Last week, former Kentucky stars Jeremy Jarmon and Andre Woodson returned to Commonwealth Stadium during their open date with the NFL's Washington Redskins. This week, another ex-Cat comes home — Keenan Burton.
"It will be exciting to walk in the stadium again," Burton said. "I've got so many great memories in Lexington. I love all my teammates, the fans and the coaches."
Burton returns on a high, because the St. Louis Rams ended their 17-game losing streak with a 17-10 win over the Detroit Lions last Sunday. Burton played well, catching a team-high five passes for 54 yards. For the season he has a team-high 25 catches for 253 yards.
"The most important thing was ending the losing streak," Burton said. "I was happy to be a part of that. I think despite our record we've played some pretty good ball, and I feel so much more comfortable and confident this year."
The Rams are trying to get on the right track under first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo, and Burton sees a lot of similarities between his first 1½ years in St. Louis and his early years at UK under Rich Brooks.
"It's identical," Burton said. "That's what I say to myself every time I think about it. It's funny. When you walk in our facility, there's a picture of Coach Brooks (who coached in St. Louis in 1995 and 1996), and it reminds me of what we did at Kentucky. Coach Brooks gave me so much confidence in believing what we could do, and when I see that picture of him I say to myself, 'If I can do it with him, build something special, then I can do it in St. Louis.'"
King comes on
The UK coaching staff made the decision in the pre-season to play true freshman LaRod King. But King didn't have a catch in Kentucky's first six games. His first reception was an 8-yarder against Louisiana-Monroe.
However, last week against Mississippi State, King showed why the coaches thought so highly of him coming out of North Hardin. In the first quarter, King hauled in an 18-yard pass from Morgan Newton on third-and-8, and on UK's final drive, King had a tough 13-yard grab on third-and-6 despite taking a big hit.
"I've been waiting for that moment for a long time," King said. "I took a welcome-to-the-SEC hit, but I feel good."
UK head coach for offense Joker Phillips said that King, a big target at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, will see more action this week.
"He's been improving every day," Phillips said. "He's got toughness, the capacity to learn. He's ready to play more, and I've got to get him in the game more. The guy deserves to play a lot more. He works his butt off and doesn't say a word. He hasn't complained about his reps. He's a guy we decided to play this year because we thought he would continue to improve. He hasn't played a lot, but we think he's ready for more."
King said he thinks he can build rapport with Newton, another true freshman who is getting his feet wet this year.
"We've got three more years together," King said. "That play right there (the catch on the final drive) gives a little glimpse as to what we can do. That was a crucial third down. He made a clutch pass, and I took a big hit but was able to make the catch. I think that showed him he can trust me."
UK and Eastern will be meeting for only the third time in school history.
The first game came in 1998 when the Tim Couch-led Wildcats romped past the Colonels 52-7. Couch was 32-for-41 for 372 yards and five TDs in that game, and EKU Coach Dean Hood was an assistant coach for the Colonels at the time.
Asked what he remembered about that game, Hood said, "They beat the tar out of us. I remember we dropped a couple of picks from Couch."
Big Blue Meter
Last week's loss to Mississippi State took a lot of zip out of the Wildcats, but the season isn't over. All of the remaining games are winnable, but that's a moot point if the Cats don't start playing like a team that's even remotely capable of running the table. A big part of that process starts against Eastern. Kentucky needs to take care of business in impressive fashion, but the Colonels are capable of keeping it close. A sloppy performance won't inspire much confidence.