Joker Phillips' suggestion box is overflowing these days.
He's got one of his running backs, sophomore Derrick Locke, saying that the offense needs to run the ball more. And his e-mail is filled with ideas from fans about how to ignite Phillips' struggling unit.
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The Wildcats are eighth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and struggled mightily to move the ball in a 17-14 loss to Alabama Saturday that saw the defense play well enough to keep the Cats in the game.
It's different territory for Phillips, who had one of the league's best offenses the past two seasons led by quarterback Andre Woodson, running back Rafael Little, and receivers Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Jacob Tamme.
Phillips was good-natured when talking with reporters on Tuesday, as he smiled and cracked jokes throughout the interview.
"When we were having success, I didn't take it like I knew everything or I was the guru," Phillips said. "I understand that when things are not going well, I'm going to get the criticism. That's fine. That's what I signed up for. We're not doing well offensively, and I accept the criticism."
Locke raised some eyebrows with his comments on Monday that the running backs need more touches and a greater commitment to the running game. While those comments seemed to be directed at the coaching staff, Phillips said he took no offense to it.
"Am I surprised Locke said it? No. He's said stuff like that before," Phillips said. "And of lot of it is right. But you've got to check yourself, too. You've got to watch what you say. I used to get receivers who'd say, 'I want the ball, I want the ball.' Then the next ball that comes to them, they drop it.
"(Locke) does have a lot of confidence, no question about that. But we've been in this business a long time. We know what we need to do."
When asked about Locke's comments on Tuesday, UK Coach Rich Brooks pointed out that Locke didn't always take advantage of the few carries he got against Alabama.
"Ask (Locke) about the power play that was wide open on the outside that he could have broken for 10 more yards without being touched," Brooks said. "He ran into a pile. I'd like to run the ball better and more often, and if we gain more yards when we run it, we'll run it more often."
Phillips said he's gotten quite a few e-mails from concerned fans but takes them with a grain of salt.
"I'm sure everybody that's sending me the e-mails saying we need to run the ball, run the ball, those same people are saying, 'You need to open it up," Phillips said.
Phillips said he's never taken a suggestion from an e-mail and actually done it, but joked that he'll occasionally respond.
"Sometimes I tell them thank you or thanks for the input," Phillips said. "And I have said, 'Thanks for the input, if you really want to help, get here at 5 o'clock. A.M.'"
When Phillips is looking for outside input, he said he'll go to a high school game or pop in a tape from a college game.
"I love going to high school practices and watching other people's film," Phillips said. "Those people are experts. The people outside that send those e-mails, they don't have a clue. Sometimes I do tell the e-mailers, 'You were right, now how should we block it?'"
Sophomore quarterback Mike Hartline has been efficient through five games, completing 55.8 percent of his attempts for 874 yards with five touchdowns and only two interceptions. Downfield passing has been missing from the UK offense, but Phillips said the offense has taken what defenses have been giving them.
"We've tried to throw the ball down the field," Phillips said. "But when teams are sinking, sinking, sinking, you've got to drop it off. At halftime of Western game, we're in the two-minute drill. We call four verticals, and the whole defense sinks. We drop it off to the backs, and everybody below me, I can't hear it, but I can read their lips, 'Throw the ball down the field.'
"But that's what the read says; when they sink, sink, sink, just drop it off to the backs. And that's what we're getting right now. You've just got to be patient. And Mike's done a good job of being patient. That's why he hasn't turned the ball over much."
Phillips said that Rafael Little's dangerous ability in the open field as a pass-catcher kept teams from dropping too far back in coverage like they are this season.
"When Rafael caught the ball he would make people miss," Phillips said. "Then they had to play a little harder up on us and that gave Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons, Steve Johnson and Jacob Tamme a chance to get behind those guys."
Phillips thinks Locke can eventually have the same effect that Little did.
"Locke's still young, and he's got two more years in the program," Phillips said. "It would be safe to say that Rafael's sophomore year and Locke's sophomore year that they'd have pretty similar numbers, so I think he could be as good — if not better — than Rafael when it's all over."
■ The Arkansas at Kentucky football game on Oct. 18 will start at 7 p.m., UK confirmed Tuesday. Plans for the TV broadcast have not been finalized.
■ UK right guard Jess Beets is questionable for Saturday's game with a bruised knee. Beets, who has started all five games this season, did not practice Tuesday, but Coach Rich Brooks hopes he can return to practice on Wednesday. Beets' backup, redshirt freshman Stuart Hines, is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a cartilage tear in his knee.
■ Brooks also said Tuesday that the three players with high-ankle sprains — defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, middle linebacker Micah Johnson and quarterback/wide receiver Randall Cobb — all practiced "pretty hard and looked OK, not great, but OK."
■ Wide receiver DeMoreo Ford (sternum/clavicle) and linebacker Michael Schwindel (shoulder) will miss Saturday's game with injuries, Brooks said.