SEC Media Days: Kentucky linemen are determined to get Wildcats back to a bowl game
Kentucky center Matt Smith said this year¿s team is motivated by the low expectations of the media and fans. (AP Photo / July 19, 2012)
However, they would enjoy getting Kentucky back to a winning season and a bowl game even more after the Wildcats had their five-year bowl streak snapped last season when the Cats finished 5-7.
“I think that it is something we took for granted that we would make a bowl game and have a winning record. Last year we maybe got too comfortable. We realize that and keep it for motivation. We don’t want to be home whole month of December again. We want to make a bowl game,” said Smith, a center. “I got spoiled going to bowl games. I never knew what it would be like not going to one until last year, and I didn’t like it.”
Smith said stumbling in the first game last season against Western Kentucky in Nashville and having to rally to win seemed to set a bad tone for the entire season.
“I think it surprised us last year that we came out and were not as good as we thought we were,” Smith said. “We thought we would be better. We were never able to get our feet back under us the rest of the season.”
That’s one reason that helped bring Warford, a guard, back to UK¿for his final season rather than putting his name into the¿NFL draft a year early as teammates Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy did after the 2011 season.
“I thought I could help the team out a lot if I came back. I love these guys. They got me to this level. Coming back was the best decision. I¿believe that I¿have a lot to improve on and I can be much better and improve my chances in the draft,” Warford said. “This whole offseason has been about beating Louisville. We have been so motivated. I haven’t seen so much motivation as a collective team. I feel that we have been doing a good job just preparing and getting mentally focused and physically ready with our strength coach.
“I feel that the young guys we have on the team and the guys that have been around have been doing a great job. The young guys especially have come in and picked up our offense so quickly. It’s so impressive what they have been doing.”
Warford says despite the struggles UK’s offense had last season, it’s not impossible to think the Cats could be much better offensively this year.
“One of the big things that has really been killing us the last few years is the little thing, the smallest mistakes. The smallest mistakes kill our plays. That’s all we’ve really been working on. We’ve been trying to fix those little things and just getting ready because that’s the most important thing: fixing those little mistakes,” Warford said.
The players know fixing those mistakes could determine whether Phillips is back next year to bring other players to SEC Football Media Days or losing his job.
Defensive end Collins Ukwu, the other UK¿player here Wednesday, says Phillips’ confidence rubs off on the team.
“He really knows how to get us motivated. We as a team now have something to prove just from last year. Not only coach but also how our performance was last year that really motivates us to be a better team,” Ukwu said. “We are players. That’s what we came here to do is play. We know that the SEC is the best conference in America. We know the challenge we face every week, and we are ready for it. We are ready to compete.”
“He cares about the program and about us so much. It shows in everything that he does. He eats, sleeps and breathes Kentucky football. He cares about this program so much, and he shows it on the field with the intensity that he brings. It’s crazy how much he loves this program, and we are better for it,” Warford said.
Smith says the low expectations for UK this year are motivation for the team, and also nothing new.
“We know that a lot of people don’t give us a whole lot of respect at the beginning of the season because normally we have a lot of young guys that we are going to be counting on to step up. Those people that pick the preseason rankings don’t see us in the summer, and they don’t see what we are doing in between those white lines,” Smith said.
The senior center says while the players don’t worry about the coaching staff’s future, they know a winning season would solidify Phillips and his staff at UK.
“We don’t look at that administrative stuff,” Smith said. “We don’t pay attention to the hot seat stuff, but we know we need a good performance to keep our coaches. The win over Tennessee last year was huge for that. We love coach Phillips and I want him here forever. But to do that, we know we have to perform a lot better this year.”