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Notebook: Cats not losing their fight through trying times

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Having made 29 starts in four seasons, center Matt Smith has five regular season games left in his Kentucky career. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Having made 29 starts in four seasons, center Matt Smith has five regular season games left in his Kentucky career. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Particularly for a senior like Matt Smith, these are tough circumstances.

The Louisville, Ky., native is now over halfway through his final season as a Wildcat, and it's been a difficult one. Injuries and losses have mounted, most recently a road defeat against Arkansas that was cut short by inclement weather.

With the clock ticking on his college career and his next opportunity coming this weekend against Georgia, Smith isn't about let any moments go to waste.

"You just want to keep playing," Smith said. "I grew up a Kentucky fan and as the games go on, I keep realizing that my time here is shorter and shorter. I only have five games left to put on the Blue and White."

Smith, a center, is just one of 11 seniors remaining on Kentucky's offensive and defensive two-deep roster. His teammates seem to get younger by the week, which makes winning in the Southeastern Conference that much harder.

The freshmen and sophomores seeing the field for the first time have a radically different point of view than the upperclassmen, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"Sometimes it helps to have young guys in there who are a little naïve at what's going on," Smith said. "They're in there trying to compete and they know they have a long future ahead of them so they're trying to show these coaches what they can do and just stay out there on the playing field."

Whether it's to a first-year player or fifth, the coaching staff is delivering the same message.

"They're staying positive and they're telling us to stay positive as well," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "It helps us out to see that they're staying positive. If they were down, I think it would make me feel more down. As long as I see them staying positive, it helps me out a lot."

In the wake of UK's loss to the Razorbacks, head coach Joker Phillips used a powerful example as a means to both encourage his team and deliver some perspective in the midst of a five-game losing streak.

"I got a text last week from a former player that is battling liver and lung cancer, and you know, at the end of his text it said, 'All I know how to do is pray and fight,' " Phillips said.  

Phillips declined to name the player, saying only it was a former Kentucky player under the age of 40. Regardless of the identity of that player, it's a tragic instance of a member of the UK football family putting into practice the lessons learned while he was a Wildcat.

"What do you think we teach, do you think we teach these guys to lose?" Phillips said. "We teach the guys to fight with everything that comes up in their lives. It's not just football."

Cats looking for more pass rush against Georgia

Starting three true freshmen in the defensive backfield like Kentucky makes it difficult enough to win on its own. It's close to impossible to do it against a senior quarterback like Tyler Wilson while the front seven gets little done in the way of pass rush.

Wilson was not sacked on Saturday night and he made the most of the ample time he had in the pocket, throwing five touchdown passes.

UK's next opponent doesn't have a senior under center, but Georgia's Aaron Murray has enough experience that he might as well be.

"We got to get more pressure on the quarterback," Williamson said. "Tyler Wilson, I feel like he was kind of comfortable out there. We got to help those young guys out as much as possible and just running more blitzes."

Secondary still overrun with injuries, Towles recovering but doubtful

Up and down the Kentucky roster, injuries have been a problem, but no position group has been more decimated than the defensive backs.

Last weekend, UK started senior Cartier Rice alongside freshmen Daron Blaylock, Zack Blaylock and Cody Quinn. After that game against Arkansas, Rice found himself on the injured list with a strained hip flexor. On Monday, Phillips termed the veteran cornerback doubtful for the Georgia game. Also doubtful is senior safety Mikie Benton (high ankle sprain).

The (somewhat) good news is that safety Martavius Neloms (hamstring), safety Ashely Lowery (head) and cornerback Fred Tiller (shin) are all day-to-day. Phillips said the plan is for Neloms to test his injured leg on Wednesday and Lowery will visit with a doctor on Tuesday to determine his availability.

At quarterback, Maxwell Smith remains out, which is no surprise given how recently he underwent surgery on his ankle. Freshman Patrick Towles has made progress with his high ankle sprain and can now "get up on his toes." Phillips termed that a good sign, but Towles is still doubtful for the Georgia game. He will be evaluated on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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