Cats walking fine line of emotions

Kentucky coach Guy Morriss is seeking that perfect mindset for the Cats entering their annual rivalry opener with Louisville...

LEXINGTON, Ky. --- One day away from his head coaching debut, Guy Morriss is trying to avoid both the ho-hum attitude his predecessor displayed for the Louisville rivalry and the potential meltdown his team could experience from getting too high for the Cardinals.

It's a fine line he is walking.

"I think they're really jacked," Morriss said following Thursday's practice session at the Nutter Center. "I was a little nervous they'd be too high, that they'd get burned out by the middle of the weak with nervous energy --- getting hyped too quick --- so we kind of just calmed them down the last couple of days. The tempo's been there, but nobody's really said a lot. I think they're really ready to play."

But could they be too ready, if there is such a thing? Last year's team also rode into the Bluegrass showdown with sky-high expectations, only to flutter about the rest of the season like a balloon that had been pierced by a needle.

Several players later pointed to that night at Papa John's Stadium --- a game which saw, among a myriad of other things, UK miss a field goal from the 1-yard line at the end of regulation --- as a dark cloud which hung over them for the other 10 games.

"It's a game that really hurt our confidence," Morriss said of last year's 40-34 overtime setback. "It's something I don't know if we ever recovered from. It was almost like the kids couldn't believe it happened to them, and it just took its toll on them the rest of the season.

"I don't want this to come out wrong, but if we don't beat Louisville, I don't think any of us are going to go out and cut our wrists because this is going to be a long-term turnaround. But at the same time, we've got to do everything in our power to win the game."

He's not about to downplay the importance of the game. Not after former coach Hal Mumme drew the ire of both program's fans a year ago by suggesting the game wasn't such a big deal, and that it only meant something for the Louisville players.

"Obviously, we've got to get off on the right foot," Morriss said, "and a win would help us do that.

"It's really important. You want to win every time you step on the field. That's the goal, period. But it would really help us recruiting the state of Kentucky."

Morriss thinks it's also important for his players to see their hard work in the offseason and from a rugged training camp manifest itself in a victory. Many changes have been made in UK's camp, ranging from simple work ethic to more intricate matters such as new offensive and defensive schemes.

"From the standpoint of the changes we've been trying to implement in these kids' minds --- that all this work is going to pay off --- it's something that, speaking from my heart, they deserve and they need," Morriss said. "But they've got to go out and earn it. Now it becomes all on them. They've got to go out and play. We've done about all we can on our end."

Asked how good his team can be this season, Morriss said he'd rather wait and give that opinion after seeing the Cats in action.

"It's hard to gauge yet," he said. "I'm interested to see how good the defense can play in coach Goodner's system. I'm interested to see how our offensive team will react to the stuff coach Pease has put in; the running game; the special teams.

"I just don't know. Ask me Sunday."

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