SCOTT: 'Cats are no joke

When Florida Atlantic scored a touchdown to cut Kentucky's lead to 14-10 with 10:08 in the second quarter last Saturday, it was the type of situation that used to make Kentucky fans hold their breath and wait for the Wildcats' inevitable collapse.

Now they hold their breath and wait for the inevitable surge.

 

It came in the form of 24 consecutive points in a 45-17 win that gave the Wildcats a 5-0 record and 10 wins in their past 11 games.

 

"Kentucky," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom suggested, "is probably the hottest team in the conference right now."

 

This is definitely not the Kentucky team that won only nine games under the weight of NCAA probation and scholarship reductions from 2003-05, Coach Rich Brooks' first three seasons on the job.

 

After last year's 8-5 finish, topped off by a convincing win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl, the standards and expectations have risen considerably for the Wildcats. On the heels of dramatic wins over Louisville and Arkansas, a one-sided win over FAU is just business as usual.

 

"I'm not sure we had our ‘A' game today, particularly on the defensive side of the ball," Brooks said. "On the other hand, we did a number of things that I can't be unhappy with what we accomplished today."

 

Week by week, Brooks continues to sound like the person least surprised by the Wildcats' rise over the past two seasons. Now he's joined by his SEC peers in his reaction to the program's success.

 

"You could see it coming," Tennessee's Phil Fulmer said. "I think Coach Brooks does a great job, and he has a fantastic staff. At the skill positions, quarterback, tailback, receiver, they're as good as anybody in the league."

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson added, "You can see over the past few years their talent has been upgraded."

 

That talent is particularly evident on offense where quarterback Andre Woodson and receiver Keenan Burton lead a talented bunch, scoring 46 points per game.

 

"It's not surprising at all," Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Kentucky's progress. "I voted Woodson first-team, preseason All-SEC and All-American. I think he's a first-round NFL Draft pick. I think it helps if you can have someone like that you can build around, someone who not only has ability but is coached well and plays a disciplined brand of football. He's the key."

 

At the same time, the Wildcats are more than just a bunch of guys throwing and catching passes for big plays and touchdowns.

 

While allowing 23 points and more than 400 yards per game doesn't look all that impressive on paper, the Wildcats made the necessary plays to beat both Louisville and Arkansas, even containing the Razorbacks' vaunted running game down the stretch in a 42-29 victory two weeks ago.

 

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats are rushing for more than 225 yards per game and giving the Wildcats both balance and big plays.

 

"We knew they were a good football team," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "I think if there was a surprise, it was that they came back in the second half and relied on their running game when they had been a passing team. Usually you're so scared of Andre Woodson and their receivers, but they did a really good job at halftime of implementing their running game and using it."

 

Who knows how long this will last. Woodson and Burton will be gone after this season. So will tailback Rafael Little, tight end Jacob Tamme, starting offensive linemen Eric Scott and Jason Leger, linebacker Wesley Woodyard, and strong safety Roger Williams.

For now, though, the Wildcats are looking at the possibility of their best season since they went 9-3 in 1984 or even 10-1 in 1977.

 

"They're a veteran club," Richt said, "that has enough talent to win the Southeastern Conference this year."

 

For all those possibilities, the Wildcats still have plenty of hurdles in their way, starting with Saturday's game at 4-1 South Carolina and next week's home game against No. 1 LSU, followed by a home game against No. 9 Florida on Oct. 20.

 

It's hard to imagine Kentucky surviving this three-game stretch with an 8-0 record, or even 7-1. Even a 6-2 record at that point would be impressive.

 

"Now we're done with nonconference and sitting here at 5-0," Brooks said. "We won all of them at Commonwealth and one on the road, and now it really starts. We've positioned ourselves to have an opportunity to do some pretty exciting things but we've got a lot of tough games ahead of us, obviously."

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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