It's on to Plan B at Kentucky.
Plan A - winning the SEC East - ended with a mistake-prone 44-31
loss to Georgia on Saturday, a game in which the Wildcats turned it
over four times and once again fell into a massive first-half
deficit from which they could not escape.
"I like to see truly what type of team we have by seeing this
team play 60 minutes, and we have not played 60 minutes in all
three phases," said coach Joker Phillips.
Kentucky (4-4, 1-4) will need to turn it around quickly or Plan
B - getting to a bowl south of Tennessee - will also evaporate. The
Wildcats travel to Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2) on Saturday trying
to cure the problems that have plagued them since SEC play began:
tons of turnovers and lethargic first halves that have forced them
to play catchup.
SEC opponents have outscored the Wildcats 129-61 in the first
half. Georgia put up 28 points on Saturday night thanks to several
Kentucky miscues that left the Bulldogs with little work to do to
reach the endzone.
The Wildcats believe there is time to turn it around, though
they allow the margin for error is gone. They'll likely need to win
their last four games to earn a spot in a bowl game outside of
Tennessee, their final destination in each of the last four
"To get in the best bowl game we want to be in (winning out)
has to be" the goal, said quarterback Mike Hartline. "You know,
8-4 is still a really great season and it can be a great bowl game
for us. It's not impossible."
While Phillips says there's no such thing as a bad bowl,
expectations were high entering his first season. Phillips talked
openly about the program's need to take the next step. Winning the
SEC East and playing in a high-profile bowl were at the top of the
Capturing the East is long gone. A bowl game of any variety may
soon follow if the Wildcats can't find a way to get it together.
Phillips says his team's flaws are obvious. Kentucky is
plus-eight in turnover margin in its four wins and minus-seven in
its four losses.
The Wildcats gave it away four times against Georgia, charity
the Bulldogs turned into 17 points.
"The thing we've got to do is create turnovers and we've got to
protect the football to win games in this league," Phillips said.
It won't be easy against the Bulldogs, who are on the rise under
coach Dan Mullen. Mississippi State has already won at Florida and
is among the most physical teams in the league.
Though Hartline has thrown for 702 yards and eight touchdowns in
the last two weeks, Phillips said the Wildcats need to be more
balanced to keep Mississippi State's bruising running game off the
Phillips is hopeful senior running back Derrick Locke will
return after missing two games with a shoulder injury. The Wildcats
managed just 70 yards on the ground against Georgia.
Locke's return would take some of the pressure off a depleted
receiving corps. La'Rod King will be limited after hurting his
right knee last week and sophomore Matt Roark has been suspended
for a game for violating team rules.
Kentucky won three straight road games in the SEC last year, but
is 0-2 so far this season. Phillips said a competent running game
and being more conscientious with the ball would help break the
slide and bolster his team's postseason prospects.
"Every week you've got to change your goals," he said. "My
goal is to try to lose weight sometimes, too, and next week I'll
try to lose one pound, and if I don't lose it I'll change it to a
half a pound. If you don't reach it, you've got to change it."