Monday Football Press Conference Coverage
Nov. 9, 2009
Cats Play for Bowl Eligibility in the Music City
Kentucky travels to Southeastern Conference rival Vanderbilt on Saturday, hoping to become bowl eligible with the eventual goal of becoming the first Wildcat team in school history to make four-consecutive bowl appearances.
The Wildcats are coming off a 37-12 win over intrastate foe Eastern Kentucky in which they captured a school record 18th-straight non-conference victory. The current win streak broke the mark set from 1954-60 of 17 straight wins. Vanderbilt looks to rebound after a 27-3 loss to top-ranked Florida in The Swamp.
Quarterback Morgan Newton threw his first two career touchdowns against EKU while setting career highs with 20 completions on 29 attempts for 187 yards. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week. Tailbacks Moncell Allen, Alfonso Smith and Donald Russell all gained over 60 yards on the ground and scored a rushing touchdown. Russell's 79-yard score marked UK's longest offensive play this season.
UK's defense registered multiple interceptions for the third consecutive game. Free safety Taiedo Smith led the team with a career-high six tackles. Defensive end DeQuin Evans recorded three tackles-for-loss for the second time this season.
Head Coach Rich Brooks
"On the injury front, T.C Drake will be out this week. He's got a pulled groin, a significant pulled groin, two to three weeks Is his prognosis. Jonathan Thomas, our back-up snapper, had the swine flu and will not be able to practice tomorrow and will hopefully be cleared to come back on Wednesday. Ross Bogue also unfortunately has a strained knee and we hope he will be able to take at least some reps tomorrow, but that may not be until Wednesday. (Gene) McCaskill will probably not be able to practice tomorrow because of turf toe. Trevard Lindley, I think will try to go tomorrow. It actually was a regular ankle sprain and not a re-aggravation of the high ankle sprain. We've got a whole bunch of other guys that are going to be limited on Tuesday, but I won't go through all of those. Randall Cobb will practice in a cast on Tuesday and do everything. The good news is his shoulder and hamstring and all of that are light years better than a week ago. Derrick Locke will practice tomorrow and he is feeling much better than he has in quite a while.
"Looking at the Vanderbilt game, before I open it up for questions, sometimes perception and reality are two different things in this series. I know when I came here, Vanderbilt had the lead in the overall series and we have, I think, a one-game lead currently after losing last year. I think the record in the series stands at 39 wins for us, 38 for them, and four ties. So it's been a very, very competitive series. This is a game that has been as close as it can be probably year-in and year-out with maybe a few streaks here and there where one team had an advantage. I have great respect for the job that Coach (Bobby) Johnson has done there. He always puts on the field a sound, well-coached team that plays outstanding defense. Offensively, they give you problems with their schemes. They have some very good talent. I am impressed with their line and running backs this year. Their young running backs are doing a good job. Defensively, they have a lot of experience returning and have played everybody pretty well."
Can you talk about the quarterback situation and specifically Mike Hartline's progress?
"We'll just have to judge and see. Certainly, I'm not going to put Mike Hartline out there if he can't get out of his own way, let alone pull the ball down and run it if he has to; having said that he looked pretty good last week. He ran around yesterday, it bothered him a little bit. We feel like he'll be ready to go through a full practice and we'll have to see how it goes after that tomorrow."
Is Vanderbilt more dangerous this year in the role as spoiler?
"I don't think they're any more dangerous than if they were (bowl eligible). I know the difference between them going to a bowl game two years ago and three years ago, and I think maybe four years ago, was about one loss. And those were the years that we were ekeing out wins on them, so I'm sure that they would like to return the favor. "
A couple players have mentioned that they still haven't really gotten over the Mississippi State game, is that a good thing from a motivating standpoint or a bad thing to have something like that maybe linger on?
"Well, I don't think it does anybody any good two games removed thinking backwards. When you're thinking backwards you're not moving forward in the proper direction, so I guess we better get that out of their heads. "
On games that are always close, what does it come down to game day?
"A play here, a play there, penalties sometimes, a turnover, a false start, a missed tackle, you can go through almost every one of these Vanderbilt games other than the first one we lost by 10 and the one we won here by 12 and you can take one play and it's the difference between losing and winning. It's one of those games that you better bring your A-game and you better be on, because if you're not - you know you're going to be in a close game going in. That hopefully is the way it should be for most SEC games and it has been with the exception of two or three in the last couple years. When you don't play 60 minutes and you don't do the things you're supposed to do - you're going to get beat. "
Can you talk about Morgan Newton's progress and maturity over these last four games?
" I think the Morgan Newton that you saw Saturday was light years away from the Morgan Newton that you saw in the Auburn game. That progress has been evident in practice to us as we've gone through the last couple of weeks - particularly the last two weeks."
What would Hartline have to show you in practice to prove he is ready to go?
"He's going to have to throw the ball accurately, manage the offense, hand off, sprint out and do the things that our offense is going to require him to do without hobbling around and without really favoring his knee."
What have you seen in Morgan Newton's progression that made you say he was light years away from the Auburn game?
"I see a guy who has always had some confidence but had trouble adjusting to the speed of the decision-making. He's always had an arm, although at times when you're going through the progress of trying to throw the ball and you're worried about getting sacked and you're trying to get the ball out sometimes it comes out of your hand funny - which it has on occasion. But for the most part this last Saturday, because it didn't happen as fast as it would in an SEC game, is part of the reason, but you saw tight spirals, rifle shots, much better accuracy and much better decision-making. He will again learn from that game because there were maybe three or four occasions where he was locked-on totally when other times he looked, came off of it and went back to this one and a couple of times he even went to the third guy and delivered the ball well - so it's all a process. Whatever happens the rest of the year he has advanced his progression a great deal for the future. He still has a long way to go."
How has the tight end position affected the team's offense this season?
"You pretty much know when you throw to Maurice (Grinter); he's going to catch it. That has never been the problem; the problem has been his blocking. In our offense, the reason the running game has been as productive as it has been this year - a lot of it, not all of it, but a lot of it is because the tight end position has blocked better than it did last year and the year before. So T.C. Drake was the more physical tight end of the group. His problem wasn't the physicality but maybe busted assignments from time to time. But what we may give up, we can't lose on the other end. We still need that position to block."
Will John Conner's role expand to blocking on the outside to help at end?
"No, he's not an on-the-line guy. He's a move guy. That role has already been expanded for him. It could be a little bit more this week, once we get in and see how (Ross) Bogue is doing and whether he can function and how Maurice is blocking. We'll have to judge it moving forward. (Nick) Melillo has played more snaps than you might have realized and has done a pretty decent job. He's gotten better. He's not going to be an overwhelming blocker but he's a willing blocker."
Can you talk about the future of the running back position, particularly Donald Russell?
"I think it's in pretty good shape. I think Russell is a good back. We've got two guys that we're redshirting that have yet to get on the field and prove it but you lose (Alfonso) Smith and everybody else returns. It will be good competition and they could all use an extra month of practice, if you will."
Are you confident a lot of the guys will be able to recover from injury to play in this week's game?
"Yeah, I just hadn't seen as long of a list as that on a Sunday as we had. As I mentioned, most of those guys will be practicing on Tuesday, which means most of them are (recovering). Most of them will be limited but they will be practicing. We did hold out Matt Lentz in last week's game because he had a really bad turf toe. He'll be ready to practice on Tuesday as well. Not only has he taken a lot of good reps for us at safety but he has been a valuable guy in the kicking game."
Did Vanderbilt show anything different on offense against Florida after their young quarterback got hurt?
"They're throwing it more. The other thing that they did is that they introduced a wildcat package with their freshman running back taking the direct snap and doing the quarterback run game that you do out of a wildcat formation. Although Mackenzi Adams is a capable runner, he certainly isn't the same runner as the other quarterback was before he got hurt. The strength of their offense before was totally their running game and now I think they're in transition a little bit, trying to go back, because Mackenzi Adams has a good arm and he throws it pretty well. I think they're staying with the running game with the backs, trying to get a little bit of a wildcat package going and throwing the ball a little more with Adams. He's a dangerous guy."
How has Ryan Mossakowski progressed this season?
"He's still not at the strength levels that he needs to be in the weight room. The impressive thing to me about him is in the practices and opportunities he's had in scrimmages, his decision-making is pretty good. (Earlier this year) it was much quicker than Morgan's was, but now Morgan's has improved dramatically. But the arm strength wasn't the same. So that will be a very interesting thing going forward. We don't get to see him do as much now, so it's really hard to tell. We've been focusing on other guys, but he does need to get stronger. "
Can you talk about what a potential fourth-consecutive bowl game would mean to you and the program?
"Well I think for Kentucky to do what everybody who follows the program and supports the program - for Kentucky to do what it wants to do, part of that process is the base camp we talked about halfway up the mountain. And halfway up the mountain is winning every non-conference game and then attacking the SEC games and winning more of them and hopefully winning more than you lose. We haven't reached that next camp yet, the next step up the ladder. We still have three conference games left that we can make a move in that direction this year. The thing that I think is critically important, as I mentioned that extra month of practice is critical in the development of young players, particularly when they aren't quote `the five-star players.' You need fundamental coaching and development of those players so they can reach their potential. So that's why it's important."
Can you talk about what the new record non-conference win streak means to you?
"Well, the only reason that we were in three straight bowl games and had the chance to win them - that's the other end of that equation, getting there is part of the battle but winning them is significant. Otherwise you don't have that non-conference win streak going. The other part of it is to build toward climbing that SEC ladder; if you don't take care of business in those games you may not get a chance to do that. Had we slipped up in one of those games this year, where would we be? If we had lost the Louisville game we would be really, really struggling at this point. In my mind, we have to win the non-conference games. We have to win them and we have to start winning more SEC games."
#91, Corey Peters, DT
Do you still think about last season's loss to Vanderbilt?
"I definitely think it's fair to say that we haven't forgotten. It was one of our worst games last season and we have a bad taste in our mouth. It's a game we feel like we should have won, and we came out and laid an egg. It's something we'll keep in mind, but every year we play them tough. We are prepared to go in and play a tough four quarters of football."
Do you notice a lot of Kentucky fans at games at Vanderbilt?
"It's something we notice. Everywhere we go, we always appreciate support, especially on the road. We definitely need it this year, because it's going to be a tough game and we need to pull out the victory."
How do you think Vanderbilt will approach this game?
"I think they are going to play very loose. If you saw the Florida game, they were extremely loose. They had nothing to lose."
#33, Calvin Harrison, S
On having a little momentum heading into the Vanderbilt game ...
"It is great. You always need to have a little momentum heading into the next game. We just have to continue to work hard and have a great week of practice this week to get ready for Vanderbilt."
On Vanderbilt's passing attack ...
"I think that we just have to continue to work hard in practice and try to get hints on what they will do. It all comes down to just playing football. It will all matter on who wants to win the game more."
On needing one more win to get bowl eligible and if he feels some pressure this week to get that key win ...
"There is always pressure when you talk about bowl games. We just want to go out there and make sure that we are prepared in practice this week to go out on the field and play hard. We treat every game the same and always want to go out there and give it our best effort."
On this game being close to the same rivalry that Mississippi State has turned into ...
"Yeah, the Mississippi State game and Vanderbilt games are always close games. I think that coach said that the Vanderbilt game has been decided by a touchdown or less for the past few years. In close games like that, you have to really go out and work hard and be tough in tight situations."
On what he remembers about last year's game against Vanderbilt ...
"I know that we had a few roughing the punter calls that gave them the ball a couple of times and that played a key role in giving them extra possessions and field position. We have to limit our mistakes this year and be ready to play."
#29 Alfonso Smith, TB
On how he hurt his thumb ...
"I hurt it in the Alabama game. I was trying to go outside and the guy tried to strip the ball and he pulled my hand back and I fell on my hand. I actually sprained my hand, but I pulled a ligament in my thumb. It hurt and swelled up pretty bad."
On if he feels that they have some revenge for Vanderbilt this year after what happen last season ...
"It is overrated. We came out last year trying to beat them and they came out and tried to beat us and they are the ones that came out on top. There is no revenge, we just have to come out and do what we have to do and see what happens at the end of the game."
On if he sees all the Kentucky fans when they go to Vanderbilt ...
"Yeah, we see that there is a lot of Kentucky fans in that area and follow us. They all come down for that game and it is going to be balanced but it still gets loud down there."
On what it means to keep the bowl streak alive as a senior ...
"It is very important. We don't want to be the team that ends the streak. As a senior, I want to go out on top and I am sure that all the other seniors want to do the same."
On if they are a dangerous team because they can play spoiler the next couple of weeks ...
"Yes, it makes them dangerous. They can come out and do what they want to do and you have to be ready for trickery and all kinds of things. You can never tell what they are going to do."