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SIMPSONVILLE – Forty-five days before their teams meet on the football field, Joker Phillips and Charlie Strong met up in Shelby County.
The respective coaches of the universities of Kentucky and Louisville came together at the Cardinal Club clubhouse for the annual Governor’s Cup luncheon and golf tournament. The event is the tee-off/kickoff to the Governor’s Cup game between the Wildcats and Cardinals.
It also signifies a sort of changing of the seasons – from summer to football – for the coaches.
“This is my last day to play golf,” Phillips said. “I just put my clubs in the back of the truck. I hope somebody steals them.”
Phillips would likely trade his golf clubs for the Governor’s Cup trophy.
“It’s an important game for both teams,” Phillips said. “Because the team that’s won this game usually has carried that momentum over.”
Indeed in the past 10 seasons, nine times the winner of the UK-UofL game has finished with a winning record, and eight times the victor has played in a bowl game later that season.
And although Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings, Louisville won last year’s game, beating the host Wildcats, 24-17, in Commonwealth Stadium.
That, combined with the fact that UK is coming off back-to-back losing seasons under Phillips, have made the coach’s proverbial seat hotter than the outdoor temperatures Thursday.
“I’m not worried; I don’t worry,” said Phillips, whose team was recently picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division at the SEC Media Days. “I don’t have time to worry.”
Although he might not have much time left, at least according to some segments of the UK fan base, in Lexington, Phillips is hoping to make the most of it. He is looking forward to the 2012 season, which will begin at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m excited about the development of some of the younger kids. We’re excited about making sure we get those guys in the right positions.”
The latter will be especially important this season for the Wildcats, who ranked 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams in total offense (259.75 yards per game) and 117th in scoring offense (15.83 ppg) last season.
“We have to develop more playmakers than we had last year,” Phillips said. “We have to have some explosion.
“You can not drive on people twelve or fourteen plays time and time again.”
That was something that UK was able to do in its season-ending, although not quite season-saving, 10-7 victory over Tennessee. The Wildcats’ two scoring drives in that game were 15 and eight plays.
“We’ve used that [game] as momentum in the offseason to get better,” Phillips said. “We’re excited about the season, especially because of the way we finished.”
Phillips lamented momentum, while Strong preached preparation.
Coming off back-to-back bowl bids expectations are high for Strong’s third season at the helm of the Cardinals. Several preseason prognosticators are picking UofL to win the Big East.
Strong, however, would like to keep those at arm’s length.
“Guys have to understand you have to prove it on the field,” Strong said.
One thing the Cards proved last season was that they had a hard time coming down after a big victory. After its season-opening triumph over Murray State, Louisville lost to Florida International. Following its victory over UK, UofL fell to Marshall. Then, after a big victory at West Virginia, the Cards quickly fell back down to earth with a loss to Pittsburgh.
“I just want to win games that, when we go play, we’re prepared to play,” Strong said.
And that includes Sept. 2’s season-opener against the arch-rival Wildcats.