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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky was close to playing true freshman quarterback Reese Phillips midway of the season when starter Jalen Whitlow was injured, but with only two games remaining coach Mark Stoops says Phillips will not play to preserve his redshirt season.
“If he (Whitlow) was reinjured we were going with Reese, going to put Reese in the game and give him a shot. Now with two games left, no chance of a bowl game or anything, I think it would be in our best interest to keep that redshirt year now,” said Stoops Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. “But he was moving up and repping with the twos really the second part of this season. Impressed with the way he’s progressing and excited about him in the future.”
Stoops said Phillips has handled needing to be game ready by not playing fine.
“He handled it very well because we was willing to take his redshirt year off if it helped the team to play, and he was preparing to play and really still is,” Stoops said. “But at this point, I would probably still go with Maxwell (Smith) to keep his redshirt. But I was excited to get Reese some reps in practice. I liked what I saw.
“He’s handled it very well, and very unselfish. Like I said, he was willing to play. I thought he would have went in there and done very well, so in a way I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t get an opportunity to see him play this year, but in the long run for the future of the program I’m glad to be able to keep his redshirt.”
Stoops said Georgia, which hosts UK Saturday night, has an “awful lot of talent” starting with quarterback Andy Murray.
“Very impressed with Murray, once again, and running back (Todd) Gurley is just a very, big, strong, physical running back. Of course, very talented receiving group that’s getting more and more healthy with (Chris) Conley coming back,” Stoops said. “Defensively, again, very good team and very talented. Bunch of linebackers that run all over the place and make plays. Very good up front with Ray Drew and good in the back end with (Josh Harvey-)Clemons and the rest of the crew. So it will be a real challenge for us.”
Stoops emphasized again that despite losing at Vanderbilt, he felt his team “played as hard as we have all year” last week.
“The outcome was not what we wanted. I felt like the team really played extremely hard. I thought we really had the best game defensively since I’ve been here. And again, I feel like we made some good stops and played extremely hard offensively as well. We’ve just got to stop having plays that are killing drives for us — penalties, dropped balls, missed assignments that create negative plays and all those things,” Stoops said. “But, again, I thought we moved it well, we’ve just got to execute better to get the ball in the end zone. We know we’ve got a little way to go, but pleased with the team’s attitude and effort.”
One thing frustrating Stoops is that UK has just one interception in 10 games.
“I like the way the group (secondary) practices, I really do. I think they go out there and really practice well and prepare for the games well. We’ve got to get our hands on some balls. I think a lot goes into that: pressure up front, blitzes getting there, trying to get bad passes. I think leads help. It’s no mystery we’re struggling to score points, so it’s just like last week the difference in the game was the turnovers,” Stoops said.
“So, I think they (Vanderbilt) were very smart with the ball and didn’t turn it over and don’t put themselves in that situation. I think most opponents know when we’re struggling to get the ball in the end zone that it would be very careless to throw the ball up and put it in bad situations. So I think that’s part of it as well. I think you have an opportunity to get lots of interceptions when you’re team’s scoring a bunch of points and teams are playing from behind as well. That’s not been the case this year. But we need to do a better job in the secondary, we need to do a better job creating pressure and creating some negative plays, whether it be tips or different things like that. I think the group’s getting better, but we all know we have a long way to go.”