The Kentucky Wildcats may be undefeated,
but they are far from unblemished.
The team is off to a perfect 3-0 start as it prepares for a
final nonconference tuneup against Western Kentucky Saturday, but
the Wildcats' players understand now how thin the line between
perfection and disaster can be.
In their last game, it took a game-saving ankle tackle by Robbie
McAtee on a Hail Mary attempt to preserve a victory over Middle
Tennessee State, a team they were expected to blow out. Thus,
linebacker Braxton Kelly - the team's defensive captain - said the
players consider themselves 3-0 in record only.
"Guys on the team don't really accept that as a win," Kelly
said. "We feel we've got to do a lot better than that if we're
going to call ourselves a quality team."
Western Kentucky, facing the state's flagship institution in
football for the first time ever, will be looking for a signature
upset Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The good news for the
Wildcats is that with last week's bye, they will have had two weeks
Coach Rich Brooks says the team has been performing far better
in practices lately than it did before Middle Tennessee, albeit
still not good enough. Just as Middle Tennessee had plenty to
prove, so too do the Hilltoppers, Brooks said.
"This is an opportunity for them to come in and make a major
statement for their program," he said. "We need to make sure it's
just a statement that they're playing here."
Regardless of the outcome against Western, Kentucky's players
understand a far larger challenge awaits a week later when the team
travels to Alabama for a match with the No. 8 Crimson Tide.
"We just got a little complacent, relaxed, thought we'd
arrived," defensive lineman Ventrell Jenkins said. "I'm not
saying we're going to go out there and kill Western. Western is a
good program. But we will not overlook them because we've got
Alabama in two weeks."
As for his players not being content with 3-0, Brooks says they
"The good news is we're 3-0 and we're not happy with it,"
Brooks said. "We know we can get better, and we have to get better
because we know what's ahead of us. If we don't get better, what we
all want to accomplish will be a heck of a lot harder to achieve."
Injuries continue to work against Kentucky as quarterback
Randall Cobb, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin and linebacker Micah
Johnson are all expected to miss the game. Back from injury is left
tackle Garry Williams, who Brooks says will reclaim his starting
Although the Middle Tennessee game may have partly deflated the
confidence of some players on the team, it may have done the
reverse for quarterback Mike Hartline. His top receiving target,
Dicky Lyons Jr., says last week's Southeastern Conference offensive
player of the week is rapidly maturing at the position.
"He's throwing the ball with a lot more confidence," Lyons
said. "In the first couple games, he was unsure of himself,
whether that was the right throw or not. Now I think he says,
'Regardless if it's the right throw or not, I'm going to sling
Brooks lauded Hartline as well, particularly his protection of
"How many other quarterbacks in the first year were 3-0 and
done what he has done?" Brooks said. "Not very many. I think Mike
is on target, heading in the right direction."
With the open week, Brooks gave his team Friday and Saturday off
and said they seemed much fresher after that. Jenkins says coach
asked very little of the team over the weekend.
"Coach Brooks' main emphasis was stay out of trouble," he
said. "I'm not in trouble, not behind bars or anything, so I