Kentucky is only 4-7 and can’t have a winning season, has had its five-year streak of playing in bowl games snapped and has not defeated Tennessee since 1984.
But Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, 10-14 in his two seasons as head coach, insists he feels no extra pressure going into Saturday’s season-ending game with Tennessee.
“No, I¿don’t,” said Phillips. “We are playing for pride and pride for university. I don’t feel any pressure for myself. I don’t want them (the players) to feel pressure for me especially. I want to them to put their pride on the line and not play for me. I need them not to play for me but for their own self pride.”
Phillips says there will be no special emphasis on the game despite UK’s record and continuing speculation about his job status because of his team’s play this season.
“Our emphasis last week (against Georgia) was to try to continue the streak of going to bowl games. It is lost now,” Phillips said as he reflected on the 19-10 loss at Georgia. “Again, one of our goals is to try and end certain streaks on our schedule and that is one goal still out there. I want to them to prepare and play with the same type intensity (they did at Georgia) and try to get the job done.”
Phillips was on the last UK¿team to beat Tennessee. He insisted a win over the Vols, who need a win to gain bowl eligibility, would not mean anything special even though it could be viewed as a season-saving win by UK¿fans or maybe a job-saving win for Phillips.
“Just to get a win. It has been two, three years ... I think it was the Liberty Bowl ... since we got a win to end the season. Going into the offseason with a win would be really big.”
Former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and Phillips both noted that one big advantage for going to a bowl was the extra month of practice it provided. However, on Sunday Phillips downplayed what losing those extra practices would mean to the Kentucky football program.
“It’s always helpful to get that extra month of practice, but one thing we have done is play a lot of young players, especially the last three or four weeks,” Phillips said. “Young guys that normally practice (during bowl preparation time) are not only practicing (with the top units), but playing (in games). We have played more true freshmen than we have in a long time. More on our two-deep depth chart than ever before.
“It always helps to have that extra month. No doubt about that. But playing the young guys (during the regular season) has been helpful also.”
Here’s what Phillips had to say about a variety of other subjects Sunday as well:
— Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan had his third 17-tackle game of the season at Georgia and will be one of the UK seniors playing his final game Saturday.
“I think everybody will remember the last two years. Did not see much of him the first two years. He did not play much as a freshman. (As a sophomore) Starter but usually out of the game because we played more nickel (coverage with two linebackers) his sophomore year,” Phillips said. “Everybody will remember how hard he plays I hope. How determined he plays. Just remember the effort he gave for his university.”
— Quarterback Max Smith, who was 17-for-34 passing for 133 yards and one score at Georgia, sprained his shoulder Saturday but did return to the game.
“Again, it’s usually hard to tell after the first day. We will continue to evaluate him day to day. If we had to play today, obviously he would not be albe to,” Phillips said. “We will evaluate and get treatment every day and see if we can get him ready.”
Phillips said Morgan Newton, the starter before he got injured, played only because Smith went down.
“Max went down. We had to put somebody in. It’s not that we were yanking Max. He was down with the shoulder,”¿Phillips said.
— Sophomore Anthony Kendrick had a team-high three catches for 22 yards at Georgia in his first significant contribution of the season.
“We have been practicing Anthony a couple of weeks. Tyler Robinson has been banged up and not played much,” Phillips said. “One thing he does is catch the football well.”
— Phillips again praised a number of young players who played well on defense when UK¿limited Georgia to 317 yards and just one touchdown.
He cited linebacker Alvin Dupree, safety Ashley Lowery, lineman Michael Douglas, lineman Christian Coleman, linebacker Malcolm McDuffen, linebacker Myles Simpson and cornerback Eric Dixon for their play. Dupree, Lowery, Coleman and Dixon are true freshmen.
“Everybody stepped up, especially the young guys thrown into roles ... they have not played a huge role,” Phillips said. “We are going to lose guys every year. We lose a great player in Danny, but we feel like we have added some guys, especially in last year’s class and the year before, than can help us fill the void of guys leaving. Those guys and the way they played fares well for the future of our defense.”
— Tennessee (5-6) beat Vanderbilt 27-21 in overtime Saturday for its first Southeastern Conference win of the season. Phillips said he had not started scouting preparations Sunday, but he still knew enough about the Vols to be impressed.
“It definitely helps that they got (quarterback Tyler) Bray back (from an injury). He seemed to be healthy (against Vanderbilt) and in command of the football,” Phillips said. “He has a big-time receiver in the (Da’Rick) Rogers kid. (Tauren) Poole is a violent runner in the open field.
“They play hard and physical on defense. They held Vandy to 117 (actually 130) rushing yards. They do a good job stopping the run.”