Kentucky's football players said all the right things from a political correctness standpoint regarding Saturday's game at Ole Miss.
The two most popular answers floating around the Nutter Training Facility this week were: "The biggest game is always the next one," and "Every game in the SEC is huge."
But deep down, everybody knows how big the Ole Miss game really is.
For starters, if the Cats want to realize their dream of being a contender in what appears to be a wide-open SEC East, they have to take care of business in Oxford. They're fresh off a 48-14 loss at Florida, and an 0-2 start puts them in a hole that would be difficult to climb out of. When asked if his team could still fight for the division with two early losses, Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said, "It would be tough."
And UK is about to hit the meaty part of its schedule. Ranked teams Auburn and South Carolina visit Commonwealth Stadium the next two weeks, and the last part of the pivotal three-game homestand will feature Georgia, which could be fighting just to preserve bowl eligibility.
UK quarterback Mike Hartline said the Cats have to put aside the big picture and focus on the Rebels, who also have a conference loss and are trying to stay alive in the SEC West.
"That's all we can control, that's all we can focus on," Hartline said. "We can't worry about anything in the future. We'll worry about that after this one. But to say the least it's a huge game, especially on the road in the SEC. We don't get many chances to win on the road and we need to take advantage of those."
Defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin did acknowledge what a win would do for the Wildcats' fortunes.
"It's a great opportunity for us to redeem ourselves and come home with a 4-1 record playing Auburn at night on ESPN," Lumpkin said. "We don't want to lose anyone mentally; not the fans, not the people on the team. Man, look at these next couple games we have. This is a must-win, another big game for this program. We win this, we come back home and play a team who we beat last year (Auburn) who's going to come in with a mentality that we lost at home to them. We have to get back on the winning track and come back home 4-1 and not 3-2."
Receiver Randall Cobb said the Cats need to wipe the bad taste out of their mouths from the Florida game. The players, fans and national media all felt like the Cats had a chance to compete with the Gators but it ended up being the same old rout that it's been the past couple of seasons.
"We hyped ourselves up to where we let a lot of people down, and we want them to know that it's not the end of the world," Cobb said. "We did play Florida, the No. 9 team in the nation, and we didn't show up. It's just something that happened. We just have to recuperate and get to the task at hand. We just have to shake it off and have faith in each other. We can't start pointing fingers because then things can really go south."
Lexington Herald-Leader | kentucky.com Saturday, october 2, 2010