Sports

Cats show knack for winning on road

John Clay
John Clay

Not long ago, SEC members couldn't wait to welcome the Kentucky football team into their friendly burgs.

Why, they'd all but pick up the Cats at the airport and chauffeur them to the hotel before administering an old-fashioned rear-kicking as a parting gift, capped by a friendly handshake.

Y'all come back now, ya hear?

As Kentucky coach, Rich Brooks lost 13 of his first 14 Southeastern Conference road games. Since then, the Cats are 6-7.

This year, their three best performances have all come outside Commonwealth Stadium — that would've-could've-should've 28-26 loss at South Carolina; that fourth-quarter comeback victory, 21-14, at Auburn; and last Saturday's second-half surge past Vanderbilt for a 24-13 win.

In fact, if the Cats could pull the upset on Georgia this Saturday night, it would mark the first time Kentucky football has captured three SEC road wins in the same season since Fran Curci's stellar 10-1 team in 1977.

That was also the year Kentucky last won between the hedges.

So why has this year's team played its best football on the road?

"Well, we've played some pretty good teams at home," Brooks said after Wednesday's practice.

Top-ranked Florida and second-ranked Alabama both signed the Commonwealth Stadium guest registry before crowning the Cats.

And yet, consider that before the unlucky quarterback injured his knee early in the second half, Mike Hartline's best 30 minutes of football this season came in the first half at South Carolina.

Derrick Locke rushed for 126 yards at Auburn and 144 yards at Vanderbilt. Randall Cobb was Wildcat wonderful at Auburn and a gritty catalyst at Nashville.

And the Kentucky defense has not allowed a second-half point in each of its last two road ventures.

What gives?

"Every time we go on the road, people don't ever really give us a chance," said Locke. "At home, I guess it's a little different. But when you're on the road, you're just playing for yourself and your teammates."

Of course, you can make the argument that, at home, you are playing to expectations. You're expected to win at home, or at least play well. And if you don't, well, the home folks are close by to let you know about it.

There are fewer expectations on the road. Thus, less pressure. And the Cats do appear to be a more focused group, a more determined group, on the road.

"I think we focus a little better on the road, most definitely," said defensive tackle Corey Peters.

Road games are business trips. Away from campus, there is only the game on which to focus. At Auburn, and at Vanderbilt, both were big games.

"We really needed those games," said Peters. "The Auburn game, we were coming off a three-game losing streak, and we needed to turn some things around. I think that was one of the reasons we focused a little better."

Plus, any player will tell you, while it's nice when the home folks start rocking behind you, there's nothing quite like silencing the home crowd of an opponent.

"I also like it on defense when everybody's quiet," said Peters. "It helps us; we can communicate a lot better. There's actually been where somebody's hollering something off the sideline, and we were able to get it changed, and stuff like that. So that helps."

Kentucky has lost by double digits each of its past six trips to Athens. But the fact that these Cats have two big road wins surely raises the confidence factor.

"Most definitely," said Peters. "We feel like we can win anywhere."

"Hopefully we can continue to play like that," said Locke, "and hopefully we can try and pull out this win."

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