Kentucky Football: Coaches, Players React to Opening Game Loss to Louisville
First off all, a big H/T to the Lexington-Herald Leader. While they may have only posted part of Joker Phillips' post game press conference (the full video can be found here at the University of Kentucky's official athletics site), they managed to get video/audio of interviews with other staff members and players as well...and without putting it behind a pay wall like another newspaper in Kentucky does.
Below are some of the highlights from the press conference and post game interviews. My analysis (which I'm sure you're all just dying to read) will be in italics. Bold emphasis is my own, as well.
Head Coach Joker Phillips
- If there was a theme to Phillips' press conference, it was the phrase, "We're better than that," which he said (by my count) at least 5 times in the first three minutes of the press conference.
- Opened by stating what everyone already knew: The Wildcat defense gave up far too many long drives and the offense squandered too many scoring opportunities.
- Applauded the special teams play (or "special forces, as he called them) for containing kick off returns by the Cardinals while getting some great returns themselves. This is actually a great thing to point out; kick off coverage and returns were atrocious last year, but it looks like those areas may actually have become strengths for this year's team.
- Lamented the fact that the Wildcats could not convert on the fake punt (which was not a great call to make inside their own territory) and that they failed to score any points after successfully executing an onside kick at the beginning of the second half.
- Asked about the improved play from the quarterback position (i.e. not Morgan Newton), Phillips responded that they "expect that from Max [Smith]."
- Things got a bit tense when a reporter tried to ask about the Cats giving up a third-and-long completion early in the game when they had the Cardinals pinned inside their own 10 yard line. Before the reporter could finish, however, Joker began interrupting him about a different play, saying "I'm sure you all will say I should have went for it [on fourth down]...instead of kicking it...wouldn't you say that?!" No Joker, we're not saying that, but your frustration and subsequently short fuse is understandable at this point.
- Asked what he would say to disgruntled football fans right now, Phillips said he just wished to talk to his football team. That's probably for the best, since we both might say things to each other that we would later regret.
- Asked what he saw during the last few months that made him feel that his team was better than how they played today, Phillips said it was an ability to finish on offense with a score instead of stalling in or near the red zone.
- Asked if a lack of depth on defense contributed to the team's struggles, Phillips disagreed, stating that he feels the defense actually has plenty of depth. I think he's partially correct on this one. The Wildcats look like they have plenty of depth on defense because many of the starters don't play much better than the reserves.
- Liked the up tempo offense that going no huddle (which they did for much of their time with the football) gave them. He will continue to use it extensively this season.
- Good quote on how the teams looked against each other: "They played like it was the third game. We played like it was the first game." That would seem to be an issue that primarily lies with the coaching staff, but I digress...
- The thing that disappointed him the most about the game was when his team turned the ball over. I can't argue that two turnovers during successful offensive drives are bad, but I would have gone with "The Defense" as the most disappointing part of the Wildcat's play on Sunday. Maybe that's just me, though.
- Praised QB Maxwell Smith and WR Daryl Collins as young players that performed like veterans.
- Applauded the offensive line for their improved play from last season.
- On the "silver lining" front, the Wildcats came out of the game with no major injuries.
Is Kentucky a significantly better team than how they played against Louisville?
Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders
- Besides stating the obvious (inability to finish drives turnover, etc), Sanders pointed out that the team only had one three-and-out the whole game. They also moved the ball much better than last year's offense did.
- Wished the score had stayed closer so that they could have run the ball more.
- Not pleased with turnovers. "There's never a great excuse for a fumble." I'm guessing that Sanders won't be doing many press conferences this year.
- Very pleased with how Maxwell Smith played; felt that he proved something to UK fans as well as his teammates.
Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter
- Unfortunately, the PA system at Papa John's Stadium was blaring away while Minter was being interviewed. All I could pick up from his first statement was "confused" and "disjointed," which seems about right.
- Did not see anything that they weren't prepared for; it was simply a matter of not executing.
- Claimed that the failures on defense start with him; judgement on players will be reserved until after they have watched game film. I appreciated Minter's willingness to fall on the sword for his players (and agree that a lot of the problems start with him), but Kentucky just may not have the talent on defense (particularly at the crucial linebacker/safety hybrid position) to run his schemes properly.
- Started by apologizing to the fans for the loss. 35-50, 280 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. I don't think you need to apologize for anything, Max.
- Praised the play of his offensive line and receivers (it definitely helps that there are players who can actually block and catch the ball, which at this point last year was a very real concern).
- Elbow is a bit sore from a face mask that hit him, but he should be fine for next week's game against Kent State.When asked if it put undue pressure on him and the rest of the offense to see the defense giving up points like they did, Smith responded "I can only control what I can control." When I heard him say that comment, it didn't sound as disparaging towards his defensive teammates as it looks on paper. Still, he probably should have chosen his words a bit better.
- Seemed to be very positive about the up tempo, no huddle offense.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats return to practice on Tuesday. They return home to Commonwealth Stadium to take on the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday, September 8 at 7:30 PM.
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