As Kentucky looks to somehow salvage a season full of first-half disappointments, the Wildcats will have to do so with a much younger roster.
Thanks to the pesky injury bug, the Wildcats have played 24 freshmen (14 true freshmen) and expect to watch the youngsters take hold of this team as the season progresses.
When Kentucky meets a pretty banged up Arkansas team on Saturday, it will do so without two quarterbacks, including starter Maxwell Smith, two running backs. Three starters in the secondary could be out as well.
The Wildcats were already dealing with the loss of starting safety Dakotah Tyler, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Now, seniors Martavius Neloms (hamstring) and Mikie Benton (ankle), and sophomore Ashely Lowery (head) could all be out. Reserve linebacker/safety Kory Brown (hamstring) is also listed as day to day.
Coach Joker Phillips will now have to rely on five more true freshmen in safeties Zack Blaylock and Daron Blaylock, and cornerbacks J.D. Harmon, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn to help the Wildcats out against Tyler Wilson and Arkansas' offense.
“It is a challenge, but it’s an opportunity for some young guys that we have brought here,” Phillips said. “All five of the freshmen are going to play. We expected them to help us this year, but didn’t expect them to be starting in our fourth SEC game. We will play them, throw them out there and see how it goes.”
So far, this unscheduled youth movement hasn't exactly panned out for the Wildcats. It's easy to tell just how young they are with all the struggles Kentucky has endured during its 1-5 start.
Kentucky is right near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive and defensive categories, and with all of these injuries, especially losing Smith, climbing out of the cellar could be tough.
But all Phillps can do is find the silver lining. When he was at Kentucky as an assistant back in 2005, he watched as 33 surgeries took place, starting in preseason and going right through the season. The Wildcats went 3-8 that year, but Phillips said the positive was that it built depth for the next few years.
The Wildcats then went on a five-year bowl streak.
"The positive behind is that once you start getting some of the guys back, it does nothing but build depth because you got to play some guys that normally wouldn't have been able to play and they start getting some experience and that starts developing depth," he said.
The present is hurt by the injuries, but Phillips hopes the future is helped. Still, there better be plenty of Tussin to go around for these black-and-blue Cats in 2012.