LEXINGTON, Ky. – Fresh off its victory over Samford to conclude its 2012 home schedule, the University of Kentucky football team returned to the practice fields for the first time this week to prepare for border-state rival Tennessee. UK practice outside on the Tim Couch Practice Fields for just over two hours Tuesday.
After practice, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and defensive coordinator Rick Minter took time to talk about the team’s upcoming game with Tennessee among other topics.
“They’re talented,” Sanders said about the Tennessee defense. “They’re a talented group. It seems like every game you turn on, you see different guys. So they’ve got a lot of guys that play. They’ve got a lot of depth, got talented guys.”
Looking back on his seven years at Kentucky, Sanders said he has had a lot of memories both on and off the field. However, Sanders said it is the relationships he has developed off the field that will mean the most to him.
“Other than the friendships I’ve made, some of the relationships I’ve made with the coaches, the players and some other people in Lexington, some of the people around the program and some people in the community, there’s been some great, great memories of wins,” Sanders said about his time at Kentucky. “The win over Louisville, the first time we beat them (2007); Andre’s senior year, the win over LSU; the night we played absolutely awful and then came back and beat Arkansas (2008) at the very end with (Mike) Hartline and Randall Cobb and that group. There have been a lot of special memories, but the accomplishments on the field or the things that we’ve done on the field, the five bowl games, that doesn’t compare to the relationships and friendships you made. A hundred years from now, those friendships and the impact you had on people matter a whole lot more than the win-loss record.”
One memory Sanders and Co. have had is the team’s historic 10-7 victory over Tennessee last season at Commonwealth Stadium, a victory that Sanders said he thought would “take a miracle.”
“That obviously has to rank up there,” Sanders said about the 2011 game. “The way we had to do it, but then the fact that we hadn’t done it in so long. There were a number of years there where I thought, honestly, we probably had a better chance to win than they did, but yet it seemed like there was always something that came up to mess it up and they were able to pull it out in the end. And last year, going into the game, I thought it was going to take a miracle for us to pull it off and the miracle happened. The defense played great, we didn’t have any turnovers, the kicking game was really good. I thought we might score twice (with wide receiver Matt Roark having to play quarterback); if we were really, really lucky we might score three times, and hopefully one or two of those would be touchdowns. We were able to get 10 points, score twice, which is about what I thought we had a chance to do.”
Sanders’ offense showed several different formations on Saturday against Samford, including an increased role for Morgan Newton at H-back. However the two that generated the most buzz was lining up senior offensive guard Larry Warford at fullback and QB Jalen Whitlow throwing a lateral pass to sophomore offensive tackle Darrian Miller. Sanders said putting the two big guys in those positions has opened the floodgates for more linemen wanting some expanded roles.
“Well, they all have,” Sanders joked about the offensive linemen wanting to fill ball-carrying positions. “I figured that would be the biggest problem. Darrian (Miller) wanted the ball. Larry (Warford) wanted the ball and I told him, ‘I ain’t giving you the ball, but I’ll let you line up in the backfield.’ So we actually lined him up in the backfield about three or four times last week (at fullback), and actually the plays were pretty successful. So Jack (Gruenschlaeger) wants to play back there now. I told him if it wouldn’t block out the end-zone camera, we might consider it. But, you know, it’s fun. That’s a play (the pass to Miller) we’ve actually carried for a while. I was going to call it about two weeks ago or three weeks ago and it just so happened that when we got the situation to call it, he was hurt, wasn’t in the game. So it’s one we’ve carried and had with us, and I figured, ‘What the heck? It’s a good time to call it.’”
Switching gears to defense, Minter said after practice Tuesday that Tennessee may be the best offensive team that Kentucky has played this season. The Volunteers rank 13th nationally in passing offense this season, averaging 317.6 yards a game and are 23rd in total offense nationally with 477.6 yards per contest.
“They are one of the better offenses that we have faced all year,” Minter said. “They score about 37 points a game, they have playmakers in the right places and the quarterback has played great most of the year. Their wide receivers are big-time guys that kind of set the tone for this team. Their offensive line coach is a friend of mine and coached under me at Cincinnati and he has done a great job with them. They play tough, they play hard, they play physical.”
Minter said the focus from the players and coaches has not changed in recent weeks in practice as both are working as hard as they have all season, according to Minter. The defensive coordinator said kids bounce back easier than adults.
“Kids are always bounce back, no matter what happens in life,” Minter said. “They are much more resilient than adults because they don’t think about it too much, they just do it. We will wish them well and pull for them always. Kentucky will always have a special place in your heart because whenever you work somewhere for a while you give it everything you have. Therefore when you leave, you leave some of yourself behind.”
As for the future of the program on the defensive side of the ball, Minter said the future is bright with talented underclassmen.
“All the kids on the back end that have played and contributed this year, some in a mighty role, others in a minor role, are all going to be good players,” Minter said about the defense. “You just mark it down -- the Blaylocks (Daron and Zack) are going to be good players, the young corners all three of them (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon) are going to be good players, (Khalid) Henderson is going to be a good player, (Pancho) Thomas is going to be a good player. There are three defensive linemen that you have never seen because they are being redshirted but they are going to be good solid guys, whether it be (Patrick) Graffree, (Thomas) Chapman, (Langston) Newton. There are others, I don’t want to be remiss (in not mentioning them), but it is a bright future. How bright, who knows? But it is a much brighter future than it was a few years ago looking down the road of guys finally getting into this program.”
Kentucky returns to practice Wednesday morning.
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