Turnover-prone WKU might be just what Kentucky needs

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 13, 2012 

  • Saturday

    Western Kentucky at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m.

    TV: ESPNU

It's a game of centimeters and seconds.

Just ask Kentucky's defense.

Each time the team looks at video of the previous game, linebacker Alvin "Bud" Dupree sees measurable proof of just how close the defense is.

"We see a lot of places where we were like an inch away," Dupree said this week when asked about the team's lack of forced turnovers so far. "An inch away from catching a pick, an inch away from stripping the ball, an inch away from making the sack, an inch away from making that big hit."

Dupree said the UK defense, which forced six turnovers in its first two games last season and just one this season, knows that it's getting close.

"It's just small things we have to do to make an impact," he said.

Kentucky is hoping its window of opportunity will widen this week with Western Kentucky coming to town.

Against top-ranked Alabama last weekend, Western turned the ball over four times.

The Hilltoppers fumbled on three of their first four possessions, prompting this sarcastic tweet from Coach Willie Taggart after the 35-0 loss: "If anyone sees any of our players with a ball in their hand, slap it out and bring it to me. You will get to travel with us to UK."

The Cats' lone forced turnover this season came Saturday against Kent State, when Avery Williamson stripped Dri Archer and Miles Simpson scooped it up, returning it to the Flashes' 7-yard line.

The coaches believe it's only a matter of time before the team gets a few more like that.

"We've put an emphasis on stripping the ball and attacking the ball and when the ball's in the air, breaking on and attacking the ball," head coach Joker Phillips said. "We do need some turnovers."

Senior Taylor Wyndham agreed.

"You can always see it on film that guys are just a hair off from getting a pick. Last game, I was just a hair off myself from having one," he said. "It's fun to see in this early part of the season, it's fun to see because you know you'll get it before you go into the conference play."

Kentucky's defense got four picks last season on quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who accounted for the Hilltoppers' fourth miscue against Alabama last week when he threw an interception on the first possession of the second half. It was the 29th career interception for the 6-foot-3, 194-pound senior.

That was frustrating for Taggart, too.

"Whenever you turn the ball over, you limit yourself on opportunities for possessions," the Western Kentucky coach said last Saturday. "You kill your drives and you kill your team's positive mentality. It was uncharacteristic of our guys. Never in a million years would I have thought that they would have played like this today."

Who knows which Jakes will come out on Saturday?

In the Hilltoppers' season opener this season against Austin Peay, the senior quarterback had the game of his career, throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns.

UK freshman J.D. Harmon, who had two pass breakups against Kent State last week, said afterward that the younger players getting more comfortable with the defense could be the difference in those centimeters and seconds.

"I have confidence now that I've got the defense down," Harmon said. "It feels good to get out there and let myself play, to let myself go. We're always going over our assignments. (The young defensive players) stay late and go over film. And I think that showed."

Notes

In the past week, Kentucky has started paring down media availability with Coach Joker Phillips, first announcing that the coach would no longer do his Sunday teleconference with reporters and then two days later announcing he had cut out his Tuesday post-practice availability.

It came up as a joke after practice on Thursday, and Phillips said the Tuesday cut in availability was to spend more time with his team.

"It was seven days a week I was doing things," he said. "I'll tell you guys the reason why: doing two-a-days, I got a chance to walk from the field over here to hang out with my guys and in the locker room. I never get to see them in the locker room. It felt really good to be able to do that. It's not about you guys. It's about being able to hang out with these guys and spend some time."

■ There also was a question for the head coach about unsourced Internet reports that say there has been a rift between Phillips and defensive coordinator Rick Minter since the loss at Louisville. Phillips said their "relationship is great."

When asked if the staff was on the same page, Phillips said yes.

"Here's the thing: There's only one page," he said. "There's only one page and we're all on the same page. There's not two pages in this program. It's one page."

■ There were no big updates on the injury front. CoShik Williams (back) and safety Josh Forrest (hip flexor) will both play on Saturday. Gabe Correll (hip flexor) or Trevino Woods (ankle) will sit out the WKU game. Josh Clemons (knee) and Glenn Faulkner (ankle) will not play for the third straight week.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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