UK Football

Cats seek ranking, respect

Nobody is talking about Kentucky much these days. UK has followed up back-to-back eight-victory, Music City Bowl-winning seasons with a 4-0 start, yet the Cats haven't cracked the Top 25.

Alabama, meanwhile, is all the rage after whooping up on Georgia and Clemson. And when Coach Nick Saban had his weekly news conference on Monday, not one question came up about Kentucky.

For UK, the road to respect begins with Saturday's face-off against the second-ranked Crimson Tide at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Fifth-year senior Dicky Lyons Jr. knows what's at stake.

"The more your program elevates, the bigger the game gets," Lyons said. "These are the games we need to start winning and proving we can win on a year-to-year basis. We had a great team last year when we beat LSU. If we can come out and beat Alabama, then I think people have to start saying that Kentucky has a great program."

The Cats are 16-point underdogs, but sophomore running back Derrick Locke said keeping it close won't be enough.

"In order to get respect, you have to win," Locke said. "Even if you play a good game and stay close, it's like, 'Well, you still lost. You're still the old Kentucky.' You're not climbing up the ranks if you lose. We've got to win."

So can the Wildcats pull it off? On paper, it looks tough. Alabama is a big, physical team that has outscored its opponents 74-0 in the first quarter. The Crimson Tide have played five games and haven't trailed once.

UK Coach Rich Brooks said the Wildcats have to do several things to have a chance to win: Try to run the football, protect quarterback Mike Hartline, get some takeaways, and control the kicking game and field position.

"If we do that, and come up with a big offensive play or two, we'll have a chance," he said.

The Cats have stayed pretty vanilla with their offense through the first four games, but Hartline said the Cats have to be prepared to pull out all the stops in order to win against the Tide.

"We definitely have to take some risks in this game," Hartline said. "Take some shots, whether it's throwing the ball into tight coverage downfield or maybe hit them with some trick plays."

Lyons said he expects offensive coordinator Joker Phillips to be at his best Saturday.

"Coach knows what he's doing," Lyons said. "This is the SEC, and he's going to let the playbook fly. He'll look at what other coaches are expecting him to do, and he'll flip it on them. All of a sudden, they're prepared for one thing, and then we'll come out in the first half and jump on them. (The first half) is when he likes to take his chances.

"Early on, we really ran only three run plays and three pass plays; we just ran them in different formations. We were just trying to get Hartline accustomed to everything. Now we're going down to Alabama, and we're going to let it fly. We have nothing to lose. They have everything to lose."

Phillips disagreed slightly with Lyons' assessment.

"We're no longer in the basement of the SEC," he said. "We're 4-0 with a chance to be 5-0. We want to compete for a championship. We definitely have a lot to lose."

Locke is known for his confidence, and while he wouldn't predict a UK win, he does believe the Cats can go toe-to-toe with Alabama.

"Everybody's doubting us, and I'm not going to sit here and say we're going to go down there and whoop up on them or this or that," Locke said. "But I do feel like when they step on the field they better buckle up. In the past, you heard stuff like, 'We're going to smack up Kentucky.' I don't feel like it's going to be like that. I think it's going to be a dogfight. I really do."