Joker Phillips held his final weekly press conference of the season on Monday as the Kentucky Wildcats begin preparations for a Senior Day matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers. Phillips talked about the matchup, the team's injury situation, and a number of other subjects, but here are a few of the biggest storylines from my point of view:
Trevathan playing his best football as career nears end
Danny Trevathan bore the weight of high expectations entering his senior season. Following a junior year that saw him lead the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 144, he knew he would be called upon to anchor the Wildcat defense in 2011.
Suffice it to say, he's lived up to the billing.
Once again, Trevathan leads the conference in tackles. With one game to play, he has tallied 135 stops, seven tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, four interceptions and three sacks. Moreover, his production has been otherworldly in his last four games, as he's made 17 tackles three times. He earned Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors in the SEC for his performance against Georgia, when he nearly rallied his team to an upset win with 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack.
"He's just amazing to watch," Phillips said. "He alone willed the defense to play the way they played Saturday. We continue to tell them to come up to his level, and everyone on defense tried to play better than they were capable of. I think a lot of that had to do with the way Danny Trevathan played."
Middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed has had the luxury of playing next to Trevathan all season and he says the Georgia game isn't the only time Trevathan has inspired his teammates to perform at a higher level.
"It's been great," Sneed said. "Danny has become a really great friend of mine, not just on the football field, but off the football field. He's a great person. Playing beside him really helped elevate my game and I think it helped elevate a lot of people on the defense."
In spite of all he has accomplished, Trevathan was passed over when the Butkus Award, which recognizes the nation's top linebacker, selected 12 semi-finalists.
"It would be hard for me to find 12 better linebackers than Danny as far as production," Phillips said. "He's playing in a pretty good league, and the production that he has had the last two years, if he matches his last couple of weeks, we're talking a guy that could have over 150 tackles in this league in one season."
Trevathan spent his first two seasons primarily as an understudy to talented predecessors like Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell, but has burst onto the scene as a junior and senior. His 279 tackles over the past two seasons have carried him into the top 10 in school history.
"Danny means a lot to this program, and most of his production has come in the last two years," Phillips said. "Watching the way he went about his business has been special."
Volunteers better than their record
With just a 5-6 record and one win in SEC play, Tennessee looks a team having a serious down year compared to what the Volunteers are accustomed to. Phillips, though, sees things differently.
"It's a really good Tennessee football team," Phillips said. "If you look at Tennessee's losses, they've lost to number 1, number 2, number 3, number 13, number 14, and then-number 16 Florida. So still a good football team."
Phillips also pointed out that the UT passing attack ranks second in the conference and is also benefiting from the return for Tyler Bray, who missed five weeks with a broken thumb before leading the Vols to a 27-21 victory in overtime over Vanderbilt. Bray has plenty of weapons with running back Tauren Poole, wide receiver/running back Raijon Neal and wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who leads the SEC in receiving.
On defense, Tennessee has faced the top seven scoring offenses in the conference, which skews their numbers a bit. Phillips called the Vols' front "really stout."
UK's goal to make a bowl game is now out of reach, but Phillips knows how much closing out 2011 with a win could mean.
"We haven't won our last game since 2009 in the Liberty Bowl," Phillips said. "And winning your last game does a lot for you in the off season. Also, we haven't beat Tennessee in a while. So I think that would fulfill another goal also."
Wildcats fighting through injuries
Bumps and bruises late in the season are inevitable, especially playing in a league as physical as the SEC, and UK is not immune. Here is an update on UK's injury situation.
- Safety Martavius Neloms will be getting the boot off his injured foot this week, but Phillips called him "doubtful."
- Defensive lineman Christian Coleman has an elbow injury but is expected to practice on Tuesday.
- Ridge Wilson missed the Georgia game with a shoulder injury and has been tending to a family illness the past two days. He will be evaluated Tuesday.
- Quarterback Max Smith and safety/linebacker Winston Guy are both "banged up" and will be limited in practice, but Phillips expects both to be available.
- Trevathan chipped a tooth against Georgia for the second time this season. His availability against Tennessee is not expected to be affected.