LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The slogan Joker Phillips coined for his
first year as Kentucky's head football coach left no room for
Phillips labeled the 2010 season "Operation Win."
The mantra is plastered on billboards across the state and is a
popular refrain in the locker room. His was simple: It was time for
Kentucky to take the next step toward relevancy in the Southeastern
Halfway through the season, "Operation Deja Vu" may have been
a more appropriate choice.
The Wildcats (3-3, 0-3) head into Saturday's game against No. 10
South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) lamenting opportunities that slipped
away. The latest came in a 37-34 heartbreaker against No. 7 Auburn
on Saturday, when the Tigers kicked the game-winning field goal as
The defeat was Kentucky's 11th SEC setback by eight-points or
less in the last three-plus years. They're the kind of games that
separate the contenders from the also-rans.
Kentucky was hoping this would be the season to take the next
step forward. Now, it feels like Wildcats are continuing to run in
Though Phillips remains upbeat, he also knows "our guarantees
are running out."
"I think this team definitely has confidence, and they (feel
they) can play with anybody in this league," Phillips said.
The Wildcats just aren't beating anybody. Kentucky and Tennessee
are the only two teams in the SEC without a conference victory. The
road doesn't get any easier. The Gamecocks are coming off an upset
of defending national champion Alabama, and coach Steve Spurrier
has never lost to the Wildcats, including a 28-26 win last year.
It's one of the "streaks" that have cast a pall over the
program for years. Phillips knows the only way for Kentucky to be
taken seriously on a consistent basis is for such streaks to end.
He's already tired of talking about it. Yet knows the questions
will persist until the victories come.
"I've tried not to mention things like that because we got to
play," he said. "This is a different team, you know, obviously."
One, however, that keeps matching the results of its
Yet where some see the season as half over, optimists like wide
receiver Randall Cobb see it as just beginning. The junior admits
it was difficult to stand on the sidelines helpless as the Tigers
chewed up the final 7:31 on their game-winning drive.
He also believes, however, that this isn't the same old
"We're not quitters," said Cobb, who had a hand in all four of
Kentucky's touchdowns against Auburn. "Just because things go
wrong or things aren't going the way we expect them or wanted to,
doesn't mean we can give up. We've done some great things and we've
shown we have an ability to be there. We've just got to find a way
Creating some turnovers would help. Kentucky is tied for last in
the league in takeaways, though they're not lacking for chances.
Auburn put the ball on the ground four times but managed to fall on
each one before the Wildcats could get to it.
"When the team puts the ball on the ground four times, we got
to get half of them," Phillips said. "I think that's the common
denominator of the teams that win and lose."
And Kentucky currently has the longest losing streak in the SEC.
A season that began with hopes of reaching an upper-tier bowl finds
itself another loss or two away from having bowl plans of any kind
in serious jeopardy.
The margin for error is thin. The chances of an emotional
letdown are high, particularly with star running back and team
lightning rod Derrick Locke doubtful this week after injuring his
shoulder against Auburn.
The season is at a fragile tipping point. Phillips has stressed
the rigorous tests he put his players through during grueling
summer workouts would make them mentally tough.
The players know it's time to prove it.
"We've just got to stay committed," said defensive end Collins
Uwku. "We know if we keep working, things will turn around."