SEC report:

Phillips holds up his end

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips stands on the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

— Phillips holds up his end

The crowd at Commonwealth Stadium for last week’s Kentucky-Vanderbilt football game could have fit into Rupp Arena.

While the attendance was announced at 44,902 based on ticket sales, media outlets reported there were fewer than 20,000 in the stadium, which has a capacity of 67,942.

“I was shocked, because I’ve never seen anything like that,” Kentucky junior linebacker Avery Williamson told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The small crowd coupled with Vanderbilt’s 40-0 victory signaled the end for Joker Phillips as Kentucky’s coach, though he’ll coach the team’s final two games this season after being fired Sunday.

Kentucky, which has been hit hard by injuries, is 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the SEC.

The Wildcats have an open date, then play Samford and Tennessee.

Phillips, promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2010, led the Wildcats to records of 6-7 and 5-7 the previous two seasons.

“I wish he could’ve stayed longer, but that’s not my decision,” Williamson told reporters Tuesday.

“People up top made that decision but, man, I hate to see him go.”

Phillips said at a Tuesday news conference he considered not finishing the season as coach because he didn’t want to be a distraction.

“I’ve had my Senior Day, OK?” said Phillips, who played receiver at Kentucky.

“I don’t want to be sent out. I don’t want an open casket. I don’t want to be somebody’s centerpiece. ... I want it to be about those seniors.”

It was Kentucky’s seniors who persuaded Phillips to coach the final two games.

“I wanted him to be a part of this with me because he’s meant so much since I’ve been here,” senior center Matt Smith told reporters.

Phillips said the seniors reminded him of what he told them during the recruiting process.

“ ‘Hey, Coach, you saidyou want to help watch us grow up,’ ” Phillips said, repeating the message.

“That’s the reason I’m doing this - the only reason.”

Phillips has a $2.55 million buyout.

“I don’t have a clue what’s next,” he said. “The thing I think is best is to step back, step away, let all of the emotions die down and then figure things out.”

Test for Aggies

Texas A&M will face a No. 1-ranked team for the 12th time when the Aggies play Alabama on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Aggies are 1-10 in their previous 12 matchups against No. 1-ranked teams, but Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin was part of their lone victory. Sumlin was the Aggies’ offensive coordinator in 2002 when they beat No. 1 Oklahoma 30-26 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

“That was certainly an exciting time, an exciting game,” Sumlin told reporters this week. “But my mind is so far moved on to this week, I haven’t really thought about it.”

Oklahoma got revenge the next season, when the No. 1 Sooners beat the Aggies 77-0. Sumlin was able to enjoy that game because he was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator at the time.

Texas A&M hasn’t played a No. 1-ranked team since that loss at Oklahoma nine years ago.

“We played the No. 5 team [LSU], which was cool, but this is big time,” Aggies senior defensive lineman Spencer Nealy told reporters this week. “We need to go out there and shock the world.”

Richt can relate

Georgia has never started 2-7 in Mark Richt’s 12 seasons as coach, but he can relate to the heat AuburnCoach Gene Chizik is feeling going into Saturday’s Auburn-Georgia game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

Richt has a 104-35 record at Georgia, but he was feeling plenty of heat last season when the Bulldogs started 0-2 after going 6-7 in 2010 with a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.

Now Richt’s Bulldogs are 8-1, including 6-1 in SEC play, and can clinch their second consecutive SEC East title by beating Auburn. They are 18-3 since losing the first two games a year ago.

“It is kind of a roller coaster, and sometimes you do go up and down, and you just don’t know how close you might be to having a really good football team if you’re just patient for one more year,” Richt said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I think a lot of teams go backwards because they make changes when maybe they are on the verge of something good happening, and then if you make change and you start over again, it’s hard for all the cumulative reps that you’ve had to all of sudden blossom.

“I would imagine it’s hard to try to figure out as a decision-maker if that team is close or if they are not.” Next man up

Missouri’s tough first season in the SEC has been impacted by a rash of injuries on the offensive line.

Junior tackle Justin Britt became the latest lineman to go down when he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the Tigers’ 14-7 loss at Florida last week.

Seven linemen have sustained injuries since fall camp, and none of the projected starters in the preseason will play in Saturday’s game at Tennessee. True freshman guard Even Boehm will be the only Missouri offensivelineman to start every game this season when he lines up against the Volunteers.

“I think the gods are getting even with me for the rugged life I’ve lived,” Missouri co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the mounting injuries. “I don’t have a better answer than that.

“It’s a very peculiar or unique situation. Never been around it like this before in 25 years or coaching.” Stop cheering

Bobby Hebert, the former New Orleans Saints quarterback who is a radio analyst for New Orleans WWL-AM, was kicked out of the Tiger Stadium pressbox during the Alabama-LSU game after cheering despite being asked to stop repeatedly.

“We got some complaints from some reporters around him that he was cheering in the press box, so I asked him to tone it down,” LSU associate athletic director Herb Vincent told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I continued to observe him, and I asked him again, and he said he would comply.”

When Hebert failed to stop cheering after a third request, he was kicked out of the pressbox by Vincent and a police officer.

“He had three warnings,” said Vincent, a North Little Rock native and Little Rock Catholic High School graduate. “At some point, you have to let the people in the pressbox do their job.” Richt’s hip

Georgia Coach Mark Richt may undergo hip replacement surgery after the season for increasing pain he said is the result of a “swing set injury” he sustained more than 20 years ago while trying to impress his wife during a family picnic.

“I was swinging really high on a big heavy swingset with those big heavy chains,” Richt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Sometimes if you go super high, on the way back you get a little bit of that lag.

You’ve got those big S-hooks on top, and you’re swinging, and I swung enough to where the one on the left came out.

“So it comes out, but I didn’t know. I’m still on the swing. So when I come back down, the chain on [on the right] stayed taut and the other one just goes. I turned sideways and the first thing that hits the ground is my left hip. Just smashed it.

“It was traumatic. I mean, when I hit I was like, ‘I think I broke it.’ I couldn’t hardly breathe. ... But the pain kind of went away and I went about my business, until about a year and a half ago.” Now the pain has reached the point that Richt may seek surgical relief.

Focused on D Tennessee Coach Derek Dooley is getting defensive after the Vols allowed a school-record 721 yards in total offense in a 55-48 victory over Troy last weekend.

The Volunteers are last in the SEC in total defense (483.1 yards per game) and scoring defense (35.4 points per game).

“I’m coming out of the offensive room and putting all my attention on defense,” Dooley said Monday during his weekly news conference.

Dooley said defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri might move from the sideline to the press box to coach and that other coaches will be encouraged to contribute to the game plan.

“There’s going to be a lot more input from everybody on what we need to do, and we’ll do some different things on game day with how we implement it,” Dooley said. “We’re going to make a lot of changes, but there are no easy answerswhen you are playing the way we’re playing.”

Dooley was asked why he’s getting more involved with the defense now as opposed to earlier in the season.

“It probably would have been reactionary if I had done it four weeks ago,” he said. “But then you look back and maybe I should have. I’m not here saying I’m a guru. I’m not ... It’s just another eye and another set of ears and another voice.

It’ll give me a little more comfort in saying, ‘I don’t want that.’ ” Plenty to play for

LSU’s hopes of repeating as SEC champion and playing for the BCS title for a second consecutive year went down with a 21-17 loss to Alabama, but Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger said there is no lack of motivation for the 7-2 team going into Saturday night’s game against Mississippi State.

“There’s still a lot to play for this year, and hopefully a lot of guys on the team realize that,” Mettenberger told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “You’ve just got to realize that the season’s not over.

“A 10-2 season is a pretty dang good season. Ten wins is very hard to come by when you play in a league like this. If we can get the remaining wins on the schedule and play in a good bowl game, that’s a pretty good year.”By the numbers 1,439 Combined yards in total offense by Tennessee and Troy in the Volunteers’ 54-48 victory last Saturday. Troy gained 721 yards to Tennessee’s 718.

2008 Last time LSU lost backto-back games, to Ole Miss at home and to Arkansas in Little Rock.

54538 Auburn’s lead in its series against Georgia.

Game of the weekNo. 15 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama 2:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS

Alabama can clinch the SEC West division title by beating the Aggies, but this figures to be a tough game for the Crimson Tide. The Aggies are playing well and appear to be catching Alabama at a good time with the Tide coming off an emotional 21-17 victory at LSU last week. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is putting up big numbers passing and running, but Florida and LSU kept him contained. Now he’s facing the nation’s top defense.

Sports, Pages 31 on 11/08/2012