Joker Phillips had seen enough.
The Kentucky coach had watched his team go through a lackluster practice on Thursday leading up to the Akron game. Then, once the lights came on Saturday night, the Wildcats were laboring through a first quarter that saw them clinging to a 3-0 lead over the Zips, who lost the previous week at home to FCS school Gardner-Webb.
Finally, after UK was penalized for a false start as it lined up to go for a fourth-and-1 at the Akron 29-yard line, Phillips signaled for a timeout.
Phillips didn't just call out the offense, who already had a series of penalties and dropped passes. He gathered the whole team near midfield and gave the players a 30-second tongue-lashing before sending them back on the field.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Kicker Craig McIntosh missed the 51-yard field-goal attempt, and Akron tied the game at 3 on the next possession. But Phillips' message evidently hit home, as Kentucky scored on its next seven possessions and cruised to a 47-10 win in front of 64,014 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan said Phillips was "enthusiastic" during the discussion.
"That's probably the nicest way to put it," he said.
"I don't want to talk about the cussing part," receiver Chris Matthews added. "I think we all realized, 'He means business; we've got to get our stuff together.' "
UK did get it together, thanks in large part to Derrick Locke, who carried 17 times for a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns, and Mike Hartline, who turned in another solid performance by going 21-for-29 for 250 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
But with a trip to Florida looming on Saturday, the Cats know the way they started against Akron won't cut it, which is exactly why Phillips organized the late-first-quarter pow-wow.
"We looked like we were sleepwalking during the warm-up," he said. "I challenged them before the game to play with intensity, to play with excitement and to play with passion. I didn't see that out of us the first quarter. They will see next week that you can't relax. You play like that, like we did in this quarter next week, you'll be down two or three touchdowns."
"We didn't prepare like we should have," Locke said. "Thursday's practice was not good, and we came out and played exactly how we practiced. We weren't ready."
But once the Cats got zoned in, they quickly started to establish separation.
After McIntosh's 33-yarder gave UK a 6-3 lead with 7:49 left in the second quarter, Hartline's 26-yard pass to La'Rod King set up a 13-yarder over the middle to Cobb to make it 13-3. Kentucky got the ball back with 2:32 left in the first half, and Hartline executed the two-minute drill to perfection, going 5-for-6 for 51 yards and hitting Matthews in the left corner of the end zone to give UK a 20-3 lead.
"We knew they weren't stopping us," Hartline said. "We were killing ourselves. We just had to focus, regroup and get it cleaned up."
The UK defense also turned in its most impressive performance of the young season. While the Akron offense didn't have a lot of heavy artillery, the Cats held the Zips to 172 yards of offense, including a meager eight yards in the second quarter. The Wildcat defense was credited with five sacks and nine tackles for loss, and after allowing 100-yard rushers in its first two games, UK held the Zips to 67 yards on 37 carries.
"We had been stressing all week to see if this defense could start slugging people and we played outstanding," Phillips said. "We came out and played 60 minutes of great football. The defense did an unbelievable job of making this team go backward."
Locke's 56-yard run with 8:24 left in the third quarter officially turned the game into a rout at 34-3, allowing Phillips to clear his bench. Freshman tailback Raymond Sanders scored his third touchdown in two weeks, and fourth-stringer CoShik Williams added his first career touchdown to close out the scoring for the Wildcats.
So while it took a little extra prodding from Phillips, the Wildcats will now take a 3-0 record into the Swamp to face the Gators, and the players didn't mind the extra motivation.
"He's the head coach, and he's supposed to take charge of the whole team," Matthews said. "We applaud him for that."
Cobb sits out second half
Junior receiver Randall Cobb sat out the second half after receiving an IV at halftime and complaining of heartburn. Phillips said Cobb could have returned if necessary.
"By the time they had checked him out and cleared him we had just scored, and we just thought we'd keep him out the rest of the game," Phillips said.
Fullback Moncell Allen also left the game in the first half with a strained hamstring and did not return.
Evans gets on the board
Senior defensive end DeQuin Evans, who didn't record a tackle in the first two games, got his first tackle of the year on the first play from scrimmage. Evans also got his first sack of the season in the second quarter.
Sophomore Craig McIntosh handled extra points and field goals for the first time as a Wildcat. McIntosh, a Lexington Christian product, joined the team as a walk-on last fall and handled kickoff duties much of the season. He hit two of his three field goal attempts and was 4-for-5 on PAT's.
With Cobb out the second half, Phillips was able to give several players a look on punt returns. Locke had an 8-yard punt return, and freshman Jerrell Priester added a 33-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Another freshman, Raymond Sanders, had an interesting night on punt returns. On his first attempt, he slipped and fell as he backpedaled. He helped UK avoid disaster on the second one, falling on a punt that skipped off a member of the return team.