Big East : Longtime friends Strong, Phillips face off in Governor’s Cup

first_imgEvery day at 5:30 a.m., Charlie Strong and Joker Phillips would meet to go for a run. The two became fast friends in 2002, the only year they shared together as assistants on the South Carolina coaching staff.They quickly learned they shared a competitive fire that was always burning, even during those early morning runs.‘We’d compete then, too, doing our workout in the morning,’ Phillips said in his Sunday teleconference. ‘But he’s a competitive guy.’Both are now head coaches, and the old friends will be competing again this Saturday when Phillips’ Kentucky team takes on Strong and Louisville (1-1, 0-0 Big East) in a battle for the Governor’s Cup. It will be the second time the coaches meet in this nonconference rivalry game, after making their debuts against each other last season — a 23-16 Kentucky (2-0, 0-0 SEC) victory.Phillips and Strong have crossed paths many times since they both left South Carolina in 2003. Phillips took an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, Kentucky. Strong also landed in the Southeastern Conference as the defensive coordinator at Florida.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAnd after seven seasons as assistants at those programs, they were both given the reigns to their own programs in 2010. Phillips was promoted at Kentucky, and Strong became his in-state rival as the head man at Louisville.Though still close off the field, they are enemies when their teams compete. And the competition extends beyond the game and into recruiting as they battle for the top prospects in the Bluegrass State.‘During the game, it will be like the opposite coaches just coaching their team, be similar to enemies,’ Phillips said. ‘But at the end of the game, we’ll wish each other luck, hopefully the outcome comes to our favor.’Strong considers the Wildcats the favorite right now heading into Saturday’s game. Coming off a disappointing 24-17 loss to Florida International, Strong wasn’t happy with his team’s effort and focus.Kentucky, on the other hand, impressed Strong with its come-from-behind 27-13 win over Central Michigan last weekend. Strong attributes Kentucky’s success to Phillips, whose competitive nature is personified in the team’s play.‘They have his mindset now where they’re tough and they’re competitive and they’re playing hard,’ Strong said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference Monday. ‘And they’re playing where they’re able to bounce back when they’re down.’When asked if he thought the Cardinals would come into Saturday’s game more motivated after its surprising defeat last weekend, Phillips dismissed the idea. In a rivalry game, no extra motivation is needed.‘You can throw records out,’ Phillips said. ‘You can throw statistics out. You can throw everything out the window when you’re playing an in-state rival.’And as an in-state rivalry, there’s even more at stake than bragging rights. A win or a loss in this game could be the difference between landing a coveted recruit. Kentucky is a state with a smaller pool of talent, so the recruiting implications are magnified.Brian Eldridge, Kentucky recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said although the rivalry isn’t even close to being on the same level as Auburn-Alabama and Ohio State-Michigan, it’s a big deal within the state itself.Eldridge said the Louisville-Kentucky matchup has elevated interest in football in a traditionally basketball-heavy state. More kids are playing football, and he has noticed a spike in the talent level during the last four years.‘The rivalry itself has been more of a benefit to high school football than anything else in the whole state,’ Eldridge said.Eldridge said a draw for many to go to Louisville or Kentucky is to play against old friends. They grew up together and went to the same high schools. Getting to compete against old friends is part of the draw to stay in state at either Louisville or Kentucky, Eldridge said.Especially in Louisville, which is home to the top athletes in the state, Eldridge said.Both Strong and Phillips heavily pursued Patrick Towles of Fort Thomas, Ky., a three-star quarterback in the Class of 2012 who Eldridge called ‘the best pure quarterback in the state of Kentucky.’Kentucky won the battle, as Towles gave the program a verbal commitment.The Wildcats have been on the winning end of battles on the field as well. Kentucky has won the previous four meetings with the Cardinals, though the last two games have been decided by just 11 combined points.Still, the recent losing streak hasn’t been lost on Strong.‘Right now Kentucky’s better than we are,’ Strong said. ‘They’ve done a better job of recruiting. They’ve beaten us the last four times.’And like their coaches, who are the fiercest of rivals, the players have personal rivalries stemming from their high school days as well. It adds to their drive to win and puts a unique twist on this in-state clash.‘They go on the field and they have to push and do everything they can to win the game,’ Eldridge said. ‘And when it’s over, they’re still friends.’Big East takes step back after undefeated opening weekSo much for the 8-0 start for the Big East in the first week of the season. In week two, the conference got a dose of reality.Louisville lost to Florida International of the Sun Belt Conference. Rutgers and Connecticut dropped close games to North Carolina and Vanderbilt, respectively. And Cincinnati was embarrassed by Tennessee 45-23.On the winning side, Syracuse barely beat Football Championship Subdivision opponent Rhode Island 21-14, entering the fourth quarter tied. Pittsburgh had a 20-point lead over Maine, another FCS opponent, but only won by six. West Virginia and South Florida were the only two teams to coast to wins.Big man on campusB.J. DanielsJuniorQuarterbackLast week: 28-of-39, 359 yards, one touchdownDaniels did a good job managing South Florida’s first win against Notre Dame. With the junior quarterback at the controls, the Bulls didn’t turn the ball over and relied on its defense to make plays to secure a 23-20 win. After throwing for just 128 yards in that game, Daniels was a playmaker in a 37-7 win over Ball State, finishing with a career-high 359 passing yards and a touchdown.rjgery@syr.edu Comments Published on September 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: rjgery@syr.educenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *