The Kentucky football team has lost five of its past six games. The Cats are beaten up physically. They're beaten up emotionally, too, after a season that has taken bizarre twists and turns not only week-to-week, but within the course of each game.
The prospect of facing FCS opponent Charleston Southern wouldn't appear to bring UK out of the doldrums. CSU is 2-6 on the year, 0-4 in the Big South, and was smashed 66-7 by Hawaii in its only matchup with an FBS program. Despite all that, assistant head coach David Turner said Kentucky better be prepared to take the Buccaneers seriously.
He pointed to three upsets this season by FCS schools: James Madison over Virginia Tech, Jacksonville State over Ole Miss and North Dakota State over Kansas.
"You've got those examples of what can happen if you're not focused and if you're not taking your opponent seriously, and our job as coaches is to make sure that we stay focused," Turner said.
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Turner also made reference to a statement by former Alabama coach Gene Stallings when he was in a similar situation.
"Somebody asked him in a press conference, 'You're coming off a big game; this isn't viewed as a 'big' game,' " Turner said. "(Stallings) said, 'If you don't think it's a big game, lose it.' So for us it's a big game, so it's important for us to play well and start fast."
Turner was filling in for Coach Joker Phillips at his Monday news conference. Phillips returned home to Franklin early Monday because of a death in the family and was expected to return to Lexington later in the afternoon.
Turner said he still sees a lot of fight left in the team as it gets ready for the season's final three games.
"We're pleasantly surprised," Turner said. "Guys have been resilient, they've been working hard, they're continuing to do what we ask them to do. Obviously it hasn't gone the way we would have liked, the players and coaches. But they're battling back. We're looking at three one-game seasons. The next one is the biggest one, and we've got to prepare for that like we would an SEC opponent."
But the players admit it's tough to continually pick themselves up off the deck after six draining weeks and five losses.
"It's been really tough, you go through a game where you're down, you climb back in the game, they get a score, you drive down the field and don't score, it's just really tough to deal with mentally," junior left guard Stuart Hines said. "But we've experienced it several times, and we were able to overcome it and move on to the next game. That's what we've got to do now."
Senior fullback Moncell Allen said he thinks the past few weeks have affected the effort in practice.
"Then when you get to the game and the game's way faster than practice, it kind of messes with you a little bit," Allen said.
When asked why he thinks the effort has been inconsistent in practice, Allen said, "A lot of guys are tired and beat up, and a lot of guys are frustrated because of the losing."
But the key is to not let those feelings carry over to Saturday and allow another FCS upset.
"We really can't keep our heads down for too long because one loss can turn into two can turn into three, and there goes the season," junior defensive end Mark Crawford said.
"It's kind of mind-boggling, because we do have a good team," Allen said. "If they beat us, then we've really got trouble."
Locke cleared to practice
Turner said senior running back Derrick Locke has been cleared by doctors to participate in non-contact drills. Locke's status for the Charleston Southern game is day-to-day.
Locke has missed the past three games with a shoulder injury.
"The first thing for us, we want to make sure there's no possibility for further injury," Turner said. "We want to take the young man's welfare into account. Between the doctors, trainers, Derrick and coaches, you try to come to a mutual agreement. If he's ready, he feels good, and he's confident, and he's been cleared, he'll play. But we want to make sure first of all he's well and there's not a chance of re-injuring his shoulder."
Turner said freshman running back Raymond Sanders (abdominal strain) should be ready to go to Saturday.
UK-Vandy kickoff set
Kentucky's Nov. 13 home game with Vanderbilt will kick off at 12:21 p.m. and will be televised by the SEC Network (WKYT-27 in Lexington).