Kentucky players think Sunday is their time to shine

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 1, 2012 

Time doesn't heal all wounds.

In Kentucky's case, time just serves as a regular reminder of a painful loss. In this case, time is kept on a countdown clock on a wall outside the Cats' weight room.

"I just watch it tick down every day, waiting for Sunday to come," quarterback Maxwell Smith said of the Cats' clock that signals the start of the season and what the Cats hope is the end of a painful chapter of bad offense.

There were two wins before the Louisville game, but it was the loss to the Cardinals, which ended a four-game win streak over their in-state rivals, that set the tone for last season, players said last week.

That 24-17 loss last season at home in front of all of the blue-clad backers let doubt creep into minds. The loss changed the way the Cats felt about themselves and about one another.

"When you have that many missed assignments and mistakes, you just wonder where you're at," senior offensive lineman Larry Warford said. "You feel like you've practiced to improve and all that and you wonder where all that work went."

The Cats' offensive numbers from that loss are enough to turn Warford's stomach.

"That game left the worst taste in my mouth," he said. "We actually have it playing in the locker room and I have to turn off the TV because I hate watching that game with a passion."

As a reporter asked about each painful statistic from that Louisville loss: Kentucky's 35 total rushing yards or the 14 tackles for loss or the six sacks allowed, Warford winced with each one.

Time hasn't healed those wounds.

"Our performance on offense was probably the worst I've ever seen," he said. "We didn't do anything we wanted during that game. We had so many mistakes, missed assignments and all that. I just believe this game we can't let that happen if our goal is to win."

And make no mistake, that is Kentucky's goal this season.

Not just to beat the No. 25 Cardinals on their home turf, but also to get the offense back on track.

"It's huge for momentum," senior center Matt Smith said of the Louisville game. "Obviously, you want to start your season off with a win, be 1-0 right off the bat, but the fact that it's against our in-state rival, it's always a huge game for us. ... It's just a huge game in general. You want to start the season on the right note."

No one outside the players, coaches and staff has seen the work in fall camp or the practices leading up to this. Few have seen potential advancement of play-makers, the leadership that is reportedly developing from within.

So the Kentucky players and coaches understand that there are some serious doubts about the program that finished near the bottom of the nation in nearly every statistical category.

They understand people are scratching their heads wondering how UK is going to do without its top three tacklers from last season and all-new starters at several key defensive positions.

But the Cats are trying to block out the negativity.

"We take it for what it's worth, and we use it as motivation and we go play," Coach Joker Phillips said. "That's what we do. We don't talk about it; we just go play."

Defensive lineman Collins Ukwu agreed.

"We've got to prove people wrong," the senior said. "We're worried about us as a team, not worried about what they say or what people say about us."

The Cats are fine playing the part of underdog against the two-touchdown favorite Cardinals, who are ranked for the first time since 2007 and coming off back-to-back bowl seasons.

Does Smith think the Cardinals are two scores better than UK?

"I didn't even hear that," the quarterback said. "I don't really care. We'll find out Sunday."

The other Smith, center Matt Smith, relishes the role of underdog. He's hoping UK can also play another role: spoiler.

"The pressure's off of us," the Louisville native said. "We have nothing to lose. We go out there and play the game we know how to play. We're hoping to shock a lot of people this year."

The Cats think their time has come.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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