Nothing can be more dangerous than a team with absolutely nothing to lose.
Take Charleston Southern. The FCS program came into Commonwealth Stadium sporting a 2-6 record and the Buccaneers threw everything at Kentucky, running end-arounds, reverses and even the old hook-and-ladder play.
The Wildcats admitted to being taken by surprise by some of Charleston Southern's antics.
"I was like, 'Did they really just do that?'" senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said after Charleston Southern ran the hook-and-ladder early. "It's just the first quarter. What are they doing? But when you have nothing to lose, why not? Why not throw something out there? If you get turnovers, you get turnovers. They're playing to get respect. We're playing to get a win. They can come out there and do all those trick plays."
"I didn't even know that play (the hook-and-ladder) still existed," said sophomore center Matt Smith.
For that reason alone, the Wildcats will have to be on guard again this week when Vanderbilt rolls into Commonwealth Stadium. At 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, the Commodores are out of bowl contention and will look to play the role of spoiler.
"They're going to come in here and trying to ruin our season, and we can't let that happen," Lumpkin said. "This can be Vandy's bowl game. They're going to be like, 'We can do this. ... Let's make them stay home with us."
Vanderbilt has some justification for its confidence. The Commodores came into Commonwealth and beat the Cats 31-24 in 2008, and four of the past six meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
The Commodores have shown a pulse at times despite their less-than-sparkling record. They went into Oxford and dominated a Mississippi team that beat Kentucky. They hung with South Carolina before falling 21-7. And while they were dominated 55-14 by Florida last week, they fell behind early thanks to three turnovers (including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown) and a blocked punt that was also run back for six.
"They do the same things we do — shoot themselves in the foot," Lumpkin said. "That's the moral of their story, too. You can look at the tape. They play every game hard, they don't quit, they're known for competing until the end of the whistle, and we're going to have to be ready for that."
"You put the film on against Florida, and it doesn't look anything like the score," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "It reminded me a lot of our Ole Miss and Georgia games. They gave up a lot of short fields. They did a really good job of competing and getting after those guys offensively and defensively, they just turned the ball over and had some special teams blunders."
Phillips, perhaps knowing what's at stake, didn't want any part of looking ahead, whether it was talking about the bowl streak, UK's open date after the Vanderbilt game, or the regular-season finale at Tennessee. But the players admitted it's important that they get that sixth win now, not only to go into the bye week with some momentum but also so they won't have to worry about trying to get it in Knoxville against a team UK hasn't beaten since 1984.
"That's not a position we want to be in, a do-or-die situation going into the last game to be bowl eligible," Smith said.
"You don't want to go into a bye week with a loss and then be at a point to where you have to win this game or the season's over," Lumpkin said. "You want to go into the bye week with a win knowing we can improve what we're doing and everybody's happy. I've been here when we've gone into bye weeks with losses, and that wasn't fun. Bye week wasn't a bye week. We practiced every day, and it was hard."