LEXINGTON, Ky. --- In the aftermath of Saturday's 36-10 loss to Louisville, Guy Morriss said his Kentucky squad may have suffered from a case of overconfidence.
Given it was the Cardinals' third straight victory over the rival Wildcats --- and by an average margin of 20 points per game --- that statement raised more than a few eyebrows.
On Monday, however, the UK coach sought to clarify his thoughts.
"I probably phrased that wrong," Morriss said. "It's an attitude that we're supposed to be in the bigger conference, the better conference, but we can't start believing all that stuff. We've got to stop talking the talk and start doing a little walking. You earn that on the field on Saturdays."
Many UK players, especially on the offensive side of the ball, stated that they underestimated Louisville based on the Cards' unimpressive 45-24 win over New Mexico State in the season opener. The result was an abysmal 213-yard performance with four turnovers and no touchdowns generated.
Morriss said he can't relate to that mentality given the Cats' struggles the last two years, which has culminated in a nine-game losing streak.
"I think that there's an attitude around here that we're the big guys on the block, and in actuality, coach (John L.) Smith and his staff have done a good job and recruited well," he said. "And to be honest with you, they've closed the gap and gotten a little ahead of us right now. We've got to understand that Louisville is a good football team. Louisville could probably line up and play with three-fourths of the SEC. They've got tremendous team speed, a helluva quarterback, and a couple of good receivers. They're faster than we are."
The Cats can't afford to overlook anyone these days, Morriss said, based on their overall roster numbers and razor-thin depth at certain positions. He used part of Monday's press luncheon to lament the unconventional roster (more than 20 receivers) he inherited from Hal Mumme.
Injuries, academic problems and suspensions have stripped the linebacker corps down to a converted wide receiver (Mike Beirne), a former fullback (Anthony Stevenson) and a true freshman (Dustin Williams) who may eventually develop into a defensive lineman.
"We're just running out of folks," Morriss said. "We're going to have to move some of those big safety kids and move them forward, I guess. We don't have a choice."
The offensive line has five experienced starters, but four-fifths of the group has experienced various injuries during fall camp, and there is very little reliable backup.
"Most people in the SEC have 18-22 offensive linemen in their program," Morriss said. "I think we suited up, maybe 10. And of those backup kids, three of them are redshirt freshmen and the other two have not had the chance to play either. We just don't have the depth we need there."
A similar statement could be made about the defensive line, although UK is better off in that area this season than it has been traditionally.
"I think Chris Demaree played every snap on defense. We never got that kid off the field," Morriss said. "We're just going to have to force ourselves to substitute and play some backup people. I mean, we don't have any choice."
And the receiving corps is aching --- to put it mildly --- for SEC-caliber playmakers.
"The thing we've got to be able to do from a recruiting standpoint is to go recruit more speed," Morriss said. "I think that's evident in what you're seeing on Saturdays. We play in the premier speed conference in America, and we're not where we need to be speed-wise.
It won't be easy to correct the roster problems.
The Cats have only 16 scholarships to offer this season and face NCAA sanctions for the future. They have five verbals for the 2002 signing period, and two other players from the previous class who are expected to re-sign when they become academically eligible.
That leaves nine scholarships available with a number of leaky holes in the proverbial ship.
"It's a slow process to get your numbers corrected," Morriss said. "Not only do we desperately need offensive lineman, but we need help everywhere. We have a need at each position.
"We'd like to go out and sign eight linemen, but we can't. That would be half our class... It's just a slow process, and it's not going to happen overnight."
Morriss added that the staff's current plan was to add four or five offensive linemen and four or five defensive linemen to the group of players they already have committed. That bunch includes: running back Arliss Beach of Ashland; defensive back Randy Driver of Glasgow; linebacker Brad Booker of Bowling Green; offensive lineman Joe Brady of Beechwood; and defensive tackle Paul Webb of Johnson Central.
"I'd like to sign six world-class sprinter guys, but we don't have six scholarships to give to receivers this year," Morriss said. "We'll probably sign two. So, again, to catch up in speed, it's a slow process.
"You never turn down a great player at any position. But we're going to stay with our plan, and maybe that will start the process of getting our numbers back in the right balance."