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October 17, 2011
Cats look to rebound coming off bye
It's been 30 days since the Kentucky football team's last win, a 27-13 win over Central Michigan on Sept. 10.
In the four weeks since, the Wildcats have watched a four-game winning streak against archrival Louisville evaporate and been outscored 137-20 in three conference games, the most lopsided margin in any three-game stretch in program history.
But with a bye week before Saturday's game against Jacksonville State and a weekend off for the players while coaches were out recruiting, the team has had a chance to recharge.
"You get two days off in this business and it's refreshing," Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said. "Especially when you go through a grueling SEC schedule. There's a lot of teams that would have been 0-3 after that stretch."
Perhaps no player needed a rest more than junior quarterback [db]Morgan Newton, who has gone 10-41 for 74 yards in the last two games. He was benched twice in favor of true freshman Maxwell Smith before returning in both games when Smith was ineffective.
Phillips said the players and coaches spent much of the week talking about how to improve, but he isn't worried about where the team is mentally. Junior linebacker Ridge Wilson said defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who said the team needed to do some "soul-searching" after losing 54-3 to South Carolina, spoke with the defense several times during the bye week.
"We kind of needed a break," Wilson said.
Jacksonville State isn't an average FCS team, though. The Gamecocks are 5-1 and beat Ole Miss in Oxford in 2010. Their last loss came on the same day the Wildcats earned their last win.
"This team looks different week to week because they're now starting to get some chemistry with guys who transferred in," Phillips said.
That includes tailback Washaun Ealey, who transferred from Georgia after last season. Ealey scorched the Cats last year for 157 yards and a school-record five touchdowns on 28 carries.
But the players won't know until Saturday if they'll end their losing streak.
"It's been pretty frustrating," senior guard Stuart Hines said. "Everybody is saying 'What's going on?' and 'What's wrong with us?'"
Hall to see time at returner
Freshman cornerback Daylen Hall could see increased time as a kickoff returner and punt returner this week after seeing extra work in the return game during the bye week.
"We're running out of returners," Phillips said. "We put him in there in the South Carolina game, he makes a couple plays. He made a couple more plays in the scrimmage last week."
The Wildcats have gone through a string of returners this year without finding a playmaker at the position. Running backs Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons have both seen time at kick returner along with senior safety Mychal Bailey and senior linebacker Winston Guy. UK is averaging 19.5 yards per kickoff return, 102nd in the country.
Senior corner Randall Burden has handled the vast majority of punt returns. UK is averaging 1.7 yards per punt return, ranking them 117th in the country in that category.
Hall was as the No. 2 punt returner and the No. 3 kickoff returner on the depth chart released Monday.
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu had some swelling on Sunday after working out. He's doubtful to return on Saturday. He hasn't played since suffering a knee sprain in practice on Sept. 22.
Sophomore tight end Jordan Aumiller has a hamstring issue and will be held out of practice on Tuesday, but should return Wednesday.
Senior wide receiver Matt Roark could be limited in practice with a hamstring issue but is expected to play Saturday.
Freshman linebacker Jabari Johnson, who was redshirting, will be out for the season after having recurring issues in his shoulder.