Plenty left to play for as Kentucky meets Ole Miss

Kentucky looks to 'rise'with new starting QB

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 5, 2011 

If ever there were a time for the University of Kentucky football team to call on its team slogan, that time is now.


It's a single word selected by some sports marketing guru at UK, but for Coach Joker Phillips' flailing football team, it's a necessity this week.

The players admitted that it gets more difficult each week to keep their heads up when they're 3-5 overall and winless in the Southeastern Conference.

"Coming off multiple losses, to continue to keep going out there every day and trying to find something that motivates you to keep working hard is hard," junior linebacker Ridge Wilson said earlier this week. "We haven't had a very good season and it's kind of frustrating."

Phillips isn't blind to the struggles of his team, which has lost five of its last six games.

"It gets tougher and tougher each week," the coach admitted. "Some of your goals start slipping away from you every week now. So we have to continue to keep them going, but thus far it hasn't been very tough."

The coach said it hasn't been difficult because there is still enough season left to rise.

"We've still got a chance to have a special season, still got a chance to reach some of our goals," he said.

One of those goals, to get to a sixth straight bowl game, will require Kentucky to win three of its final four games, starting on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium against Mississippi.

UK cornerback Randall Burden echoed his coach. He said this senior class does not want to go down as the one that ended the bowl streak.

"I thought we were going to have a great season," Burden said. "But it can still be a great season. With the last few games we have, we can still get in a bowl game."

Phillips looks at the remaining schedule and sees a dogfight among teams that are clawing to earn enough wins to end their seasons positively.

"We're all about in the same position right now," Phillips said of remaining opponents Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. "We're all in the same position that there haven't been a lot of SEC wins in this group, so it'll be competitive the next four weeks."

Ole Miss will be the first hurdle. The Rebels have lost three in a row and have managed only one Southeastern Conference win in their last 14 tries (that win came over UK last season).

It's been a difficult season in Mississippi (2-6, 0-5 SEC), Coach Houston Nutt said this week, but he said he keeps working as does his team.

"We want to finish out the right way and give these guys some hope," said Nutt, who is rumored to be on the coaching hot seat. "There is one antidote and it is winning."

Both Phillips and Nutt see in their opponent a team similar to his own.

"They've been trying to find their identity also," Phillips said of the Rebels, who join the Cats at the bottom of the SEC in both total offense and scoring offense. Mississippi averages 20.9 points per game to UK's 16.5.

UK will look to new quarterback Max Smith to help jump-start its offense. Smith had a solid outing in a loss to Mississippi State last weekend after junior Morgan Newton went down with a high ankle sprain.

The Rebels have gone through three quarterbacks before finally settling on Randall Mackey, who is a threat to pass and to run.

Neither team is mathematically out of bowl contention and will look for a win Saturday to re-route its season.

Both teams will try to rise up in time.

"Every game is a must-win game," said Wilson, the linebacker from Louisville. "This next game is really going to be crucial."

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