This Cat's looking for big win

Saddled with a 4-7 record, Kentucky's football season is already in ruins. But there is still time for one final thrilling moment for the senior Wildcats.

No, it's not a season-ending bowl game to reward the 16 departing players who have suffered through mostly painful memories in Lexington. Instead, it's a regular-season finale with Tennessee, a team the Wildcats have not beaten in quite some time. To leave Kentucky with a meaningful victory over a hated rival and top-10 team like the Vols would cure a lot of past ills for the graduating players. The Wildcats will get that chance Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

''To me, we have not had a signature win except maybe against Louisville last year,'' Kentucky senior receiver Chris Bernard said. ''We haven't had that win where everybody's mouth drops open. If we could do that Saturday, it would be a signature win for the seniors. That would be nice.''

A victory on Saturday would erase much of the misery felt this season, a year in which the Wildcats had high hopes for a winning season under first-year coach Rich Brooks. Though they won just one of seven Southeastern Conference games, the Wildcats have been agonizingly close against some top conference opponents.

Still, the net result has been setback after setback. This type season wasn't envisioned by Bernard.

''It's been frustrating,'' he said. ''It's been an emotional rollercoaster. Coming into the season we were real excited. We thought we would be real competitive in the SEC. It has taken it's toll on the team.

''If we can win on Saturday it would make the seniors happy. We would love to go out winners. We will do everything we can to win.''

Kentucky nose guard Ellery Moore echoed those sentiments.

''We are going to see it as a bowl game for the senior class,'' he said. ''They worked their butts off and never stopped. Even when it looked like there was going to be no bowl game they still worked hard. We want to send them off right.''

When asked in Monday's media conference, even Brooks said he views the game as a postseason appearance of sorts.

''Yeah. Why not? It's our last game of the year. It's the seniors' last opportunity to play together, play with this team, play for Kentucky and play at Commonwealth Stadium. Given the fact that we didn't win enough games to have another game, this one has to be our last hurrah for the seniors -- the bowl game we so desperately wanted to send them out with.''

Bernard, who has done his part to help the Kentucky offense thrive, could be a huge factor in Saturday's game. Though fellow receiver Derek Abney is a more prominent Wildcat due to his kick return ability, Bernard has been the big-play producer. Bernard has 28 catches for 490 yards and averages 18 yards per catch. He has five touchdown receptions and a long of 60 yards.

''I haven't caught as many as I would like, but I think I have done some good things when I have caught the ball,'' Bernard said. ''I have caught some touchdowns and have made some big plays, so it's been pretty good. (Quarterback) Jared (Lorenzen) and I have found big plays together. I have the longest TD reception and the most yards per catch. He likes to look downfield to me. Hopefully, we can do that Saturday.''

Another key will be keeping Lorenzen protected against the Tennessee pass rush. Though Lorenzen has made some seemingly impossible big plays throughout the season, he has also forced some bad plays that killed Kentucky drives.

Lorenzen has completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,100 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions. That's good enough for Bernard.

''I don't think he has tried to do too much,'' Bernard said.''Players can get frustrated, but he makes a lot of great plays. He should be allowed a bad play now and then. It comes in cycles for him. We don't mind because he has made so many big plays.''

Missed assignments and other little mistakes have been the demise of many an offensive series for the Wildcats. The mistakes must end on Saturday if Kentucky is to win.

''Those are drive killers,'' Bernard said. ''We know we can drive on any team. But that one play when someone misses his block or Jared misses a read always hurts us.''

Though they feel they chance to win, the Wildcats have a healthy respect for the Vols. Brooks says he sees no weaknesses.

''They are a very, very good football team,'' he said. ''They are very good in all phases. Defensively, they are outstanding. They get up and press the receivers -- play man-to-man and mix in zone. Offensively, Casey Clausen is a real force at quarterback. Their receivers are comparable to what we saw at Georgia. They are big and fast and talented. Their offensive line is as good as Georgia's but probably more experienced.''

Winning will require a near-perfect, mistake-free effort from the Wildcats.

''We have to force them into some errors,'' Brooks said. ''One of the disappointments I have had the last two weeks is we haven't gotten a takeaway. We need to get some turnovers to assist our offense. Offensively, we have to hold onto the ball. When we have scoring opportunities we have to take advantage.''


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