Vaught's Views: Phillips has not forgotten loss to Louisville

July 25, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Six weeks from today, Kentucky and Louisville will find out if they can still hope for a successful season.

Okay, maybe that's a bit too dramatic when looking ahead to the season-opening game Sept. 5 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. However, there's no game more important to fans of either team than this one.

Louisville fans would be ecstatic if the Cardinals could stun host Miami later this season. Kentucky fans would take the goal posts down (after the final horn sounds) if the Cats could upset Georgia in Commonwealth Stadium. If coach Rich Brooks could win at Florida or Tennessee, Big Blue fans would be ready to extend his contract and forget the frustrations of last year.

For years some Kentucky fans have complained that the game meant more to the Cardinals because beating a Southeastern Conference team could make their season while a UK victory was not that significant with eight SEC games ahead.


Baloney! Louisville has not won four of the last five games because the Cats took the game lightly. Louisville has won because it has outplayed UK and shredded the Cats' defense. In Louisville's four wins, the Cardinals have scored 172 points, an average of 43 per game.

"Our focus is on one thing: beating Louisville," said Kentucky assistant coach Joker Phillips. "It's the only goal we have now. It's the most important game on our schedule because it is the next game."

No other reason?

"Well, I was embarrassed last year (in a 40-24 loss)," Phillips said. "I want to be on the other end."

Cards' final touchdown hurt UK the most

Last year's game was the debut for both Brooks and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. Turnovers hurt the Wildcats as did mental miscues. However, what hurt Kentucky the most was the final touchdown Louisville scored.

The Cardinals had the game won when Lionel Gates scored with just six seconds left. Rather than take a knee, Petrino called a timeout to score and perhaps send a message to Kentucky that he had the superior program.

Louisville is ranked in the top 25 in preseason polls and will go into the game as a favorite. But don't underestimate the sting of that final touchdown on UK's preparation.

"I want to be the team running to the line with six seconds left. I want to run to the line, take a knee and go off with the win," Philips said.

Anything else?

"Our team has not forgot some things that happened last year," Phillips said. "We've not forgot 16 points we felt we gave them. We've not forgot the blocked punt or interception. Then somebody runs up to the line and scores before time runs out. We have not forgot those things."

Now that's what I'm talking about when it comes to a rivalry. A little friendly smack talk that will have absolutely no significance when the game actually starts, but could have a huge impact on how both teams prepare.

"Our team is working its tail off," Phillips said. "We want to be ready to play our best from the start."

Louisville has clear advantage on offense

That's something the Wildcats have not been able to do often recently against Louisville. The Cardinals appear to have a clear advantage offensively with nine starters, including quarterback Stefan LeFors and running back Eric Shelton, returning from a team that averaged 6.1 yards per play against UK last year.

Both teams should be better defensively, a fact many Wildcat fans might not want to acknowledge since the Cats are banking on defense to be the strength of this year's team. However, Louisville has eight defensive starters, including former Boyle County standout Bobby Leffew, returning.

But if Kentucky has an edge, it might be the sense of urgency the players seem to have about the game. Louisville has the experience, home field and recent wins on its side. Kentucky knows that and is using that, and memory of last year's final score, for motivation.

"We know we've got to play our best to win," Phillips said. "Our challenge is to make sure we play our best and then see what happens."

Which is why as much fun as the speculating will be, all we can do is patiently mark the days off as we count down to the big game in 42 days.

Central Kentucky News Articles