Dateline: October 14, 2006
Location: "Death Valley," otherwise known as Tiger Stadium
The Opponent: LSU Tigers
Tonight, the University of Kentucky Wildcat football team (3-4, 1-3) invaded the home of the No. 15 ranked LSU Tigers, hoping to enjoy the flight home for the first time since Tim Couch led the Cats to victory in 1998. Unfortunately, this game, sports fans, held no drama, as the Tigers scored on their first four possessions, putting the Cats in a hole they were never remotely able to climb out of. And quite frankly, UK didn't seem too awfully interested in making a game of it (UK linebacker Joe Schuler described the contest this way, "LSU was on top of their game, and obviously we didn't come to play" ), as the Wildcats went down meekly in defeat, 49-0. It was behind the Heisman-type play of quarterback JaMarcus Russell (15-18, 226 yards and two touchdowns) which enabled the Tigers to make it look easy, leading the Cats 35-0 at half, and benching the starters midway through the third quarter.
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks, whose team was out-gained 546 yards to 277, and whose hot seat quotient just rose several notches above room temperature, spoke as if he's already prepared to put the worst loss since his arrival at UK in 2003, behind him:
"We still have five games left and a chance to get our goals. But, we're definitely at a crossroads. This needs to make us step up and take a good, hard look at ourselves and see what we want to do."
With two weeks off before the Cats head down south once again, this time to Starkville, Mississippi, the team has plenty of time to gather itself and attack the remainder of the schedule (@ Mississippi State, home against Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Louisiana-Monroe, @ Tennessee) like they mean it; something they did not do in their tilt with the Tigers.
Dateline: October 28, 2006
Location: Starville, Mississippi
The Opponent: Mississippi State Bulldogs
After a two weeks of reflection, a bit of bravado, and a lot of hard work, the Kentucky Wildcats, sitting at 3-4, simply had to win tonight on the road at Mississippi State if the Cats harbored any hopes what-so-ever of playing in their first bowl game since 1999. And win they did, in a wild, wild western shoot-out, 34-31.
With the Kentucky victory, one has to wonder which person is more relieved at the win, head coach Rich Brooks, or Wildcat wide receiver Dicky Lyons Jr.. Brooks, for obvious reasons -- you know, with his job on the line and all -- and Lyons because of his bold (some say not so smart, but I disagree) victory guarantee.
So incensed was Brooks with Lyons' very public bout with (over) confidence, that he ran Lyons, and then ran him some more. Surely, Brooks must have thought that Lyons' billboard material outburst would incite the Bulldogs to play better than they have all year, but instead, the Cats are the ones who played inspired, which was precisely Lyons' intention.
Lyons told A Sea of Blue.com:
"I knew I was going to say something that people didn't like ... after we lost to LSU 49-0, and a lot of the guys were beginning to think that we'd win three or four games and call it a season, like 'old Kentucky.'" I tried to light a fire ... and I said we're going to beat Mississippi State like LSU beat us."
"Coach Brooks got mad and made me run a lot of 'gassers' after practice. 'Dre (Andre' Woodson) saw me and joined in, and then some of the other players saw us running and joined in. They told me they knew what I was doing (with the guarantee)."
Doing his best Joe Namath impression, Lyons hit the field with a vengeance, and backed-up his words by playing possibly his best game as a Wildcat. Furthermore, he set the tone for the hotly contested contest with a one-handed, tip-toeing the end line, stretched to the max catch, to put the Cats up 14-0 in the first quarter.
Lyons ended the day with eight receptions for 117 yards and one touchdown.
Although the Cats gave up 384 yards in the air to Bulldog quarterback Michael Henig, UK's Marcus McClinton and Wesley Woodyard both recorded interceptions. Woodyard's theft set up a four play, 64 yard touchdown drive, culminating in a 33-yard pass for six from Woodson to wide out Keenan Burton, putting the Cats up 31-17.
Also aiding in the victory was the Kentucky defense, which held MSU to 24 yards rushing on 24 carries.
After the loss to LSU, the 2006 football team went on the win five of their final six games, including a Music City Bowl triumph over the Clemson Tigers.
Will These Cats Bounce Back?
Any time a team suffers a demoralizing loss, coming back strong the next game is of the utmost importance, because confidence can be easily lost, especially in a team as young (defensively) as Kentucky: Lose a couple of games, one by an embarrassing margin, and another to a team that lost at home to Vanderbilt, and players begin to think they are out-classed, "out-athleted," and therefore defeated. That's called, "the wheels coming off." And it isn't a pleasant sight, ask any UK football over the age of 30.
Dicky Lyons realized the danger, did something about it, paid the price, and became the hero. This team may not need something as dramatic as a player guaranteeing a victory on Saturday to galvanize the troops, but they need to realize that their future is now. Saturday's game.
Right now, Ole Miss is all that matters -- Not that great play you made against Louisville, or that spine-numbing hit you made against WKU, not even the embarrassment of last week -- None of it matters anymore.
The only thing that matters now, is for the Cats to play on Saturday like it's the last game they'll ever play. Losing is not an option. Not with Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia up next.
The 2006 Cats went to Starkville and played the game of their lives, won five of six, and most importantly, made the 49-0 defeat to LSU seem like a bad dream. They made game-changing plays, both offensively and defensively, and played inspired football.
Does this team have that ability in them? I know the talent is there, but is the fortitude? The answer to that question, folks, is the difference between a 5-7 record, and a 7-5 record ... in other words, all the difference in the world.
Wildcat Tip-off Time
Be sure and check out the 2010-2011 Wildcat Tip-off Annual. Great stories and analysis brought to you by Glenn Logan (you know him), Ken Howlett (that's me), J.L. Weill (ASoB founder), Jon Scott (you know, the stat guy), Paul Jordan (Wildcat Blue Nation founder), Chris Diggs (Courier-Journal UK blogger), Alan Rucker(OverThePylon.com), Travis Hubbard, and Norm Haney (program director for WBGN radio in B.G.).
Thanks for reading and Go Cats!