Wildcats need win to keep 'dreams alive'

November 12, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky has to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible. The Cats, though, have a loftier goal.

"We think we can win all three," said fullback Ronald "Rock" Johnson. "We aren't going to be satisfied just winning one, or two, games. We want to win them all.

"We just have to get our minds right and play physical ball. We have to stop making bad plays that kill us. If we do, we can win all three games and that's what we expect to do."

Kentucky (4-5) plays at Vanderbilt Saturday and at No. 7 Georgia Nov. 22 before closing its season with a home game against No. 9 Tennessee Nov. 29.


"We have to get to 5-5 to keep our dreams and hopes alive," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "That's the most important thing this week. This is the biggest game of the year. I've said that several times this season, but this truly is a huge, huge game for this team and our senior class. If we have any (bowl) aspirations at all, we have to win this game."

Vanderbilt (1-9) is the one Southeastern Conference team that has more trouble winning than Kentucky has most years and has now lost 23 straight Southeastern Conference games. However, the Commodores lead the overall series with Kentucky 36-35-4 and more than half of the games in the series have been decided by seven or fewer points.

"It's a game to me that is pretty evenly matched and one Vanderbilt obviously looks at as though they can win and snap their streak," Brooks said. "If you look at the stats in the conference, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are usually within one or two spots of each other. They might be the best one-win team in America.

"They have played some good road games in this conference against top teams. This is a resilient team, one that is not going to give in, even if they get down. They have some talented players."

Cutler is second in SEC in total offense

Heading the cast is sophomore quarterback Jay Cutler. He's second in the SEC in total offense at 224.9 yards per game. He's already thrown for 4,075 yards in his career, including 2,106 this season.

"Cutler is an athletic quarterback and he's the leader of their offense," Brooks said. "He plays hard. He's not a 4.4 (second in the 40-yard dash), but he'll make you miss him. He can run and throw equally well. They run a lot of option with him. They actually do an awful lot of things on offense and our defense has to be disciplined."

"What impresses me is that he not only throws well, but he will try to run right through you," UK defensive lineman Ellery Moore said.

Kentucky's offense continues to be productive. Thanks to the 63-point performance in the seven-overtime loss to Arkansas, the Cats are now averaging 32.7 points per game, the third best mark in the SEC. The only conference team to score more offensive touchdowns than UK this year is Mississippi, which has 40 touchdowns to 38 by UK and LSU

Vanderbilt's defense, which does not have a senior on its two-deep depth chart, is giving up 29.3 points per game. Brooks doesn't expect Kentucky's offense to pull any surprises on the Commodores.

"You don't confuse Vanderbilt players," Brooks said. "Vanderbilt's players have a little edge intelligence-wise on most in this conference. This is a team that adjusts very well. They have smart players that play hard. We are not going to line up and trick them."

Which is why sophomore Alexis Bwenge will get the start at tailback and likely will get numerous carries based on his second-half play against Arkansas. He rushed for 89 yards, the most by any UK back this season, and two touchdowns and also turned a short pass into a 51-yard touchdown.

"I was encouraged that Alexis broke more tackles against Arkansas than we've had a back do at any time this season," Brooks said. "He'll get more reps because of that."

Sophomore tailback Arliss Beach has cartilage damage in his knee that will eventually need surgery, but he should be able to play Saturday.

Brooks said the running of Johnson at fullback and just the "little thread of option" that quarterback Jared Lorenzen has run along with a more efficient passing game has also helped the running game.

"We've made progress. It's just that we've got more to make," Brooks said. "I keep telling my team that I know we're saving a 60-minute game for some time this year, and we're running out of time. We only have three of them left, so we might as well get started this week."

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