Vaught's Views: Better team chemistry should help Wildcats

September 01, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Kentucky went into last year's game with Louisville proclaiming to have a united team. But anyone who had listened to veteran players question everything from why coach Guy Morriss left UK to the training regimen new coach Rich Brooks had put them through the previous few months knew the Wildcats were far from united.

It showed, too, not only in the 2003 season-opening loss to Louisville, but at crucial times in almost every game during a disappointing 4-8 year.

While it's impossible to accurately gauge team chemistry, it certainly appears that the Cats have made substantial progress in that area going into Sunday's rival game with the Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

"Team chemistry is huge at any level," said redshirt freshman receiver Jacob Tamme. "You can't win as individuals anywhere."

He should know because Boyle County won four straight state championships during his prep career and won 58 of 60 games. That's the same number of games Kentucky has won since 1990, a span of 13 seasons.


Tamme didn't play last year. But he watched and listened to his older teammates as they made the transition from Morriss to Brooks.

"I think it is tougher to become a team at the college level just because you have so many guys from different places who haven't grown up together, but it can be done," Tamme said. "Whether or not we become a family is a big key to our season.

"Last year we had a lot of things to deal with. Our seniors had been through so much. It was hard on them. Now we are more comfortable, and that's big. We at least have some sort of continuity."

Nothing would help chemistry more than win against Louisville

However, nothing will help chemistry and continuity more than a win against Louisville. Coaches can talk all they want about this just being another game, but it's not. Kentucky has eight Southeastern Conference games to come on its schedule. To make a bowl game, the Cats need to win their three non-SEC games and then hope they can win three more in conference play. A loss to Louisville means the Cats have to go at least 4-4 in SEC games to become bowl eligible and that's a lot easier said than done.

"It's important to start the season on the right note," Kentucky linebacker Chad Anderson said. "Any time you lose the first game, especially one the magnitude of this rivalry game, it can leave a sour taste in your moth.

"Players on the team might start to disbelieve. Belief that you can win and things will go right is something every good team has. If players don't believe, it causes problems and rifts in the team. To win that first game, especially a rivalry game, does wonders for your season."

Two years ago, the Cats won at Louisville and went 7-5. Last year they lost several games they had chances to win after the Cards turned Kentucky's miscues into a 40-24 victory.

"We lost to Louisville, then you get to a game like Florida where we are winning but once things started going bad, people were saying, 'Here it goes again.' If we don't botch those punts against Louisville, who knows who may have won," Anderson said. "But that's football. Every game is important because it can make or break your season."

So does Kentucky need to beat Louisville to show it can win other games, too?

"We need to be validated as a team period," Anderson said. "People seem to forget that we were in every game we played last year. People seem to forget that a lot of things didn't go our way, like referees' calls.

"But for us to be validated as a team, we have to go out and show people we can be consistent. We have to stop people on defense, score on offense and win. Then we have to believe we can do that again and again."

Do the Cats believe they can win Sunday?

"Absolutely," Tamme said. "If we didn't, why go play? But this is a different year. Maybe there were some doubts last year, but not this year."

Which gives Kentucky one big plus going into the game that it didn't have last year when players were far from united in their belief in a new coaching staff.

Central Kentucky News Articles