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Notebook: Wildcats focused on Florida, not dwelling on loss

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Junior running back Jonathan George scored three touchdowns on Saturday against Western Kentucky University. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Junior running back Jonathan George scored three touchdowns on Saturday against Western Kentucky University. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
To a man, the Kentucky Wildcats admit their locker room was not a fun place to be on Saturday night. The team's 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky University was a tough one to stomach.

Now, a couple days have passed since the loss. Much of the talk outside the program is still centered around the defeat and what it means for the UK football program.

As for players and coaches, they left their disappointment behind on the night of the game.

"After that, it's gone away," defensive end Collins Ukwu said. "That's the thing about football: you can't just be focused on that loss. You got to go past that because you got another game the next week, another top-25 team, another way to make a statement in this league."

That chance to make a statement will come against Florida. The No. 14 Gators (3-0) have already been sternly tested this season having won Southeastern Conference road games against Texas A&M and Tennessee the last two weeks.

"Watching those guys on film and seeing a little bit of their games, they are a really good ball team," running back Jonathan George said. "We're going to have to come out and attack this week of practice, stay in the film room, (study) the game plan and get ready to play."

Based on Saturday's game, as well as those against Louisville and Kent State, there will be one notable change at practice this week. UK's opponents struck first in each of the three games so far this season and the Cats - in spite of significant improvement on offense - have not yet scored a single first-quarter point.

With that in mind, Joker Phillips is changing around the beginning of his team's practices. After stretches and 10 minutes of individual work, the Cats will jump right in to 11-on-11 drills.

"We can't wait and see what the tone of the game is," Phillips said. "We got to start fast right away."

Phillips taking criticism in stride

As a player and assistant at UK, Phillips has seen some lean times. He was a freshman when Kentucky went 0-10-1 under Jerry Claiborne in 1982. He was a coach when the Wildcats won five combined games in 2004-05.

He was also a player when UK turned it around in 1983 and 1984, making back-to-back bowl games and winning nine games in a season for the only time in the last 35 years of the program's history. He was also an assistant and eventually a head coach when the Wildcats came back to reach five bowl games in a row from 2006-10.

 All that's to say that Phillips has been a part of making bad times good again. Joker Phillips knows what it's like to deal with the kind of criticism he's facing in the wake of a 1-2 start.

"I'm built for this," Phillips said.

In his weekly press conference on Monday, Phillips heard just about every possible question about the direction of his program. He'll get more chances to hear them when he speaks to the media after practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but beyond that, he'll be too bogged down in preparation for the Gators to pick up a paper or browse the Internet.

"We'll be buried in the office," Phillips said. "We sense it, but we don't get a chance to hear it because we're buried in there trying to get ready for the next opponent, and our next opponent is Florida."

With 72 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, there were going to be some growing pains this season. But that doesn't mean Phillips, his staff and his players are taking two losses in three games sitting down.

"My job is to make sure we win football games, continue to do the things we need to do to win football games," Phillips said.

Week four depth chart changes

As has been the custom after each game this season, there are tweaks to the depth chart at wide receiver. DeMarcus Sweat, after one of his two catches last week was a 22-yard game-tying touchdown with 22 seconds left in regulation, is now listed as the starter at one wide receiver spot with Aaron Boyd. Sweat and Boyd will rotate with the first team this week in practice.

No matter who ends up starting on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla., UK will be looking to get the ball to Sweat more often. Two of the dynamic freshman's three catches have gone for touchdowns. Sweat also had UK's longest punt or kick return of the season against WKU, a 51 yarder. All told, Sweat has gained an average of 28 yards on his nine combined receptions and kick returns.

"The problem with Sweat, we're not getting it in his hands enough," Phillips said.

The only other change to the depth chart on offense is at tailback, where Jonathan George (105 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns against WKU) has moved past Raymond Sanders into the backup role behind CoShik Williams. Williams will be held out of practice this week until at least Thursday. If he cannot play, George will start and Sanders - reinstated this week after a suspension for a violation of team rules - will back him up.

On defense, the starter at safety opposite Ashely Lowery is now listed as Mikie Benton or Dakotah Tyler.

Injury update


Williams (hip strain) is among three players listed as day-to-day entering practice this week. Cornerback Cartier Rice has thigh bruise and Darrian Miller has a sprained ankle, but it is not classified as a high ankle sprain. Linebacker/safety Josh Forrest (thigh bruise) is doubtful for Saturday and tight end Gabe Correll (hip flexor) is out.

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