UK football feeling the pressure to beat Jacksonville State

jclay@herald-leader.comOctober 18, 2011 

Morgan Newton (12) turned to pitch the ball to running back Josh Clemons, who threw one of Kentucky's four interceptions. "Ugly," Coach Joker Phillips said of UK's fourth consecutive loss.


Stuck in a four-game losing streak, Kentucky now faces an opponent that has nothing to lose.

In fact, last time it played a Southeastern Conference school, Jacksonville State didn't lose. The Gamecocks upset Mississippi 49-48 in double overtime in last year's season opener. That's the same Ole Miss that a month later beat Kentucky in Oxford.

This year, JSU is 5-1 overall, 4-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, and ranked eighth in the Championship Subdivision coaches poll.

Kentucky is 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the SEC, and ranked 118th nationally out of 120 FBS schools in total offense.

So is the SEC team feeling the pressure against the OVC team?

"Kind of," junior defensive end Ridge Wilson said on Monday. "But at the same time, we've got to go out there and play as a team. Regardless of who we play, any given night, anyone's beatable."

Senior guard Stuart Hines said "there's definitely a little bit of pressure. Obviously, these games coming up are even that much more critical for us."

Head coach Joker Phillips wouldn't bite on the pressure question, saying only, "We've got to get better."

After all, Jacksonville State is not just any FCS team. Head coach Jack Crowe, formerly the head coach at Arkansas, is 79-49 in his 12th season at the Alabama school. His JSU teams are 30-10 over the last four years, including a trip to the FCS playoffs last season.

These Gamecocks are fresh off a 44-14 pounding of Austin Peay last Saturday that propelled JSU into first place in the OVC. After spotting the host Governors a 7-0 lead, Jacksonville State scored 28 second-quarter points to take control.

"Defensively, they do a good job of turning the football over," Phillips said. "Last week, the defense was responsible for 21 points, three turnovers for touchdowns, two pick-six and a fumble recovery and another interception they took back to the 5– yard line, which I think they got a field goal out of. So, 24 points that this team was responsible for on defense."

Georgia transfer Washaun Ealey is the star of the JSU offense. As a Bulldog, he rushed for 157 yards and a record-setting five touchdowns last year in a 44-31 win over UK.

Since transferring to JSU in June, Ealey has rushed for 594 yards in six games, including 100-plus-yard efforts in his last three outings. Last Saturday against Austin Peay, he rushed for 124 yards on 18 carries.

"Washaun Ealey, as everyone knows, is a great running back," Wilson said. "Regardless if it was Billy Joe from Howard University, we've still got to go out there and make plays."

Kentucky hasn't been making plays. The Cats are 118th nationally in scoring offense.The UK defense ranks 84th nationally in yards allowed per game (408.5).

But the Cats are coming off an open week in which they attempted the balancing act of working on their deficiencies in the first six games while trying to forget the first six games.

"Regardless of what everyone else says," Wilson said, "it's still mentally, for us as individuals and as a team, in the back of our minds. It's kind of hard as we think, 'We need to get this together. What are we not doing right?' "

What are they not doing right?

"Finishing games," Wilson said after thinking for a moment. "We've got to stay together as a team, regardless if the offense doesn't put up points, regardless if the defense doesn't stop anyone. We've just got to stay together as a team regardless of what happens out there."

Or regardless of the opponent.

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