Ohio is first of three key home games

September 29, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - For Kentucky to have any chance to have a successful season, the Wildcats know they have to play well the next three weeks.

Starting with Saturday's game against Ohio, the Wildcats (1-2) have three straight home games as Southeastern Conference opponents Alabama and South Carolina will also play in Commonwealth Stadium.

Kentucky's offense was non-existent in losses to Louisville and Florida, but scored 51 points in a win over Indiana.

"Every successful program protects its home turf," said Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "I don't care how good the team is coming in to play, the good teams win at home. That's what we have to do."

While not wanting to call the next three games the make-or-break part of Kentucky's season, senior receiver Gerad Parker didn't back off the importance of this three-week stretch not only for this team, but for Kentucky football.


"We have a nice opportunity the next three weeks," Parker said. "You all (the media) even know that. We have a nice chance to win all three if we play well.

"I just hope we can play as well as we did our last home game (against Indiana). We've got to get back even, to 2-2. It's important not only for this year, but to get everybody excited about Kentucky football and to make sure that excitement stays there."

Game tied at halftime last year

Ohio (2-2) lost 35-14 to Kentucky last season, but the game was tied 7-7 at halftime. The Bobcats have junked their triple-option offense from a year ago for a system much like the one used by Kentucky, which includes some option but also spreads the field at times with four and five receivers. Ohio also uses a 3-4 defensive set, as does Kentucky.

"I hope our players understand how difficult this game will be," Brooks said. "It was 7-7 at half last year and we were ugly. We are going to have our hands full. They do a lot of stunting on defense to keep you off balance and they tackle well. They have an athletic quarterback with good speed."

Ohio quarterback Ryan Hawk has thrown for 637 yards and seven touchdowns. Freshman running back Kelvin McRae has 297 yards and two scores on 66 carries.

The Bobcats lost 24-3 at Pittsburgh and 40-20 at Miami (Ohio), but they are coming off a 34-0 win over Buffalo.

Ohio coach Brian Knorr remembers UK quarterback Shane Boyd well from last year when he accounted for 169 yards and four scores in Kentucky's win. He ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 54 yards and one score, and caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jared Lorenzen.

"Boyd is a guy who beat us last year and if you look at what Kentucky did to Indiana, you see what their offense can do," Knorr said. "Boyd's ability is not a surprise to us. He's a dangerous threat because he's a big, physical presence. Overall, Kentucky presents a physical challenge to us that we have not faced this year and probably won't all year."

Boyd has to play better

Brooks plans to play backup quarterback Andre Woodson "at least one series" Saturday and says Boyd has to play better and make better decisions than he did at Florida.

"When you put the ball in the quarterback's hands as much as we're doing and he performs below average, that makes it difficult to have production," the Kentucky coach said. "He had some help in that regard, because we had some other players play below average in the line as well as at receiver."

Boyd's teammates refused to blame him for Kentucky's woes at Florida where the Wildcats avoided a shutout thanks to Taylor Begley's career-best 51-yard field goal.

"A lot of our offense evolves around him," center Matt McCutchan said. "If he makes plays, he's the God-send of Kentucky football. If he fails, then losing is his fault. That's not fair on either count. Shane tries to get the ball to our playmakers. Everybody was disappointed in our effort, but it was not Shane's fault we lost."

Saturday's "Throwback Game" honoring 114 years of Kentucky football will feature a special uniform and helmet designed by Nike using elements from different years. The 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl team will also be honored.

Parker hopes both events will inspire this year's team.

"I'm kind of an old-school player myself, so I can't wait to wear the old uniform," Parker said. "This is a big game for us. We can get the fan base back if we win. I believe in Kentucky football. I believe in what we are doing. But I also know that nothing helps believing like a win."

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