Weekly Football Press Conference Coverage
Nov. 23, 2009
Cats Strive for Second Place in SEC East
Kentucky entertains rival Tennessee in the regular-season finale, looking to finish in second place in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. To do so, UK must secure its first victory against the Volunteers in 25 years.
UK achieved its first road victory at Georgia in 32 years last week, winning 34-27. UT became bowl-eligible last Saturday after beating Vanderbilt 31-16 at home.
In Athens, UK outscored UGA 28-7 in the second half to seal the victory. Derrick Locke led the team with 245 all-purpose yards. Locke led the team in rushing and receiving gaining 80 yards on the ground and 80 yards through the air on two receptions that resulted in touchdowns. Randall Cobb scored two rushing touchdowns for the Cats, carrying the ball nine times for 40 yards. Morgan Newton threw a career-high three scores, including a 16-yard strike to La’Rod King - his first career touchdown reception.
Wildcat defenders forced four second-half turnovers in the game, including three in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Sam Maxwell earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors with a career-high 11 tackles and the game-clinching interception. Defensive tackle Corey Peters made a career-high 10 tackles and charted a career-best two pass breakups. Linebacker Micah Johnson also added 10 tackles in the game.
Coach Rich Brooks Quotes
"From the injury front, Derrick Locke may not practice tomorrow. He had some swelling in the surgically repaired knee. Most of that is gone today, but there is still some soreness as well as the other knee where he tweaked the MCL. Ronnie Sneed looks questionable to doubtful with an AC joint and a bad shin bruise. Justin Jeffries is in the same category with an ankle sprain. Randall Cobb will be held out of tomorrow's practice. He has some groin issues, as well as a sore shoulder. Chris Matthews with the MCL strain will also be held tomorrow. Most of them should be ready to go by Wednesday, Thursday at the latest. T.C. Drake will try to run with the trainers tomorrow in an attempt to be ready to play this week, although I would say that is probably doubtful at this point.
"Looking at Tennessee, they are obviously a well-coached team. Their offense has done some very good things; running the ball, as well as the play-action game. Something we had trouble with and that they do very well is the bootleg game. We didn't cover some of the crossing routes and people out the backside on the bootlegs at Georgia very well. I am sure they are licking their chops looking at that. They do a good job getting the ball downfield vertically with a strong-armed quarterback, and talent at receiver. Defensively, they are extremely well coached, and to me is one of the better defenses in our league. Their kicking game is also very good and it will be imperative that we do what we have done the last several weeks, and that is control field position as best we can with our kicking game, which I thought we did a very good job (against Georgia) with an exception to where we kicked the ball out of bounds one time last week. Questions?"
Throughout the year it has been a great year so far, but four years ago it wasn't as good. Can you give us your thought of all the seniors who stayed here to play?
"Most of them obviously came in here prior to some of the success, and they bought the vision and the hope to do something here at Kentucky. This class, arguably, has done more than anybody in over a half a century in this program. There is still a lot left to accomplish, hopefully. I am just pleased that these guys four years ago, some of them five years ago, decided to come here. They put their faith in what was going to happen here, and they came in and helped make it happen."
Can you talk about the play of Christian Johnson?
"Christian has performed pretty well. The first 30 minutes of last week was not outstanding from the offensive line, but Christian has given us a physical presence in pass protection. He has blocked well on the run, along with the rest of his teammates and has helped us produce our most proficient running game since I have been here. For the most part we have protected the quarterback pretty well, too. I think our sacks would be down if we had a little more experience at the quarterback position the last six games. Going into the last six games, we were one of the best teams in the country at protecting the quarterback. Morgan (Newton) has a little indecision sometimes. I wouldn't say that was the case Saturday night in the first 30 minutes, because he didn't have time to plant his back foot before the rush got there sometimes. Christian (Johnson) and the entire offensive line has done a pretty good job this year."
Did you expect Christian to come back and play as well as he has this year after missing last year?
"He has always been capable. It's just a matter of him taking care of business off the field in the classroom and getting back to doing what he needed to do. I still wish he was maybe 10 to 15 pounds lighter, I think he would do a better job on the perimeter if he was. He obviously has done a better job this year."
Last year Tennessee was rated one of the top defenses in the country and a lot of those guys are back. Is the scheme similar, or have they done new things from what you can tell?
"Some of the things are similar, but they have done more different things this year. They have gotten in some bear front. They have played cover two, and then they moved (Eric) Berry down and bring him on pressures, or drop him out on pass defense. They give you a lot of different looks, more than what we saw a year ago."
Everybody assumed they would go to Tampa two predominantly?
"They have done that quite a bit, but it is not 100 percent. They give you a lot of different looks."
Speaking of your seniors, can you discuss what Trevard (Lindley ) has meant, and how he helped turn around the program?
"Well, if you look at the plays Trevard has made in some of the big games, he is instrumental in the success we have had, obviously, going back to the season leading up to the first Music City Bowl. His recovered fumble and interception in the Music City Bowl obviously had a major impact of us winning that game. He had a fumble returned for a touchdown against Arkansas, the interception against LSU, I can't recall them all, but there were a bunch. He has done it all while always conducting himself in an absolute first-class manner on and off campus. He is an outstanding young man."
Do you even think about what a victory against Tennessee would do as far as bowl predictions?
"All I know is that with a win, that puts us in second place in the SEC East. With that comes a little different picture in the end-of-the-season scenario. If we lose, we are back in the lump with probably quite a few 3-4 teams. There will be two teams ahead of us, Georgia and Tennessee. So we would finish tied for fourth. Tied for second and tied for fourth is a lot different at the end of the rainbow, let's put it that way."
Are you tired of hearing about the (losing) streak to Tennessee, is that something you hear about?
"There are so many streaks I have been hearing about, and we have changed a lot of them, but some of them remain unchanged. That is my job, to try to get more positive things happening in what used to be a rivalry, but as of late it hasn't been because they have owned it."
You like to share history lessons with your team prior to games, but do you even need to mention this one?
"I think all I need to mention is second place in the SEC East, and the rewards that would come with that."
What is the secret to your halftime speeches? Because they seem to be working.
"I don't know, but I should be giving them before the game I guess. There's no secret, football is football. Sometimes young men respond in different ways, and you never know. I've been fooled so many times in my life thinking all week long that a team was really ready to play, and then go out and act like we didn't care. Sometimes they practice all week like they don't care, and then they come out of the gate just kicking fanny. There is no mystery; it is just all a part of football."
You have played both Alabama and Florida. Do you have any thoughts on how the Alabama vs. Florida game will pan out?
"I think it will be a good one. It isn't for a while though; I think they have to play someone else before they play that game."
You have the least penalized team in the league. This has a lot to do with coaching, but what else could you attribute this to, and why this team makes so few mistakes?
"I think for the most part, our players understand that our margin can't stand a lot of negative plays, and penalties are negative plays. Some penalties are going to happen because of aggressiveness, but you need to make sure you are focused. The stupid penalties are the ones that get me upset, like offsides, illegal procedure, two backs in motion at the same time, illegal formation. Those things can be corrected easily if you are focused and playing attention. An occasional holding penalty or late hit may happen, or a facemask may happen once in a while. By and large, you need to understand they make rules for a good reason, and if you abide by the rules in a game, it gives your team a much better chance at winning."
Have your paths crossed with Monte Kiffin? What do you think of him as a coach?
"I have certainly crossed with Monte. He was a finalist for the Oregon job in 1977. I have coached many games against him in the NFL as an assistant and a head coach. He is just an outstianding football coach. What he has accomplished speaks for itself on the defensive side. It is phenomenal."
When you think of a Monte Kiffin defense, what characteristics come to mind?
"You don't usually score a lot on a Monte Kiffin defense. I remember in Atlanta having to kick four field goals, and we had great field position all day long but only got four field goals out of it."
What would a second-place finish in the SEC East do as far as a national profile, as well as recruiting?
"The higher you finish, and that has been the knock is that we are a bottom feeder in the SEC, finishing second in the SEC East would put us above some teams that, historically, we have obviously struggled against. Even though we may not have beaten them all, it would be a major step forward and put us, if you will, at the top of the mountain. You establish a base camp, and then you go up the next camp and the next camp before you get to the summit, and finishing second in the SEC East would be us establishing another camp climbing up that mountain. Understanding that 4-4 and finishing second is not like finishing 7-1 or 6-2 and finishing second, but one of the reasons that you see so many teams clumped below Alabama and Florida is that the bottom feeders don't like the bottom, and they are not as bad as the bottom feeders used to be. I say that this league, from top to bottom, is probably about as strong as it has been in a long, long time."
"So, while the focus is going to be on the streak this week as far as Tennessee, I assume yours is just getting into position as far as second place in the SEC East?
"That, and obviously winning the game, which means breaking the streak. Having said that, this is a significant game, and the fact that this win wouldn't just break the streak, it would make a historic statement where this league has been expanded where Kentucky finishes in the SEC East."
If somebody told you after spring practice you lose (Jeremy) Jarmon, Trevard (Lindley) would be hurt most of the year, and you would have to play a true freshman quarterback, what would you have said?
"I would say that the chance would be very hard to accomplish that. I think it speaks well of some of the depth we have recruited, some of the talent that we have been able to fill in with people who have stepped up and played at a very good level, understanding that almost all of the teams in this league have recruiting classes always ranked much higher than we are, not only in our league, but in the nation. Most of the teams in this league are usually in the top 10 in recruiting every year. We have never been there, and in reality, we will have a hard time ever being there in recruiting. But that doesn't mean we can't climb that ladder and finish up there if we evaluate well, and recruit well, and coach well."
Following up on that, just talk about some of the guys other than Trevard (Lindley) who played at an All-SEC level that a lot of people didn't know about coming in.
"Well, just go through the roster. There are a lot of them, Sam Maxwell, Danny Trevathan, Zipp Duncan, Stuart Hines, I don't remember how many starts he had. There are a bunch of them. Jorge Gonzalez, Justin Jeffries, (Brad) Durham, I mean you can go through pretty much the roster I think. We have a few four stars (recruits), but not very many."
Talk about the level of confidence that this team has now.
"This has been a hard group to read because most of them are quiet. I think they understand that they have a chance, if we play like we are capable of playing, to play and win against anybody we line up against. If that belief wasn't there, you wouldn't see the comebacks this team has been able to accomplish in the last four or five games."
Is it a big deal about the big streak people are talking about? Does confidence play a bigger factor for this game?
"I wish I had smartened up and answered all these questions intelligently, but that's a hard one. I think that this would obviously be a significant thing. I think this class could make their own identity, if you will, rather than just going to a fourth straight bowl, keeping that string alive, if they were able to beat Tennessee and finish second in the SEC East, obviously that would be a major statement."
You guys have outscored opponents 84-34 in the fourth quarter; I think 35-0 against Auburn, Vandy, and Georgia. What's going right in the fourth-quarter, and what does that say about this team's fourth-quarter play?
"We are just playing some of our best football when the game is on the line. It seems like one of my most frustrating things in the last several games is that we have started the game pretty well, and actually scored first, and then turned right around and let the other team go right back down the field and score on us. So things have kind of degenerated after our first couple of series in the last several games, whereas in the fourth, that intensity level, I think, has peaked and we don't have any letdown. Maybe it's the back-against-the-wall theory, we have no margin of error, and now we have to play intense and focused the whole time. I wish I knew because if I did, I would try to put that formula in the first three quarters."
Two quick things. One, can you talk about the pride you feel in another streak breaking, and two, is this your senior day, or are you coming back next year? (Note: the intent of the first part of the question was to ask about breaking the streak of 32 years not winning at Georgia; Coach Brooks interpreted it as asking about the possibility of breaking the streak about Tennessee.)
"Well, the streak is going to be broken sometime, I would hope. Senior Day, we really have not played well on Senior Day. We have just ruined two other teams' Senior Day. This is our third Senior Day in a row. Sometimes, your seniors get too much focus on the Senior Day deal, and not on the team you are playing, and the underclassmen kind of get lost in the shuffle because the focus is on the seniors, so my goal this week is to get our team to enjoy the festivities. But as I told them yesterday, they can enjoy it a lot more if they can look back on their senior day as being the win that put them in second place in the SEC East. It wouldn't be looked back on as fondly as if it were a loss. Hopefully I can get that message across, and as far as if I am coming back next year, I am kind of like that old energizer bunny, I might need to get some batteries recharged, but we will talk about that at the appropriate time."
Morgan (Newton) is now 5-1 (as the starting quarterback), and you mentioned last week about his continuing improvement. Did that continue this last ballgame, and can you bring us up to date to where you think he is?
"I think Morgan (Newton) has improved every day in practice. Obviously his performance in the game, we talked about opening it up, and unfortunately we didn't have the ball enough snaps in the first half (to throw) more than 17 passes, or 16 and one by a receiver. He is making better decisions in the passing game, he is making better decisions at the line of scrimmage with our checks, and he has done that arguably in difficult places, like at Auburn and at Georgia with noise being a factor. We have done it with a minimal amount of penalties and procedures. We have had to use a timeout, which Saturday night we used one when we got behind a little bit when we tried to check and it was too late in the 40-second clock."
Can you talk about Corey Peters, a guy who you fought a lot for, what he has meant to the program, and specifically to this team this year?
"Corey (Peters) as much as anyone has been responsible for some of the great things that have happened this year particularly, because he has almost pulled this team up by its bootstraps, which he did in the second half against Georgia. His play was All-American in the last 30 minutes at Georgia. He was dominant, and killed their offensive line. He made plays all over the field. The one play he made splitting the A-gap, and actually swatting the ball out of the quarterback's hands on a pitch sweep, I never in my life - and I have coached way too many years - seen that done in a football game. He exploded through that gap so quick; he beat the guard and center and actually swatted the ball out of the quarterback's hand. As much good luck as we had in that game, we didn't have much on that play because we didn't recover the fumble. On the very next play, he comes around on a stunt, as DeQuin Evans comes inside, he runs an ET stunt, and comes around and clobbers the quarterback as he was getting ready to throw the ball and the ball flutters out, and there was a receiver open. That got us off the field in that series. He was dominant and I will be disappointed if he doesn't get the proper post-season recognition, because he has been a huge player for us."
What about (Peters) as a representative of your program on and off the field?
"You couldn't ask for a more outstanding young man academically, right up there in the three-point (GPA) range his whole career, going to graduate, and he is an outstanding representative off the field for this university and the football program. He is soft-spoken, has a big heart, not afraid to speak out and give his opinion, but he is not the new-school bragging, beat my chest kind of guy. He just goes out and makes plays, then goes back and makes another one."
Can you talk about John Conner? He seems to be the guy who seems to personify this team.
"You are exactly right. He now holds the UK record for most games played in with this one and one more to go. You could put a highlight reel that would take a long time to look at of him actually, of what I call `timber blocks.' He is coming around the perimeter and cutting people down. On Randall Cobb's touchdown run in the third quarter, he came around on the weak side counter play in the "Wild-Cobb" formation, and he not only got the first guy, but he got the second guy down. He got two guys down so Randall (Cobb) could just kind of creep into the endzone. He has been phenomenal. Talk about an unselfish, unsung guy. I'm not so sure you couldn't make an argument that he is one of the most important guys in our offense, period; running, catching, and mostly blocking."
#33, Sr., S, Calvin Harrison
On if it is surreal that he will be playing in his last game at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday ...
"Yeah, it is. It seems like it was just yesterday that I stepped my first foot onto campus. It really went by fast. There will be a lot of emotions with it being senior night and our last came here, but you just have to overcome those emotions and try to win the game."
On Trevard Lindley's year and if it has been tough on him with all the injuries ...
"Yeah, I think that it has been really tough on him. He missed a lot of games because of his sprained ankle. He has come back really strong though and has been a key for us with his presence on the field."
On Tennessee ...
"They are a great team. They have a very balanced offensive attack and a great defense as well. We are going to have to work hard and prepare this week so that we are ready to play come Saturday."
On the streak of losing 24 straight to Tennessee and if they worry about that much ...
"No, not really at all. I don't try to think about things like that. I just want to think about the next game and what we have to do to get a victory."
#78, Sr., OL, Christian Johnson
On if it is hard to believe that it will be his last game at Commonwealth this weekend ...
"It is really hard to believe. I was just talking to my mom about it. Time really flew by and it is so funny because I can still remember everything since I first got here. I can remember the fun moments from my freshman year. I remember all the bad and crazy moments and all the relationships that I built. It is crazy that it is coming to an end."
On what was his best moment ...
"Obviously, one of the best moments was getting my younger brother to come here. That was really a high moment for me. In the touchdown that he scored in the first Music City Bowl, I was blocking for him. Beating No. 1 LSU and winning the first bowl game was great too. Those things were some high moments. The lowest moment for me was having to sit out last season with my back injury and academic situation. But stuff happened and I felt that I came back strong this season."
On the streak of losing 24 straight to Tennessee and if they worry about that much ...
"Honestly, this game is just like any other game for us. We have to practice hard starting early this week. We have to get ready for a physical game. We cannot start the game off slow like we have done the past two weeks against Vanderbilt and Georgia. We need to come out and play the first half like we did the second half. We cannot make too many mistakes. The offensive and defensive lines need to work on controlling the line of scrimmage."
# 70, Stuart Hines, OG
How do you feel after beating Georgia?
"The team is pretty pumped up after that second half comeback. It was a big win for us and a great second half of football. It was a confidence booster for us and hopefully we can carry it over against Tennessee."
How do you feel going into the game against Tennessee?
"Tennessee is still Tennessee, and they are a tough team regardless. They have great personnel and great coaches, and they are going to come out fired up, just like we are. They don't want the streak to end. They don't want to be the team that loses to Kentucky. (A win) would be great and top off the year. I can't describe it. We haven't beaten them in so long and it would be a huge win for the team and program."
What will it take to beat Tennessee?
"Hopefully we can play mistake free. In the big games that we won at Auburn and Georgia, we didn't have a lot of turnovers and penalties. That's a big thing in winning the game. You have to force turnovers and you can't turn the ball over."
#91, Corey Peters, DT
How did Coach Brooks react to the win?
"He said that was one of the best wins he has been around, and that means a lot to us considering coach has won PAC-10 championships and things like that. We want to continue to build on that and continue on a high note."
What does Coach Brooks say at halftime?
"He gets us going and he says whatever we need. One thing I can say about him is that he is extremely flexible. He can sit us down and have a fatherly talk. Whatever it is, it works, and he knows what to do at specific times."
What are your thoughts on Morgan Newton?
As a freshman, the sky is the limit for him. He has as much talent at his age as anybody. I've never seen a quarterback, especially on the road, go into such an environment and handle it so well. Of course, he made his share of mistakes, but at the same time he made some very good throws. He gets us out of bad situations. Week to week in practice, we see how much he improves.
Are you happy or sad entering senior day?
It's a little bit of both. I'm sad that it's over, it's coming to an end, and it went by so fast. But, I'm also excited about new opportunities, graduating and becoming a grown up. At the end of the day, there are mixed emotions. I'm happy with everything we've accomplished and I'm happy to move on to new things. I'm also sad. I'll miss a lot of people and I don't want this experience to come to an end so fast.