Sept. 28, 2009
Kentucky Notes | Live Blog | Quotes
Kentucky Faces No. 3 Alabama in SEC Showdown
Kentucky faces a top-three team for the second consecutive week when Southeastern Conference western division foe Alabama comes to Lexington. Last week, the third-ranked Crimson Tide remained undefeated with 35-7 home defeat of Arkansas while UK suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of top-ranked Florida 41-7.
Tailback Derrick Locke totaled 118 yards and led the team in all-purpose yards against UF for the second consecutive game. Locke's 36 rushing yards pushed his career total to 993, just seven yards shy of becoming the 31st player to gain over a 1,000 yards in a career.
On defense against the Gators, senior strong safety Calvin Harrison led the teams in tackles with a career-high 11 stops, his second career game with double-digit tackles. Senior linebacker Micah Johnson surpassed the 200-mark for career tackles, recording nine in the game to up his total to 205 stops.
Saturday's game marks the first time in school history the Wildcats face a top-five team in back-to-back games. Alabama leads the all-time series 34-2-1. The Wildcats look to snap a four-game losing streak agains the Tide. The Cats' last win in the series was a 40-34 overtime victory in 1997.
Press Conference Live Blog from Cat Scratches
"Going over the injury report, Justin Jeffries' Achilles (tendon) continues to
be a problem, so he's questionable. He will not practice tomorrow. Taiedo Smith
might be able to go, he has a bruised foot. Moncell Allen has a slight MCL (injury)
we're hoping that he'll practice tomorrow. Christian Johnson with his (sore)
ribs may not be able to go tomorrow. Paul Warford is also doubtful for tomorrow.
A.J. Nance has a hamstring that will limit his action early in the week. Will
Johnson was one that I didn't know about yesterday; he has an MCL sprain that
will make him questionable. I doubt he'll be able to go tomorrow. He's been a
huge factor for us in the kicking game.
"Looking at Alabama, defensively, it's scary, but they are ranked the number
one defense in our league. They give up fewer yards than Florida does. They
have given up a few more points, but the quality of the opponents that they
have played, with Virginia Tech being on there, is obviously part of that reason.
They are second in points given up I believe. Offensively, they have a big,
physical offensive line. You all know about (Julio) Jones the receiver; you
also know they have speedy, hard-nosed running backs. Their quarterback is
having an extremely good year in his first year as a full-time starter. So
we have our work cut out for us. They do have one of the leading punt returners
in the nation as well. The only thing in my mind that makes it a little better
for us defensively is that they play a more conventional offense and we'll
be able to work more against our people on our offense rather than try to simulate
what Florida runs with scouts. Maybe that will make us start the game quicker,
you never know. Questions?"
Are you worried about this week's performance against a highly-ranked
opponent after coming off of the tough loss last week?
"I guess I should have worried about it more last week with the way we played
in the first 15 minutes. We weren't very focused, obviously. It is what it is.
Each week is a different challenge. I think these players still realize we have
a good football team. We certainly didn't play like it. Part of that was Florida,
part of that was us. There are a lot of games left and there are a lot of things
we can achieve if we are willing to pay the price to do it."
Last year you were able to hang around in the game at Alabama, given that
does that help the team going into the game this year?
"Either that, or it will get Alabama really fired up about it this year to make
sure we don't hang around. I think that what we did last year really has very
little bearing on what we do this year. The fact that there are players on this
team that have experienced big wins is positive. The fact that we've played teams
better than others maybe is a positive. But the bottom line is that we have to
go out on the field and play 60 minutes. Not very many games in my seven years
here can I say that we've played a full 60 minutes of what I would say is really
good football and that's what it's going to take when you play a team like Alabama
and have an opportunity to win the game."
Have you thought about how the team could get out to a better start early
in the game?
"The first three, four, five years I was here, everybody wondered why we couldn't
play well in the fourth quarter and finish games. Some of those years, we started
games pretty good and we fizzled. We couldn't get anything going in the second
half. We ran out of gas, were out-conditioned, whatever you want to say. We couldn't
finish games. Now we're finishing games a lot better but starting games a lot
poorer. Statistics don't lie. I saw a nice article where we have been outscored
139 to 44 in the first quarter since the first game of last year which is after
the graduation of a lot of offensive talent. So our offense is struggling but
our defense also is probably starting a little slower. In the last three quarters
in those same 16 games we're outscoring our opponents something like 330 points
to 208. Having said that, it doesn't take a math genius to figure out if we're
playing the first quarter even, we'd have pretty good record over those 16 games.
But we haven't. Now two of those games, which wasn't pointed out, there were
59 points to nothing scored on us and it was by the same team - Florida. But
it is still significant. We do have to start better. We're going to change some
things in the pre-game warm-up. I'm old-fashioned but I do try to change things
when I see something isn't working. Now I just hope we don't go out and have
just a great first quarter and can't play the second, third and fourth. We have
to play better in the first quarter. The other side of that is it looks like
that after we figure out what the other teams are doing our coaches have done
a pretty good job of adjusting to what's going on and we play the rest of the
game reasonably well. But we need to figure it out quicker than the end of the
How do you think the team has tackled this year?
"About how well we tackled last year. There have been times when our tackling
is good. Again in the secondary was a very poor tackling performance. But understand
one thing - other people miss tackles, too, because the people that you are tackling
are very good. They don't give scholarships to guys who can't break tackles on
occasion. So you're going to have some of that but some of the tackles we missed
were pathetic, unacceptable. We've got to do a better job of getting that `coached
up' and making sure that it doesn't happen."
Were there any positives that you took away from last week's game? "
"Other than seeing that I thought we were playing hard, we were on defense
playing with blinders on. We were not adjusting to the shifting over the tight
end. We left the middle of the field uncovered for an easy touchdown pass to
the tight end when the tight end came over and one safety came down and the
other safety didn't come back. Just stupid things that shouldn't happen, but
the effort was there. Our tackling was a little sloppy. I thought we had stupid
procedure penalties. I think part of that was that we changed a lot of plays
at the line of scrimmage, obviously. We're going to change fewer plays this
week. We may get hit in the mouth but we're going to get up there and run some
plays without changing them. When you do that, everybody has to be quick. When
you're changing plays at the line of scrimmage, you have to get the play in
quick, you have to get out of the huddle, you have to get lined up and you
have to give your quarterback enough time to make those changes. When he makes
those changes, he has to make sure everybody has got them and are set before
he snaps the ball and that did not happen, particularly on the first play of
the game last week which is unacceptable."
Are you a big fan of scripting 10-15 plays on offense to begin the game?
"Yes, we do that. We do it, but if the play isn't the right play because they've
got something that is going to stone it, we change it. So if we get stoned on
a few plays in the early part of the game, you'll know we didn't change it."
Getting the chance to play another top-ranked team this week, do you see
it as a chance to re-establish some of the credibility that may have been
lost last week?
"That isn't going to make me forget that it was 31-0 in the first quarter. We
just need to put that on a shelf. Now we're playing Alabama. Last week's game
isn't going to help us play better in the first quarter against Alabama. What's
going to help us play better is practicing better, starting faster, focusing
and concentrating and playing football like we're capable of playing closer to
60 minutes than we have this year and for quite a while."
Where would last week's loss rank as one of your most disappointing losses?
" Right up near the top. Not so much the loss as the first 15-minute
performance. I believe that we're a much better football team than that. That
should not have happened. As I said a year ago after the Florida game, I thought
we were past that kind of stuff but obviously we're still not past it. I have
got to do a better job of getting my guys focused so those things don't happen.
I've got better players than to have that happen in one quarter that just shouldn't
What are some of the things you can do in the pregame that can get you
"We're going to shorten it and we're going to try to pick up our tempo a little
Is there a case to be made that Alabama is a better opponent than Florida?
"They're not any worse (laughter from audience) ... Alabama is all as as good as
Florida, just in a different way. They have a totally different offense. They
are one of the best offensive teams in the league after their first four games
of the season. Their defense is the best defense in the league. Their special
teams are outstanding. They have no weakness. They could be the number one team
in the nation. After it is all said and done, they might be."
What do you think about Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy?
"He's playing with a lot of poise for a first-time starter. I think he understands
the situation. He has a good arm and some receivers who can go up and make plays.
He understands the situation when he can put the ball up and let the receiver
make a play on it, he's doing it. He seems to be managing the game very well
for them on the field."
Do you change your demeanor in practice this week?
"Yeah, I probably get grumpier, ornerier. At the same time, I've got to be able
to positively reinforce the things that this team can do and are capable of doing
without tearing them down too badly."
In practice isn't there a fine line when you play offensive against defensive
starters in terms of risk of injury?
"Absolutely, that's why you don't do it very often. We've done that at different
times. We did it several years ago. We almost had to do it to get a look several
years ago because our scouts were not even like our scouts are now. At least
we get a resemblance of something (now). But in the situation we are in and the
way we are starting games, I guess I'm going to turn the dial up in practice
and take my chances."
Can you talk about the Crimson Tide receivers and skill people in general?
"They have very good skill people. I think until last week (wide receiver Julio)
Jones had not caught a touchdown pass and hadn't caught a lot of balls. Against
Arkansas he had better numbers than he has had the previous three games. They
do a really good job of spreading the ball around so you can't really focus on
a particular guy, although if you don't focus on Jones you are kind of crazy
because he can gash you in a hurry with his outstanding size and talent. The
other guys are doing a great job. They're fast, they're athletic. Their backs
are scary. They have a freshman tailback that is running very well and those
guys can catch coming out of the backfield too. They'll hit you with a screen
pass now and then to keep you honest on your all-out rushes."
What did you do last year defensively against Alabama that you will need
to do again this year?
"I can tell you what we've got to do better than what we did last year. We can't
give up a 78-yard gash right up the middle for a touchdown. We've got to do a
better job of getting off the field on third down; they converted and kept drives
alive on us last year. We were fortunate that they didn't score more ... We had
some takeaways on them so those are the things we need to continue to do but
we've got to correct things that we didn't do well in that game."
What stands out to you about the Alabama defense?
"They're extremely physical. They have very similar team speed on defense to
Florida, which is scary. They appear to be a more physical group - bigger, thicker.
They may not be quite as tall but they are stronger and more physical. Their
linebackers, they don't come up and play a block and then shed it, they just
run through it and go to the ball carrier and leave the blocker lying at their
feet. They just run through them. Their secondary is extremely well-disciplined.
They are as well coached on defense as any team we'll play."
Can you still utilize the `Wildcat formation' in your offensive scheme
as an element of surprise with so many teams running it?
"Against certain defense the Wildcat can be a lot more effective. Plus you have
to remember that Randall Cobb is not a big, physical guy and if you want to run
him a lot, you chance him getting beat up pretty good. We know he had a tough
fall camp with his back and some other problems. So yes we will use it and we
feel it can give us a good change up and hopefully in some games it will be a
huge portion of what we're doing. But you're right, a lot of people are doing
some of those things and the more defenses see it, usually the better they can
stop it, but not too many people are stopping the Florida Wildcat however because
he (Tim Tebow) is 240 pounds."
How does Alabama's offense look?
"I saw them on film yesterday and some today. They are a physical team and a
fast team, and the offense will come and hit you in the mouth. The talent and
level of play they have is no drop off (compared to Florida). What Alabama does,
they do well."
Talk about the challenge of playing Alabama.
"We have to man up, come out and get physical, and know what kind of game we
are going to have. We have to fight and I think that's what the players are going
to do. We have to try to get in the right mindset for Saturday."
Talk about the game against Florida.
"Minus the first quarter of Saturday's game, the defense was able to compete
with Florida. Things piled on top of us early and it was hard to dig out of.
You can't let a team that good jump on top of you like that."
How do you prepare for Alabama?
"We looked at film yesterday and there is little stuff we need to get better
at, like technique and matching speed. The speed of the game is so much faster
once you get into SEC play. Now we have seen that and hopefully we'll be better
prepared next week. We need to come out hard from the beginning."
How does Alabama defensive lineman Terrence Cody look?
"I got to play a little against him last year. He is a big body in there, he's
strong, he's good and he's quick for his size. A lot of teams have big guys,
but they aren't as big as he is. We have to work this week to get a push in the
On if the team will be able to regroup and get ready for Alabama ...
"We just have to get back together and go to practice this week and play hard.
We need to have a good week of practice and come out and play good early on Saturday.
We have to go out there and let the younger guys know that last week's game is
behind us and we have to play hard and try to come out strong against Alabama."
On how much they can take from playing Alabama well last year ...
"I think the main thing is to try to not make mistakes. We need to fly around
and make some plays."
On how physical Florida was and if it will help to have that game under
their belt considering Alabama will be just as physical ...
"It was physical, but it was more speed and misdirection plays that caused us
problems against Florida. We settled down in the second quarter and played better
after that. We expect a very physical game against Alabama. They are a smash-mouth
football team that will come right at you and run the ball. They can do some
play-action fakes to get you off your feet a little bit."
On playing the bigger receivers that Alabama has ...
"They have some big, physical receivers that are really good. It should be a
good matchup. It should be a good game out there. With the small guys, you have
to really move your feet and get your hands on them. With a big receiver you
have to expect their power game because they will probably try to come over the
top and bull-rush you. You have to get off and try to keep them in front of you.
You have to be more physical with them then you are with the smaller receivers."
On if he feels that they have to prove that they are a better team than
they showed Saturday ...
"Yeah, I think so. Our fans, we love them and they love us, but there are times
where they might think, `Uh oh, there is the old Kentucky team coming back,'
and we don't want them to think that because that is not us. It was just one
of those games where it was a tough game against a really good opponent. It doesn't
make it any better that they beat us 23 years in a roll. We always talk about
how we need to compete, but we are not showing it by losing to the same teams
over and over again. We have to change that starting this week."
On what he took out of Sunday's practice ...
"I think that it was one of those days that made you realize that we have a lot
of work to do. It was one of things where we cannot make the same mistakes. We
can't talk about it. We have to be about it. It was one of those days where we
went in and watched the film and now have to move on. It was not a letdown, just
a reality check. If we want to be the best, then we have to play like the best."
On how the team can pump up the fans for the Alabama game ...
"We need to get the fans in the game and keep them in the game. We can't let
that many points get racked up on us that fast, because we are going to need
the fans to stay in the game really big this weekend and the rest of the season.
The only way to do that is to come out and play hard."