The outcome didn't end up being what the Kentucky football team was looking for, but the Wildcats came as close as they have all season to putting together a four-quarter game against Georgia on Saturday.
"I just think it was important for us as a team to come out and compete and I think a lot of it had to do with how we started, how fast we started," head coach Joker Phillips said. "It gave a young team some confidence."
As they prepare for a road game at Missouri (noon ET Saturday, ESPNU), the Cats are looking to carry some of the momentum they generated into this weekend and the final four games of the regular season.
"It was a good game," senior defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. "We played hard. We didn't get the result we wanted to but a lot of progress has been made. There's a whole lot more that needs to be made for us to be able to turn things around."
In a 29-24 loss, UK outgained Georgia - ranked 10th in the latest BCS standings - on the ground 206-77. Star quarterback Aaron Murray more than made up the deficit through the air, but Phillips says the simple fact that UK forced Georgia into being unbalanced is what allowed the Cats to hang around.
"You stop one thing and get them to do the other, I think it gives you a chance," Phillips said. "And then offensively we ran the ball pretty well which gave us a chance to possess the ball a little longer than we have been."
With the running game racking up a season-high in yardage, Kentucky's time of possession was just shy of 28 minutes, the Cats' second-highest total of the season. Helping the cause was UK's relative success on third down. In spite of facing multiple third-and-long situations, the Cats converted 6-of-14 chances, their best rate in three weeks.
In multiple long third downs, UK recognized light boxes and ran the ball to great effect. In fact, the Cats ran five times in third-and-six or longer and gained an average of 14.4 yards. Three of those rushes resulted in first downs and four in runs of 12 yards or longer.
"I thought it was a bad play when we tried to run the ball third and long," Phillips said with a smile.
Missouri will surely have recognized that tendency watching tape, but that could make life just a little easy on UK's quarterbacks trying to throw the ball in long third downs.
Young secondary gaining more experience
There's no disputing the fact that Kentucky's injury-depleted secondary is extremely young. But by the end of this season, you're not going to be able to call them inexperienced.
UK's defense was on the field for 72 plays against Georgia. True freshman defensive backs Cody Quinn and Zack Blaylock played every single one, while Fred Tiller played 60.
Mistakes with a group like that are inevitable and, considering UK gave up over 400 yards through the air to the Bulldogs, there have been plenty of them. Nonetheless, Phillips sees players who aren't backing down from the challenges they're facing.
"They're doing a really good job of competing, showing up every day and competing really hard," Phillips said.
They're also not getting discouraged, which is one of the most important characteristics for any developing defensive back.
"You don't see those guys change when they get beat," Phillips said, "and they will get beat. They're young kids that still try to find their way, but their demeanor doesn't change when they give up a play."
Phillips has been particularly impressed by Quinn, a cornerback he calls one of the strongest players pound-for-pound in his class.
"Cody Quinn gave up a big pass and then a touchdown on the slant, and when he came off, I grabbed him and just wanted to look him in his eyes and see what I saw, and I saw still a confident guy but really didn't believe that the guy had beat him," Phillips said.
Wyndham's beard a hot topic
Before Phillips steps to the podium for his weekly press conference, select players are made available to the media. This week, Taylor Wyndham was one of them.
He faced a distinct line of questioning.
The first 12 questions of his 10-minute session with the press were about his beard, which he has not shaved since the start of training camp. The beard, along with some liberally applied eye black, makes for an intimidating look on game day, but it's a bit of a hassle away from the field.
"Usually I'm clean-shaven," Wyndham said. "I usually don't have that much facial hair and it kind of gets out of hand sometimes. When I'm eating I've got to rub my face every two seconds and lift my beard when I drink something."
Wyndham sees Pittsburgh Steeler defensive lineman Brett Keisel as the model for his beard, but finds that he is more often called "Mountain Man." Phillips, for one, calls him "Wilson," a name inspired by the Tom Hanks movie "Cast Away." In the movie, Hanks grows a long beard on a deserted island, where his only companion is a volleyball he names "Wilson."
"He likes it," Phillips said. "I like it. I don't know what his mom thinks about it."
As Phillips suspects, Wyndham's mother is not a fan.
"She hates it," Wyndham said. "When I saw her on the Catwalk the other day, her eyes got huge and she was like, 'Uh oh.' "
Injury update: Towles back in the mix at QB
Patrick Towles (high ankle sprain) is planning to return to practice on Tuesday, Phillips said. The freshman quarterback did not practice last week and has not played since injuring his ankle two weeks ago against Mississippi State, but has proved to be a quick healer.
His status is still up in the air, but if Towles is able to successfully practice, expect to see him on the field.
"If Towles can play, he'll play," Phillips said. "It will be the same situation as we did in the Mississippi State game, but again he hasn't taken a snap yet. And we'll take a look and see tomorrow."
As Phillips suggests, Towles and Whitlow will rotate if Towles is able to suit up.
Against Georgia, Whitlow split time with Morgan Newton at quarterback, but there were two series in which UK was down to Newton alone. Whitlow left the game with a migraine headache, reporting his vision was distorted before he recovered and was able to return.
It was the first time Whitlow has had a migraine at Kentucky, but the training staff learned he had problems with them as a child. From now on, preventive measures will be taken with Whitlow.
"We understand it now, which will help us be able to deal with it," Phillips said.
Towles is officially listed as day-to-day and is joined by Mikie Benton (ankle), Zach West (shoulder), Martavius Neloms (hamstring) and Cartier Rice (hip flexor). Benton is expected to practice on Tuesday, while West, Neloms and Rice all will try to practice on Wednesday.