No one can blame Joker Phillips for his promise on Wednesday that we will see new and younger players on defense when Kentucky plays host to Kent State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
After all, as Joker said, if you are going to play the supposedly older, more experienced players and they give up 466 yards, as they did Sunday against Louisville, what's the harm in playing the rookies and, as Phillips put it, “they give up 400.”
Phillips promised that Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas will see time at linebacker, a definite trouble spot on Sunday. Linebackers coach Chuck Smith confirmed that Henderson and Thomas are getting serious looks, but that he's still looking for the right mix and combinations at his positions.
When someone remarked that Malcolm McDuffen had moved back in front of Tyler Brause on the depth chart, Smith was quick to say that a final decision for Saturday had not been made yet. The competition is ongoing. McDuffen struggled in fall camp. Brause struggled on Sunday.
What this all goes back to is that the staff believes the real talent on its roster exists in the last two classes. If you are coach on the hot seat, you are caught between the need to win now and the need to develop your players for the long haul. You don't want to rush a rookie into action too soon. On the other hand, if the person in front of that player on the depth chart is not doing the job, plans change.
Just a seven-point favorite, Kentucky has to win Saturday. To be upset by Kent State, in front of what figures to be a thin opening-nigh crowd, would be devastating to the season, and to Phillips' chances of being brought back next season.
Knowing that, the head coach is going to roll the dice on the kids.