As his players gathered for meetings Sunday after a deflating loss to Louisville, Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips saw young men looking for guidance and, perhaps, reassurance.
"You could tell everybody was down, guys were looking for answers," Phillips said on a teleconference Sunday afternoon. "We as coaches have got to give it to them."
Seemingly echoing his coach at UK, Jerry Claiborne, Phillips called for a re-emphasis of football fundamentals.
"Our guys are tackling well, defensively," he said before adding, "I don't think we're blocking very well on offense. A lot of it has to do with technique. We'll have to go back to fundamentals and have a little bit more individual (sessions)."
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Phillips also suggested a "scale back" of what Kentucky has been trying to do.
"We're having a lot of missed assignments," he said. "Either you're doing too much or not doing a good job teaching."
UK might shed some plays that have not been executed well, and rely more on plays that have reaped success, he said.
Noting how well UK moved the ball in the fourth quarter against Louisville, Phillips said the Cats might speed up the offensive tempo. "Get to the line and go," he said.
A reporter noted that U of L tackled Kentucky for a loss on a whopping 14 plays. Phillips noted that three false-start penalties increased the number of UK retreats to 17. He said he couldn't remember a team going backward that many times in a game.
When asked about team confidence in the wake of rushing for only 35 yards against Louisville, Phillips defended the system and the UK players.
"We've been in this system a long time," he said. "It's not broke. We've had a lot of success in this system."
As for the players, many thrust in prominent roles for the first time, Phillips said, "We feel the personnel is just as good as some of the teams we've had here. We've got to get them to play better as coaches."
That prompted a reporter to ask if Phillips wanted fans and media to blame him and his staff for the loss to Louisville and the sputtering offense so far this season.
"It's a combination," he said. "We haven't done a good job preparing the team. When we had opportunities to make plays, (the plays were not always made). We have to do a better job all around, as coaches and players."
Phillips acknowledged that he and the coaches must walk a fine line in handling the much-scrutinized offensive line. The coaches must demand better play while not beating down what might be a beleaguered unit.
"It is a sensitive deal," Phillips said, "because they were expected to the leaders of the football team. It's a sensitive subject."
Offensive guard Larry Warford aggravated an ankle injury in the Louisville game. Phillips said the all-league lineman would miss Tuesday's practice, but would be expected to play against Florida on Saturday.
Open date or play?
A loss to in-state rival Louisville stung and probably lingered in the psyche of the UK players. A reporter asked Phillips if, in a perfect world, Kentucky would be off this week so as to better let the loss filter through the team's collective system. Instead, Kentucky begins a grueling three-week stretch that has games against Florida, at LSU and at South Carolina.
"Our schedule is how it is," Phillips said. "I think it's good to get back out there. Our open date is probably where we'd like it."
The Cats' open date comes after the Florida-LSU-South Carolina triad of terror.
"Those will be real physical games," Phillips said. "Hopefully, that (open) week will help us rest up."