UK Football

UK football notebook: Cats hope positive thinking is powerful at Missouri

Kentucky Wildcats defensive end Alvin Dupree (2) waved at fans on the way to the locker room after UK defeated South Carolina 45-38 at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 4, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Kentucky Wildcats defensive end Alvin Dupree (2) waved at fans on the way to the locker room after UK defeated South Carolina 45-38 at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 4, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

Even before a game starts, many coaches encourage players to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the victory formation.

Imagine themselves in the end zone or making the game-winning field goal.

Whatever it takes to get a team in the right mind-set to win a game.

For Kentucky, Coach Mark Stoops wants them to think about what it will feel like on the plane ride home after they win a big game on the road, something no player on this team has done in his UK career.

"Let's get on the plane to go there with a strong mind-set and let's be joyous on that return," Stoops said he's encouraged.

It's what Alvin "Bud" Dupree thinks about as he gets ready for the game at Missouri's Memorial Stadium.

The senior defensive end thinks about that plane ride back to Lexington and how he wants it to be.

"It's just big," Dupree said. "It just means a lot for us to try and go out and win a road game and just to come out with the victory on the plane, just to celebrate, not have a real quiet, depressing plane ride the whole time."

Dupree said the team is well aware of its 19-game road losing streak. He ponders what that plane ride would be like.

"I know the flight will be great," Dupree said. "Just being on the plane, just being close, finally enjoying a plane ride, coaches coming around and talking to you on the plane, stuff like that, and even just the locker room after an away game, just a different vibe."

Despite the road problems, Kentucky hasn't done much to change its routine, Stoops said. They had the team come in on Sunday to watch video and gave them Monday off, hoping to break some of the monotony.

The Cats haven't found an identity on the road yet. At Florida, they were in the game from start to finish before falling in the third overtime. At LSU, a poor start seemed to doom UK from the beginning.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown doesn't think UK (5-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) is that far off.

"You can overanalyze those things sometimes," he said. "We played a couple of our better games on the road last year — at South Carolina. So, I think our approach is correct. We just got to be better. We've got to be good enough that day. We haven't been good enough that day."

So what kind of team will Kentucky be on this day this time at Missouri (6-2, 3-1)?

Not even the coaches know for sure.

"We'll find out," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "The kids are preparing the right way. I think the players are preparing for a fourth-quarter battle and a road game, and I think that's going to help us."

Dupree said Kentucky has to find its own identity in Columbia.

"We've got to just take it upon ourselves to create energy within the locker room, and while we're out there on the field, on the sideline when people are making plays just make sure that everyone is staying in tune and just knowing how important this game is," he said.

On the flip side, Missouri has been a good road team, getting victories at hostile environments like South Carolina and Florida. But the Tigers lost two straight at home before finally pulling one out last week versus Vanderbilt.

Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel seemed to challenge his fans this week to show up and make life difficult on the road for Kentucky.

"It's going to be real big," he said. "It's kind of the University of Missouri's shot at showing how great Mizzou is. ... Hopefully our fans will get out there, do what they do and make a great showing."

'We can play better'

Will the real Kentucky please stand up?

For that matter, will the real Missouri please stand up?

Neither team has been consistent this season, with Missouri losing at home to Indiana and being shut out 34-0 against Georgia, then going on the road to beat South Carolina and Florida.

Kentucky has had a big win against South Carolina and a near miss at Florida, but a bad 41-3 loss at LSU stands out.

"They probably feel a lot like us, in that they have not played their best yet," Stoops said.

But paying much attention to a team's past performance is dangerous. Aside from maybe the top five or six teams in college football, every team has a game or two on the schedule that are outliers.

"One particular game does not define anybody. That's what I told our team after the LSU game. Same thing with them," the UK coach said.

"Obviously didn't play their best and had some subtle things in that (Georgia) game that maybe you don't notice when you're just watching on TV. ...

"Just like all of us, people are critical of one game, but that certainly does not define them. They're a well-coached, good football team."

Both coaches noted this week that their teams had yet to put a complete game together and they were hopeful this was the week.

"We can play better," Pinkel said. "I don't think we've played our best game yet. That's our challenge to get that done."

Disruptive defense

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will have to watch his back and his front against Missouri. The Tigers are top 15 in the country and second in the league in tackles for loss and quarterback sacks this season.

"They were really disruptive and that's what they do and that's what I remember about them from playing them in person last year and, again, seeing that on film," Stoops said of the Tigers, who have 59 tackles for loss.

They are behind only Mississippi State in sacks with 26 (3.25 a game) and defensive end Shane Ray leads the SEC in that stat with 8.5.

"They're disruptive, they do a nice job of creating negative yardage plays and being disruptive up front and twisting and stunting," Stoops said.

The Cats allowed seven sacks last week in the loss to Mississippi State. Kentucky is among the worst in the nation in sacks allowed (22) and tackles for loss given up (55 for 240 yards).

"They're going to move a lot," Brown said. "They twist, they don't sit still. They do a good job of speed-rushing, and their defense is built on making negative plays."

Pick patrol

The last time J.D. Harmon played at Missouri, he grabbed two interceptions. They've been the only ones of his career so far.

The sophomore would like to change that stat, maybe against the Tigers again.

"It was just an overwhelming feeling to get those interceptions and have a lot of tackles that game," he said. "I think I'm due for one."

After struggling through last season, finishing with just three picks, tied for fewest in the nation, Kentucky has managed 13 this season, fifth-best in the country and second in the league.

Harmon is excited by the idea of facing a team that likes to throw it around.

"We're definitely looking forward to that," Harmon said. "It's one of the things we've been harping on all week: covering their receivers. It's gonna be a big week for us."

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