Vaught's Views: UK's Burns will chat up old rival again

October 15, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

During his career at South Carolina, center John Strickland has always been impressed by Kentucky's defensive line. Of course, he was a little biased toward UK defensive end Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns long before he saw him play for the Wildcats.

"I actually played against him in high school (in Georgia)," Strickland said. "I knew he was a good defensive lineman then. Kentucky has always had a good defensive line, and he's part of the reason why."

Strickland and South Carolina will play at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday when Burns tries to help his team end a three-game losing skid. Strickland knows he'll hear plenty from his former high school opponent before, during and after the game.

"He talked a little bit back then (in high school). He may actually talk even a little more now," Strickland said. "He's probably as good a talker as you will see."


Burns said Strickland was a "great offensive lineman" and that he didn't know he was at South Carolina until the two played against each other in college.

"Any time you go against a competitor like him, he's going to get play against you, and you will get plays against him," Burns said. "You just have to play through it all, talk a little trash and have fun.

"It all boils down to winning, and he's up on me right now. I always won in high school, but he won in college. This would be a good time for me to get him back."

Respect for Burns

Strickland said it's not hard to know why Burns earned all-Southeastern Conference honors last year and is usually the one player opposing offenses fear the most when they face Kentucky, which has the lowest rated defense in the SEC.

"He has a motor that is always running," Strickland said. "He will never give up. He plays hard all the time. He plays low with good fundamentals. He just keeps coming and coming.

"But it is fun to play against him. It's fun to talk back and forth. After plays you know if you don't get on him, he's going to get on you. But he can take it as well as he can give it. That's what makes it fun to play against him."

Strickland is not taking a win over Kentucky for granted, either. South Carolina lost last week at Mississippi and has also struggled with its offense.

"We had a tough year last year, and we are still trying to get back on track, too," Strickland said. "I think we are better this year. We want to get back to a bowl game. That's our goal, and to do that we have to win games like this."

Kentucky would like to win any game. After its impressive offensive showing against Indiana in its second game, UK has sputtered offensively and also had trouble stopping opponents. Florida, Ohio and Alabama all pulled away from Kentucky in the second half.

Burns has not produced the numbers he did last year, either. He injured his knee in preseason practice and was not at 100 percent for UK's opening game against Louisville. However, Burns says there's nothing wrong with him physically.

"We are beating ourselves"

"I am trying to play more within the system this year. Last year I would freelance more and make plays on my own," Burns said. "This year the coaches wanted me to concentrate more on playing within the system.

"I am disappointed overall that we have given up so many big plays. We are better coached than that. We are put in position to win games, but we are giving up big plays and that's what is beating us. If we just eliminate the big plays, teams would not be beating us. That's the frustrating thing about our season. We are beating ourselves."

No one can dispute that Kentucky is making far too many mistakes and helping opponents way too much with turnovers, missed tackles and blown assignments. South Carolina is no top 25 team, but the Gamecocks certainly deserve to be the clear favorite in Saturday's game.

This could be Kentucky's last chance to maintain respectability this season. The Kentucky basketball team will make its debut at Midnight Madness tonight, and there's already tremendous anticipation over its upcoming season. Once coach Tubby Smith puts his team on display tonight and again Oct. 23 in the Blue-White scrimmage, almost all the UK talk will turn to basketball if the football team has another poor showing against South Carolina.

"It's do-or-die time," Burns said. "We're out of chances. It's time to show we can play better because so far this season, we just have not done a lot to make people excited."

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