Kentucky Opens Season Against Miami in the 'Rumble at the River'
Aug. 31, 2009
Billed as the “Rumble at the River,” the game is the season opener for both teams. Under coach Rich Brooks, Kentucky begins its quest to earn a fourth-consecutive bowl bid for the first time in school history. Miami enters a new era with the debut of head coach Mike Haywood, former Notre Dame offensive coordinator.
UK comes into the lidlifter with an active non-conference win streak of 14 wins, the most since a 17-game string of victories from 1954-1960. The current run includes a 25-19 victory over East Carolina in the 2009 Liberty Bowl marking the first time Kentucky has won bowl games in three consecutive seasons. The Wildcats return 10 starters from last year’s squad; six on offense and four on defense.
RedHawk first-year coach Haywood will direct a team that returns 13 starters from last season. Kentucky and Miami last met in the 1991 season opener in Lexington with the Wildcats edging MU 23-20. UK leads the all-time series that dates back to 1894, 6-4-1.
Head Coach Rich Brooks
“Just going to start off with an injury update. John Conner will probably not practice tomorrow. We expect him to maybe do something on Wednesday. We'll judge that as we move forward. Micah Johnson will practice tomorrow. All of the people with minor dings from last Saturday will practice. The only one that will not practice tomorrow is John Conner. We will have to determine what his availability is for the game as we move forward this week.
“We're looking forward to the opener. It seems like it's been a longer fall camp than normal. We're just anxious to get this team on the field and see exactly where we are and look at some of the new additions and improved additions, if you will, to this football team. Having said that, we're going into this game a little blind and not sure really what to expect from Miami because of the new coaching staff. We're just kind of winging it, if you will, with some of the preparation. I am sure we will have to do some adjusting early in this game because we'll be - I'm sure - surprised by a few things. Questions?”
Q: Is there an area of this team that impresses you the most?
“Well, I think the speed of our team, I like. That's on both sides (offense and defense). I'm impressed with, believe it or not, the play of our receivers at this stage of the year and that's coming off of a less-than-impressive performance a year ago by that unit. So I think those things and the improved play of Mike Hartline.”
Q: What's been the key to your success in winning 14 straight non-conference games?
“Well, I think we're continually trying to raise our team to the level of the upper half of the SEC and when you do that, you should be able to play pretty well against the rest of the non-conference schedule. That doesn't mean you are going to be perfect, but certainly we have more talent that I would call SEC-caliber talent than we had three or four years ago, so that should translate into more wins. You can look at our non-conference record, but just look at the non-conference record of the SEC over the last several years and the bowl record of the SEC and you can see that our league from top to bottom really does pretty well against non-conference competition.”
Q: Did (DeQuin) Evans or (Chris) Matthews impress you on how easily they have made a transition?
“The talent level didn't surprise me, but I am pleasantly pleased – if not surprised – that they have made the progress that they have made, in Evans' case fighting through a hamstring injury and missing some time due to that. But the way they've picked things up, they've not only picked up what they're supposed to do but the tempo with which we expect them to do it – the speed of the game – they've made that transition very well. Now we haven't played a game yet, so we'll see if they do it in the games.”
Q: When watching game film this week how much are you watching Miami personnel and how much do you watch other film from the coaching personnel?
“A combination, about 50-50. Just getting their depth chart today some of their personnel are new also so we'll be guessing at that just like they will be guessing at some of our personnel.”
Q: Can you talk about what separated Marcus Davis from the other guys at center for this week?
“I'd say mostly assignments and mistakes or lack thereof. Marcus has made far fewer mistakes. He's been in the program quite a while, obviously, and that's been quite an advantage for him. He's done a good job of getting the blocking assignments and the ball to the quarterback. I think that Matt Smith is going to be an outstanding player but he's making too many mistakes and that's a position where you don't want to make too many mistakes.”
Q: Andre' Woodson really progressed during his junior and senior years, have you seen that level of improvement in Mike Hartline?
“I think the only way you judge that level of improvement is in games. On the practice field there is no question that we have seen tremendous improvement in Mike Hartline. Now we'll have to see if that translates to games, completions, touchdowns, lack of interceptions, those kinds of things.”
Q: What have you seen from Hartline specifically in practice that shows that improvement?
“He's throwing the ball more accurately, throwing the deep ball more accurately, he's giving receivers a chance to make a play on the ball and amazingly we have some receivers making some plays on the ball.”
Q: At defensive end, you have (Chandler) Burden and (Collins) Ukwu at one of the spots, how has that been shaping up?
“It's been a very close battle. Again, the consistency needs to be better from both of them. They certainly flash by making plays at different times. I'm sure that whoever starts, which we will determine later at the end of the week, the other will play an equal amount and we'll probably have a three-man rotation to rest (DeQuin) Evans. Ukwu will probably play both sides some.”
“Experience, I guess. They've both had a great fall camp. We've just given the nod to experience early on. Again, this is a situation where they're both going to play a lot. Paul will slide inside on the nickel which I assume we'll play a whole bunch in this game and Randall will be on the outside.”
Q: Talk about traveling to Cincinnati for your opener and the atmosphere that will be provided by playing in Paul Brown Stadium?
“We will spend the night up in northern Kentucky on Friday night. I think it's an exciting venue to open the season. I think our fans will enjoy having all seatbacks on their seats. I think for both teams it's an exciting venue - to play in a professional stadium as a change-up.”
Q: Is Alfonso Smith 100 percent going into the week?
“No. He's been bothered, he's missed some time. His conditioning could be a factor, just like Micah Johnson missed some time and his conditioning could be a factor. We'll judge those things as we go forward.”
Q: Does it seem like you are going into the season with running backs that are up to your satisfaction?
“I think the three backs (Alfonso Smith, Derrick Locke, Moncell Allen) have had a great fall camp. I would like to have had all of them be as healthy as Moncell (Allen) has been and go through the entire camp. The good news is that they're all going into this game healthy. From the standpoint of production and what I've seen on the practice field, some of it has been hit and miss with a few days off here and then back and a few days off then back. The production of the running backs in practice has been very good. The experience of those three guys is very good. Now we have to go out on the field and we'll just have to see what the running game is really like. I have a sense that it's going to be greatly improved but we have to go out and prove that.”
Q: How many of the freshmen do you think will see time this year?
“I think seven or eight freshmen will probably see action this year. The rest will redshirt. It's kind of what we did last year. But for quite a few years, as you know, we were playing almost all of our freshmen. The good news is we are able to redshirt some very good players now because of the depth that has developed on our football team.”
Q: Do you have in your mind what you would like to do with the Wildcat package this year, this game?
“We will see some of it; we will not see all of it, in this game in my estimation.”
Q: Are you helped by the fact that Mike (Hartline) has some experience along with some other guys?
“I think the fact that we have some seniors in the offensive line, a quarterback that has started a number of games and been in some big games should help us make some adjustments and checks at the line of scrimmage, when we see some things that we may not have practiced against.”
Q: How important is it for the wide receivers to get off to a good start?
“Well, probably for the fans' confidence it would be really big to catch some balls (laughter from audience). I know these guys are going to be good - how good and how many, nice, big catches or runs or all those things happen, that's why we're playing the games. We have to go out on the field and prove that. I know they're capable of doing it. They're certainly more capable than the group we had a year ago. Some of them are the same guys and they have a year under their belts and have proven on the practice field that they are better than a year ago. Now we have to go out and translate that into game situations.”
Q: How much are you looking forward to the season opener?
“I'm anxious, kind of frustrated, antsy, and nervous. I just want to go play. I think a lot of our team is in the same mood, if you will. Every game is important when you are trying to establish consistent postseason play. Every game is important when you're trying to make a bigger run in your league than we have made. You get 12 chances and whether it's Squawhaukee Canyon Institute of Technology, Alabama or Miami of Ohio, they're all very, very important games and we need to go up there and get off to a good start with a win. Anything else is not acceptable.”
Defensive Tackle Corey Peters
Q: How has the team improved from last season?
“We have basically the same defense coming back, and I think everyone will be a year better. The young guys will step up and show they are capable of. The offense will also be much improved. I am only looking to improve on last year.”
Q: How has the team prepared for Miami?
“We have a little different mentality for Miami because we have no real feeling for them, because they have a new coaching staff. It has been difficult trying to prepare for this game, because we can't get a good feeling of what they will do. We have watched a lot of Notre Dame and Duke film. The first game is a little easier to prepare for because guys are excited to get out there, and you know they will go all out. Everyone is excited to get out there and see what we can do. Our first game will tell us a lot.”
Q: How important is it to start the season well?
“When you play in a conference like the SEC, it is important to have good non-conference play if you want to have a good season. We always approach games like that, and this year is no different because we want to win all of those games.”
“The most impressive defensive player is DeQuin Evans. He has probably the best motor I have seen since I've been here. Another guy who has impressed me is Danny Trevathan. He is a fast linebacker and he makes plays for us.”
Wide Receiver Randall Cobb
Q: What do you expect out of Coach Brooks this week? Sometimes he can worked up for a big game and this is a really good Miami team?
“He probably will be and we should expect that. We know we can't just go out there and win. It will take a whole lot for us when we go out there and we are really going to have to play tough. We will have to face some adversity because they have a new coaching staff, and we haven't been able to watch any film on them, or get an idea of what they will do.”
Q: Can you talk about the receivers and if they have improved from last year?
“We have La'Rod King, Kyrus Lanxter, Gene McCaskill and Eric Adeyemi, but I can keep going down the list because we have so many guys who can make plays for us. We definitely have a lot more depth than last year.”
Q: What are your feelings of the Wildcat package and what you think that you can do out of that?
“It is going to be a great package for us because we can do some many great things out of it like motioning, handing the ball off or make a pass. There are so many good things that we can do out of it.”
Offensive Tackle Zipp Duncan
Q: Are you excited and ready to get the season going?
“Yes, we have put in a lot of work this summer and all through camp. We are tired of hitting each other and are ready to get on the field and get the season started.”
Q: What has been the biggest improvement that you have seen on the offensive line?
“The offensive line has really done a good job of coming together and we feel that we have a very good understanding of the playbook. We know that a lot of the success this year is going to depend on us up front so we took this offseason to learn the plays and be able to depend on one another. I really feel that we are going to be able to come out and everyone will be on the same page together.”
Q: What is it like to play against a team that you really don't know that much about?
“It is definitely a challenge, but we have an idea of what they are going to do and we have been working on that and trying to handle that. Anytime you don't have a lot of film it can be difficult but we are doing the best we can. We have to execute our game plan no matter what they might do.”
Q: What are you expecting out of them? Have you been watching film from the coordinators past schools?
“That is what we have been focusing on some, is what the defensive coordinators did in the past. We have a few ideas and have some things that we think they are going to do and that is what we will practice on. It is both teams' first game and they have a brand new coaching staff so it is a big game for both of us. We don't know exactly what they are going to do but we are going to be able to execute no matter what they throw at us.”
Cornerback Trevard Lindley
Q: Has it been hard to get ready for Miami because of a new coach and a new system?
“It has been pretty hard because we don't really know what they are going to come out in. They have a new coach so we don't know what they really plan on doing offensively or defensively. So it has been hard to try to find out what they are going to do.”
Q: What wide receiver has impressed you the most so far?
“Probably Chris Matthews because he is a very big and physical receiver and he can really catch the ball. I like going up against him because I have been trying to get better on bigger receivers. Randall Cobb, Gene McCaskill and Eric Adeyemi are all really good. Also La'Rod King is a very tall receiver and can really make some catches down in the redzone.”
Q: What are you expectations as a defense this year?
“We are going to try to be one of the top-10 defenses in the nation and top three in the SEC. We are just going to try to fly around and make a lot of plays.”
Tailback Alfonso Smith
Q: Why does it seem that running backs have a hard time catching the ball out of the backfield?
“Well, I think the problem is that most backs feel like the quarterback is not really looking to throw it to them. We are usually the last check down and sometimes we can get too relaxed and not look for the ball. When it happens, if you are not really looking for the ball and then the quarterback throws it to you then you have to make a move. Sometimes backs want to make moves before they actually catch the ball. I feel like I have to be patient on that and catch the ball and have some hand-eye coordination. Those types of passes really work on my hand-eye coordination.”
Q: You really don't know much about Miami … does that worry you a little bit?
“All we can do is go out there and give it all we got. If we play full speed than everything will pay off for us. If we have to make some changes at halftime, I am for sure that our coaching staff will do that.”
Q: Is it going to be a big thrill to play in a NFL stadium?
“It is really huge for a lot of guys who have that NFL dream and want to play in a NFL stadium. It is kind of like a start off to that. Hopefully, it is not the last game that I will play in an NFL stadium. It is going to be very exciting for everyone and it is probably the dream of 90 percent of the guys in our locker room to play in a NFL stadium.”