UK football notes: Young guns focus on keeping morale high

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 6, 2012 

Kentucky center Matt Smith tackled South Carolina defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. after Dixon's second-half interception Saturday. No. 6 South Carolina defeated Kentucky 38-17. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Matt Smith tries to be the calm amid Kentucky’s three-game losing streak.

The UK center sees heads hanging sometimes and tries to find ways to lift them up.

With so many young players on the Cats’ roster, Smith said his task can be difficult.

“It’s tough, especially since a lot of those guys coming out of high school haven’t been in programs that have been losing like this,” Smith said. “It’s not going to get any easier, but we have to keep our heads up and keep our confidence out here on the practice field, just keep reassuring those guys who are getting down a little bit that we still have a long way to go.”

Smith said he frequently reminds them that UK’s opponents so far this season have one loss among them: Western Kentucky’s loss at No. 1 Alabama.

It’s those young guys that keep coaches and veterans from hanging their heads, Coach Joker Phillips said.

“The future is bright, but we understand we’ve got to win now,” Phillips said. “We gotta win now. And we think those guys give us the best chance to win. That’s the reason why they’re playing, not because we’re trying to build for the future. We’re playing those guys because we think they give us the best chance to win.”

Kentucky will play its 21st freshman when Patrick Towles gets his first snap at quarterback. He will be the 13th true freshman to see action. Phil-lips likes what he sees.

“I can’t name one that’s not making plays, including (offensive lineman Jordan) Swindle,” the coach said. “Swindle is going out on the field goal team and holding his own, and when he gets in at tackle he’s making plays for us.”

Towles’ time?

Patrick Towles hasn’t played in an actual game since Dec. 3, 2011, when he guided his Highlands team to its fifth straight state championship.

The freshman quarterback has been idling on the UK scout team, destined for a redshirt, since the start of the season. It’s difficult to predict how he’s going to do on Saturday, his coaches said.

After Thursday’s practice, Phillips asked the 6-foot-5 freshman if he was ready to go and Towles said he wished the game was in two hours.

Phillips said he was glad UK had more time than that to guide the freshman, but he appreciated the freshman’s confidence.

“You like that,” Phillips said. “I don’t want him to try to hide behind anything, though, because you’re going to be nervous. I don’t care how you spin it; you’re going to be nervous being the first time he runs out on the field. But he’s a confident guy; he has a lot of confidence in his ability and we’re going to throw him out there and see what happens.”

Halting the run

Kentucky is second from the bottom of the SEC in stopping the run and last week’s second-half effort against South Carolina didn’t help. The Gamecocks gashed UK for 174 of their 200 rushing yards after the half.

“We just weren’t in our spots sometimes and it just takes one person to not be in their spot for a great running back like that to capitalize,” defensive tackle Christian Johnson said. “We have to gap it up, be in our spots, everybody has to do their jobs to stop something like that.”

UK hopes things don’t get ugly this week against the Bulldogs, who have run for 200-plus yards in each of their last three games behind junior running back LaDarius Perkins, who is third in the league with 97.2 yards a game and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 6.8 yards a carry.

Perkins is running behind an offensive line that has allowed only two sacks all season. That number means a little extra, said Alvin “Bud” Dupree, who leads the Cats with 3.5 sacks.

“Any time a team prevents stuff from happening, you just want to go out there and try to do it, try to let everyone know you can’t do that on a good team,” the linebacker said.

Talking turnovers

A fascinating number in both teams’ notes packages are how important turnovers are to their respective teams. For instance, in the past three seasons, Mississippi State has won 20 of the 21 games when it forced more turnovers than it made (and only won four of 12 when losing the miscue battle).

UK notes that Coach Joker Phillips’ teams are 9-1 when they’ve turned the ball over fewer times than the opponent. Interestingly, that one loss was last season against the Bulldogs when State won 28-16 despite having three turnovers to zero for Kentucky.

MSU has turned the ball over two times (one interception, one forced fumble) in four games this season. Kentucky has 11 miscues (nine interceptions, two fumbles) in five games this season.

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

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