Date published: Sunday, September 07, 2003
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks first noticed it yesterday morning, and he picked up on it even more when he looked up and down the sidelines of last night's game with Murray State.
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His team wasn't having any fun.Of course, it's not easy to be all smiles after a tough pre-season camp and a 16-point loss to your archrival in your season opener.
And while UK's 37-6 win over Murray State wasn't exactly a thrill a minute, Brooks is hoping it's the first step in transforming his team into a bunch of happy Cats.
Kentucky rode the coattails of seniors Derek Abney and Jared Lorenzen to put away the Division I-AA Racers and give Brooks his first collegiate win since 1994 before 63,306 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
"It's nice to get a `W,' " Brooks said. "I thought we did some good things, but we also had some mistakes."
Kentucky's sluggishness was evident on the field; UK didn't score its first points until 22 seconds remained in the first quarter.
"It didn't appear we played with a lot of adrenaline," Brooks said. "I asked my players, `Obviously I'm doing something wrong, because you didn't seem like you were having much fun playing that game.' I told them they needed to start having some fun."
As he has countless times, Abney provided an emotional jolt that got the Cats out of the doldrums.
After the offense produced nothing on its first two drives, Abney had a 25-yard punt return to the Murray State 28. He caught an 11-yard TD pass from Lorenzen five plays later to give UK a 7-0 lead.
And now that the Wildcats have a win under their belts, Abney said it'll be easier to loosen up and have fun.
"I pin that on the seniors," he said. "I think this was just a little bit of a wake-up call that we need to be more emotional and enjoy it, cheer our teammates on and stuff like that. I think you'll see more of that."
Lorenzen had fun with the Murray State secondary, going 14-for-21 for 197 yards and four touchdowns, passing Tim Couch as the Wildcats' career passing yardage leader. His 60-yard TD pass to Chris Bernard gave UK a 14-0 lead and set off a four-minute stretch that put the game out of reach.
Kentucky appeared to pick up a safety on the ensuing kickoff when Claude Sagaille snuffed out an attempted reverse by pulling down Terrence Biggers near the end zone, but the officials gave the Racers the ball at the 1.
That just delayed the inevitable. On the next play, Murray quarterback Stewart Childress fumbled the snap and was smothered in the end zone by Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns to push the Kentucky lead to 16-0.
And while UK went into halftime leading 23-6, Brooks was still trying to get things revved up.
"We were a little flat," Lorenzen said. "Coach said we were like pancakes this morning we were so flat. We just need to learn to get excited. This is the only team we're playing this Saturday; we shouldn't be saving up anything."
Despite the win, there was still enough to keep Brooks a little grumpy as UK prepares for its Southeastern Conference opener at Alabama on Saturday.
The Kentucky running game wasn't overpowering. UK's starting backfield of Draak Davis and Alexis Bwenge produced just 40 yards on 17 carries, and the Cats managed only 103 rushing yards overall.
"The running back situation is still not as solid as I'd like to see it," Brooks said. "My biggest disappointment is our inability at this time to have a more consistent running game."
And after being flagged just four times for 20 yards against Louisville, Kentucky was whistled for 13 penalties for 119 yards.
"I'm disgusted with our penalties," Brooks said. "We had four personal fouls ... several procedure problems ... unacceptable."
But for one week, anyway, Brooks and his UK program have something to smile about.