Rich Brooks used words such as "anxious," "frustrated," "antsy" and "nervous" to describe his mood leading up to his Kentucky team's season-opener with Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. It must be game week.
"He definitely cranks up his intensity a little bit," said senior left tackle Zipp Duncan. "He's intense all the way through camp, but game week is another level. Coach Brooks is a competitive guy and definitely wants to win. He won't be playing any games this week. He'll be pretty serious."
In addition to having a wide variety of moods, Brooks also had his creative juices flowing. In describing the importance of the game to the media during his first weekly press conference of the season, Brooks referred to a fictitious university, the Squawhaukee Canyon Institute of Technology.
"Every game is important when you're trying to establish consistent post-season play in your program," he said. "Every game is important when you're trying to make a bigger run in your league. Whether it's the Squawhaukee Canyon Institute of Technology or Alabama, whether it's Miami, they're all very important. We need to go up there on the road and get off to a good start with a win. Anything else is not acceptable."
In actuality, Brooks and his staff and players don't know much more about Miami than they do the Squawhaukee Canyon Institute of Technology. The RedHawks finished 2-10 last year, but they welcome in a new coach (Mike Haywood), a new staff, new players and a depth chart with former players lined up in different places than they were under the previous regime.
"We're going into this game a little blind," Brooks said. "We're not sure exactly what to expect because of the new coaching staff. We're just kind of winging it, if you will, in preparations. I'm sure we'll have to do some adjusting early in this game. I'm sure we'll be surprised with a few things."
"It's been really difficult trying to prepare for this game," said senior defensive tackle Corey Peters. "You're really just guessing."
While UK enters the game as more than a two-touchdown favorite, Brooks knows how dangerous the Mid-American Conference has been against BCS schools.
The Wildcats expect daily reminders of that fact and figure to be on constant upset alert from Brooks right up until the opening kickoff.
"We don't want (a loss) to happen, and Coach Brooks doesn't want that to happen because it would be very embarrassing," senior tailback Alfonso Smith said.
"The coaching staff has actually been preaching that all summer," Duncan said. "This is a team that's going to come out fired up to knock off an SEC opponent, and there's going to be some mystery there. But at the same time, Coach Brooks always preaches that we're not going to underestimate anybody."
The Wildcats enter the game with a streak of 14 consecutive non-conference wins, the second-longest streak in the nation and the longest for the school since a 17-game streak from 1954-60.
"I think we're continually trying to raise our team to the level of the upper half of the SEC and, when you do that, you should be able to do pretty well against the rest of the non-conference schedule. That doesn't mean you're perfect, but certainly we have more talent that I would call SEC-caliber than we had three, four years ago, that should translate into more wins."
Brooks said senior Micah Johnson (foot sprain) is expected to return to practice Tuesday, and senior fullback John Conner (ankle sprain) will not return until Wednesday. Johnson is expected to play, but Brooks said conditioning might be a problem. Conner's status will be re-evaluated later in the week.
Defensive lineman Corey Peters appeared at Monday's news conference with his right wrist in a cast. Peters said he sprained the wrist in fall camp but said the injury isn't serious and the cast is more for precautionary reasons.
"I can play with the cast on, so it's not a big deal," Peters said. "I'd rather have it off, but I can play with it."
Junior Paul Warford got the nod over sophomore Randall Burden as the cornerback opposite Trevard Lindley. Brooks cited Warford's experience as a factor in the decision, although Burden is expected to see extensive action as a third cornerback and in nickel packages.
Junior Marcus Davis will start the Miami game at center ahead of redshirt freshman Matt Smith. Senior Jorge Gonzalez, who was expected to be the starting center, will sit out the game as part of a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
"Marcus made far fewer mistakes," Brooks said. "He's been in the program quite a while and done a good job of getting the blocking assignments and getting the ball to the quarterback. Matt Smith is going to be an outstanding player, but he's making too many young mistakes, and that's a position where you don't want mistakes."
As expected, Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews were named the starting receivers. Redshirt freshman Collins Ukwu and sophomore Chand ler Burden are listed together opposite junior DeQuin Evans at defensive end.