Vaught's Views: Kentucky needs more emotion against Alabama

September 11, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - One player Rich Brooks has not had to worry about being emotionally ready to play is Andrew Hopewell.

The former Danville all-state linebacker has found his niche on the University of Kentucky special teams since joining the Cats as a walk-on running back last season. He played so well in the opening-game loss to Louisville that he was named a game captain last week against Murray State.

"He's a guy that gives you everything he's got," said Brooks. "He's undersized and he's not as fast as SEC players at his position normally would be, but he has the heart of a SEC player. He plays very, very hard.

"Obviously, that's how I like to see guys play. I would just like to see guys also play that way who are bigger, faster and stronger."


Maybe Brooks should let Hopewell give the pregame talk Saturday before the Wildcats play at Alabama. The former Danville player always plays with emotion, something many other Wildcats have not done this season, and he'll have even more incentive Saturday. His father, Dave, a former UK center, is from Alabama and he'll have several family members at the game.

"I've obviously got to do a better job getting this team emotionally ready to play," Brooks said. "It doesn't appear that we are playing with a lot of adrenaline and I've got to do a better job of getting us ready to play."

The Cats have just lacked that certain spark in their two games. Some players have had the fire Brooks wants, but most have not.

"Derek Abney plays with more emotion than most players," Brooks said. "He lives to play the game. Some of our players don't look like they have been having fun playing. But that's never a problem for Derek Abney."

Still, it has been a problem for this team. Maybe it started in summer workouts when many players questioned whether Brooks was pushing the team too hard. Maybe it started in preseason camp when players wondered if they were beating each other up too much. Maybe it got worse when Brooks chose to barely substitute in the first game.

Or maybe it started when former coach Guy Morriss said adios, took Baylor's money and left in December.

Whatever the problem, the Cats have not had the same fun approach to football that they did last season when they finished 7-5.

"I love playing football," Kentucky defensive end Vincent Burns said. "I don't understand why anyone wouldn't feel the same."

Saturday's game could be season-determining

Most who have played the game would share that same sentiment. That's why Saturday's game could well be a season-determining game for the Wildcats.

If the Cats can play well, even if they don't win, there is reason to remain optimistic about the season. If the offense shows signs of life and the defense is not as giving as it was against Louisville, the season could still be a success. But if Alabama dominates the game from start to finish, trouble lies ahead.

Brooks might not have a mutiny on his hands, but the players may also not have the heart left to believe in the new system and this Kentucky team is not talented enough to win when it plays with less than 100-percent effort.

The coach seemed adamant Monday that he would not change his philosophy, especially about running the ball. Yet for the first time this season, the Cats have used sets with four wide receivers in practice this week.

"With the quarterback we have, we should be throwing the ball," receiver Chris Bernard said. "But we can't throw the ball if we don't have a running game."

Get real. Why not just spread the field and throw it around?

"I wish we could, but if we do that, teams could just blitz us. It would be impossible for the offensive linemen to pick up all the blitzes," Bernard said. "We don't have to average 250 yards a game rushing. We just need to get to where teams feel like we have at least a running threat."

Obviously, Brooks' players are still saying all the right things publicly. But do they believe those things? Will they play hard as someone like Hopewell has?

"I wish I knew," Brooks said. "I think the answers would be yes, but none of us will really know until we play again Saturday."

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