LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Kentucky coach Guy Morriss lists his main key's to Saturday's Bluegrass showdown with Louisville:
n "Number one, don't put the ball on the ground," Morriss said. "They're an extremely opportunistic team. We can't turn the ball over."
At no time was that better demonstrated than in Louisville's 45-24 win over New Mexico State last week. The Cardinals turned two Aggie fumbles into long touchdown returns, an 87-yard return by Devon Thomas and an 81-yarder by Michael Brown.
Overall, New Mexico State put the ball on the ground seven times, losing four.
Turnovers also proved to be crucial in last season's 40-34 overtime win by Louisville, who intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles. The last interception came in overtime, setting up Tony Stalling's game-winning 25-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Only one team forced more turnovers than Louisville's 38 last season --- Florida with 40.
n "We've got to be sound in the kicking game," Morriss said. "We can't give up any big returns, big plays in the kicking game."
Louisville's Zek Parker, a speedy 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior, had a 74-yard kickoff return in the opener. He's a threat to take the ball the distance every time he touches it. Parker averaged 28.9 yards per return last season.
The Cats hope to counter the Card's dangerous Parker with a special teams weapon of their own --- senior kicker Steven Scaldaferri. The former JV kicker has regularly booted the ball deep out of the end zone --- many through the uprights --- on his kickoffs in practice.
n "We've got to try to pressure the quarterback," Morriss said.
Louisville's Dave Ragone is widely regarded among the nation's top quarterbacks. The Sporting News named him as their top quarterback for 2001. If the Cats give him time to throw, the strong-armed left-hander will do some damage.
That puts a premium on pressure from UK's talented front four of Dennis Johnson, Dewayne Robertson, Derrick Johnson and Chris Demaree. Also look for reserves John Robinson and Ellery Moore in the defensive line rotation, but not all of the pressure should come from their positions. John Goodner's system features a variety of blitz packages from his inside linebackers and outside safeties, so expect Ragone to go down more than the one time he did in last year's matchup.
If he doesn't, the Cats' young and inexperienced corners will have their hands full with Louisville's Deion Branch and Parker.
n "We've got to come up and challenge receivers," Morriss said. "Again, big plays. We can't have any there."
Ragone had big play connections with Branch (44 yards) and Damien Dorsey (42 yards) against New Mexico State.
Kentucky's defensive scheme isn't as prone to those type of plays as in past years --- the corners have more help from "zero" coverages in which the receivers are bracketed inside and out --- but the players have no game experience in the system.
Jeremy Bowie, Leonard Burress and Derrick Tatum (three combined interceptions in six years of experience) must be at their best on Saturday for the Cats to increase their chances of winning.