Defense closes strong, looks to build for future



When UK head coach Joker Phillips presented his team with his master plan to beat the Tennessee Volunteers for the first time since 1984, which included starting wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback for the first time in his college career, the defense knew it would have to play perfect football to give the Cats a chance.

“I knew we’d be fine,” senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. “I just thought, maybe the defense will have to step up a little bit more than usual.”

The defense did just that, holding the Volunteers’ offense to 61 rushing yards and seven points on the afternoon.

Roark and the offense, almost exclusively running the ball no matter the down and distance, managed to score 10 and with that, the streak was broken.

“We went out there and executed the game plan,” Sneed continued. “Everything went great.”

After giving up 38 points to Vanderbilt in week 11, it seemed as though the defense had reached a breaking point, having carried UK’s struggling offense for much of the year and spending exhausting lengths of time on the field when the Cats could not establish a drive of their own.

But in a trip to Athens, Ga., to take on the eventual SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs one week later, the defense forced four turnovers and held Georgia to 19 points.

The Cats lost that game, but the statement made by the defense carried over to the matchup with Tennessee.

“We didn’t have anything to lose,” sophomore linebacker Avery Williamson said. “It was a huge game for us. We knew that if we lost this year it would just devestate the whole team. We had to go out (on top).”

Led by seniors like Sneed and fellow linebackers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, the experienced group on defense played an inspired brand of football to dominate the Tennessee offense from start to finish.

“We were miserable in the first half on offense and had a chance in the second half but just didn’t execute,” Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. “Give Kentucky a lot of credit. They played a lot more inspired football than we did.”

“I think we played our hearts out today,” Trevathan said. “I feel like we played one of our best games.”

UK now must say farewell to seniors like Trevathan and Guy, who are almost certain to play on Sundays next season. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter now must rebuild with the young defensive core who began making plays in the latter stages of the season. Although these seniors will leave big shoes to fill, Phillips, Minter and the rest of the coaching staff are excited for the future that the seniors laid the foundation for at the end of the year.

“I looked out there one time and there was five freshmen, and it was like ‘Oh my goodness, five babies,’” Phillips said. “Didn’t phase them that we’ve lost 26 years in a row; they didn’t know.

“We have a lot of good, young players in here that made plays.”