Joker Phillips trying to keep Cats out of the ditch

Difficult task with LSU next

jtipton@herald-leader.comSeptember 26, 2011 

Going from the program's most lopsided loss in almost three years to a date with the No. 1 team in the country leaves Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips with a back-to-basics objective: Simply continue to compete.

"You've got to continue to push forward," he said Sunday of UK's game next weekend at No. 1 LSU. "You have to hold this thing in the road. You've got a lot of season left, and you've got to forge ahead."

Kentucky appeared to slide off the road, if not off a cliff, in Saturday night's 48-10 loss to Florida. That game marked UK's most lopsided loss since a 63-5 rout at Florida on Oct. 25, 2008.

Phillips waxed philosophical about the difficult chore Kentucky faces in playing at LSU next Saturday. It's the price UK pays for being in the Southeastern Conference.

"That's going to be that way every year," he said. "You're going to have stretches like that every year as long as you play in the SEC. We've got to prepare the team the best we can."

Kentucky has not won at LSU since 1998, which is fairly recently compared to the now 25-game losing streak to Florida.

In comparing the challenges of facing LSU and Florida, Phillips said, "LSU probably has more power. They're probably a more physical team than we just played."

The UK coach noted the difficulty any team in the country would have in matching the speed of Florida runners Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Each of those speedsters gained more than 100 yards, becoming the first Florida duo to do that since Tim Tebow (109) and Percy Harvin (122) did it against Oklahoma in the 2009 national championship game.

"We won't see that type of speed at the running back position" at LSU, Phillips said. "It'll be more power running backs.

"But they'll have great team speed."

Phillips also noted that LSU might send more blitzers than Florida did in an attempt to disrupt Kentucky's offense.

Phillips acknowledged that Kentucky must improve in two of the more basic areas of winning football: running the ball effectively and limiting the opponent's productivity in running the ball.

The Cats have floundered in both areas in recent games. UK netted only 35 rushing yards against Louisville on Sept. 17. Then Florida amassed 405 rushing yards Saturday night.

When asked which area he placed the greater emphasis, Phillips made it sound like trying to prioritize inhaling and exhaling.

"Both are very important," he said. "... The things you say are important to win are running the ball and stopping the run. We've got to do both to win games in this league. That's been the case for a long time."

UK won't get starting tailback Raymond Sanders back for the LSU game. Sanders, who had arthrosopic knee surgery after the Central Michigan game, might be back when Kentucky plays at South Carolina on Oct. 8, Phillips said.

The return of more than one veteran offensive lineman in the Florida game gave Phillips reason for hope. Against Florida, the Cats gained 134 rushing yards, which was the second time this season they crossed the 100-yard mark (230 vs. Central Michigan).

"That was the first week we had all five together," Phillips said of the O-line's projected starters. "... We had some runs blocked clean. ... Some (runs) looked like they're supposed to look."

As for Florida gaining more than 400 rushing yards, which horrified defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Phillips saw a bright side. "We didn't have a lot of missed tackles," he said.

One of the problems was overpursuing UK defenders being out of position when Rainey or Demps or third-stringer Mike Gillislee cut back. "They reversed field and were able to outleverage us that way," Phillips said.

Injury update

Phillips gave an injury update that included:

■ Safety Martavius Neloms not having symptoms of a concussion when checked Sunday. He's dealing with sore ribs rather than any injury to the head. He should be OK by mid-week.

■ UK will re-check freshman running back Josh Clemons' sore hamstring each of the next two days.

■ Safety/linebacker Winston Guy (bruised ribs) and backup safety/return man Mychal Bailey (sore forearm) should play at LSU.

■ Defensive end Collins Ukwu will be out two or three weeks.

■ Defensive tackle Mark Crawford might be back from suspension this week. He will meet with Phillips on Monday.

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