis, but his athleticism was on full display on a couple nice plays in pursuit against Western Kentucky. Phillips said that Dupree would have been a good tight end in time, but playing him at linebacker allows him to move immediately to No. 2 on the depth chart and No. 1 in some packages.
Another position where a freshman or two could soon make an impact is at wide receiver. UK's top four returning targets at the position (La'Rod King, Gene McCaskill, Matt Roark and Brian Adams) combined for just six catches and failed to make plays on a few well-thrown balls by Newton. Although the freshman (Daryl Collins) initially thought most likely to make an instant impact is out for the year, look for others like Demarco Robinson and Rashad Cunningham to get opportunities. "We have to find a group of wide receivers that can make plays," Phillips said. "I think we had the separation we need to make the plays, but guys have to make the plays for us."
Punter Ryan Tydlacka averaged 47.1 yards per punt in UK's 14-3 win over Western Kentucky. (UK Athletics)
It takes a bizarre kind of game to turn the punter into a team's most valuable player.
Bizarre happened to be one of a number of words that could describe Kentucky's season-opening win over Western Kentucky in Nashville, Tenn. "Hard-fought" and, yes, "ugly" also come to mind. Without Ryan Tydlacka, harsher words may have been in play.
The senior from Louisville, Ky., turned in of the best games you're ever likely to see out of a collegiate punter. His booming, sky-scraping punts repeatedly bailed out the Wildcat offense and switched field position. In a defensive battle, the performance made all the difference in the world.
"Field position was the whole key in the second half," co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "I think our punter was unbelievable tonight; our coverage team was unbelievable. It was a game of field position."
With a sputtering offense that managed to convert just 3-of-13 third downs, Tydlacka had a busy night. He came out to punt seven times, averaging 47.1 yards. He totaled 330 yards punting, 140 more than the offense was able to gain on the night. Three of his punts landed inside the Hilltoppers' 20-yard line.
Not anticipating such a busy night, Tydlacka admitted that his leg was a bit tired at the end, but being able to help his team as much as he did more than made up for that.
"I wasn't expecting to be out there that much," Tydlacka said. "It's great to actually help the team at my position. Some games I go out there and punt but I don't have as much of an impact on it, so it was nice to help the team win."
Tydlacka's impact was never felt more than during a second quarter exchange that put UK ahead for good. Through the Wildcats' first five drives, the offense had started at or inside its own 21-yard line each time, managing just one first down in the process. At the end of that fifth drive, Tydlacka punted from his own 34-yard line. His kick went high over the head of return man John Evans, ending up at the Western seven-yard line. The UK defense then pounced, forcing a turnover deep in Hilltopper territory, setting up a 14-yard Josh Clemons run for a touchdown.
Tydlacka knows that his role is to put the defense in those kinds of situations.
"My goal is to turn the field, try helping the defense as much as possible which in turn helps the offense," Tydlacka said.
As great as a 59-yard punt sounds, it is far from the most important punting statistic to Joker Phillips and special teams coach Greg Nord. A punt that sails 50 yards but is returned for 30 is no better than one that is shanked 20 yards out of bounds, but Tydlacka was able to combine power with high punts that limited return yardage. Just two of his seven punts were returned and for a mere nine total yards.
"That's what we went into this season wanting him to do," Phillips said. "We're not worried about distance, although distance helps. Coach Nord has a saying, he wants him to 'make it rain.' 'Making it rain' means getting it as high as he possibly can."
With Tydlacka booming punts and a talented special teams unit ready to cover, the punting game could be a strength all year.
"We feel like we have enough speed to get down there and (force) fair catches as long as he gets it high enough," Phillips said. "He's got a chance to be a big-time player if he can continue to flip the field for us."
Here is a behind the scenes video of the University of Kentucky women's golf team at their recent team photo shoot. The ladies had a great time taking photos throughout campus for their upcoming team poster. The Cats are anxious to kick off their season Sept. 10-13 at the Texas A&M "Mo"-morial before returning home to host the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational on Sept.30-Oct. 2 at the University Club of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
Morgan Newton's 58-yard scramble set up the score that gave UK a 14-3 lead in the fourth quarter. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A season ago, it was the Kentucky offense that often put the team on its back.
No instance was that more apparent than the matchup with Western Kentucky in 2010. Behind 482 yards of offensive output, UK overcame the Hilltoppers in a 63-28 shootout. The game raised plenty of unanswered questions about the defense, but Randall Cobb, Mike Hartline and Derrick Locke gave reason for Joker Phillips to have faith in his offense.
In 2011, it's the defense's turn to take up the mantle.
"Our defense has to carry us until this offense can catch up," Phillips said. "We've got a lot of catching up to do from what we saw tonight."
What Phillips saw on Thursday night was one of the ugliest offensive performances in recent UK history. Breaking in new full-time starter Morgan Newton and a group of unproven players at skill positions, UK mustered just 190 total yards against the 2011 edition of the Hilltoppers. Committing three turnovers, converting just 3-of-13 third downs and sustaining no long drives, there are a bevy of issues to be corrected with the offense.
In spite of that, the Wildcats came away with a season-opening 14-3 victory at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Like last year, Phillips has the luxury of teaching from a win in a game that much more closely resembled a stand-off than an offensive shootout.
"This is a good opportunity to get it corrected with a win," Phillips said. "Very seldom have we been in a situation where we played as bad as we did offensively and won a game."
It was an experienced group of defenders playing co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter's new multiple-look scheme that allowed UK to pull off a win. The new defense gave fans reason for optimism entering the season and it did nothing to disappoint. The Wildcats held Western Kentucky out of the end zone for 60 minutes, pressuring quarterback Kawaun Jakes into four interceptions and holding star running back Bobby Rainey to just 3.8 yards per carry on 28 attempts.
Leading the way was UK's pair of leading returning tacklers: Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy. Trevathan is playing a similar stalwart linebacker role as last year, but Guy has moved into a hybrid linebacker and safety position that calls on him to line up all over the field. Playing closer to the line of scrimmage allows Guy's athleticism and aggressiveness to shine.
"Winston is a tremendous player and a great athlete," Minter said. "We had him and Danny out there together at the linebacker spot."
Trevathan was predictably solid. He tallied 13 tackles, marking his 10th consecutive game with double-digit stops. Guy, on the other hand, was slightly more of a wild card coming into tonight. Many talked about his potential for a major impact in his new role, but it was no certainty.
Taking the field for the first time in that role, he was dynamic. He had 10 total tackles, two interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss. He flew around and made plays all over the place.
"That's Winston's game," Phillips said. "Last year if you'll remember, when he had his 10 tackle games, it was when he was closer to the line of scrimmage. Now we're bringing off the edge and up the middle."
When the game was over, Minter pulled the two seniors aside to praise them for their performance and how they had set the tone for the defense as a whole.
"Overall I feel so good about the defense," Guy said. "Coach Minter was so happy after the game. I (haven't) seen him like that in a while, so I guess what all our players did tonight was good."
Their efforts were every bit of necessary with the struggles of their offensive counterparts. Guy said, though, that the defense was more than happy to step up because he has faith that the offense will put in the work and pick things up next time out.
"I think that the defense today carried the game," Guy said. "We tried to put the offense on the field as much as we (could). They're going to get it. They're for us and we're for them."
There's no getting around it: the offense has a lot of work to do. Ryan Tydlacka had as many punts as Newton had completions (seven). The quarterback was sacked three times and managed just 97 passing yards. Newton was thankful to be able to pull off a win, but he admitted that this one felt a little different.
"I'm going to be honest, it does (feel different)," Newton said. "We've got a lot of guys that are really competitors. We definitely weren't happy about this one."
Pinning the poor offensive performance on Newton alone would be completely unfair. He made his share of mistakes, but he also delivered a number of passes that could and likely should have been caught, especially deep balls. The fact that guard Stuart Hines' one catch matched Gene McCaskill's total was a clear indictment of the play of the receiving corps.
"The wide receivers, did you see what I saw?" Phillips said. "I'm very disappointed and we had separation. Our offense will give us a chance because we try to take advantage of what we see with our check down system. We have to make the plays; there were a couple of big plays that were left out there in both halves."
Newton won't make excuses for his or the offense's performance, but he also refuses to believe things are as bad as they seem. UK has plays every day against the same defense that shut down Western Kentucky and has never looked as bad as Thursday night.
"Everything we did was correctable," Newton said. "A lot of the stuff seemed flukish at times. I really don't think we've practiced that bad all summer."
The one positive that Newton and the offense can take away from the game, other than the win itself, is the scoring drive that gave UK a two possession with under five minutes to go. On third and 14 from his own 16, Newton flashed the running ability that adds a new dimension to the UK attack, scrambling for a 58-yard gain to set the Wildcats up in Hilltopper territory. Newton then delivered a 31-yard touchdown strike to La'Rod King to essentially put the nail in the coffin.
The fact that Newton was able to make those two plays in spite of all his struggles on the night is a credit to his resilience and that, at least, is a start.
"He made two big plays; we call them 'GAP plays', game-altering plays, one on the run and one on the touchdown pass," Phillips said.
Kentucky opens the 2011 season against Western Kentucky Thursday night at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. (UK Athletics)
Well, I don't know about you all, but I cannot wait for the game tonight and the kickoff of the 2011 college football season. Continuing something we did last year, here's some links and info concerning the football game tonight between Kentucky and Western Kentucky.
Time: Thursday at 9:15 p.m. ET
Location: LP Field (68,798), Nashville, Tenn.
TV coverage: ESPNU with Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano
Tyler Riggs has scored three goals in UK's first two games of 2011. (Robert Burge, UK Athletics)
Tyler Riggs and the UK men's soccer team had high expectations coming in to 2011. Riggs was one of a number of young Wildcats to play for a 2010 team that struggled early but finished strong. The then-freshman led Ian Collins' bunch in scoring with five goals as a freshman and garnered some precious on-field experience.
Two games into his sophomore season, Riggs has answered all questions about whether he would be able to improve in his second season. In a pair of season-opening wins, Riggs has come off the bench to score game-winning goals. On Sunday against No. 9 Michigan, Riggs scored two goals in the five 15 minutes to spearhead a 2-1 comeback victory.
UK has another busy weekend, hosting the 10th annual University of Kentucky Invitational. The Wildcats will host Wright State at 7:30 p.m. ET and IUPUI on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET. Both games will be at the UK Soccer Complex.