LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Struggling Kentucky plays another football game tomorrow, this time against Mississippi. In a related story, preseason basketball magazines have begun to spring up on the newsstands.
Here are five things to watch tomorrow:
1. STOP THE BLEEDING
A Lexington Herald-Leader columnist this week described the state of UK football as a free-fall. Actually, that might be too generous of a description. Its time to face some facts: Since beating LSU in October, 1999, the Cats are 4-15. None of those four victories have come against a team considered good by any definition. These days the mighty Louisville Cardinals roll into town and spank the Cats. The looming NCAA sanctions dont bode well for the future. Another fact: Kentucky needs to beat Ole Miss tomorrow, plain and simple, if it expects to salvage any respect this season. A premature statement, you say? Well, who will the Cats beat at home this year if not the Rebels, the team picked to finish in the basement of the SEC West? Good teams (and even semi-competitive teams) win some games at home. They certainly dont get routinely embarrassed on their home field. UK needs to somehow find a way to beat Ole Miss and draw the line in the sand (this weeks cliché brought to you by bigblueden.com).
2. STOP THE STINKING
Watching the UK offense this season has been as insufferable as sitting through a Thirty Something marathon on Bravo. Florida coach Steve Spurrier complimented UK coach Guy Morriss for an improved defense after last weeks game. Trouble is, the Cat offense is stinking up the joint. (By the way, for all of you revisionists who think Hal Mummes offense scored 40 points a game, grab some tape of last years games against Ole Miss and LSU). Here is one mans opinion, for what its worth: Wildcat receivers are not very good. Passes are bouncing off the hands of tight end Derek Smith. The wideouts are not getting open or instilling much fear into anyone. Poor Shane Boyd. This is far from the ideal situation for a talented, young quarterback to be cutting his teeth. Tomorrows game would be a great time for the UK offense to earn its keep and start putting some points on the board. (By the way, if youre a big-time high school senior receiver and youre looking to play right away against good competition, Kentucky has plenty of job openings.)
3. REVENGE FACTOR
Anyone who witnessed the UK-Ole Miss game last year in Oxford, Miss., (and that includes yours truly) saw an unprepared and uninspired Wildcat squad get completely whipped and embarrassed. But at least we got to see The Grove and hear the Ole Miss band play I Saw the Light, which was almost worth the price of admission. (By the way, is Ole Miss the most preppy school in the country, or did it just seem that way?) Anyway, revenge is a hollow emotion in real life, but it can go a long way in the world of sports. Based on last years whipping, one would expect the Cats to display plenty of fire and emotion tomorrow. Anything less should be considered a serious disappointment in the whip-us, whip-you sports culture. Watch and see.
4. SO FAR, SO GOOD
Who cant be enthused with what weve seen so far from the UK defense, especially considering how awful it was the last few years? Until they ran out of steam against Louisville and Florida, Wildcat defenders kept their team in the game into the second half even while offensive ineptitude delivered the death knell. Its been interesting to watch how first-year defensive coordinator John Goodner has been able to keep this unit respectable despite some key injuries. Ole Miss doesnt figure to bring quite as much firepower to Commonwealth Stadium as the Cats saw with Louisville and Florida. So tomorrow might be the time for the UK defense to take a significant step forward and gain even more confidence as a difficult slate of SEC games unfolds. But UK fans do have to feel good about future prospects on the defensive side of the ball based on what has been seen so far. Put it this way: For the most part, Florida earned its points last week. That was not always the case in previous years.
5. EARNING YOUR STRIPES
Just a few personal observations after three games heading into tomorrows game: Players we are impressed with, for various reasons: David Johnson, Dewayne Robertson, Shane Boyd, Antonio Hall, Jamal White, Dennis Johnson, Derek Abney, Ellery Moore, Patrick Wiggins. Players who could probably do a little more to earn their stripes: everyone who catches passes. Lets say it again: Playing Ole Miss at home is going to be one of Kentuckys best opportunities to win an SEC game in 2001. Seeing some guys do what it takes tomorrow to pull it off would be an encouraging sign in what is not exactly shaping up as a bowl year for the Cats.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The "Friday Five" is a weekly feature written by Brett Hait, a veteran UK sports reporter and BBD contributing writer.