Weekly Monday Football Press Conference Coverage
Nov. 16, 2009
Wildcats Seek First Win in Athens Since 1977
Kentucky visits SEC rival Georgia after winning its last two conference road games for the first time since 2002. The Cats also have won four of its last five games overall. UK is coming off a 24-13 win over Vanderbilt last week to claim its sixth win of the season and make the Wildcats bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year. The victory marked the first time since 1953-56 that UK has won at least six games in four consecutive seasons. UGA also became bowl-eligible last week with a 31-24 victory over Auburn in Athens.
In Nashville, UK gained a season-high 308 yards rushing in the game, the most against an SEC opponent since rushing for 310 at South Carolina in 1995. Derrick Locke recorded his third career 100-yard game by gaining 144 yards on 25 carries, both career highs. Randall Cobb scored two rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball 14 times for a 99 yards.
UK's defense shut down the VU offense in the second half. The Commodores were limited to one first down, 31 total offensive yards, 0-of-5 on third downs and held the ball only 6:56 time of possession after the half. Kentucky held Vanderbilt to 209 yards total offense for the game, the best showing against an SEC opponent since 1996. Sam Maxwell led the defense with nine tackles, including one for a loss, and forced a VU fumble. Corey Peters was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week with five tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
Head Coach Rich Brooks
"On the injury front, it is relatively short this week. You all know that Mike Hartline will have surgery tomorrow morning to repair cartilage in his knee. Randall Cobb has a bruised shoulder. We will hold him from practice tomorrow. We believe he will be able to go Wednesday. Chris Matthews will be held from contact all week. He will practice with a red jersey on just to make sure that no one hits him since he is recovering from a mild concussion he sustained in Saturday's game.
"Looking at Georgia, they are a team that statistically we are better than in some areas; they are better than us in some areas and in some of them we are right together. They have had some ups and downs this year. The second half they played against Auburn was very impressive. They decided to run the football down Auburn's throat, and that is just what they did. They took it to them and got after it. They didn't turn the ball over, which has been one of their problems and is probably why they are 6-4 right now, because they're minus a few more than we are in the turnovers/takeaways. For them to go through that game without turning the ball over is significant. This is a huge football game for both teams, obviously for very obvious reasons -- in the standings in the SEC East, as well as bowl eligibility. Questions? "
"You got your team bowl eligible for the fourth year in a row, never been done in school history. Can you talk about the significance of that?"
`Well, I think it's a tribute to the senior class that we have. This will be the fourth non-losing season, and if we win one more it should be the fourth winning season in a row. But the fourth non-losing season in a row, and that hasn't happened in 53 years. That's a pretty significant thing. Bowl eligibility, there weren't as many bowls (back then), but there also weren't as many division one teams playing back when that streak was set. But the bottom line is whatever the circumstances are, this senior class has achieved something that no one else in school history has achieved. We need to win to ensure ourselves of going to a bowl. Bowl eligible doesn't mean that you are in a bowl. With all probability with the way things are going, we would be. But I would rather not to leave it to chance."
"Can you follow up with the practice time you talked about before, and how it may increase everything about the program?"
"Well, with as many young players as we have, and the progress just going back over the last several years, like the difference Stevie Johnson made in our bowl game against Clemson, versus what he was in the season. I think he had 12 catches the entire season, and I think he had five for 80 to 90 yards in the bowl game. Last year, our young receivers were so inconsistent during the season. In the bowl game, they stepped up and made some nice catches and some big plays, and we were able to come from behind and win that game. So the bowl practice is not only for the guys that are playing right now, but also for the redshirt guys, that is critically important because you basically get another spring practice. You can develop fundamentally and continue to improve the skills and the execution of the players you are going to be using next year."
"How different is it for you and your team to get the six wins now versus when you did it for the first time a few years ago?"
"I think it is quite a bit different. It was unbelievable elation not only amongst our team, but among our fan base when we got bowl eligible (in 2006), and I think that time we were celebrating so long, we turned around and almost lost to Louisiana-Monroe like Alabama did the next year. So it's significant, but there was no major celebration (on Saturday). What it did was put us into position to do what we all want to do on this football team and in this football program, and that is to climb the SEC East ladder, while knowing we have a chance to be somewhere in the post-season."
"You mentioned about the stats, how difficult is it to prepare for Georgia knowing on paper that you guys are so equal, so close together?"
"It's not the difficulty in preparation; it's the difficulty in execution. They run the ball very well, and they play action as well as anybody in the passing game. That will be a challenge for the defense - the lead sprint draw or the sprint draw pass. The recognition of those two things, attacking the run when they are running it, and getting the linebackers in pass coverage when they are throwing the ball. That is something that will take a lot of discipline and work this week for our defense. Defensively, they are one of the leading teams sacking the quarterback as well as tackles for loss. Offensively, we have been challenged a little bit and we struggle to overcome negative plays. We cannot allow a lot of those, or we are going to have a difficult time."
"Talk about the players wanting to get to a better bowl this year and how you manage to go to a better bowl and still take care of business?"
"Well, I think that was a problem, among a few other things the week of the Mississippi State game. They figured that since we beat Auburn we were really on our way, and the focus and attention to detail was not there that week. As I told them Sunday, all those guys talking about wanting to climb the food chain and get to a better bowl, it's in their lap. They can do it if they choose to do it, and if they don't do it, they only have themselves to blame. That's where we are. We have to go to Georgia. We have won two conference games on the road, and none at home which is pretty interesting. We have this road game at a tough place to play, where it has been awhile since Kentucky has been able to win, and Coach (Mark) Richt's record overall is outstanding, and his record at home is also outstanding."
"You talked about how the team has not put a complete 60 minutes together, but were the last 30 minutes Saturday as close to a complete half as you had wanted?"
"Well, yes, I think that other than the passing game which we didn't do, we kind of chose not to. But the kicking game, the defense, and the offensive production, we did not score as many points as you would like in the number of possessions we had. We only scored 14. I thought it was pretty good, and I want to throw one out to Tony Neely. I would like to know the last time Kentucky held an SEC team to 31 yards in a half."
"Could you talk about the offensive line's performance, but also on the perimeter with your receivers?"
`I'm glad you asked that question, because I don't think we have had receivers block as well as this group is doing right now on the perimeter. (Fullback) John Conner has been John Conner for three or four years blocking on the perimeter. With (Chris) Matthews and La'Rod King, I know that in the seven years I have been here, we haven't had two guys as physical and as willing to block as those two. Randall (Cobb) is like a banty rooster out there; little guy who is in their face and getting after it. The blocking by our wide receivers has been very impressive."
"What does that say about the receivers, have you encountered a lot of guys who are not going to be catching balls and just say the heck with it?"
"Sometimes it is difficult when you are dealing with guys when their identity is catching the ball when you are not throwing it as much, or when it is not going to them, they kind of lose interest sometimes. I have had that happen many years over my coaching career. And to see these guys do what they are doing out there in what I call the lunch pail work of being a wide receiver, they have done a great job of it."
"Can the offense continue the way it's going, or will you guys have to maybe open it up a little bit?"
"I think I said after the Auburn game we have to throw the ball better moving forward. And since then we haven't, but we have won three out of the last four. We threw it better against Eastern (Kentucky) obviously, but in my mind this game, if we don't throw the ball well, we are going to struggle to win it. We have to open it up a little bit, take some shots. We have to keep people backed off a little bit, but we will see how it goes."
"You said you challenged your team at halftime and they responded - did you learn anything about this team that you didn't already know?"
"I've challenged my team at other times and they haven't responded, so I really haven't learned a lot, no. I have learned in all my years of coaching that you really don't know what to expect until I see them go out on the field and execute."
"So we should expect the unexpected?"
"Yes, that kind of seems to be the way of our season this year."
"Coach, your first collegiate game as a head coach in 1977 was at Georgia. Do you have remembrances of that game?"
"I sure do, Vince Dooley was coming off the SEC championship, maybe a national championship, I can't remember exactly. The stadium was a lot smaller. I remember getting off the bus up by the railroad track and walking down the hill to go in and get ready for the game, and a bunch of the fans standing up there throwing rocks yelling `dog meat, dog meat, dog meat (laughter from audience).' We were leading them late in the third quarter. We weren't very good, but we were leading them late in the third quarter ... we battled them and then we turned it over going in to score, and then they came back and scored twice to beat us in the fourth quarter."
"You mentioned earlier that you have played better on the road and that weird dynamic that it is usually the other way around that you play better at home and it is hard to win on the road. What do you account for that, is there anything you can point to that you have played better away from home?"
"Well, I know two reasons we haven't played better at home, they are called Alabama and Florida. Last time I checked, they haven't lost a game, and that's one of the reasons. Then we seem like we always have one stinker game where we don't play as well as we should, and that was Mississippi State. But Mississippi State played very, very well that night as well. So the combinations of those two things were not very good for us."
"Is it a focus thing? Some coaches say that when you get away from girlfriends, family, etc. and you go on the road, it's easier to focus on task at hand, as opposed to with all that going on around you."
"Maybe it's the trimmed down numbers. You only have 70 guys (on a road game), and most of those guys are going to play some anyway, there are a few that don't get in the game. Most of them have a role, and when you are at home you usually dress more guys and reward them for what they are doing. There are a lot of people who know they are not going to play. Really I cannot count the Vanderbilt game as an away game, we had more fans than they did, and that was very good of our people to follow us down there and show up and support us like they did."
Regarding different levels of expectations from when this senior class was freshmen four or five years ago:
"Yes, I think it's a major difference in expectation level of our team. We all know that the fans have a different expectation level now. And that's a good thing. Sometimes they express it in very negative ways, but by and large, I think the expectation level of this football program has changed dramatically, and I would like to think that that's a really good thing. I hope our players are willing to work like they worked in the last 30 minutes of the Vanderbilt game all week this week, and during the Georgia game so you can have an impact, if you will, so we can climb up the SEC East ladder a little bit higher."
"There has been a lot of talk about this team compared to other bowl eligible teams and how significant that is here - is that something you would rather not discuss?"
"You can't help but discuss it. Some get bowl eligible earlier, and we didn't get it early enough in my opinion, but we have it now. Now that doesn't meant that you are going to go to a bowl, but you are eligible. We have to play out our season, and try to get another win. One more win assures us that we will be in a bowl. There will be no problem if we get one more win. If we don't, then who knows? We will probably have two go up to the BCS, so I think we will still be okay but I would rather not take that chance."
"You go to Vanderbilt and get bowl eligible, how can you keep your guys focused knowing that you are bowl eligible now?"
"If you know, I'd like for you to share it with me. We are dealing with young men who have a lot going on in their lives. I believe we will be ready to play this week. I believe they understand the importance, I believe they understand the magnitude of what they can accomplish, but you never know. It's my job to get them to do it and obviously I haven't done it correctly each and every week."
"In the receiver department you mentioned that we need to throw the ball a little better. Can you tell us what needs to get better to make that possible?"
"Well, calling more pass plays would probably help. Then, Morgan (Newton) has to feel comfortable with the reads, he needs to understand that the guys in our colored jerseys are the ones he has to throw it to. We certainly cannot afford turning the ball over. We gave up 10 points down there at Vanderbilt because of two interceptions, one by Morgan (Newton) and one by Mike (Hartline) that were both tipped balls. Those happen sometimes, but Morgan (Newton) is much better now at his decision making than in the past games. Now we just have to loosen it up a little bit, and allow him to either do it or not do it."
#78, Christian Johnson, OG
On being bowl eligible four years in a row ...
"It feels good, this is one of the reasons we all came to Kentucky. We're still a program on the rise; we're not where we need to be but the fact that we've done something that Kentucky hasn't done with the possibility of winning four bowl games, I believe you leave a certain legacy. I want to be able to say I played in four bowl games and I won four bowl games."
On Georgia ...
"Georgia's a good team. I feel they have a great defense and defensive line. I'm pretty sure they're real good at stopping the rush; I think they're right behind Alabama at third (in the SEC). That has been one of our offense's key parts (rushing the ball) in winning games, so we're going to have to practice hard and get ready to play a really physical game."
On being bowl eligible and not having it hang over their heads ...
"It feels good to know you're bowl eligible but you can't get complacent. If you look in the SEC there are a few six-win teams. If we didn't win another game, six wins possibly couldn't get us into a bowl game. We really need to win another one. Not just for the bowl game, but a seven- or eight-win season would be huge for Kentucky, it's my last year and it would be huge to go out on that note."
On how expectation levels have changed since he's been here ...
"My first year I think we might have won three games here (2005). You can just tell how it was to how it is now. People expect us to win games now. Take for example the Mississippi State game, the fans were pretty mad. They weren't taking into consideration that their defense is good and they're a good team. Only thing they thought and knew is that we were supposed to beat them. You can just see how it's changing around here and I think the expectations will keep growing for Kentucky. Before you know it we'll be in the top tier of the SEC winning nine and 10 games."
On how the O-line has grown better since the start of the season ...
"It takes an offensive line a while to jell and to learn what the other offensive linemen are going to do and to learn to trust each other. We've gotten closer as a unit. The longer time you spend as a unit together the better you get. We push each other and hold each other accountable."
On the mood on the bus ride back ...
"It was calm; it was relaxed. We did not want a three-hour bus ride to be miserable just because we lost. You can crack jokes; you can have a good time knowing that you won so we were pretty excited."
#94, Taylor Wyndham, DE
On the relief of being bowl eligible ...
"It feels really good. I'm glad we made it. Everybody expects us to be (bowl eligible) since we went the last few years. Sometimes I feel we're a better team than our record shows but being able to get that sixth win makes it all the better."
On the mood of the team on the way home...
"Everybody was excited. It was a three-hour bus ride but everybody was still wide awake and excited."
On what he expects from Georgia ...
"They're a great team. They have a high-powered offense. They're always very athletic and have a great quarterback and great running backs."
On how the team has come along since the Florida and Alabama losses ...
"I think we have grown together. I think that we're a great team, with those games it was just a couple of misses and stuff like that but I feel we've gotten better (individually) and better as a team."
#24, Randall Burden, CB
What was the difference between the first and second halves at Vanderbilt?
"In the first half, we were playing alright, [Vanderbilt] just made some plays here and there. In the second half we locked down and did what we needed to do. We came out focused and ready to play."
How did Trevard Lindley's Injury affect you as a player?
"It's helped me improve a lot. Since he was out, I knew I had to take most of the leadership and most of the reps with Paul [Warford] being out, also. It got me better for the rest of this season and for the couple years I have left here."
What do you expect from Georgia and how do you feel about the injury of A.J. Green?
"They have a pretty good receiving corps and their running backs are pretty good, and I know they throw to A.J. Green a lot. I'm somewhat disappointed [he's hurt]. It would be good to match up with him because he might be gone after this year, so it would be good to go with an NFL-type receiver."
#75, Brad Durham, OT
How do you feel about becoming bowl eligible?
"It's a monkey on your back. You go into the season hoping to get six wins as quick as possible, because after six wins, you keep climbing the ladder to bigger bowls. Everybody worries about a loss, because a loss is never good in any way. We had to come together as a team because we knew we had a shot to win the [Vanderbilt] game and a couple others this season. We knew we could do it, we just had to come together, put forth the effort and focus, and do it."
The offense rushed for 308 yards Saturday. How do you feel about that?
"For me personally, that's the best kind of game you can have. You want to run the ball every play, because it shows the offensive linemen what you can do. Any offensive lineman is going to be happy with over 300 yards rushing and I was very proud of that."