Kentucky eager to prove some points to Western Ky.

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 14, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

No doubt Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, had plenty of quotes that inspired generations.

But it's a quote from Andrew Jackson, the star Western Kentucky linebacker, that probably will inspire Kentucky's football team on Saturday.

After the Hilltoppers stuck with UK for most of the game last season and WKU exposed the Cats' offense, Jackson sat on the bench smiling.

He looked over his right shoulder directly at the television camera, shook his head and looked back at the field.

"They're supposed to be SEC," he said. "C'mon, man."

Kentucky went on to win 14-3 last year in Nashville, and UK's players downplayed Jackson's line as the teams prepared to meet again Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

But they know what he said and how he said it.

"You know what: We all remember that, and they can talk all they want, but words don't mean anything to us," UK offensive lineman Zach West said.

Kentucky's offense looked anything but "SEC" that opening week against the Hilltoppers, who allowed only seven completions and 190 yards of total offense. Cats quarterback Morgan Newton was intercepted three times.

"It is motivating," West continued on the Jackson quote. "It tells us all we still have something to prove. We feel like we have something to prove every game."

Jackson proved he was the real deal in the UK game, getting 12 tackles, including two for a loss and a quarterback sack.

Now he's a leader for the WKU defense that marches into Lexington ranked No. 12 in the nation in total defense, allowing only 4.87 yards a play and 241 yards per game.

In its last game at No. 1 Alabama, WKU held the Tide to 328 yards of total offense, 103 fewer than the Crimson Tide had the week before against nationally ranked Michigan.

Against Alabama, Western had six sacks and eight tackles for loss in the 35-0 loss to the nation's best team.

UK Coach Joker Phillips said his team is going to hit a motivated Western team that would like to knock off its first Southeastern Conference opponent in school history (16 tries).

Does WKU believe it can win?

"No doubt. There's no doubt they think that," Phillips said. "They showed that last week by the way they played. The score is not even close to the way those guys played. So we've got to get ourselves prepared. It's going to be a physical game, a game that they and we think we can win."

WKU walks in as the 12th-best defense, but more importantly the nation's seventh-best passing defense (holding opponents to 118 yards a game).

It will collide with a much-improved UK attack, which has the nation's 18th-best passing offense, averaging 317 yards a game behind quarterback Maxwell Smith.

"The guy's playing really well," Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "He's seeing things well, he's anticipating throws, he's recognizing defenses, and he's been very accurate so far. Hopefully we can continue building on that and continue growing."

Smith, who is sixth in the nation overall in passing, has completed 73 percent of his passes for 634 yards.

But to compare the UK offense WKU saw last season and this season is like comparing quotes from one Andrew Jackson and the other.

In the Cats' win over Kent State, Smith's exclamation-point touchdown — a 56-yarder to freshman Demarcus Sweat — was longer than any pass Kentucky completed last season.

Smith already has completed passes to 13 different players in two games this season, including 10 who have three-plus receptions. Compare that to last season when 17 different players caught passes (if you include offensive lineman Stuart Hines' one catch for 6 yards).

Last season, only five players caught more than 10 passes. This season, five players have five or more catches. In that WKU game last season, Kentucky managed only seven completions total.

UK's offense has turned a corner.

"We know we have a bunch of guys who can catch the ball who are talented and we're ready to show it," said senior receiver La'Rod King, who has 13 catches for 130 yards and two scores so far this season. "I feel like our strength is our depth now. The young guys are on board and they can jump in any time. We have a dynamic offense."

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

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