Vaught's Views: UK AD Mitch Barnhart owes fans, players answers now
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart reacts on the sideline during a recent Kentucky football game. (Victoria Graff / October 29, 2012)
Either announce it’s time for a coaching change or explain why he won’t make a move despite Phillips 12-22 mark in three seasons and 1-8 record this season.
Instead of building on the momentum of a 29-24 loss to Georgia, the Wildcats came unglued Saturday at Missouri and lost 33-10. Forget that they had played the nation’s toughest schedule coming into this game. Missouri is not an elite team. It’s not even a really good team in the Southeastern Conference, and it relied on its backup quarterback to lead the offense for most of the game.
Kentucky’s defense allowed a season-low 273 yards, including a season-low 87 passing yards. The defense also forced a season-high three turnovers, including two interceptions by walk-on cornerback J.D. Harmon, who only got into the game because of an injury to Cody Quinn early in the game.
But Kentucky couldn’t win because after the first two series, it had no offense. None.
And Kentucky couldn’t win because it turned the ball over at key times to set up Missouri touchdowns.
You could also argue that Kentucky couldn’t win because of way too many questionable coaching decisions that certainly infuriated many UK fans. Just consider:
* Missouri ran into punter Landon Foster when the Wildcats had a fourth down-and-7 deep in its own territory. Phillips accepted the penalty, even though Foster had boomed a 53-yard punt that put Missouri at its own 35-yard line.
Foster had to punt again, and this time Missouri took the shorter kick back to the UK 47-yard line — a net loss of 17 yards for the Cats on the play.
Why take the penalty? Did Phillips think Foster might hit a 60-yard punt? So what if the Missouri returner had muffed a couple of punts. That play just didn’t make sense.
“We wanted to take our chance again. We didn’t punt it where we were supposed to, and he fielded it; it was low. But he had put the ball on the ground at least two times; one we got. I wanted to give our punt team another chance,” Phillips told the media after the game before admitting if there was one thing he could have done differently in the game, it would have been not punting a second time.
* Freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow led a long drive on Kentucky’s first series, where it would have scored if Jonathan George had not fumbled, and then came back with a scoring drive.
However, Phillips didn’t put Whitlow back in the game, saying it had been predetermined to play freshman Patrick Towles at quarterback on the third series.
Now I am all for Towles, who was coming back from an ankle injury, playing and giving the passing attack some possible help. But why take Whitlow out when he was as sharp as he’s been all year?
Towles values winning and is certainly smart enough to know any predetermined decision in a football game is subject to change, even if the UK coaches apparently do not.
“We’ve got to be able to throw and catch the ball also. They started stacking the box a little more, also, and stopping the run. We just couldn’t throw the football,” Phillips said when asked about putting Towles in when he did. “Again, we didn’t take advantage when we had momentum, and we had the momentum a few times in this game. Momentum with short fields, and we didn’t take advantage of them.”
* Kentucky had only five penalties for 40 yards, but most came at key times that helped stymie the offense.
Phillips said the penalties were not due to the quarterback shuffle. Instead, he said his linemen were confused when Missouri linemen said “shift,” and they thought it was the quarterback saying “set” at times.
“You’ve got to understand the voices that you hear. You’ve got to understand your quarterback’s voice. They were shifting real sharp, and our guys were jumping offsides because of it. I just think our guys got to be totally focused when they have a quick, sharp movement — and also quick, sharp sound from their linebackers,” he said.
Isn’t that something a team should have settled by the ninth game?
* Why hasn’t someone made sure that freshman DeMarcus Sweat understands he can’t hesitate on kickoff returns in SEC play?
Field the kick and head for any hole, and get what yardage is possible. Of course, maybe he’s pressing, since he has not caught a pass since his touchdown catch in the third game of the season.
“He has to know he can’t be doing that,” Phillips said on his postgame radio show.
You could go on and on. But what’s the use? Kentucky is 1-8. That’s one win in nine games, and the Wildcats have no offense on the road. Playing 14 true freshmen and 12 more redshirt freshman is a fact, but not an excuse for such play and mistakes.
It’s time for Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart to take a stand. Season-ticket sales are down. The team is not winning. Fans are irate.
If Barnhart is not going to make a change, have the courage to say so now. If he knows one needs to be made, then let it be known now so the staff and players, especially the seniors, can somewhat enjoy the final three games.
There are only two more home games, this week against Vanderbilt and then Samford after a bye week. If Barnhart doesn’t want to announce anything this week, he has to do it during the bye week. Kentucky players and fans deserve to know what direction he wants to go, and Saturday’s loss should certainly make it clear that a change has to be made, because things are just not working.