Injuries, youth are no excuse to save Joker now

By BRIAN RICKERD/sports@state-journal.com Published:

LEXINGTON – Joker Phillips chances of hanging on to his job as head football at the University of Kentucky appear about as likely as preventing fatalities must have been after the Titanic hit the ice berg.

Not after Kentucky’s embarrassing 49-7 loss at Arkansas Saturday dropped Phillips’ Wildcats to 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference. (And you can’t ignore that this game was cut short by some 20 minutes due to bad weather in Fayetteville).

Not with 13th-ranked Georgia coming to Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night.

Not with freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow, and then, likely, senior Morgan Newton your answers 1-2 at quarterback.

Not with even more injuries piling up for the Wildcats, further depleting a team that came into the season already heavily dependent on freshmen and sophomores.

Not with only one game left – Nov. 17 home to Samford – that may see Kentucky as a favorite, likely ensuring that the Wildcats will win no more than two games.

The only chance I see for Kentucky to win more than twice is if freshman quarterback Patrick Towles returns from a high ankle sprain suffered last week against Mississippi State.

And, even if that happens, do you play Towles and eliminate the likely scenario that he could get a medical redshirt and retain four years of eligibility? Even with Towles, Kentucky is probably not winning more than three games.

You’d think Phillips might give Towles a hard look if it means saving his job, of course, but is it too late to save Joker?

Probably.

It’s just such a mess and such a losing proposition for Phillips and athletics director Mitch Barnhart.

And it’s so frustrating even for the most passionate and most rational UK fans.

I would argue that with any luck at all on the injury front, this Kentucky team would have had a realistic shot at six wins and a bowl game

But good luck is nowhere to be found around Phillips and his football program this fall, and I cannot see any light at the end of this tunnel.

And some fans may wonder if the picture should be much brighter for Barnhart, who is under increasing heat for the dip in UK football.

UK fans are growing increasingly frustrated with a number of aspects of the football program.

It isn’t helping from a public relations standpoint to see the improvement in UK athletic facilities like track and field and soccer, and hear talk of upgrades in baseball and tennis, all the while UK’s football facilities are, at best, stagnant and, at worst, deteriorating.

The UK football coaches have long lobbied for a first-class place to meet and greet recruits. John Calipari could get the money for that in 10 minutes if this was basketball.

And with all the talk in the past year about a major renovation to Rupp Arena, the interior of Commonwealth Stadium is making Louisville’s old Cardinal Stadium look like the sports facility equivalent of Ritz Carlton.

The facilities problem could be swept under the rug, of course, if Phillips’ football team was experiencing some success on the field.

But that, again, isn’t happening and isn’t going to happen in 2012, leaving Barnhart between a rock and a hard place.

So, we wait.

Phillips was asked at his weekly in-season press conference Monday if he has talked to Barnhart lately, and, if so, what was it about?

Phillips said he and Barnhart made small talk.

Did they talk about his job status?

“I’m busy trying to get these guys improved and get them prepared to play Georgia,” Phillips replied.

Called game

good or bad?

Phillips said immediately after Saturday night’s game that he had hoped to finish the contest so his young players could get more reps.

Then, some 24 hours later, he said it was good that SEC officials stopped the game when they did, in part, because his players had not eaten since 2 p.m., in advance of the 7 p.m. game.

Not sure how much stock I put in that. Not sure you’d have seen guys in the heat of the action around midnight thinking, you know, a chili cheese dog and fries about now sure would be nice.

Then there was another question Monday that may sum up what an awful season this has been for Kentucky. Phillips was asked about the Wildcats inability to get lined up properly at Arkansas, especially in the first half.

“That was early in the game, but once we got a chance to go to the locker room and make a few adjustments (down 42-0) ... that’s one of the good things,” Phillips said.

“Again, we still didn’t get the pressure we needed on the quarterback, but we did get people lining up in the proper positions.”

Comment: Sigh.

Saturday night’s crowd for the Georgia game promises to be relatively sparse, which is a shame since UK is honoring pro football Hall of Fame inductee and UK football legend Dermontti Dawson.

UK officials have designated Saturday as Dermontti Dawson Day at Commonwealth Stadium.

Dawson, a Bryan Station High graduate, played at UK from 1984-87. He will be on hand for the game, signing autographs in the Wildcats Refuge two hours before kickoff.

The first 10,000 fans in the stadium will receive a Dermontti Dawson rally towel, which they’ll likely need for this one.

Missouri game

time set

SEC officials announced Monday that Kentucky’s Oct. 27 game at Missouri will start at noon eastern time and will be televised on ESPNU.

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  • Columnists are not fans. Their job is to look at the coaches, players and decisions made by a program and give their opinion. Often it is critical and may not be what "fans" want to hear. Sometimes it is. Maybe it isn't as bad as the media make it out to be, but it is far from a good situation for Kentucky football as a whole.

  • I feel bad for the UK football team, the only thing worse is the way the media keeps bashing them. Do you really think this was a good article? Did you write anything newsworthy? Negativity breeds negativity. I would like to take all the fans complaining about the coaches and stats and donate them to another school. True fans stick through the tough and rebuilding times too.