LEXINGTON, Ky. – On Friday, Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips said he was looking for intense competition during his team’s first preseason scrimmage and that’s what he got Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium.
“(It was) Really competitive,” Phillips said afterward. “We had an old-school scrimmage, 140-something plays, just wanted to put the ball down and get as many snaps as we possibly could, reason being a lot of guys needed snaps.”
As always, the scrimmage began with special-teams emphasis and the coach was excited over that segment of the day.
“I think our scrimmage started really well with our special forces units, which is our kicking units, our punt team and our punt return,” Phillips said. “Again, I’ve been saying that guys have been asking to be on those teams. It showed today how fast we played in it. It’s probably as clean as we’ve played in our kicking game.”
A primary area of interest, as it has been during the first week of practice, has been the quarterback competition with senior Morgan Newton, sophomore Maxwell Smith and true freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. Phillips saw some good plays out of all of them Saturday.
“There were some good things,” Phillips said. “At times we played sloppy at that position but I think there was more good than bad. The difference in the quarterback play than at receiver or offensive line, if you make a couple of bad plays at quarterback, it really shows. And that’s what people usually remember. We have to make sure we are playing clean all the time at that position.
“(There was) Nice competition. I thought the two young guys went in there and handled themselves well at times, but again (the pace of the game is) a lot faster and a lot more (to learn) on those guys but I thought they both did some good. I thought both of the two older guys did some good. We’ll go see (on the scrimmage video) if there’s enough separation between any of them to make some decisions. I’m not talking about ones and twos, I’m talking about three and four also. We’ll take a look at it.”
Asked if last year’s game performances would have much impact on the decision, the coach said that the current performances would carry more weight."
“I don’t think you can worry about the last year,” Phillips said. “This is a new competition. This is a different team. We’ll base our evaluation on what’s happening now. We’ve had nine practices, a lot more work to be done, 20 more practices (before the first game).”
With the remainder of the offense, Phillips noted that senior wide receiver La’Rod King and senior tailback CoShik Williams made some big plays and he was also enthused about the potential being shown by young receivers and backs.
Meanwhile, the Wildcat defense got some takeaways during the scrimmage. And, while he obviously wants to play offense without turnovers, Phillips was pleased with the ballhawking defense.
“Defensively, they made one 'pick six' (interception touchdown return by sophomore linebacker Malcolm McDuffen) and should have had a pick six (by senior cornerback Cartier Rice, who was stopped just short of the end zone),” Phillips said. “There were big plays on both sides of the ball. You can get down because a team fumbles or a team turns the ball over for a pick six but I’m stressing to our defense, ‘Hey, we need turnovers.’ I’m also stressing to our offense that we cannot afford to turn the football over. We can’t turn the football over and we have to create turnovers.”
Phillips said that there appeared to be only one injury in practice as sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner incurred what might be a high-ankle sprain.