Joker defends his team, his program and himself

Lexington, Ky. - Coming off Saturday's 32-31 loss to Western Kentucky UK coach Joker Phillips will take his team to Florida Saturday to open SEC play. With UK facing difficult schedule ahead, Phillips defended his team, his program and himself.

COACH PHILLIPS: Injury report. Day‑to‑day will be Cartier Rice, CoShik Williams, Darrian Miller. CoShik has a hip strain. Miller has an ankle, not a high ankle, but just a normal ankle ankle sprain. Cartier has a thigh bruise.

Doubtful will be Josh Forrest, has a thigh bruise. And out would be Gabe Correll.

This is a really tough football team we're about to play. Florida, there's four stats I say that stick out. Returning offense, rushing for 232 yards per game. Their rushing defense, giving up just a little over a hundred yards rushing. The quarterback has thrown for 70% with no interceptions. Their tailback is leading the league in rushing. Then they're 3‑0. It's actually five stats. It's really impressive.

Really good team defense. Running the football. They're only throwing the ball about 58 times. You're talking about 18, 19 times a game. They're hanging their hats on the run. We have to do a better job of stopping the run, so it should be a big challenge for us.

But also we've got to possess the ball offensively. That's the one stat that if you look at we've had the ball 24 minutes, and our opponents have had it 36. That's a stat that if we can just keep possession of the ball, we have done a good job of moving the ball and scoring points, as long as we take care of the football, those are the things we have to do.

Obviously, we're going to have to stop the run as well as these guys run the football. We also have to continue to possess the ball.

Q. Talk about your three players cited.

COACH PHILLIPS: Kids don't always do all the things right. The thing we do is we hold our kids accountable. We discipline right away. We don't wait. We try to get as many of the facts as we possibly can. We got them on Friday and we disciplined right away.

Q. When will they play again?

COACH PHILLIPS: Ray will be reinstated this week. All will be reinstated this week.

Q. I know it was a tough loss the other night. When you had a chance to go home and look at tape, was there anything that satisfied you?

COACH PHILLIPS: There were some things that we did well. But, again, the same things that were obvious to the naked eye during the game were some of the things that you feel like hurt you and didn't give you a chance to win the game late in the game, which was the turnovers.

We got to create turnovers also. We have not been good at creating turnovers this year.

Q. Does your youth on defense have something to do with that?

COACH PHILLIPS: I wouldn't blame it on youth. We got to tackle better. That has nothing to do with youth. We got to make sure we wrap him up and the next guy in is stripping.

Haven't been a good gang‑tackling football team. The thing we have to do is make sure we tackle better and the next guy comes in and strips the ball.

We're allowing teams to complete about 70% passing percentage on us. We don't have a lot of deflections, of passes broken up. That's usually when you get a lot of interceptions, those types of things, when you're having passes broken up. We don't have a lot of them. We have to do a better job in that area also.

Q. Your offense has scored quickly a few times. How much does that stat with time of possession reflect what's going on on the field?

COACH PHILLIPS: It reflects a lot, tells us a lot, when you're talking in terms of turnovers, not being able to possess the ball and have possession of it because you're turning the ball over, then not getting yourself off the field also (on defense).

Last week they had three drives over five minutes. Three of the quarters they had it nine minutes. That's attributed to both us offensively and defensively. Offensively, our average scoring drive was about two minutes. Might have had one for four. We scored in 22 seconds, 1 minute 50, which gives them the ball back. We scored I think the one was maybe four minutes. That has a lot to do with it.

Then turning it over. Turning it over, it takes time of possession off of it. We got to get ourselves off the field defensively.

Q. After you looked at the film, why was Maxwell Smith inaccurate early on?

COACH PHILLIPS: We got moved a little bit. One time he stared the guy down way too long. He needs to get off of that one. But moving a little bit here and there.

There wasn't a lot of pressure. Our guys did a really good job. That's the thing. We talked about how physical they (WKU) were. What I was talking about, you look at the Alabama game, six sacks. Our guys gave up one sack. Max kind of moved into the guy. If he stays where he's supposed to be, we don't give a sack the whole game in 60 something attempts. Alabama gave up six sacks. They got six sacks in less than 25 pass attempts.

The thing that Max has to do is make sure he understands where he's supposed to be. Then when he moves out of the pocket, he's got to reset his feet and throw strikes, which is what he does when he's lined up the right way.

One of his interceptions happened when the receiver turned outside, should have turned inside. So those things can occur. When they do occur, you have a bad play.

Q. Why do you feel like you deserve more time to get this thing turned around? That's a topic right now.

COACH PHILLIPS: Well, I mean, we got 72 freshmen and sophomores in this program. We just played a program that has 50 juniors and seniors in their program.

We got to be better than that. But we got a lot of good, young players playing ball for us. (Indiscernible) this ought to be good. When we got out of the truck, the exact same thing Rich said when we got beat by Ohio U. We got a lot of young players here. Again, 72 freshmen and sophomores. A lot of them playing significant roles.

My job is to make sure we win football games, continue to do the things we need to do to win football games. The first order of business is focusing on Florida.

Q. You said the other night you weren't worried about the team falling apart, even though you had a young team. From a head coaching standpoint, what do you have to do to make sure that doesn't happen?

COACH PHILLIPS: We got to get them prepared, get them prepared for all the things that are involved when you're down a little bit. We got to get them prepared for this hostile environment we're about to go in.

We have to continue to talk to our kids. This is a time they need us the most as coaches. We'll be there for them.

Q. Question regarding Joker’s experience as a player on teams that underachieved and how that has helped him deal with it as a head coach …

COACH PHILLIPS: Definitely, no doubt about that. Again, I was on a O‑10‑1 team. I was on a team two years later that had a lot of young kids, I was one of those young kids, and two years later we were 9‑3. One of the last teams to win 9 games.

Staff here, same way. I was on a staff here that we had some ups and downs. We had a young team when we left (in 1996). But we had seven years. I got that. I got that. It's seven years. But at the time we had a young team that we left behind, two years later they were winning seven games.

Again, we've put together a young team. We did it the right way. There will not be any investigations and those types of things here. We've done it the right way and we'll continue to do it the right way.

Again, good, solid young team that we've got to get better every day. It starts by preparing for Florida.

Q. I remember when you took over for Rich (Brooks), you said one of the things a team has to learn is to tune out the noise.

COACH PHILLIPS: Again, I don't have time. I told our staff yesterday the players will hear it. We won't hear it. We'll be buried in the office. We sense it, but we don't get a chance to hear it because we're buried in there trying to get ready for the next opponent, and our next opponent is Florida.

I hear it when I come in here (laughter).

Q. Question regarding what Florida is doing different offensively with a new offensive coordinator …

COACH PHILLIPS: They're running the football. They tried the two‑quarterback system in the first game, struggled a little bit. They settled in on the one quarterback, Driskel. They haven't had a lot of opportunities in passing, but when he does, he's been efficient, completing 70% of his passes.

They've got a big, experienced offensive line, they're putting it in their hands, and the tailback who has been around for a long time. He's playing it smart, running the football, throwing high‑percentage passes, playing great on defense. That's what they do.

Q. You talk about having a lot of youth and not a lot of veteran players … What happened? How did you get to this point?

COACH PHILLIPS: We got a lot of young kids in the program. You see them. You see them running around. For some reason or another, it just didn't work out.

Q. Was it bad timing, bad recruiting?

COACH PHILLIPS: No, because we got some really good kids in our upperclassmen. Larry Warford, do you think that's bad recruiting? Matt Smith, started three years here. We just don't have a lot of the numbers in the senior and junior classes. We don't have 50. 72 in freshmen and sophomores. Some reason or another, that's the way it is.

Q. Part of the job of a head coach is to set a tone. But, privately have you been at all discouraged?

COACH PHILLIPS: Privately?

Q. You're not showing it to the public.

COACH PHILLIPS: I'm built for this. We just talked about it. I'm built for this. I was 0‑10‑1 (in 1982). We'll get it turned. Stay together. 6‑6. 9‑3 (in 1983 and ’84). I've been around some head coaches that I've got a chance to watch go through this.

We're fine. I'm fine.

Q. Are you worried you don't have enough time?

COACH PHILLIPS: Don't worry. I haven't got time to worry. My worry is making sure we get

prepared for Florida.

Q. You talk about that 0‑10‑1 team, Bill Ransdell.

COACH PHILLIPS: Bill Ransdell was a freshman.

Q. You had leaders that led you out of that.

COACH PHILLIPS: Bill was one of the guys, he was redshirted, so he wasn't actively playing. But he got a chance to experience it with us.

I see a talented freshman quarterback, talented young receivers, some talented backs. We got some guys that will be real good leaders. We have some good leaders in this senior class. Avery Williamson. He asked me, How you doing, coach? I'm fine, how you doing, Avery? He said, Coach, we'll be fine. We just got to hang in there. He said this.

We got some really good leaders on this football team.

Q. You talk about having so many young players, you have a loss like this, do you find yourself having to do something differently to get past that loss?

COACH PHILLIPS: We're going to do one thing different. For some reason or another we have started off really slow, then we battle our tails off, which says a lot for our team to fight back. So we're going to try one thing different (in practice). We're going to stretch, we're going to do 10‑minute individual, then we're going to get right into an 11‑on‑11 period. Explain to our kids, here is the reason why: we got to start faster. We can't wait and see what the tone of the game is. We got to start fast right away.

Q. Where does Sanders come back on the depth chart? Is that just standard procedure?

COACH PHILLIPS: Well, you guys got to talk to Jon‑Jon (Jonathan George) today. The we he played, he deserves to be the starter. CoShik is banged up. Probably won't practice until Thursday. I think Jon‑Jon deserves to be the starter. If CoShik can't go, Raymond will be the third stringer.

Q. Is that standard?

COACH PHILLIPS: We don't have a standard. The thing we have to look at is how well a guy performed that came in and replaced him, how well did the guy perform, take care of business, does what he's supposed to do, never hear his name on any lists, goes to class. Jonathan George performed well enough to be the starter.

Q. You talked about your young guys. A lot of those guys made plays at the end of regulation, what does that tell you about the way they're coming along?

COACH PHILLIPS: It says a lot. You have a sophomore quarterback throwing to a redshirt freshman receiver. Goes up over and makes a huge play for us. Actually, Demarco Robinson, a true sophomore, made a few plays to get us to midfield.

The problem with (DeMarcus) Sweat, we're not getting it in his hands enough. He's touched it eight times this year, two touchdowns. Has had some huge returns for us in the kicking game. The thing we have to do is get the ball in his hands more.

He, too, we'll try to work him into a starting role soon, okay? Maybe even this week. We'll rotate him with the one's, see how he handles it. He could possibly be a starter this week.

Every week you say, We got a plan, we got a plan. You get in the game. After the game, only played 11 plays. Played 11 plays. Touched it twice on offense. One of them was a huge touchdown for us. The plan is to start him. We'll look at that, see how that looks at the end of the week and make that decision going into the game.

Q. Since you returned you've either beaten or played competitively every team in the SEC. Florida seems to be the one you haven't made any traction against. Any common denominator?

COACH PHILLIPS: No. Again, '07, we were close, just couldn't finish, which is one of our good teams that we had around here, probably the closest we've been to them. There's not anything that I could put my finger on as to why we haven't a chance. We just haven't.

Q. Florida has outscored you 94‑3 (in the first quarter the last four seasons).

COACH PHILLIPS: You had to remind me. Gosh dang, I thought you was going to be the one in here that would take care of me (laughter).

94‑3, wow. That's the answer to your question. Was that a question or are you just trying to remind me? We didn't score points, I can tell you that. Didn't get them stopped.

Q. Preparing for a Florida team that is not spraying the ball across the field, using a running game, how odd is that?

COACH PHILLIPS: It is odd. They use a team that spreads you out, tries to get you to play in space. When they spread you out, they're going to try to run the ball, create running lanes.

We'll get into some two‑back stuff that we have to pack the box. We have to get as many people in the box as we possibly can to try to stop the run. That's what they are, a team that likes to run the football, stop the run, play great defense.

Q. Stopping the run, is that going to be a year‑long battle or do you feel you have the necessary things to get the job done?

COACH PHILLIPS: A year‑long battle? I think it's a lifetime battle. Anytime you play in this game, what are we throwing for, over 300? We're number one in the league in passing. I'd much rather be rushing for 300 yards. I'd much rather be, okay? We're rushing for right at 100 yards, 115 yards.

Again, everybody will tell you that running the football is how you possess the ball, eat the clock, also how you grind those first downs. It would be one thing if we could do better this week, it would be run the football, while continuing to throw the football the way we've been throwing it.

Q. What about stopping the run? Can you to a better job?

COACH PHILLIPS: We got to tackle better. We got to tackle better. We have guys in holes sometimes when they do get off blocks have a chance to make the tackle and we don't get the guy on the ground. We definitely got to do a better job of tackling.

Q. Special teams have been one of the problems in recent times against Florida.

COACH PHILLIPS: Thought you would take care of me, too (laughter).

We're playing really good on special teams. Let's talk about some of the positives. How well are we playing on special teams?

Q. Returned more punt return yards than you did last season.

COACH PHILLIPS: We averaged one yard a return, 1.8 (last season).

Q. On Kentucky’s special teams play and how they can avoid special team mistakes against Florida …

COACH PHILLIPS: I like what you said. You said 'us'. I like it (laughter).

It has. It has hurt us. It has hurt us. We have to do a better job of protecting our punter. Getting them on the ground when we do punt it to them, that's been one of the things we haven't done well. But we've done it well this year.

That's the thing. We missed a punt Saturday, and they got a big return on us. But this guy (Landon Foster) is a really good punter. Just got to make sure he's punting it in the right direction so we'll have our coverage connected with the punt.

Q. With all the talk and stuff going on, how much would a win in a game like Saturday turn everything around like that?

COACH PHILLIPS: I don't know if it turns everything around just like that, but it definitely helps with momentum. We're getting ready to go into a tough SEC grind, so it would definitely help in gaining momentum. I don't think there's anything that's a quick fix.

Q. Marcus Caffey was already in the doghouse for academic issues.

COACH PHILLIPS: We are in the business of making sure the kids have an opportunity to succeed, definitely. We're not a rehab center, a center that we're going to continue to give guys chances.

We love Marcus. This is all we got, okay? This is all we got. We'll go with him until we feel like we can't take it anymore. We've done it with other kids.

But this is all he has, and we'll continue to stick by him and help him get through all these things.


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