With injuries and other assorted issues, Kentucky's coaches have become quite fond of the phrase "next man in."
"Somewhere in the season we are not going to have to say that, but that's the way it is," Coach Joker Phillips said after UK's 24-17 loss to No. 20 Mississippi State on Saturday, their fourth straight loss to the Bulldogs. "The next guy has to step up and make plays."
Eventually does it feel like they'll run out of men? It did to defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who said his secondary is down to six healthy players with the losses on Saturday of Martavius Neloms (hamstring) and Ashely Lowery (concussion-like symptoms).
"We came close today," he said. "We've still got a few guys. ... We'll have to draft some guys and get some other kids involved, evaluate statuses. We're right at that halfway point, so you want to be fair to the kids involved and yet fair to our team, which still has half a season left."
The redshirt on Zack Blaylock was burned along with that of fellow true freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, making them the 13th and 14th true freshmen to play this season. UK now has 22 freshmen who have seen action.
"He had to play and from here on out, he's going to have to be a contributor," Minter said of Zack Blaylock, who had two tackles in the loss.
Linebacker Avery Williamson was asked if he looked behind him in the second half and ever worried about how young the team was.
"We've just got to play with whoever's back there," he said. "And whoever's back there has got to know what their responsibility is."
Daron Blaylock said it's not about what year the player is anymore, it's about doing what you have to do to win.
"We had a few injuries on defense and we've just got to toughen up, play young, go out there and get better for next week," he said.
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith likely is out for the season after having surgery on a torn ligament in his ankle.
It's unclear how long true freshman quarterback Patrick Towles, who completed five of his six passes and led UK to a touchdown, will be out with his own ankle injury.
Which leaves another true freshman, Jalen Whitlow, to lead the UK offense. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was asked what he will do for a backup if Towles is out for long.
"It would have to be Morgan (Newton)," Sanders said of the senior. "But obviously Morgan's limited in what he can do. I think we all know that. That's kind of where we're at."
Newton actually missed part of Saturday's game taking the Law School Admissions Test. In his only outing this season, in the loss at Florida, Newton struggled, completing 7 of 21 pass attempts for 48 yards (24 of those came on his first pass of the game) with three interceptions.
Third down struggles
Coming into the game, UK was 115th out of 120 teams in the nation, allowing opponents to convert on third downs 53.25 percent of the time.
Mississippi State actually had been struggling on that down coming in, converting on just 35.3 of them until Saturday.
But the Bulldogs were able to find a rhythm against the Cats, converting on 10 of their 18 attempts. They also went 1-for-1 on their fourth-down try.
"We actually played better on third and short than I think we did on third and long," defensive coordinator Rick Minter lamented. "We let them off the hook again twice on third and excessive; we've got to eliminate that. ... Until we get better on third down, our results won't get a whole lot better, but I was proud of how hard they played."
Phillips said UK needed to do its part on offense, too, noting the time of possession differential of nearly 12 minutes in favor of the Bulldogs.
Daron Blaylock didn't expect to play with twin brother Zack Blaylock this season, but the latter Blaylock was forced into duty against the Bulldogs as injuries mounted in the UK secondary.
"He didn't really expect it, but things happen and he was out there, ready to play," Daron Blaylock said.
He guessed that the two played about six snaps together on defense.
"It was pretty cool, just like high school," he said. "It was a pretty cool experience."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com