Mark Story

Mark Story: What crazy quarterback surprise does UK have in store for UT this year?

Wildcats "quarterback" Matt Roark — a wide receiver who filled in due to injuries — got a lift off the field in 2011 after UK defeated Tennessee to snap a 26-year losing streak against the Vols.
Wildcats "quarterback" Matt Roark — a wide receiver who filled in due to injuries — got a lift off the field in 2011 after UK defeated Tennessee to snap a 26-year losing streak against the Vols.

Poor, poor Sal Sunseri.

The first-year University of Tennessee defensive coordinator is presiding over a unit that has allowed a staggering 43.3 points a game in Southeastern Conference play. That porous UT "D" is the big reason the Volunteers are sitting at 0-7 in the SEC. It's also the big reason now-former Vols head man Derek Dooley is standing in the unemployment line.

Yet this week, things really get rough for Sunseri — he has to get a defensive game plan together for Kentucky.

Yes, UK is 2-9, 0-7 in the SEC. Sure, Kentucky has already announced its head coach, Joker Phillips, will be fired after this season. True, the UK offense has averaged a paltry 10.2 points and 232.6 yards a game in Southeastern Conference contests.

But ...

One year after the Wildcats snapped a humiliating 26-year losing streak to Tennessee by playing wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback and silencing the Rocky Toppers 10-7, who knows what crazy plan the Cats have in store for their QB position in Neyland Stadium Saturday?

Kentucky could use a hybrid defensive end/linebacker at quarterback.

"If I could just run some plays down on the goal line, I'd try to truck whoever I could," said UK senior Taylor Wyndham. "I'd just go all downhill."

Kentucky could use an offensive guard at quarterback.

"Definitely, I'm going to put a tape on the six (in the 67 on his jersey) and go out there and throw a couple of passes," said UK's Larry Warford. "I feel like I have really good form."

Kentucky could use a defensive tackle at quarterback.

"If they ask me, I would say yes," said Tristian Johnson. "I feel like that is something I have been doing my whole life is throwing the pigskin. It won't look as good as what a (regular) quarterback will throw ... but whatever it takes to win."

Kentucky could use a middle linebacker at quarterback.

"I'd do the best I can, but we'd have to do some Wildcat (formation) or something like that," said UK's Avery Williamson. "I don't have too strong an arm."

Kentucky could use a running back at quarterback.

"Me playing quarterback, it would be, basically, me running the football," said Raymond Sanders. "I can't throw it as well as (some of) those other guys."

Or Kentucky could use a defensive end at quarterback.

"After last year," said Collins Ukwu, "you never know, do you?"

What we do know: UK has not beaten Tennessee in back-to-back seasons since 1976 and '77. It has not beaten the Volunteers in Knoxville since 1984.

It's funny how things work out.

On Nov. 24, 1984, a Kentucky senior wide receiver named Joker Phillips led UK with five receptions in Neyland Stadium in what became a 17-12 Cats victory.

On Nov. 24, 2012, Phillips will be back in Neyland for his final game as head man at his alma mater.

"It's a big game for me," Phillips said Monday at his last weekly news conference. "I'm excited to go out and have these seniors try to win one and on the same date that I did."

A season ago, in what will forever be known in these parts as "The Matt Roark Game," UK played a wide receiver at quarterback against UT out of necessity. In 2011, the Cats had only two scholarship QBs (Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton), and both were injured by the time of the season finale with the Orange.

This season, UK has three scholarship quarterbacks available Saturday, though two (Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles) are true freshmen. Alas, one is not Maxwell Smith, the Kentucky starter that Phillips and Co. built their entire offensive attack around for 2012 only to see the QB miss all but three games and one series (against South Carolina) due to injuries.

So, on Saturday, Phillips could follow what is now the time-tested method for Kentucky to beat Tennessee in football. Will UK again start a wide receiver at quarterback Saturday against UT?

With a smile, then a wink, Phillips said "Maybe."

Or Kentucky could throw Sunseri and the Tennessee defensive brain trust a real curve ball — and start a quarterback at quarterback.

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