UK-Vandy notes: Mostly empty stadium shocks Kentucky players

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 3, 2012 

At some stadiums, players come out of the tunnel and are mesmerized by the rowdy, crazy packed house around them.

Kentucky's players came out of their tunnel at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday and couldn't believe their eyes, but for a completely different reason.

"I was shocked because I'd never seen it like that," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said after Vanderbilt trampled Kentucky 40-0 in front of an announced crowd of 44,902, the smallest since the stadium was expanded in 1999.

But that official number was deceptive.

As most schools around the country do, Kentucky counts its season tickets sold in its final attendance figure for each home game. The final figure also includes stadium workers, vendors, security and media members.

Kentucky listed the crowd at 44,902, but it looked like half of that.

When asked for the actual number of tickets/worker passes that were scanned coming into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, UK spokesman Tony Neely told the Herald-Leader that the number wasn't available.

Neely said he was unsure of where to obtain that number and that he never had been asked for it before.

The most recent season ticket sales total, 38,554, came via a Herald-Leader open records request in mid-September.

This season, UK is averaging 50,181 in home attendance, which would put it nearly 10,000 below last season's 60,007 average, the lowest since expansion.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter said the crowd doesn't change his coaching, but he does have sympathy for the players.

"I feel bad for our kids," he said. "These are SEC football players. They came here to UK to have great support and I feel bad for them. ... I feel bad for our players playing in front of half-empty houses."

Head coach Joker Phillips said he just tries to appreciate the fans that are at Commonwealth Stadium.

"I see the people that are there and I want those guys to know that we appreciate them," Phillips said. But "regardless of how it looks, you've got to play. ... It shouldn't have any effect on how we perform."

Trying to get Towles better

The learning curve is steep for most true freshman quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.

It definitely has been for UK's Patrick Towles, who was pulled off the scout team just a few short weeks ago.

"The SEC is a lot more intense than Kentucky high school football, but this week was better than last week as far as just seeing things," Towles said after his 8-for-23 passing performance for 93 yards. "We have to get back to work."

When asked about Towles' accuracy problems against Vanderbilt on Saturday, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said it's clear the Mr. Football from Highlands is still learning.

"I told him one time on the sideline, I said, 'You know, you're a good thrower, but you're not a very good passer right now. A passer completes passes. You throw pretty passes, but we're not completing enough of them,'" Sanders said. "Some of it is having your eyes in the right place. Some of it is being able to see the coverage, read the coverage. And then some of it is just throwing it accurately."

The offensive coordinator said Towles' "mechanics are everywhere out there on the field. So there's a lot of things we can make improvement on."

Williamson's big day

Kentucky didn't have a lot to celebrate after being shut out by the Commodores on Saturday, but Avery Williamson's career-high 20 tackles in the game leaped off the stat sheet as a positive.

The junior linebacker is the first UK player to register 20-plus tackles in a game since Chad Anderson had 21 against Georgia in 2003.

Phillips heaped praise on the SEC tackles leader.

"Avery's a self– made football player," the head coach said. "He's done an amazing job. Self– made meaning he's made himself a physically fit guy in the weight room. He's made himself a good linebacker by film study, a guy that works really hard on the football field. He's just a guy that plays his heart out."

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

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