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Cats eager to show improvement in home opener

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Maxwell Smith threw for 125 yards in the fourth quarter against WKU and will start Saturday vs. Miami(Ohio). (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Maxwell Smith threw for 125 yards in the fourth quarter against WKU and will start Saturday vs. Miami(Ohio). (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
After a long offseason, the Kentucky Wildcats were eager to kick off the 2013 season. A week later, the Cats might be even more anxious to return to the field for their second game.

Not only will Saturday mark UK's home opener, it will also represent a chance for the Cats to erase some of the frustration lingering from their week-one defeat and, just as importantly, the way they played.

"I think we're all disappointed because we know we could have done better," head coach Mark Stoops said. "So that's where we're looking to make that improvement this week."

Set to face Miami (Ohio) at noon ET in Commonwealth Stadium, UK will look to showcase that improvement. It may have arrived a little earlier than anyone had hoped, but the Cats knew adversity awaited them this season. Now, they want to show what they're made of in the face of it.

"It's a great opportunity just to gain confidence back and just for the morale of the team and the coaching staff," defensive tackle Donte Rumph said. "Last Saturday was a disappointment, but we're not going to give up, we're not going to let down. It's only the first game."

Confidence is a word that has been repeated often this week by players and coaches. After a trying season in 2012, UK's returners don't have much in the way to call on in the way of past performance to steel themselves when things don't go according to plan. The Wildcat newcomers - 10 of whom played against Western Kentucky University - have only high-school and junior-college memories to fall back on.

"I feel like that's most of the problem: people believing that they can do it and having confidence in themselves," Demarco Robinson said. "And that'll make the coaches have more confidence in us and the whole team."

Robinson reeled in his first-career touchdown against WKU, becoming the only UK wide receiver on the roster with a scoring catch. The hope is that, with Maxwell Smith inserted at quarterback, more will follow suit.

"Everybody wants to get in the end zone and I feel like the harder we work and the more success we have in practice, the more fun these guys are going to have out there," Smith said. "Scoring touchdowns, winning games, competing, that's what we gotta do."

In assuming the starting role, Smith has followed through on his post-WKU promise to assert himself as a leader. The redshirt sophomore has starting experience, including in 2012 when he got off to a blazing start before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Nonetheless, he doesn't deny that butterflies come with the territory of starting a Division I college football game.

"I just feel pressure kind of every game, to be honest with you," Smith said. "I feel the same amount of pressure every time I go out there. It doesn't matter who we're playing and just go out there and compete."

Smith will look to attack a Miami defense that yielded five touchdowns through the air in a 52-14 defeat against Marshall. Assuming that kind of success is forthcoming, however, is a dangerous game.

"They're probably going to be a lot like us, probably looking for drastic improvement between week one and week two," Stoops said.

Stoops and his staff have spent plenty of time breaking down tape of Saturday's opponent. What they've seen is a team that is reinventing itself, particularly on offense.

"They were quite different in this opener as they were all of last year," Stoops said. "They changed things offensively from what we had been looking at and doing quite a bit of the quarterback run game and then some zone reads and the play-action and all that off of it."

Miami's option game could be a test for a UK defense that reverted to some bad habits in the opener. After an offseason of learning and executing assignments, the Cats found themselves making small mistakes like leaving their assigned gaps. The errors were ones of commission, but they led to big plays nonetheless.

"I think everybody was trying to do everybody else's job and just kind of forgot about their own job," Rumph said. "I know how we play when we play together. You've seen little spurts of it on Saturday. We're just trying to become more consistent."

That underscores UK's approach in practice this week. Of course, the Cats are mindful of their opponents - they want to win on Saturday after all - but they're even more mindful of themselves.

"This is really more about Kentucky than it is about Miami," Stoops said. "We all have a lot of pride and our players have pride and it's time to get back to work and get better."

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