UK Football

UK not worried about letdown vs. WKU

2. Mike Hartline is second in the SEC in passing yardage per game. 3. Craig McIntosh has hit two long field goals. 4. UK's defense has to stop someone in the red zone sooner or later. 5. Joker Phillips can still get the Cats to a bowl game.
2. Mike Hartline is second in the SEC in passing yardage per game. 3. Craig McIntosh has hit two long field goals. 4. UK's defense has to stop someone in the red zone sooner or later. 5. Joker Phillips can still get the Cats to a bowl game.

It's human nature to think the University of Kentucky football team might be in for a letdown in its home opener against Western Kentucky on Saturday night.

Although it wasn't always pretty, the Wildcats took care of business in a 23-16 season-opening win at Louisville in a game that was emotionally charged.

Now, UK must try to get up for a Western Kentucky team that has lost 21 consecutive games. It was the Wildcats who started the Hilltoppers' losing streak with a 41-3 victory back in 2008.

Coach Joker Phillips will no doubt be on guard for the warning signs of a team not mentally focused: penalties, turnovers, poor tackling. But Phillips did like what he saw out of his team in practice this week.

"It was good, mentally," Phillips said. "You install everything on Tuesday, try to work the plan on Wednesday, and mentally you want to make sure that everybody knows the plan on Thursday.

"I was concerned going into the week that we would not be into the game mentally after playing a big game like we did last week, but I am way past that because of what we got this week (in practice). But you do always have to be concerned about turnovers and those things in a game like this, which will get you beat."

The Wildcats hope to use the WKU game and next week's home game against Akron to clean up some areas before the Southeastern Conference opener at Florida — namely penalties (11 for 90 yards against Louisville) and special teams (two missed kicks and allowing a 67-yard kickoff return).

Willie Taggart's Hilltoppers are on the second leg of a brutal four-game stretch to open the season. They lost 49-10 at No. 8 Nebraska last weekend, and they play host to Indiana next Saturday before going to South Florida on Sept. 25.

But WKU went to Lincoln and showed they can provide more than a glorified scrimmage. Running back Bobby Rainey ran for 155 yards against one of the nation's top run defenses from a year ago. Because the Cats allowed Bilal Powell to rush for 153 yards last week, expect to see Taggart call Rainey's number early and often.

"The offense knows what we are capable of doing," Taggart said. "We went up against the No. 8 team in the country and we were able to move the ball. We feel like we can move the ball against anybody."

The Wildcats have won 16 straight non-conference games dating to 2006, a streak that has set the tone for four straight bowl appearances.

"It's been very valuable," Phillips said of the streak. "For us to have a great season, you have to win the Louisville game. To have a good season, you have to win those other three non-conference games. And if you want to follow that up and continue with a great season, you have to knock off some SEC teams."

Taggart is hoping to end Western Kentucky's losing streak and start the process of turning the program around.

"We want to be known as one of the top teams in the state," he said. "It's a great opportunity for us to get to play Kentucky. That's all you can ask for — an opportunity. Like I tell our players, every time you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it."

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