Sports

John Clay: U of L presents some fear factors

A 13-point spread amounts to zilch. Toss out the numbers. That's the rivalry-game creed.

So Vegas thinks Kentucky will all but cruise Saturday against visiting Louisville, and Vegas didn't build those casinos by being wrong.

So you think Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks is sleeping worry-free this week?

Yeah, right.

Here's what might be keeping him up:

Fear of overconfidence: Too many people, author included, think Kentucky will roll at Commonwealth. UK has too much talent and Louisville too little cohesion to keep it too close. Brooks' players have heard that. They might even believe that.

But the team that's supposed to win doesn't always win. Ask those four Football Bowl Subdivision schools (Temple, Duke, Virginia and Ball State) who lost to schools from the Football Championship Subdivision's Colonial Athletic Association.

Plus, playing as the favorite is an unusual situation for the Cats.

"I don't like it," said tackle Ricky Lumpkin on Monday. "I'd rather be the underdog. That's the way we've got to play Saturday."

Fear of kick returns: Brooks' voice rose a couple of octaves during his Monday press luncheon when asked about kick coverage. He wasn't auditioning for American Idol.

Tim Masthay is gone. So touchbacks are gone. Against Miami, on average, UK's seven kickoffs reached the RedHawks' 9-yard line. Luckily, Miami didn't possess a dangerous return man.

Louisville does have a dangerous return man. Two years ago at Commonwealth, Trent Guy returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. He's still around. And chances are, he'll get some chances to repeat that feat Saturday.

Fear of the hometown hero: Louisville quarterback Justin Burke could be the hometown hero, or villain, depending on your view.

Burke played his high school football at Lexington Catholic, where he threw enough touchdown passes (62 his senior season) to make Mike Leach jealous.

Burke struggled in U of L's opener, but that was not just his first collegiate start. It was really his first collegiate action of any length in his four-year career. He had to be nervous. It showed during that 1-for-8 start.

But Burke settled down, completing 16 of his next 23 passes. He's a smart player, one who can adjust. Surely, Brooks' fear is that he will settle in come Saturday and make the home folks, or at least his folks, proud.

Fear of the skill set: Louisville's offensive line is a work in progress. On defense, the Cards had to bring in three junior-college players late to patch obvious holes. Its special teams are up in the air, thanks to injury and inexperience.

But Louisville does have skill players. Victor Anderson has rushed for at least 90 yards six times. Wide receiver Doug Beaumont has talent. Fellow wideout Scott Long is finally healthy. If Louisville wins Saturday, these guys have to break big plays. Brooks' fear is they will do just that.

Fear of the desperate team: Steve Kragthorpe is on the hot seat. Forget what Tom Jurich says. Reality bites. And reality is, Louisville is expanding its stadium and constructing luxury suites. Someone has to buy those tickets, fill those suites. That's economics.

After two bowl-less seasons, Kragthorpe needs to get the Cardinals back to the post-season. Either that, or chances are, he won't see a fourth year at the 'Ville.

Beating the cross-state rival Saturday on the cross-state rival's home field would go a long way toward catapulting the Cards toward that goal. And keeping Kragthorpe on the Louisville sideline.

All that said, the belief here is Vegas is right.

But I doubt that buys Rich Brooks much sleep.

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