Vaught's Views: Brooks doesn't expect Wildcats to quit

November 17, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Rich Brooks doesn't think his football team is ready to call it quits, not with games left against top 10 foes Georgia and Tennessee.

But Brooks also admits after the "embarrassing" effort that Kentucky gave in Saturday's 28-17 loss at Vanderbilt that he's still not able to figure out his own team.

"I don't think that would happen," said Brooks Sunday when asked if he worried that his team would play with even less effort this week at Georgia. "These young men still have a lot of pride. I think they would like to finish on a positive note.

"A victory over Georgia, or Tennessee, would be sweet and leave a legacy for this program and for the players leaving the program. I would hope they would think that way. But I'm not in their heads or I would have had them more ready to play at Vanderbilt."


The 62-year-old Brooks is a realist. He knows if his team plays the same way against Georgia or Tennessee that it did at Vanderbilt, it will result in his team being "steamrolled" and having a "big score run up" on it.

Of course, one has to wonder what would make the Wildcats suddenly rediscover the emotion that was missing Saturday. Kentucky was 4-5 going into that game and not only had to beat Vanderbilt, but then also still had to upset Georgia or Tennessee to be bowl eligible.

Kentucky played like a team ready for the season to end

Instead of playing like a team on a mission, Kentucky played like a team ready to have its season over. No passion. No intensity. No aggressiveness.

"I just have not found the right buttons pushed to get them emotionally excited," Brooks said Sunday. "We sleepwalked through the game."

The coach continued to blame himself for his team's lackadaisical play. While he shares the blame, so do the players. No rah-rah talk should have been needed to inspire the Cats for this game. Vanderbilt, which had won just one game, certainly had plenty of emotion.

Brooks sensed in pregame warmups that his team was listless. "It looked like we were in the Twilight Zone," Brooks said.

After the game, receiver Derek Abney admitted players were "laughing and joking" in the locker room before the game.

Shouldn't UK's players have been able to find a more mature way to get themselves ready for what they knew was a huge game?

"You would hope that's the case. We are dealing with a group of players that did not get that message and are not good self-motivators," Brooks said.

Brooks made several lineup changes during the game, but nothing helped. He says if the team gets off to another lethargic start at Georgia, changes could come quickly.

The coach knows the loss at Vanderbilt was a huge setback to his program. First-year Louisville coach Bobby Petrino was probably just as disappointed with his team's 37-7 loss to visiting Memphis Saturday. But the Cards already have seven wins and they've been going to bowl games annually.

Kentucky was 7-5 last year, but was on probation. The Cats hoped to continue that momentum this year and send its seniors out with a bowl game.

Brooks said the season isn't over, even though no one can really believe the Cats can win two games to get to a bowl.

"If we beat Georgia, it would be huge step forward (for the program)," Brooks said. "Can we do something to offset the Vanderbilt loss? Absolutely. Are we capable? Yes. But do we want it bad enough? That's the question."

Brooks still believes UK can be "successful"

Brooks reiterated Sunday that he was happy at Kentucky and still believes UK should be "successful" in football.

"I am very happy here except when I am getting my brains beat in like I did yesterday," Brooks said. "But we've been competitive. At times, we've played a little above our head. But Vanderbilt took the fight to us, which is very discouraging considering what was at stake in this game for us."

It's easy to say Kentucky's will has been broken by having three head coaches in four years and also enduring a NCAA investigation. It's easy to say the players have not adapted to Brooks and his staff. Or that Brooks and his staff have not adapted to the players.

"Whether you've accepted a coaching staff or not accepted it, it was still their game when they got out on the field and play," Brooks said. "Two weeks ago this team laid it on the line in the second half and for seven overtimes against Arkansas. Maybe that took more out of them than I thought."

Obviously something did because the Wildcats had little resistance to offer Vanderbilt. While Brooks doesn't think the team has called it quits, the rest of us can only wonder because Saturday it sure looked like Kentucky wrote off its season with its uninspired play at Vanderbilt.

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