July 21, 2011

Bowl performance motivated Cats through offseason

Photo gallery: UK at SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. - The last time the Kentucky football team was here in the Birmingham area, it was for last season's BBVA Compass Bowl, a 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh.

Returning on Thursday to the Wynfrey Hotel - where the Wildcats stayed during the bowl week - didn't bring back fond memories for the Wildcats' representatives at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

"It's like deja vu walking into this hotel again, leaving a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth from the bowl game," quarterback Morgan Newton said. "Coming here to the Wynfrey hotel, seeing where we just lost, it's kind of put things in perspective for this season coming up - how much harder we want to prepare, how much better we want to do this year."

SEC Media Days is a sort of unofficial kickoff to football's preseason, and the standard cliches apply. Every team here is bigger, stronger and faster. Every team is optimistic. Every team is improved.

Kentucky arrived with the same attitude, but with a twist.

The Wildcats have been humbled.

"The way that (bowl game) ended, it motivated me a lot; the team as well," linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "We had a talk after that game. Guys felt like they didn't give it their all. That wasn't the real Kentucky."

Soon after the BBVA Compass Bowl, Joker Phillips went to work in an effort to get back to the "real" Kentucky, the program that was riding a wave of momentum entering his first season as head coach.

The Cats extended their bowl streak to five consecutive seasons in Phillips' first year. But UK posted its first losing record since 2005.

"When we left here in January, our first meeting was talking about, 'Who's happy? Who's happy with 6-7?'" Phillips said. "And to a man, all of them said they were not. I think that sense of urgency started on that day, that first week that we got back."

Newton, who started at quarterback for suspended starter Mike Hartline in the BBVA Compass Bowl, said Phillips' post-bowl speech to the team was "almost embarrassing."

"Six-and-seven in a lot of our books is not acceptable, and it can't be acceptable for the guys that we have," said Newton, now UK's starting quarterback. "We've got a lot of competitive guys, guys that work hard every day. We definitely want to put more wins together than 6-7."

The Wildcats' bowl-game shortcomings were a motivator throughout spring practice and into summer workouts. But visiting SEC Media Days drove home the point. The lobby at the Wynfrey served as a fresh reminder for the three Cats who made the trip to Hoover.

"It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, remembering what it was like last time we were here," offensive lineman Stuart Hines said. "But that's something that we've just got to use as motivation this year. How we ended the season last year is not the team we are."



 

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