LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Joker Phillips tucked the plate of cookies
under his arms and was walking toward the door Monday afternoon
when the first-year Kentucky coach turned toward reporters.
"Got some M&Ms in there, you think it's safe?" Phillips said,
He was kidding. Phillips knows two straight losses to Florida
and Mississippi, as disappointing as they may have been, doesn't
mean it's time for him to start wondering if his food OK to eat.
Then again, he also knows the Wildcats haven't exactly played
appetizing football of late.
A season that began with three easy victories has suddenly hit a
major speedbump. Kentucky (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) looked
outclassed by the Gators and unsteady against the Rebels.
Time to panic? Not yet. Time to be concerned? Absolutely.
Especially with No. 8 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) coming to Commonwealth
Stadium on Saturday.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency," Phillips said. "I'd
be crazy to tell you there weren't."
Kentucky only has itself to blame. Phillips felt his team was
mature enough to shake off the 34-point beatdown by the Gators,
believing the Wildcats could turn the page quickly and focus on the
Instead, Kentucky looked rattled. The Wildcats fell behind by 22
points on the road against a team that had struggled against
Kentucky committed seven penalties, turned it over three times
and allowed Mississippi to hit big play after big play on special
"It was self-incurred," said defensive back Anthony Mosley.
"When you have problems that you know you can correct or you know
that it was you and the team (that beat you) didn't necessarily
earn it, that you gave it to them, it's more difficult."
There's not a lot of time to clean things up. The matchup with
the surging Tigers marks the beginning of a pivotal three-game
homestand for Kentucky. Games against No. 19 South Carolina and
When the schedule came out, the Wildcats pointed to October as a
chance to really make some noise. If they won't win two out of
three, the season when they pledged to take the next step could
turn into another case of the program simply spinning its wheels.
"This little stretch, if we can win these three, it'll be a
huge step forward," said center Matt Smith.
To do it the defense will need to find some backbone,
particularly when opponents get deep in Kentucky territory. The
Wildcats are last in the SEC in red-zone defense, allowing teams to
score in each of their 16 trips inside the Kentucky 20.
The Rebels went 6-for-6 in the red zone, though they were
abetted by a pair of Kentucky turnovers deep in its own territory.
Smith said in those cases, the defense can't shoulder all the
"We put the defense in a bad position," he said. "You can't
put your defense inside the 10-yardline twice and expect to stop a
team like that."