LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips was happy with his team’s focus and concentration in practice Wednesday, but the second-year head coach challenged his team after practice, saying he wanted them to practice perfect on Thursday.
The Kentucky coach liked the team’s effort on Tuesday, but wanted to see more focus and concentration. The Wildcats seemed to respond, according to Phillips.
“It was better today,” Phillips said. “We had better concentration and better focus, but we have to get even better tomorrow. Tomorrow, we have to be perfect. We have to be perfect with our assignments, perfect with our alignments and perfect with all the adjustments that we will have (in the South Carolina game).”
Much of the praise for the successful practices this week was put on the return of sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders, who Phillips said has brought “fire” to the practice fields. The UK coach also praised senior defensive lineman Mark Crawford for helping pick up the practice tempo.
“Raymond Sanders, I am really impressed with how he has gotten himself healthy,” Phillips said about Sanders returning to practice after having knee surgery Sept. 15. “He has done a great job in bringing a lot of fire to the team this week. He is one of the reasons why we are practicing so well. Mark Crawford adds that also. Those two guys alone bring a lot more energy.”
Phillips said that Sanders’ knee has not had any swelling since returning to the practice fields and he should be able to play on Saturday. In two games this season, Sanders has 21 carries for 97 yards, including a season-long rush of 25 yards against Central Michigan. The native of Stone Mountain, Ga., has returned three kickoffs this season for 65 yards.
Kentucky is hoping the return of Sanders will help offset the impressive running game of the Gamecocks, who are ranked 32nd in the nation and third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing this season. South Carolina is led by sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore, who is fifth in the nation and first in the SEC in rushing this season with 124 carries for 677 yards and nine touchdowns.
“They usually run downhill,” Phillips said about the USC rushing attack. “They run a lot of zone reads with putting the ball in the belly of Lattimore.”
The Wildcats visit the Gamecocks Saturday at 12:21 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.