The color on the mood ring of Kentucky football seems to change on a weekly basis.
Win a big game, as the Cats did a couple of weeks ago at Auburn, and visions of warm-weather bowls begin dancing in the heads of the fans, players and coaches. Lose an important game as UK did Saturday against Mississippi State and, for many, it's on to basketball season.
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks is now faced with the daunting task of pulling his team off the mat and trying to salvage the season. According to Brooks, assignment No. 1 is to quit looking down the road and start focusing on the task at hand, which is Saturday's match-up with Eastern Kentucky.
"Sometimes I think we get too much attention on what's going to happen," Brooks said. "A week ago, I think, a lot of people thought we could win out. Now I hear a lot of people think we may not win another game. That's how this thing goes, and the job I have to do is get my players to understand each week is critically important and that they have to prepare themselves like it's the last game of the year, and it's the only thing that's going to make any difference. And obviously I didn't get that done last week."
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There's no question that the MSU loss killed a lot of the positive buzz that was generated with the road win at Auburn. The Cats have talked openly about wanting to take a step up from the Music City Bowl/Liberty Bowl status that they've achieved the past three years, and now they have little to no margin for error. After EKU, Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-5) and Georgia (4-4, 3-3) before the regular season finale at home versus Tennessee (4-4, 2-3).
When asked what the Cats had to do for this season to be considered a success, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said, "Win out."
"Win out or else," Lumpkin added. "We have to have that mentality. We felt like we could win out before the Mississippi State game, and that's still our goal. We've got to beat Eastern, go down to Vanderbilt and Georgia and get a win and come home in our last game and get a win. We want to go somewhere warm for a bowl game, somewhere outside Tennessee."
Brooks wouldn't go into specifics about what his definition of a successful season would be but did acknowledge that the Cats must find a way to get to a bowl game for a fourth straight year.
"We'll talk about whether it's a successful season or not at the end of the season," Brooks said. "Right now, we're trying to win our next game."
It's not just the fact that Kentucky lost, it's the way they lost that really took away a lot of steam: 348 rushing yards allowed, three turnovers and a passing game that generated just 119 yards. The message boards and radio shows that were once buzzing about the Outback and Chick-Fil-A bowls are now playing the blame game, and the players say they can't get caught up in that.
"We just have to stay together," sophomore wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "We can't start hanging our heads and pointing fingers and start blaming the coaches for play-calling or players for making mistakes. If we start separating, it will go downhill. You're going to hear it. You're going to have people making comments to you, writing you things. I've already got a bunch of message on Facebook and all of that saying stuff, and I just try to avoid some of those things. But you're going to hear it."
Brooks said it's more difficult than ever to shield players from outside influences.
"Young people have lot more going on in their life than football," Brooks said. "That is my life. I have no life right now other than football. They have a life: a social life, an academic life, a family life, other things going on and people talking to them. You never know where their frame of mind is at."
Brooks said that while some of his past teams had vocal leaders such as Wesley Woodyard and Keenan Burton, this year's team is a little lacking.
"I need some help from players on the team also to be talking about focusing and getting ready instead of going on with their lives," Brooks said. "There isn't a lot of that on this team, Some of our leaders in the past were more vocal. Our leaders now are more quiet and try to lead by example on this team."
UK-Vandy kickoff set
Kentucky's Nov. 14 game at Vanderbilt has been chosen as the SEC Network Game of the Week and will kickoff at 12:21.
Dixon player of the week
Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon has been named the Southeastern Conference's offensive player of the week after setting the school record for yards rushing in a game with 252 against UK Saturday.