Kentucky football players aching to see hard work deliver a win

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 1, 2013 

A dejected Kentucky Wildcats defensive end Alvin Dupree #2 left the field as Louisville defeated Kentucky 27-13 on Saturday September 14, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • Tennessee at Kentucky

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

    TV: ESPNU

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

It has been 56 days since Kentucky has won a game.

It's been 56 days since the Cats have left the football field feeling good about themselves.

"I just like seeing the scoreboard," senior Raymond Sanders said when asked the best part of a victory. "You're able to go in the locker room smiling and sing the fight song. Everyone is happy."

It hasn't been a happy locker room for weeks, especially after several recent games (Alabama excluded) when Kentucky has felt like it was just a few plays away.

"You know, we're so close," freshman defensive back Blake McClain said. "People on the team want to win badly. We're real hungry for a win. We're losing tough games and it really does hurt us."

That's what Coach Mark Stoops wants to hear: That the players finally have put in so much effort, so much sweat equity that these losses really mean something to them.

"I saw a group that was hurt after the game that they know — the more you invest, the more it should hurt, and I think our team is starting to hurt," he said. "They're starting to understand that we can do this."

Senior linebacker Avery Williamson said he went to Stoops to start this week — the week Kentucky goes out of conference to face Alabama State at Commonwealth Stadium for homecoming — and admitted to his coach it was tough to get ready to practice again.

"I was still down from the loss," he said.

Williamson learned he wasn't the only one still feeling the sting of a 28-22 defeat at Mississippi State, where the Cats (1-6, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) had a chance to win it in the final two minutes but fell short.

"He felt the same ... kind of still down about it," Williamson said of his head coach. "It's tough. We knew we had it."

Taking out the 48-7 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, UK is losing games by an average of 10.6 points this season, compared to more than 20 points a game last season.

Progress sometimes comes in inches, not yards.

"You don't know what play's gonna change the game," Stoops said this week. "It's not just the obvious play all the time. There's a lot of plays in there that could change the game. And that's the message, so make them all very important and do the details on all plays. And that's where we're working to get better."

Kentucky's coaches and players would love to see progress come in the form of a win on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

"The energy's still good," running backs coach Chad Scott said. "The guys understand how close we are and they understand the position we're putting them in. It's just a matter of a guy making a play here and there."

A victory could cure almost everything that ails the Cats.

"We need it bad," Scott said. "Need it bad, like yesterday bad."

The veterans, like Sanders and Williamson, who likely have five games left in their careers, need it.

"We're so hungry for a win," Sanders said. "We continue to grow, to better ourselves, to be more competitive, but now it's time to get over that hump and get some wins, get some SEC wins and prove to ourselves we've gotten better."

Senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph still has hope that a win on Saturday, against an Alabama State team that has won six straight games and comes in with loads of confidence, will keep alive the Cats' chance to be in a post-season bowl.

They'd need to win out now to be eligible for a bowl.

"It would mean so much to finally get a win," Rumph said. "It's our first milestone in a long time toward becoming bowl eligible and gaining some momentum."

UK underclassmen talk about a win helping the team build for its future.

But at this point, all of them are just eager to try and get one.

A win would be a great reward for the hard work, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

"For them, for us. For me," he said. "We need to win a game, there's no question. We need to win a game. I think that's why everybody's in this business, why the kids are here and why we're coaching is to win games. We've gone through a stretch here where we haven't."

If nothing else, UK will have that feel-good feeling back in the locker room, even if it's for just one game, just one night.

It's a feeling a guy like Sanders misses.

"It's just the locker room really because after a loss everyone's in there with their head down," he said. "Just that feeling that we got it done even if it's a tough win, a win is a win. It always feels good to get that win."


Saturday

Alabama State at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Comcast Charter Sports Southeast (Time Warner Cable Channel 505)

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

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