Saturday night will be a homecoming for Kentucky defensive line coach David Turner, who coached at Mississippi State from 2007-09 before leaving to join Joker Phillips' first staff at Kentucky. Turner recruited several of the current players on the Mississippi State roster.
Q: How will it feel to face off against a lot of players you invested time in recruiting?
A: Obviously you spend three years with a certain group of guys, you get to know the mamas, the daddies, the grandmamas and so forth, so you develop relationships. I've had a bunch of them text me this week, and a couple of mamas called. It'll be good to see those guys, but the bottom line is I want to win. I hope they win all their games except one. Once the ball is kicked off, I'm all blue, they're all maroon, and we'll battle to the end.
Q: Dan Mullen looks like he has things moving in the right direction in Starkville. What does that say about your relationship with Joker Phillips that you left what seemed to be an up-and-coming situation at Mississippi State to come to UK?
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A: You develop good friends in the business, and I have about three or four people that I consider close friends. Obviously Joker is one of them, and the opportunity to come and help build this thing and get it to the next level is what appealed to me, and I decided that's what I wanted to be a part of. It's not a slight to Dan, it's not a slight to Mississippi State, it's more of a relationship I had with Joker, and obviously it's a long-standing one.
Q: The state of Mississippi produces a lot of talent, and you've spent a lot of time recruiting there. There's not a player from the state on the Kentucky roster. Is it too hard to get a good chunk of those guys to leave home and come north to Lexington?
A: Probably. Those guys are home-grown, and we had a stat that Mississippi guys were the highest per capita in the NFL. There's a lot of good athletes to recruit, and you have to project. (Mississippi State sophomore free safety) Johnthan Banks was a kid up the road that walked to school every day. And he's got a chance to be a great player. It's a matter of being efficient in your evaluating. There's lots of good talent down there; you've just to go dig it out.
Q: In your opinion, what's been the key to Mississippi State's turnaround?
A: It's been a change of attitude. It started in the weight room. They hired (strength coach) Matt Balis, who was with Dan at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. It's the same with Rock (Oliver) here. They spend more time with the players than we do. It's a matter of developing a mentality, an attitude, a toughness; that's what carries over on the field. You develop a mind-set. It's a big difference this year than last year. The players know how the coaches want everything to go and what to expect. Either you decide to follow it, or you move on, or they move you on. It's like any new organization. Any time you have a change, some people adapt and some people don't. That's not a bad thing. But most of those kids have adapted and embraced change. The thing about those kids, they don't mind working hard.
Q: How would you grade the UK defensive line's performance so far this season?
A: I'd have to give us a D. We've played very well at times, but it's a team sport. We've given up a 176-yard average against the run, and any time you give up that much yardage it's not good. There are a lot of different reasons, but it starts up front with us. It's kind of like building a house. You've got to have a sturdy foundation and a floor. We're the floor of the defense. We haven't played up to our expectations on a consistent level. In every game, we've played about as well as we can we play when we get 11 guys doing the right thing, but we've had too many guys breaking down on too many plays."