LEXINGTON – UK coach Joker Phillips hopes his football Wildcats can ride a wave of momentum into spring practice, coming on the heels of the historic 10-7 upset of the Tennessee Volunteers in the last game of the regular season and a near upset just one week earlier against the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens.
Spring drills started on Wednesday and run through the Blue-White game on April 21 at 6 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I’m excited about football beginning, especially with the way we finished off – the way we played at Georgia, even though we came up short, and then the win versus Tennessee,” Phillips said this week. “The thing that makes you excited is seeing those young guys out there flying around. There was a ton of young, true freshmen making plays on both sides of the football, with the majority on defense.
“We’re excited about getting back on the football field as a group.”
Phillips said he believes the Tennessee win will, in fact, carry over.
“I’ve had a chance to gauge what it meant to our players,” Phillips said. “As we showed highlights of the game after the game, in the locker room, those guys felt a sense of accomplishment. I think that was really big for us going into this off-season.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the way the game went, also,” he added. “We had to convince those wide receivers, ‘You’re probably not going to get the ball.’ The forward pass is going to be behind the line. That’s about as good as it was going to get. Just watching in the middle of the week how excited those guys were for Matt (Roark). I think that brought this team a little bit closer together.
“We always talk about playing great defense, running the football, protecting the football, how we win. It all worked out that way. I think there was a sense of understanding how we have to win here. There are going to be times we have to win and score 40 points, but sometimes you have to win that way. I think that’s going to help us going into this off-season.”
It would also help if that momentum and good will could translate to find replacements for guys like linebackers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, an offensive lineman like Stuart Hines and several other standouts from last season’s 5-7 team.
And there will certainly be questions, if not this spring then in the fall, about who will be the quarterback. Redshirt freshman Maxwell Smith ended this past season with a lock on the QB spot, but red-hot recruit Patrick Towles of Highlands will be here in the fall.
Phillips said the guy who started at the beginning of the season last year, Morgan Newton, is still nursing a sore shoulder and will not throw this spring.
Phillips said former Anderson County High quarterback Jacob Russell is the backup this spring.
“Russell is a guy we kept talking about in fall camp last year,” Phillips said. “Actually, the whole season. He’s done a good job this off-season. He’s a hard working guy. He lives in the film room, and he’s a really good weight room guy.”
Phillips said freshman Alvin Dupree has a chance to be the next great linebacker for the Wildcats.
“He has the size, speed and knowledge,” Phillips says of Dupree. “He’s a guy we can line up at a lot of different positions.”
And then there are the invariable questions about the wide receiver position. Frankfort’s E.J. Fields is in the mix there going into his final season with the Wildcats. And Phillips said this week that multi-talented athlete Bookie Cobbins has moved from quarterback to wide out.
“Offensively, we’ve got to find out first of all, again this year, who the playmakers are at the wide receiver position and have a little bit more consistency at the quarterback position,” Phillips said.
Here’s a look at UK’s 2012 schedule:
Sept. 1 – at Louisville
Sept. 8 – vs. Kent State
Sept. 15 – vs. Western Kentucky
Sept. 22 – at Florida
Sept. 29 – vs. South Carolina
Oct. 6 – vs. Mississippi State
Oct. 13 – at Arkansas
Oct. 20 – vs. Georgia
Oct. 27 – at Missouri
Nov. 3 – vs. Vanderbilt
Nov. 17 – vs. Samford
Nov. 24 – at Tennessee