LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky football team hit the Tim Couch Practice Fields on Tuesday on a picture-perfect day in Lexington, Ky., to begin its preparation for No. 12/13 Georgia on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET inside Commonwealth Stadium. The game will serve as UK’s annual Homecoming and will be Dermontti Dawson Day.
After practice Tuesday, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and defensive coordinator Rick Minter spoke with members of the media about the team’s preparation for Georgia. Sanders has had to reinvent the UK offense several times this season because of injury to key players.
“Things are certainly different (since the beginning of the season),” Sanders said. “We went through spring practice and went through fall camp and we didn’t have a really, really big package but we tried to really good at what we were doing. I felt we had gotten good at what we were doing at quarterback, offensive line and receiver. Suddenly, we had the injuries and (had to) try to reinvent ourselves a little bit to what our quarterback can do and what the other guys can do. Unfortunately, we have been playing some really good teams that haven’t made it easy.”
Sanders suggested that the hardest part of putting a finger on the inconsistency of the offense is due to the different styles of defenses faced the last few weeks. Sanders said Arkansas blitzed early, but backed off, while Mississippi State dared UK to run the ball.
“It was interesting because Arkansas started out in the first series and they blitzed us a few times,” Sanders said. “We hit the screen and if we would have hit the second screen on first down there was only one guy left. After that, there was almost no blitz. They did bring guys up but they didn’t really blitz, they lined up and tried to take away the run game and make us execute in the passing game. It was almost completely different than what Mississippi State did. Mississippi State just stayed back and dared us to run the ball and we weren’t able to run the ball really efficiently against them. Had we been able to execute a little better in the passing game I think we could have run the ball. Last week, they just loaded the box and dared us to execute in the passing game and we had trouble with it.”
As for the approach that Sanders and the UK staff expect from Georgia, Sanders said he still isn’t sure because they have done both styles well this season due to their high talent level.
“Georgia has done both (blitz and not blitz),” Sanders said. “They have done both during the course of the year. They have done both throughout games and then had games where they went back and forth from one to the other. It will be interesting to see what their philosophy is. I don’t know exactly what approach they will take, but they are talented enough they have to feel like they can probably have success doing either.”
One area that Sanders and head coach Joker Phillips have said needs to improve is the running game. Sanders said Kentucky must establish a passing attack before he sees UK being able to run the football effectively.
“I like what our offensive line has done and I like the way our running backs have run, but we are not talented enough to just say we are going to run the ball 60 times here we come and get it done against good defenses,” Sanders said. “We have to maintain some balance and do enough in the passing game to keep teams honest and that is what we haven’t done the last couple of weeks.”
Sanders said there are still areas for optimism, especially with the youth of the squad.
“One of the biggest sources of optimism is that we haven’t turned the ball over, so we are doing that part well,” Sanders said. “Up until last week we have had few offensive penalties. We had a couple of procedure penalties last week that hurt us, but we haven’t had too much of them. Young guys usually get better with reps in practice reps or game reps. We do have young guys that are getting a lot of reps and hopefully we are making improvement, and obviously we have to make improvements. You look to those things as optimism.”
Sanders said Tuesday that true freshman quarterback Patrick Towles did not practice Tuesday, but he was at practice watching and learning the offense.
Defensively, Minter has also dealt with injuries this season, especially to his defensive secondary that missed veterans Martavius Neloms, Ashely Lowery and Mikie Benton last week. Phillips said Monday that Benton was doubtful, while Neloms and Lowery are day-to-day. Minter said getting Neloms and Lowery back would be “priceless.”
“It is always good to have veterans in there and kids that have been around the program for a long time,” Minter said about Neloms and Lowery. “The guys that are out there are all we can coach and they have been battling their tails off and playing extremely hard and we have been proud of their efforts.”
UK’s defense could not get much momentum going Saturday against the high-powered Razorback offense. Minter said he took advantage of going through the game film with the players and point out the good and bad.
“They have probably forgotten what happened at Arkansas, it’s been three or four days now, but coaches linger and players move on probably faster,” Minter said. “You just try to teach lessons. We buzzed through the film on Sunday and point out the good and point out the bad and try to learn from it, particularly at this stage of the career of all the back end kids because every day, every minute is a new learning experience. Good or bad, you have to learn from it. Some of them were on the scout team two weeks ago so every precious piece of film that you can show them is a lesson to be learned. Obviously, the X-plays we don’t tolerate but you have to show it to them to see what happens and how we prevent it from happening again and go from there.”