Monday Football Press Conference Coverage
Sept. 21, 2009
Cats Open SEC Slate with Top-Ranked Florida
Kentucky opens Southeastern Conference play at home in Commonwealth Stadium against top-ranked Florida on Saturday. UF began its league schedule with a 23-13 win over Tennessee in Gainesville last Saturday. The Wildcats will look to end the Gators' 22-game win streak in the series.
Last week Kentucky forced two turnovers by intrastate rival Louisville in the final five minutes that led to UK's game-winning touchdown and halted a late Cardinal comeback attempt. The Wildcats' 31-27 victory was UK's third-straight win in the Governor's Cup series and secured Kentucky's 16th consecutive non-conference win, the second-longest streak in the nation.
Against Louisville, tailback Derrick Locke became the first UK player to return two kickoffs for 100-yard touchdowns in a career. On the ground, Locke needs 43 rushing yards to top the 1,000-yard career mark. Defensively, linebacker Micah Johnson posted a team-high 12 tackles against the Cardinals and needs four more to reach 200 in his career.
Kentucky is 3-8 all-time against top-ranked teams. The battle against the Gators marks the second time in the Rich Brooks era that UK battles a team ranked No.1 nationally. The last time the Wildcats faced a top-ranked team was in 2007 when they stunned LSU 43-37 in triple overtime in Lexington.
Live Blog from Cat Scratches
Head Coach Rich Brooks
"Like I always do, I'll start off on the injury front. Amazing how some coaches want to make all of that a mystery, isn't it? Kyrus Lanxter is still doubtful for this week. Antwane Glenn is out with the flu. (Jorge) Gonzalez may or may not practice tomorrow with a strained MCL. Moncell Allen has a quad bruise and I think he'll be okay. DeQuin Evans has a hip flexor. Those guys couldn't do anything yesterday, whether they'll go Wednesday or Thursday, I'm not sure yet. Obviously, (offensive coordinator) Randy Sanders was the most serious injury - it goes to show you how dangerous sidelines can be. He had a broken bone and a fracture in his other bone in his wrist, the ulna and the radius. At this point it will just be casted. We'll have to see later if it is healing right. If it is not, then it could possibly require surgery but at this point it does not.
"Looking at the Florida game coming up, it seems like we always get them when they're mad. Last year we got them after they were beaten by Ole Miss. Now they did not light up the scoreboard like they're accustomed to lighting it up so I'm sure they're going to want to come in here and show everybody that their offense is still explosive. They are obviously a great football team. Defensively they have really no weakness. They have given up one touchdown in three games. Offensively, they have a diverse attack that is difficult to defend. They spread the field, they run it. Their offensive line is not only big and physical, but athletic. And they have Tim Tebow. So having said all of that, we're doing everything we can to try to contain the Florida offense. We have to find a way to score in this game or obviously we don't have a chance. People have had a very difficult time doing that against Florida. Certainly this year their defense has been spectacular."
"Does anything jump out at you after looking at tape of last week's game?"
"No, the two fumbles and the interception were there. Like I said after the game, our backside pursuit on defense was not good. It has to improve, or people will continue to break more long runs on us on cutbacks. I was very pleased with how our defense responded in the third quarter under unbelievable duress, fatigue, being tired, basically being on the field the whole quarter. That performance kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity to win it. Had they not responded well in what I call `sudden change,' on those three-straight possessions, things could have gotten out of hands for us. If they had allowed Louisville to go in and score three touches, then we would have been in trouble."
"First you said Florida has no weaknesses, how do you game plan for a team like that?"
"Well, I read that there's a game plan out there for Florida's defense. I think that what Tennessee did to them was outstanding. I think much of what they did, Florida was not prepared for, and I think they will be more prepared in the future. They gave them an awful lot of different fronts in what they played, and they used the 4-6 or the Bear defense quite a bit, and negated some of the things that Florida likes to do. I'm sure they practiced it more than just last week, maybe they did some in fall camp and in spring ball. As you know, we are not a Bear front, and if we change, then we have to re-teach something in about three or four days, and I wouldn't say you won't see it at all, but we can't emulate exactly what Tennessee did and do all the things they did in slowing down Florida's offense. I think that some of that was dictated by what was happening on the other side of the ball, and that Tennessee was just grinding it out and weren't taking any chances with the ball themselves, so Florida had the lead and I think they decided they did not want to take any chances with the ball, particularly since their receiving corps was a little depleted in that game. If we can find a way to hold them to 23 points, then maybe we have a chance, but boy that's a tough assignment."
"Talk about the flu, are you concerned about it?"
"You know, every year that I've been here, we have had players affected by the flu for games during the season. I don't expect this year to be any different. I know there's a widespread alert out there on the swine flu, and some other teams have had some problems with it. But we are doing all the things that everyone else is doing with the sanitizer in each player's locker, washing their hands, trying to isolate anybody that has any symptoms. I guess I am more concerned about the physical injuries and trying to get the guys well that are on the injured list, because I can't do anything about somebody catching the flu, other thanwhat we are doing in taking precautions."
"How do you build mental belief in your team when you are going against a foe as big as Florida?"
"Well, I think it is a lot easier to build mental belief when you have been there, and done that. None of the players on the team that I came in to coach had had those kinds of significant victories but in the last three-and-a-half years we have. As infrequent, unfortunately, as they have been, we have had them. Just like last week, last Saturday. If you didn't believe you could win, you had a lot of reasons to think that you might not last week, because things were not going our way. They were making some good plays, and we were making some mistakes, but our players didn't hang their heads, didn't go `woe is me,' they just rolled up their sleeves and went out and started playing football. That's all we can do. We are up against a tremendous football team, and it's not like it's a one-year wonder, they have been that way for a while now. They currently hold the longest winning streak in the nation, 13 games. That tells you something about college football right there."
"The day you got here, you started preaching team speed, and how you needed more, and how that makes playmakers. Is Florida kind of the poster child for that? "
"I think there are quite a few teams in our league that are the poster children for team speed. Florida certainly is a great example of it, yes."
"You talked about a few mistakes you made in the Louisville game that kind of kept them in it; last year against Florida, it was over before it even started. How important is it to eliminate those mistakes and get off to a good start to give yourself a chance?"
"Well, I think this is a game that we have to hang around. We can't be getting knocked out of the box like we did early last year. They're a team that once that truck starts rolling down the hill, loaded with rocks, it can crush you. So you need to hang around. You need to not get a lot of separation. And whatever that takes, we have to find a way to do it."
"Coach, where do you put Tebow on your list of all-time quarterbacks?"
"Well, to me, he's just one of the all-time great college football players. I think at quarterback, he's a hybrid. He's a single-wing, tailback quarterback. And there aren't many guys like that playing anymore, and that's why he's so unique right now. I mean, you just don't find that combination. Let's face it, he carried the ball what, 25 times last week against Tennessee? How many quarterbacks are doing that in the country? And he can throw it; he can kill you with his arm, he can kill you with his legs. He is extremely unique. There used to be players like that. I played with one, by the name of Terry Baker. He did not weight 235 or 240 pounds, but he ran the ball, and he threw the ball. He won the Heisman Trophy. Those kinds of players in today's football are very uniqueat that position."
"What else is there about the Florida offense that concerns you, other than just Tebow?"
"Speed and they just spread you. And they are so dangerous because they can throw the bubble screen, the wide-receiver screen, they can fake the inside run, and come run the option on the outside. Your assignment part on defense is critical, and your tackling is imperative. The one thing, if you watch that game, and I have watched it several times over after I watched it on television, Tennessee didn't miss tackles. There were a lot of times on the perimeter that was a Florida back or a Florida receiver, and a Tennessee defender. The Tennessee defender won the battle, he made the tackle. If you miss that tackle, then all of a sudden, you have real problems. I am not encouraged because of our tackling performance last week, so that is something that should be an emphasis, but then again you still need to go out and wrap up and get the guy down."
"What got you also was maybe some of your safeties that had trouble with their reads. Is that a concern with a guy like Tebow also?"
"Anytime you're having some breakdowns on your run-pass reads in the secondary, it's a major concern. So, yes, like a lot of things, I am worried about it."
"Tennessee was able to run the ball a little bit against Florida, how important is your run game going to be Saturday?"
"Well, I think to win any football game you need to be able to run the football reasonably well, particularly this week. There are very few teams that can just drop back and throw it. I think Arkansas leads our league in passing, and are last in rushing. They scored a lot of points against Georgia, but they didn't win the game. So you have to be able to establish a running game. One, it keeps the defense a little honest, and they can't just tee off and disrupt the timing of the passing game by forcing the quarterback to throw before he wants to, or hitting him as he is throwing, or sacking him. We will get tested in that department like we haven't been tested this year, because Florida's defense is outstanding. We have gotten through two games without giving up a sack, and you know that is not going to last forever, but we have to do a good job protecting Hartline."
"How do you think you ran the ball Saturday?"
"I think we ran it pretty well. I was disappointed in our last possession, if you will, after we got the ball back and were unable to run the clock out. Overall, I thought we ran it pretty well given our limited amounts of reps with the football.We didn't have the ball enough to run it better."
"Coach, are you more impressed this week with the way your defensive line performed, particularly the defensive ends and getting pressure on the ball?"
"Well, our defensive ends, as I mentioned in the first game, did not play well. We had significant improvement in that play; at the same time we had some mistakes at that position. The cutbacks were partially their responsibility, as well as the backside (line)backer. But DeQuin Evans took a major step forward, although he is still a work in progress. I think this guy is going to be an outstanding player as we go through the season if we can keep him healthy. He is only going to get better as he understands the level of things at this level of football. He has a motor, he has talent, and he is in a learning curve right now, and has accelerated a great deal. We got a few good things out of Taylor Wyndham, and he will probably see a few more reps. He is undersized, but he is a very active player."
"Louisville came out and tested Trevard (Lindley) early, and even tested you deep early. Do you think that was maybe a good eye-opener for the guys leading into a team like Florida, which you know is probably going to throw something deep down the field?"
"You know, it's amazing how people can beat their chests about going after a guy who is a really good player and catch a pass on him. Corners, all pro corners, they get beat for touchdowns, they give up plays, they're out there where the world can expose them. I just hope people keep going after Trevard Lindley. Pound your chest and go after him."
On Tim Tebow's passing ability
"Hey, the guy can throw. The big problem is that, with all the things they do, he has a lot of time to find the open receiver - and that's part of the problem. That's one of the things Tennessee did pretty well, they didn't give him a lot of time with the different looks and they brought pressure and they sacked him several times. So from that standpoint, he can do it all. He can throw it; he can run it. He is what he is. He's aHeisman Trophy winner, and a great player."
"Talk about John Conner a little bit. He came back, only had three carries, but they were big carries. Can you talk about what he means to the program in general?"
"Well, he is the glue that helps our offense function. He's a great blocker, and he can catch the ball extremely well, and he is a powerful runner. We will probably do a little bit more with him not only at the fullback position, but in the sets that we have been using two tight ends and moving a tight end. I think that's a little bit more likely to be more reps for John Conner, because he is too good of a player to have on the sideline when we're not in a two-back set all the time. Because we are a multiple offense, we are in the I-formation maybe 20 to 25 percent of the snaps. We need to find a different way to get him on there. If you want to have some fun and watch the kickoff returns, he made some devastating blocks on the kickoff returns. He's on our punt coverage team, he's just a great guy, and getting back to the NFL question, I would be shocked if he didn't get drafted real high on the teams that use fullbacks."
"Did you have the idea of using Conner like that before this week's game?"
"Yes, but we were unable to do that because of the high ankle sprain. We didn't get any work with it in fall camp."
#18, Randall Cobb, WR
How much are you looking forward to the No. 1 team in the country coming?
"It's going to be a big game for us this week. It's just a great opportunityfor us to go out and play against the No. 1 team at home on ESPN. It gives usa lot of national coverage and getting recruits here and giving them a chanceto see where we play."
Did you get to see Florida play at all this weekend?
"I got to see a little bit of the game. They looked really good like they alwayshave. They're a great team with a great defense. When you return 22 of your topplayers on defense that is something special."
So how do you score against them?
"It is going to be tough. We're just going to have to find a way, find some weaknesseson their defense if we can. I think it is going to be tough for us, it's goingto be a challenge."
How about your buddy [Derrick] Locke, Player of the Week in the Southeastern Conference for special teams and he got a national award also?
"It's a big thing for him. It is great for him to come back from that knee injurywhen some people said he wouldn't be able to. And just to come back and in weekthree be able to do great things like that, that is great for him."
More on the Florida defense ...
"They have a great defensive line, a great front, great linebackers, great defensivebacks. Joe Haden (is) one of the best DB's in the country. It's just going tobe a great experience going against them."
Do you worry about catching the flu?
"No, I have a strong immune system so I'm not real worried about that. I hada flu shot a couple weeks ago. We try to stay pretty healthy as a team. Jim Madaleno(athletic trainer) does a great job with us, keeping us healthy, keeping handsanitizer around and taking precautions. So far everyone on the team has hada flu shot."
How much are you guys going to have to step up to have a shot at the game?
"It is going to be big for us to step up. We've started kind of slow last weekand then we had the third quarter this week where we didn't do anything. Againsta team like Florida you can't make any mistakes and that is going to be the biggestthing we are going to correct this week are our mistakes."
#33, Calvin Harrison, S
What's it like to have the No. 1 team come to Commonwealth?
"It's always exciting to have the No.1 team come because it's a chance toshow that you can play with anyone in the country and do good things."
On the chance of defeating a No. 1 team ...
"Anyone can win or lose any given week. Just because (you're playing) the No.1 team doesn't automatically mean you're going to lose. You just have to playfootball and play hard, manage your mistakes and try to force them to make mistakes."
How much do you have to step up your performance to do well?
"You always have to step your performance up. We have to clean up the mistakeswe made in the first two games to try and not do them. I know Florida is goingto see what we did wrong and try to force us to do the wrong thing with differentlooks. We just have to play sound football."
How do you beat Tim Tebow?
"It's not (about) beating him. I know he does a lot for his team. You just haveto try and contain him and not let him run loose on your defense."
#29, Alfonso Smith, TB
How do feel going into the game against Florida?
"We feel like we don't have anything to lose and we can give it our best shot.We know Florida is a good team and they have proved that, and now we need toprove that we are a good team too. I don't want to say there is a lot more talenton our team, but we have a chance to go out and win a game like this. They area great team and we have to prove ourselves."
How do you feel about the Louisville game?
"We expected it to be a hard game because it's a rivalry game. We both had offweeks so we knew they were very prepared for this game. We knew it was goingto be a dog fight and luckily we pulled out the win. I don't think anyone haslost confidence because we knew Louisville would come out and play hard."
Talk about teammate John Conner.
"John Conner is hands down, almost the best player on the team. He a great guyand well rounded. He works hard, and he has size, speed and strength. I havea whole lot more confidence with John Conner in front of me."
#78, Christian Johnson, OG
How do you feel going into the game against Florida?
"We have to have a fast first quarter and we can't start off slow. They capitalizeoff of every mistake you make and we can't afford to start slow like we havein the past. They are going to come out fast and they will start fast. We aregoing to work on that this week in practice, so we can speed up our game. I feellike we are a different team from last year. I'm not going to say we won't makemistakes, but our level of intensity and desire to be better will separate usfrom past teams at UK."
How do you feel about Florida's defense?
"I've looked at film on Florida and they have a fast defense. Our tackles haveto contain and control them. As far as their interior defensive linemen, theyare big and strong. It's not like we are going to be the biggest, strongest andfastest players on the field. That is the most exciting part of the game becauseI know it is going to be a battle. It is going to get ugly and we will be soreand beat up, but that is the part of football I love. I know the offensive linemenare looking forward to it."
How do you feel about playing the No. 1 team in the country?
"This is football and anything can happen. You have seen it before. We beat LSUand Appalachian State beat Michigan. You can't say a team is going to destroysomebody. If you do, then there is no reason to practice. Florida is a greatteam, but we can't say we don't stand a chance."