Mark Story: Kentucky killing hopes with frustrating turnover trend


Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 25, 2011 

Joker Phillips is an ardent admirer of the precision and discipline of the U.S. military.

When he took the Kentucky head football coaching job, he used a martial term — Operation Win — as the theme of his first season.

Phillips calls his special teams the "special forces."

So it is an unhappy irony of the second-year UK head coach's tenure that his teams are repeatedly being undermined by sloppy play.

Kentucky suffered its annual loss to Florida on Saturday night, falling 48-10 before 65,134 in Commonwealth Stadium.

The Gators have now whipped the Cats 25 years in a row, so that UK lost was not exactly shocking.

But how the Cats fell was part of a frustrating trend.

Kentucky made it easy for the Gators by turning the football over four times. All four of the UK miscues led directly to Florida touchdowns.

"For five minutes of the game, we looked like a pretty good football team," Phillips said. "Then the things we have been doing in the past started showing up, turnovers, giving them short fields."

There are industrial pastry kitchens that don't produce turnovers at the rate of the Kentucky football Wildcats.

In UK's last 10 games going back into last season, the Cats have turned the ball over at least twice in eight contests. In five of those games, UK has committed at least three turnovers. In three of the past 10 games, Kentucky has now had four turnovers.

At Kentucky, one doesn't have the talent level to survive such sloppiness.

Said UK quarterback Morgan Newton: "Turnovers killed us."

Added UK wideout La'Rod King: "You can't turn the ball over like we did and have a chance against a team like that."

It's a familiar litany. Kentucky committed three turnovers last year at Mississippi to set up three Ole Miss TDs in a crucial seven-point road loss. The Cats completely took themselves out of a winnable game at home against Georgia in 2010 with four turnovers, then came back with four more in a seven-point loss at Mississippi State.

This year, UK opened the season by throwing three interceptions against Western Kentucky.

Against Florida and its greased-lightning speed Saturday, it was more of the same.

The Kentucky defense had actually forced Florida punts on the Gators' first two possessions of the game. The Cats had the field-position advantage. Then on a second-and-one play from the Kentucky 45, UK true freshman running back Josh Clemons put the ball on the field.

Florida's Omar Hunter recovered. On the very next play from scrimmage, John Brantley hit Gerald Christian with a 45-yard scoring toss.

Later in the first period, Newton had a ball sail off his hand high above intended receiver E.J. Fields. Florida's Matt Elam picked off the pass.

This time, it took the Gators two plays to put seven on the board.

The UK turnover assembly line was just getting warmed up. In period two, the Cats released a blitzing linebacker on Newton's blind side. The Kentucky quarterback never saw Jonathan Bostic until the Gator plastered him and jarred the football loose.

Jaye Howard caught it and rambled 2 yards into the end zone for another Florida TD.

On UK's second drive of the second half, Florida's Michael Taylor jumped a slant route and Newton put the ball between his numbers.

Unlike too many of Kentucky's receivers this season, the Gators' linebacker did not drop it.

This time, the Florida offense took a leisurely 11 plays to turn the turnover into yet another Gators TD and a 41-10 lead.

"It gets infectious," Phillips said of Kentucky's turnover problems, "when one mistake is made and then another one comes and then another one comes."

With its abundance of speed, Florida is a team one expects to force some turnovers.

Yet Phillips said Kentucky's turnovers were more the result of self-inflicted wounds than Gators athleticism.

"I consider fumbles and interceptions mental mistakes," the Kentucky coach said. "Turnovers, that's a sloppy football team. I've got to get this football team to understand how precious the football is."

The coach who so admires military discipline acknowledged that UK's play all too often does not display anything close to that.

Said Phillips: "It's my job to make sure we have discipline with the football."

Too often in Kentucky's turnover-filled last 10 games, that job isn't getting done.

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