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Cats ready to begin second season with Jacksonville State

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Gameday
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Kentucky vs. Jacksonville State
Sat., Oct. 22 - 12:00 p.m. ET
Lexington, Ky.
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Commonwealth Stadium
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Radio: UK IMG
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Game Program
UK 2011 Team Stats JSU
13.0 Scoring/game 31.3
13.5 First downs/game 19.0
229.0 Total offense/game 364.3
110.0 Rushing yards/game 209.7
119.0 Passing yards/game 154.7
19.5 Kickoff returns (avg) 19.7
1.7 Punt returns (avg) 9.8
41.4 Net punting (avg) 31.8
27:10 Time of possession/game 32:08
25.3 Third down conversion 34.9
27.3 Fourth down conversion 75.0
-7 Turnover margin +3
29.5 Points allowed/game 24.5
408.5 Total yards allowed/game 387.8
213.7 Rush yards allowed/game 115.0
194.8 Pass yards allowed/game 272.8
At the Nutter Training Facility, the nerve center of Kentucky football, there is a board showing the Wildcats' schedule. Sometimes it shows a big picture view of the entire season with 12 games and the SEC Championship. Other times, it shows only the current week's game to hone the Wildcats' focus in on their upcoming opponent.

These last two weeks, the staff has done something new with it.

The schedule now shows only the final six games of the 2011, turning the page on the first half of the year that saw the Cats struggle to a 2-4 record. In essence, the Cats are looking to make the second half of 2011 a season unto itself. It begins Saturday at noon when they face off against Jacksonville State at Commonwealth Stadium.

"We always try to break the season down into four quarters," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "You've got the first three games and you've got the second three games. Well, we've played the first half of the season. We had a winning record in the first quarter and we lost the second quarter miserably. Now, what do we do in the third quarter and how do we finish in the fourth?"

Fortunately for the Cats, the schedule for the second half offers a reprieve relative to the brutal three-game stretch UK just played against Florida, Louisiana State and South Carolina. None of UK's final six opponents is currently ranked, though that doesn't mean the Cats will be taking any of them lightly.

Even though Jacksonville State is an FCS (formerly known as I-AA) squad, the Gamecocks are winners. At 5-1, JSU is ranked No. 10 among FCS teams and is a perfect 4-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Gamecocks average over 200 yards rushing per game, led by former Georgia running back Washaun Ealey. Ealey has totaled 115.2 yards from scrimmage per game and six touchdowns, but he isn't his team's only weapon.

"They've got a couple SEC-type players," head coach Joker Phillips said. "It's obvious, one of them scored a bunch of touchdowns on us."

A season ago, Ealey was in the Georgia backfield for the Bulldogs 44-31 win in Lexington, Ky. He rushed 28 times for 157 yards and scored five touchdowns. He has immediately stepped in and become the centerpiece of the JSU attack, but coach Jack Crowe has two other runners with over 240 yards on the season. Calvin Middleton and quarterback Coty Blanchard have combined for 646 yards and seven touchdowns.

Not only does Jacksonville State have weapons, but they also have experience in playing with and beating the big boys. Two seasons ago, the Gamecocks led at Florida State with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns and falling 19-9. Last year, JSU scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns in the season opener against Ole Miss en route to a 49-48 victory in double overtime.

In 2011, JSU relies on a defensive unit capable of forcing turnovers at any time. The Gamecocks have 15 takeaways, including three last week against Austin Peay they returned for touchdowns. All that is to say the Cats will have to do much more than show up to win the opener of their second season.

The last time the Cats took the field, they didn't do much more than that.

"When you have 96 yards of total offense, the offense's confidence is shaken," Sanders said of UK's 54-3 loss at South Carolina. "When you give up 600-something yards, the defense's confidence is shaken. You get beat 54-3, it probably shakes the fans' confidence a little bit and coaches are right in there too."

With a bye last week, UK had 14 days to prepare for this weekend's game. The Cats have used that time to instill some of the confidence lost during their current four-game losing streak and it began with quarterback Morgan Newton.

"When you're playing as bad as we have on offense, confidence does start to be a factor," Phillips said. "We've got to make sure we're playing with the type of confidence we need. We need to try to take some shots with (Newton) and somebody needs to make some plays to give him some confidence also."

Newton will rely on his wide receivers to make more plays than they have so far this season. Drops and inconsistency have plagued the unit, but the wide outs have taken it upon themselves to stay after practice and commit to correcting some of the mistakes they've made.

"All the receivers did extra work and it was much needed," Phillips said. "They're a little embarrassed at the way they've played and they're competitors."

Perhaps no receiver or even player has better represented the kind of approach Phillips wants his team to take the rest of the season than Matt Roark. Roark has been a lightning rod for much of the criticism the receivers have gotten, making a handful of costly drops. He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart, but kept working. He learned from his struggles, but turned the page, did something about them and has ascended back to the top of the depth chart.

"He did it by his attitude, his approach to practice and his approach to special teams," Phillips said. "What you tend to see when a guy moves down the depth chart on offense or defense is his whole demeanor changes and his special team play starts to lack. Matt did not do that."

Roark was able to pick himself up and the team as a whole needs to do the same. Contending in the SEC as UK had hoped to do entering the season may be out of the question now, but the game against Jacksonville State could be the start of something new.

"Our challenge is to have a winning record here in the third and fourth quarter," Sanders said. "If we do that, we get to six wins."

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