BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Derrick Locke admits he sometimes thinks 'what if?'
What if he hadn't suffered that shoulder injury against Auburn that caused him to miss four games in the second half of the season.
Before getting hurt, Locke had rushed for 100 yards or more in four of Kentucky's five games, including a career-high 166-yard performance against Akron.
He still finished his senior season with good numbers: 154 carries, 816 yards, 10 touchdowns, and his 102 yards-per-game average was highest among all SEC running backs. But the injury derailed what could have been one of the best seasons by a Wildcats back.
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Locke said he's ready to put all of that behind him and go out with a bang in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl matchup with Pittsburgh.
"I was having one heck of a season, and that's what I wanted," Locke said. "I had a little minor setback. But all I can do is think about what I've got now."
Locke is motivated to have a good performance to impress NFL scouts before he heads off to play in the Senior Bowl.
"I've got to show what I haven't been able to show," Locke said. "It's a big deal. This game is big for me. It's not just a game for me, and I'm going to approach it that way. I've still got opportunities to show what I can do (at the Senior Bowl) but first things first. I've got to come out here and play well."
Minter wants defense to focus on takeaways
Rick Minter knows one of the reasons the Kentucky defense has struggled this season.
When UK's new co-defensive coordinator looks at the statistics, he doesn't look at yards or points allowed. He looks at turnovers.
Kentucky is near the bottom of the FBS with just 15 turnovers forced. Turnovers are often the result of good fortune, but Minter said forcing them can be taught.
He's spent a good portion of December trying to get the defense in a turnover-forcing frame of mind.
"Takeaways are an attitude," Minter said. "Like anything, lip service is a part of it, but showing them how is also a big part of it. It is a fundamental part of the game for us to learn to take the ball away, whether it's the techniques of catching the football, scooping and scoring, hitting it out of the quarterback's hands."
Joker Phillips frequently notes how certain players tend to blossom during bowl practices, which sets the stage for a breakout the following season. Receivers Steve Johnson and Chris Matthews are two examples from the past.
Phillips singled out sophomore linebacker Ridge Wilson as the most improved player during UK's December workouts.
Wilson emerged late in the season at strong-side linebacker, and he will start the bowl game. He has 24 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups and one forced fumble going into the bowl.
"Ridge has been outstanding for us in these practices," Phillips said.
"He's a guy that hadn't gone hard on every play, and we've used these practices to get him to understand that and push him. He's a guy that we believe will make an impact in this game."
BBVA Compass Bowl officials didn't give a pre-game estimate on attendance for Saturday's game, but they did say corporate ticket sales are up and that local sales are similar to last year, when 45,254 showed up at Legion Field to watch UConn beat South Carolina 20-7.
Basketball Cats will be on Birmingham TV
UK fans traveling to the bowl game Saturday will be able to follow the Kentucky-Georgia men's basketball game. It will be shown live on WABM-TV in Birmingham. The Wildcats and Bulldogs are scheduled for a 4 p.m. tip.
Fans wishing to participate in the "Cat Walk" to welcome the team when it enters the stadium should be at Gates 16 and 17 of Legion Field at 8:45 a.m. CST.