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By LARRY VAUGHT
KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s loss at Tennessee ended a 6-6 season which is not close to what the Wildcats were hoping for going into the season based on the offensive firepower they had with receiver Randall Cobb, running back Derrick Locke and quarterback Mike Hartline.
The Wildcats still have a chance to secure a fifth straight winning season Ã¢â‚¬â€ something that has never happened at Kentucky Ã¢â‚¬â€ if they can beat Big East co-champion Pittsburgh Jan. 8 in Birmingham in the BBVA Compass Bowl at Legion Field.
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders offers insights about the offense as well as what lies ahead for the WildcatsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offense.
Question: How would you rate this year in terms of what you expected offensively?
Sanders: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Honestly, I think we have had a pretty good offensive year. At Tennessee was probably the worst we have played all year as far as just executing our plan. There was no question they had us on a few plays where they had the right defense called and it was going to be tough to execute. But it seemed like we were always a little bit ahead. It was just a matter of getting one block or making the right cut or getting the route run correctly or getting the ball thrown on time or whatever it was. We were just a little off. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know if we ate too much turkey on Thursday and didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get it all out of our system or what. It was disappointing to see the way we played.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How important will the bowl practice be for you in determining what kind of offense you might have next year?
Sanders: Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always ongoing a little bit to look at the younger guys and see how they are doing. As a coach, your primary focus is the game you have coming. But you also practice the second group and all the young guys you can every day. You are always trying to get those guys better and evaluate them as you go. Having an extra month of practice to prepare for a bowl, it can be like another spring practice. We are going to go into it prepared to play as well as we can in the game wherever that is at and whoever it is against, but at the same time it is a great opportunity for some young guys to step up and start making some plays and showing they are ready to replace the players we are losing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Do you feel confident you have good players coming?
Sanders: Ã¢â‚¬Å“There are guys like that. You look at the progress Chris Matthews made from last year to this year. You look at how Mike Hartline progressed. LaRod King has improved. Throw in tight ends Tyler Robinson, Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller, all young players, and you expect them to make improvement. I think if we get some things done, we have a chance to be pretty good again next year. Obviously how good and how explosive, some of that will depend on what Randall Cobb decides (about leaving for the NFL or returning to UK).Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Any idea when you might know what Cobb will do?
Sanders: Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no way to know. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a decision up to Randall and his family. Whatever he chooses, I am not going to think any less of him. I am going to respect him just as much if he stays or if he goes. I can understand him wanting to explore his NFL options and he should explore it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: If heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not back, what will you miss most about him?
Sanders: Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably hard to say what you will miss most. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no question we will miss his leadership, his work ethic, his heart and desire not only on the game field or practice field, but also in the meeting room or weight room. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no question we will miss those things, but when you take the plays he makes on the field into the equation, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to say you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t miss that more.Ã¢â‚¬Â