After taking some much needed time off during the bye week, the University of Kentucky football team returned to the practice fields Sunday afternoon to begin its preparation for Samford and continued practice Tuesday morning at the Nutter Field House.
After practice, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and defensive coordinator Rick Minter talked about the team's bye week and its preparation for Samford. Sanders said he felt true freshmen quarterbacks Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles did some good things in UK's last game against Vanderbilt, but admitted there are still improvements that need to be made.
"I thought the last two games have been Jalen's best by far," Sanders said. "The Missouri game he did a lot of good things but there are some things we need to shore up and get better. The Vandy game was easily the best he has played to this point. Patrick did some good things last week but there are a whole lot of things he has to make a lot of improvements on in a hurry."
Sanders said he believes UK will use the same rotation for Whitlow and Towles as they have in past weeks, but did not rule out a change in the plan based on how the game is going.
"I anticipate them both playing, obviously that depends on the game and how that is going," Sanders said. "Still our No. 1 priority is to win the game and we will do whatever we have to do to win the game. If things go as we like, I would expect both of them to play."
Sanders said since the announcement that head coach Joker Phillips would not be retained for the 2013 season not much has changed for the Wildcats, with the team still giving strong energy and attitude.
"It hasn't been easy, but the one thing I will say is that the kids have worked hard and they have a good attitude out here," Sanders said. "Obviously, they have a lot of respect and admiration for Coach Phillips and they want to send him out the right way. The way they have gone about their business on the practice field and in the meeting rooms is not much different than how we approach the season. They are trying to get better and improve and want to win as much as we do."
Saturday will serve as Senior Night for the Wildcats and both Sanders and Minter said they will remember the memories with the players and thank them for their hard work for the program.
"There are a million memories that you have whether it be on the practice field, game field, in the meeting room or at dinner some night or at lunch," Sanders said about the senior class. "There are a lot of good memories to have. We are going to miss those guys and hopefully we finish this thing out right and can send those guys out with two wins."
"It was a small group entering the season," Minter said about the defensive seniors. "We only had five guys that really were into their last hurrah. They have been great leaders for us and we have gotten great production out of them down through the years. UK can be proud of the five that are going to be leaving. Collins Ukwu, Taylor Wyndham have been big up front and stalwarts for us and playing all year on almost every play. Then you have the three guys on the back end in Cartier Rice, Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton and they have all had their ups and downs with the injuries unfortunately. Nonetheless, they have been great mentors and leaders for the young kids that have come along through the program and have very bright futures here."
On the football field, Minter said that Neloms, who has been limited recently due to injury, "is a work in progress." Minter said they are limiting Neloms in practice this week to make sure he is ready to go Saturday.
Minter said he has preached to his defense to finish the season strong for the senior class and make sure to give them the best possible effort in the last two games.
"We talked to our guys and rallied our forces after the day we were informed and said, ‘To our seniors we owe everything to play our best football the last couple of weeks of the season and send them out on a high note,'" Minter said. "This is their memories and photographs for life and also try to send Coach Phillips out on that note. Other than that it is business as usual and they are getting our best effort as a staff and we haven't changed anything."
As for Samford, Minter said they have a balanced offensive attack with a veteran quarterback and a talented running back.
"They do a good job of balancing their attack of running and passing," Minter said. "They are in that high-20 scoring average and high threes (376.6 yards per game) in their offense. They have a 1,000-yard rusher that is doing a nice job and a transfer quarterback that is ably running the system that Pat Sullivan has put together. I have gone against Pat before and he is a well diverse offensive football coach and a Heisman Trophy winner. He kind of leans on the pass but knows the value of the running game. They run up-tempo and a variety of personnel groupings in there to try to find the right match. It's kind of business as usual, us trying to do our schemes against their schemes, but it still gets down to a game of toughness and we hope to stop the running game and have a chance to force them into a passing situation."