Those were all goals bantered around by University of Kentucky players before the season started. Now the better words are perplexed, frustrated and confused after a 24-17 loss at Mississippi State Saturday night that dropped UK to 4-5 overall and only 1-5 in conference play.
"It's frustrating. It seems like one aspect of our game always slips up. Coach (Joker Phillips) has been saying that and preaching that all three aspects of the game need to come together. We do a good job of practicing it, but it doesn't count until Saturdays," said quarterback Mike Hartline.
Kentucky had some numbers in its favor against Mississippi State. It kept the ball 35 minutes and ran 84 plays. It had more yards than Mississippi State. But the Cats gave up three big plays for touchdowns or that led to touchdowns and had four turnovers. Hartline was sacked a season-high four times and hit a lot more — a continuing trend for the Cats in SEC play.
"I really don't know, I don't think any of us do," junior receiver Randall Cobb, who had 12 catches for 171 yards and one touchdown, said. "This is by far the best team I've been on since I've been at UK, and we're not showing it. That's what's so frustrating, that we're such a good team, and we have a losing record."
Phillips says Kentucky continues to give the ball away far too often in its losses, a trend he has harped on with his players in recent weeks.
"That speaks volumes. We're way too careless with the football, and we've got to create turnovers. Little things are keeping us from showing what type of football team we really have," Phillips said . "I don't want to be known as a team that falls behind and continues to fight and gets themselves back in the game, fights to the end and ends up coming up short. I want to be known as a football team that fought for 60 minutes, and we haven't done that yet."
Suddenly all the talk UK has done about not wanting to go back to the Music City Bowl — it has played there three of the last four years — or Liberty Bowl — it played there two years ago — seems a bit hypocritical since the Wildcats have to win two of their final three games just to be bowl eligible.
"You can say all you want about us fighting, but at the end of the day we're losing. There's no one excited about that. It's getting old," senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said.
Kentucky was looking for a miracle comeback against State like it had in its win over South Carolina when it faced a fourth down at the Mississippi State 20 with time running out. The play called was for Hartline to throw into the end zone for Chris Matthews, UK's tallest receiver. Problem was Matthews somehow didn't get the right call and broke his route off short of the end zone and could only watch the ball being intercepted.
"There was one word in our call that one guy didn't get," Phillips said.
Kind of like the defense apparently has not got the word that it can stop opponents early in games, too. UK has fallen behind by big margins early in most SEC games and even its productive offense has not been able to dig out of the holes except against South Carolina.
Obviously, Phillips is frustrated by that ongoing problem, especially after seeing State get off to a 17-7 lead Saturday.
"We've tried screaming and yelling. We've designated different coaches to come in and get them fired up. The thing we have to get them to understand is for everyone to take care of their own business. If your business is to take care of your gap, take care of it. If it is your business to block the man over top of you, then take care of your business and allow someone else to make a play for you. Hopefully we're not pressing them too hard early," Phillips said.
"No, we're not worried about it. You can't worry about things that far ahead. We have three games left, two of them are at home, and if we win those we are bowl eligible. We are just going to have to come back, handle our business and take care of Charleston Southern."