Vols are UK's last chance

Kentucky's Wildcats have one more chance to prove their coach wasn't just feeding the media a line when he said the football program is making steady advances.

After a shocking loss to a one-win Vanderbilt team two weeks ago, Rich Brooks talked about all the previous close calls, how the Wildcats were remaining in the game well into the fourth quarter of SEC games and how his team had generally played well enough to get some key wins.

Players and coaches talked about rebounding from the embarrassing loss to the Commodores, saying they would be motivated for Saturday's Georgia game. Again, the Wildcats played well enough to be within 17-10 in the third quarter against the Bulldogs. But they lost 30-10, and now they have just one more chance to regain respect when they play host to Tennessee Saturday.

''I am confident that this program is going to head in the right direction,'' Brooks said. ''I just believe that we have played some good football this season.We had an ugly loss last week, but we have played some good games against some of the better teams in the conference. We have had an opportunity to win or were leading in the fourth quarter. We haven't pulled it out, but I don't think this has been a nightmare. We just have to move forward.''

Part of Kentucky's problem has been motivational. Media reports have questioned the players' desire at times.

''I think sometimes you have teams that play to the level of their opponent,'' Brook said, referring to Vanderbilt. ''If the opponent is really good, they get excited about playing them. If they aren't as good, they don't get excited. The results end up being similar. They play well against the teams they think are good and don't win, then don't play as well against the teams they don't think are as good and don't win. Against Vanderbilt, we really didn't respond with some type of emotion during the game. I think everyone was waiting for someone to make a play to get everyone excited.''

Heading into the Tennessee game, Brooks wants to see more players taking a sincere leadership role, doing more than just talking a good game.

''I would rather have people who lead by example,'' he said. ''Occasionally some people are willing to stand up and speak their minds. But the worst thing is to have someone stand up and speak his mind, but doesn't walk the walk, doesn't produce or doesn't play hard.

''I am confident these seniors want things to end on a positive note. They realize the significance of the win we didn't get against Florida and the win we didn't get in the overtime game and the failure to come back at South Carolina when we had a chance to win at the end. We still have a huge game that can make a difference.''

At this point in the season, Brooks had expected to have recorded some impressive victories. He certainly expected to have a winning record, but the Wildcats are saddled with a 4-7 record and 1-6 Southeastern Conference mark.

''I was very hopeful that we could pull off an upset or two and gain some confidence,'' he said. ''But at this point it hasn't happened.''

Guard Sylvester Miller believes the Wildcats could make up for some big disappointments with a win over the Vols. He isn't giving up hope.

''We know if we do what we need to do we can come out with a win,'' he said. ''As a team, we have never had any doubt that we could play with anybody on our schedule this year. We have been in every game coming into the second half.''

Finishing the year with a victory will depend on many things, not the least of which will be the willingness to play hard for four quarters.

''Each person has to look at himself individually and work on getting better,'' Kentucky tight end Jeremy Drobney said. ''We're going to have to be ready to play. It's going to be a tough game for us, but we are working on some things. We have played with every team on our schedule and had a chance to beat some of them.''

Avoiding the poor start that plagued Kentucky against Vanderbilt will be a must for the Wildcats on Saturday.

''We never got started,'' Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Caudill said. ''We never came out of the gate. We weren't ready to play. The coaches got us ready during the week and showed us what Vanderbilt was going to run. We just didn't go out and do it.''

A consistent performance would at least give Kentucky a shot at beating Tennessee, Brook said.

''I think we are playing well in spurts and poorly in spurts,'' he said. ''I keep telling my team we are saving a 60-minute game for some time this year and we are running out of time. I think this team has improved in some areas, but we are not understanding the sense of urgency to play 60 minutes. Because of that, we are lacking in the win column.''

As the losses mount, the veteran players can only try to encourage the younger Wildcats who are charged with turning the program around in the next few years.

''We let them know that it's nothing to throw in the towel about,'' Miller said. ''Having some more years left, they can take advantage of every situation and try to come out with wins so it doesn't happen to them in their careers here.''


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