WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Cats healing head to Vandy

A day after Kentucky football coach Rich
Brooks rattled off what he says was the longest injury list of the
season, things were looking a little brighter on that front Monday
as the Wildcats prepared for a crucial game against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky (5-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) defeated Eastern
Kentucky Saturday without the services of starting quarterback Mike
Hartline, starting tailback Derrick Locke and top receiver Randall
Cobb. However, Brooks said all three were progressing and had a
good chance to play against the Commodores (2-8, 0-6).
Hartline's return from a knee injury that has kept him out four
straight weeks seemed the least certain. Brooks said while the
junior has looked good in practice, he wants assurances that he can
protect himself and maybe even do a little scrambling before giving
him the green light.
"He's going to have to be able to throw the ball accurately,
manage the offense, hand off, sprint out, do the things our offense
is requiring him to do without hobbling," Brooks said.
If he can't go, freshman Morgan Newton figures to again get the
bulk of the snaps after throwing his first two touchdown passes of
the season against the Colonels. Brooks said Newton, who won the
SEC freshman of the week award for his performance, should prepare
this week as if he will start because even if Hartline gets the
nod, Newton may be called on in relief.
The uncertainty on the Kentucky quarterback front has left
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson with no choice but to prepare for
both.
"We're going to prepare for the system and react to whoever's
going to be the starter or whoever plays the most," Johnson said.
Brooks is hoping the thumb injury that pushed Cobb out of the
EKU game will prove to ultimately benefit him down the stretch
considering he has been banged up with a variety of injuries and
probably could have used a breather.
"Randall's body is night and day better," Brooks said. "He's
been hobbling through practice for three or four weeks, then he got
the thumb. He had more juice in his step yesterday than I've seen
in him in a month."
Locke is expected to be back in practice after sitting out with
a knee injury, and all-Southeastern Conference cornerback Trevard
Lindley should be too after it was determined he didn't aggravate a
previously sprained ankle.
The only major Kentucky player Brooks ruled out for the game was
T.C. Drake, who figures to miss two to three weeks with a pulled
groin.
The Wildcats, who haven't had an off week for nearly two months,
are certainly feeling the bumps and bruises of SEC football, but
defensive lineman Corey Peters says there's no choice than to just
get out there and fight through it.
"It's extremely difficult," Peters said. "We knew this coming
into the season. Everybody has injury issues."
Alfonso Smith, who has been bothered by a thumb injury most of
the year, said most college football players wake up on Sunday
mornings with aches all over their bodies.
"It feels like you've been in a car wreck," he said.
Or worse if it follows tough conference loss. That happened to
Kentucky two weeks ago against Mississippi State, putting a major
dent in its objective of climbing the SEC ladder this year.
Now await the Commodores, who have already been eliminated from
postseason competition, but Brooks refuses to label it is a game
his team should win considering Kentucky has only one more win than
Vanderbilt in the all-time series.
"I don't know when it was an automatic win for Kentucky,"
Brooks said. "It never has been."
To reach a school-record fourth straight bowl, Kentucky likely
needs to win just one of its last three games against Vanderbilt,
Georgia and Tennessee. However, Peters says that's not good enough
- not for a team that wants to not just reach the postseason again
but get choosy about where it plays after appearing in three
straight bowls in Tennessee - two Music City Bowls and one Liberty
Bowl.
"We've got three games left," Peters said. "I think we need
all three if wee want to consider the season a success. We can't
settle for six or seven wins anymore. It's time to take that next
step."


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