Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips isn’t looking ahead to next season.
Despite failing to become bowl eligible for the first time in six years following last week’s 19-10 loss at Georgia, Phillips wants to finish the season on a strong note in Saturday’s home finale against Tennessee.
A week ago, the Cats were still in contention for a sixth straight bowl bid. This time, the Cats are treating the contest against the Volunteers as a postseason contest.
“Our goal is to win our last game,” Phillips said Monday. “We haven’t won our last game since the 2009 Liberty Bowl. Winning your last game does a lot for you in the off-season.”
In order to end the season on a high note, Kentucky will need to beat the neighboring Volunteers, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished — in Lexington or Knoxville — in 26 years. Phillips was a member of the last Kentucky team to defeat Volunteers and wants to end the streak as the school’s coach.
“We haven’t beat Tennessee in a while,” he said. “I think that would fulfill another goal also.”
However, instead of discussing the “the streak,” leading up the contest, Phillips wants his team to remain focused on “the last game.”
“Our goal, when we started off (the season was) to win our last game (and) be in a bowl game,” he said. “How big would it have been last year if we’d have won our last game? The goal is there to win our last game. That’s why it’s important to us.”
Phillips would like nothing better than for the Wildcats to build on last week’s performance against the Bulldogs. Although it was a nine-point loss, Phillips and his squad competed against the Southeastern Conference Eastern division champions.
“We have to get ourselves mentally and physically prepared to play when we’re playing for personal pride,” the Kentucky coach said. “We’re playing for (the) seniors that have given so much for this program. I think we need to win this for the program and who's been representing this program better than these seniors? It all goes hand in hand.”
One of those seniors is Danny Trevathan, who turned in one of his best performances of the season against the Bulldogs. Phillips said Trevathan “means a lot to this program.”
“Watching the way he went about his business has been special,” Phillips said. “The guy last week was really probably the best game I’ve seen him play. Many would say other games would be. He had 17 tackles. He’s done that before. But just how he was patient and calling at the right time.
“A lot of times you watch (the) game (against Georgia), Danny couldn’t see the runner. He just has the instinct and the knack to understand that, if I stay on this side just long enough, the running back is going to cut off the blocker to the other side, and he’d stay on that side just long enough to let the back commit and then come out the other side and make the play.”