LEXINGTON — It’s almost like a trip down memory lane for former Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson.
He knows the UK¿fan base is distraught after Saturday’s 24-17 loss to Louisville, especially after less than inspiring performances by the Cats in wins over Western Kentucky and Central Michigan. He hears not only the criticism of players, but the way fans are blasting second-year coach Joker Phillips.
It’s similar to 2006 after UK¿lost 49-0 at LSU¿in then coach Rich Brooks’ fourth season to drop his overall record at UK¿to 12-29, including just 3-4 that season thanks in part to a 59-28 beating by Louisville.
Woodson was UK’s starting quarterback and after that LSU game, UK ripped off four straight wins, lost to Tennessee and then beat Clemson in the Music City Bowl for an 8-5 year that started a run of five straight bowl trips for the Wildcats.
Now Woodson, a graduate assistant coach, hopes fans — and players — will continue to believe in Phillips and his staff like him and his teammates did in 2006.
“I think there is a lot that is really positive. We watch and see mistakes, but there are so many plays left on the field that we are so close,” said Woodson after Tuesday’s practice. “There were so many plays against Louisville that could have changed the outcome. That’s very encouraging when you are watching and everybody is frustrated.
“Everybody thinks this offense is not producing and not doing anything, but from the first game until now we are getting close. It’s just getting everybody on the same page and making plays. This offense is really good. It just has not got there yet. All these guys are inexperienced. They are learning every single game. They are understanding they have to be dependable and make plays.
“These receivers last year didn’t have to make plays. (Quarterback) Morgan Newton didn’t play. Our back (Josh Clemons) is a true freshman.¿The only experience was the offensive line and a lot of them have been banged up. Right now is really the first time everybody has started getting together and clicking. It just takes time with a young group. Unfortunately, we have been kind of showcasing we are still learning on the football field during games, but it is a good group of young guys who want to do better.”
That 2006 team had players like Woodson, Jacob Tamme, Wesley Woodyard and Keenan Burton who vowed that the season would not collapse. He says he’s seen signs the last two weeks that UK has players this season who care just as much and are willing to do and say the same things.
“Guys are not satisfied with what they are doing or we are doing. They are embarrassed. They expect more and know they are better than what they have been doing,” Woodson said. “I think this last game obviously really opened their eyes. All we can do is continue to work and get better. These guys have been pushing themselves. They are in the playbook, meeting rooms, watching film on their own. They are doing what it takes to be a better team.
“How soon will we see the outcome of this effort and time? Who knows. But they are putting forth the right effort of trying to turn things around and really get themselves showcasing a lot better on the field.”
Brooks blistered his team for its play against Louisville and then LSU¿in 2006 during press conferences. It said the way his team played was unacceptable. Phillips has not done that, or at least not publicly. Instead, he’s pleaded for patience with his team.
“It just differs between players. Everybody’s personality is different. Some things get guys going and other things get other guys going,” Woodson said. “Joker definitely, believe me, has been getting into them a lot. He doesn’t do it in a press conference. He has been getting across the point that we have to get it going, we really have to study, we have to understand what we are doing.
“I really believe these players are doing the right thing right now. They are trying not to be frustrated and not give in to anything. They are doing a good job sticking together and saying what it is going to take. We have to continue to practice and get them reps, so when it is time to play ball they know exactly what they are doing and doing the right things.”
Kentucky’s problem is the schedule. The Cats host Florida on Saturday and then go to LSU and South Carolina, not exactly the best way to wipe out the memory of the loss to Louisville.
“The next three games will be tough. We have Florida that we have not beaten in 24 years. Then we have to go on the road to LSU and South Carolina, which has obviously been waiting on us since last year (when UK won),” Woodson said. “It will be tough. Every week in the SEC is tough. These guys are up for it. That’s why you come to the SEC. That’s why you play these games.
“The guys, all they can do right now is just continue to prepare, learn and get better. Whether or not I¿need to make a speech with Morgan and a couple of other guys and tell them I have been through the same path and gone through the same things, I don’t know. I¿think Morgan gets it. He has been learning and understands what it is going to take. Right now he is doing a good job responding and I am confident others are going to do the same, too.”