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First things first: Cats must take care of U of L before dreaming big

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Gov Cup 2.jpgWhen Joker Phillips took over the reins for Rich Brooks as the head man of the Kentucky football program and announced Operation Win, he emphasized the need for UK to take the next step forward.

Like his predecessor, Phillips is big on climbing the ladder in the Southeastern Conference. The first-year head coach called for special goals and underlined that just going to bowl games was no longer the mission.

"We're not going to allow this team to pace themselves," Phillips said. "If you do, you're 7-5, you're 6-6."

But before Kentucky can take two steps forward, it has to take one. Before the program can start aiming for bigger and better bowls, it has to take care of business of nonconference foes and rivals.

That starts Saturday with Louisville at 3:30 p.m. at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

"This is probably the most important game of the season right now," senior defensive end DeQuin Evans said. "It's how you start your season nine times out of 10 is how you end it. You always want to start off on a good note, on a good foot. What's better than starting off against your rival team?"

In other words, it's imperative the Cats get off to a good start to the season with a win over archrival Louisville.

"It is very important," junior wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "This is a new era for Joker Phillips and we want to make sure we start him off with a win. I think a lot of fans get scared with a new head coach because it is not what you expect, you expect them to come in and win right away and that is what we want to do with Coach Phillips."

Both teams enter the 2010 season with new first-year head coaches and neither coach wants to start their track record down a game. It would be a sour start after an offseason of positive momentum for both teams.

Phillips said Monday it will be important that he gets his emotions under control to make the big decisions throughout his first career game, but there is no doubt there's some heavy anxiety on both sides for a game that's always monumental, regardless of the added circumstances.

"I'm sure maybe Saturday morning I'll be hugging the toilet somewhere," Phillips said.

But for Kentucky, more than anything, it's about taking that next jump. Though Louisville doesn't bear the same conference logo as UK, it counts as equal footing. With the league expected to be as tough as ever, the Cats believe they have to win all four nonconference games to have a chance at their special season.

 "In this conference, you have to win every out-of-conference game no matter who it is," senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. "(If) we win this game, we're looking at a good start to the season. It's something you can go into practice with your heads held high. OK, we've got the Governor's Cup, now let's go on."

It's a momentum thing, Lumpkin said, something that helps push players through the season.

"I don't think either team can have a great year without this (win) because I think we both need the momentum," Phillips said at Monday's weekly news conference.

Preparing for Louisville won't be easy. With a new coaching staff come new philosophies, schemes and formations that are packaged together from previous regimes elsewhere. Strong comes from Florida after serving seven years as the defensive coordinator, and his assistant coaches hail from Utah, UNLV and Virginia.

Adjusting to what those coaches mesh together will be critical to Kentucky's success. 

"The thing that we have to be able to do, and it can happen in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter (or) after the first play, we've got to be able to adjust," Phillips said. "If they're not running the offense, the things that the coordinator (Mike Sanford) has run at UNLV, our defense has to adjust. Same thing offensively, if we are getting different stuff than we had been preparing for, we got to be able to adjust. That will be the most important thing that we'll have to do."

One thing Phillips said the Cats can expect on a fairly frequent basis is a steady dose of blitzes.

"Charlie is going to be aggressive," Phillips said. "I mentioned it's going to be a blitz-orama. He's going to attack. He'll blitz on first down, second down, third down. He'll be blitzing as soon as he comes out of the locker room. That's just what they do."

If Kentucky can weather the blitzes and pick up a fourth straight win, it would be unprecedented. Since renewing the rivalry in 1994, no team has won more than three consecutive games.

Could the Cats be the first?

"I would love to have it for the next couple of years even when I'm gone," Lumpkin said. "It's a pride thing. You come here for that game. It's a big game. You don't come here to see a blank empty spot. You have all the bowl trophies, but this is the first game of the season. This is our big rival. You beat them, you have bragging rights."

History, bragging rights and first impressions - a lot will be on the line Saturday as the Kentucky football team opens the 2010 season.

But the biggest thing will be momentum and building for what the Cats hope to be a special season.

"That obviously sets the bar a lot higher for the next game," Evans said.

Win big and the Cats can dream big. 

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1 Comment

really good quote by Evans:

"This is probably the most important game of the season right now," senior defensive end DeQuin Evans said. "It's how you start your season nine times out of 10 is how you end it. You always want to start off on a good note, on a good foot. What's better than starting off against your rival team?"

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  • kyle: really good quote by Evans: "This is probably the most important game of the season right now," senior defensive end read more