Cats needed more effort to beat Tennessee

Have the failures and shortcomings of this season been a product of the leadership of Joker Phillips? This writer thinks the play of the team is a direct reflection of the man leading the football team.

After once again watching the Wildcats fall to Tennessee and reflecting on the game there were two plays that stood out to me that may have turned this Vols win into a Wildcat celebration.

The first play I thought of was the throw to a streaking LaRod King, who was wide open in the middle of the field, after having gained a few yards on the Tennessee defender. The pass from Mike Hartline hit the ground a few feet in front of King.

The pass was the kind of pass we have seen from quarterbacks for ages that is completed to a diving receiver. We will never know if King could have caught the pass by laying out for it, because the Kentucky receiver remained vertical.

Where was the extra effort from King that is needed to make crucial plays in crucial games?

The second play that I pondered was the Hartline pass intended for receiver Chris Matthews. I was shocked to see Matthews loping down the sideline, no where near a full sprint. The ball landed in the waiting hands of a Volunteer defender.

Hartline seemed to motion to Matthews after the interception to run, but Matthews did not run. He didn't put forth the effort needed to get to the ball, but the Tennessee defenders did.

We did not see the taller Matthews going up above defenders to make a catch, which would have really put the Cats in a good position for a score.

The ball belonged to Tennessee. The game belonged to Tennessee. When the game was on the line Tennessee made the effort plays needed to win the game, Kentucky had players who did not.

Perhaps the players are a reflection of their coaches?

Tennessee was on their side of the field with a fourth and ten facing them. It was an obvious punting situation. The Vols went with the fake punt and their punter picked up 14 yards to keep a drive alive that would eventually put points on the board for Tennessee.

Kentucky was at midfield and was in a fourth and two situation. The time on the clock was growing short. Kentucky had multiple weapons capable of picking up the two yards, including a 6-6 QB in Hartline who has proven adept at running the QB sneak all season. Tyler Sanders was having a career day, Derrick Locke was running more like the Derrick Locke before the injury, and we had Randall Cobb and his versatility to run the WildCobb, take a short pass, any number of plays capable of picking up two yards were available for the Wildcats.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips, much to my disbelief, chose to punt. My immediate question was, "Does he not believe enough in his team to think they can pick up these yards?"

The punt came, it was a shank off the side of Ryan Tydlacka's foot. The punt netted less than 20 yards.

As the Kentucky season has gone, so did the Tennessee game.

When I look around the SEC the teams that perennially win have fiery coaches on the sidelines. When Kentucky was introduced to success under Rich Brooks he wasn't the youngest guy coaching in the SEC, but Brooks would get fired up on the sideline.

Phillips may be too laid back, his demeanor often resembling that of Bill Curry, who was all too content to accept defeat.

There is no doubt that Phillips loves Kentucky. There is also no doubt in my mind that for Phillips to succeed he needs to generate excitement on the sideline, and employ assistants who will do the same. He needs to shuttle the playing not to lose game plan, and come up with a more aggressive play to win the game attitude.

Looking back at the season one has to shake their head and ask, "What if...?"

What if Kentucky handles an Ole Miss squad that they should have defeated handily? What if they complete the Mississippi State comeback? What if the defense stands up to Auburn when we had an opportunity to win the game, only to lose on a field goal as time expired? What if we had played with effort and passion and had finally gotten the Tennessee monkey off our backs?

After the defeat, which must have been a heartbreaker for a Tennessee native, Randall Cobb said, "This has been happening to us all season, not just with them, turning the ball over in critical times and not executing. That's what it comes down to."

Coach Phillips reflected on the season.

"I would say it was a season of missed opportunities," Phillips said. "We were a football team that made mistakes, shot ourselves in the foot."

Coach, the ball is on your side of the field. It is time to adapt and make necessary changes in your demeanor, style and aggressiveness; before Kentucky plays in a bowl game.

The reality is that Phillips isn't paid a huge salary, and that the University of Kentucky Athletics Association can afford to let a coach go, saying it wasn't a good fit, much easier than it can to let the gains made under Coach Rich Brooks be destroyed. Right now the Kentucky head coach position has much more to attract good candidates than it did when Rich Brooks took over a scholarship reduced squad which was burdened with NCAA probation.

Kentucky football cannot afford a total collapse that a 2-10, 3-9 season would bring. At 6-6 your team is close to 9-3 or 8-4, but is equally close to that 3-9, 4-8 finish or worse.

IMO, if Kentucky doesn't see vast improvement in their bowl game, then it may be time for a change. Kentucky being on a run of five bowl games, extending the record streak that began with Rich Brooks, may have their best chance to hire a coach that will bring in a winning attitude that is adopted by the players. Kentucky has a lot of young talent, we have two young quarterbacks ready to step in next season. You have to strike while the iron is hot.

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