More than any other annual series on the Kentucky football schedule, the games with Mississippi State seem to often turn out to be a defining moment for the season.
Take 2006. After a 49-0 drubbing at LSU, Rich Brooks' Cats needed a win in the worst way--perhaps to save the coach's job. And with Dicky Lyons, Jr having a career day in Starkville, making arguably the most difficult catch in UK football history, UK prevailed 34-31. That set the stage for an upset of Georgia a week later and that team went on to win a bowl game for the first time in 22 years.
And how about 2008. Randall Cobb made his first start at quarterback and he led the Cats to a 14-13 win at State, with Matt Roark providing the margin of victory with one of his patented PAT blocks. As the season played out, a loss there would have kept UK out of the Liberty Bowl game it won over East Carolina.
Remember 1998. When you look back, the season's sixth win, a 37-35 nail-biter over State, was the one that ultimately got Kentucky what it needed to get a chance to play in the Outback Bowl, the first New Year's Day bowl in a half century.
Ofcourse, the trend cuts both ways. In 2007, the MSU game came at a point on the schedule that followed three nationally-televised and emotionally draining games against South Carolina, LSU and Florida. An injury-depleted Kentucky just didn't show up that day and got thumped in a game that, along with the Tennessee loss, combined to keep the Cats from getting to play on New Year's Day again.
And the script was similar in 2009, when Kentucky just couldn't stop Anthony Dixon and the State rushing attack and UK droppped a seven-point decision. A win there might well have put the Cats in that often-discussed "better bowl."
In 1999, a last-second field goal gave an unbeaten MSU team a nationally-televised Thursday night win over the visiting Wildcats. A win might have meant a better bowl that year, too, and at worst, it would have been a top 10 win on the road--which would have been the first since 1964.
And finally, there was a Halloween night loss to the Bulldogs in 1992, when Doug Pelfrey's last-second field goal try was blocked. That thwarted a promising UK season and wasted a career-best 357-yard passing game by Pookie Jones.
Saturday's game will mark the 39th meeting between these two programs and Kentucky leads the overall series 21-17. Of those previous 38 matchups, 16 have been decided by a touchdown or less, with Kentucky holding a 9-7 edge in those games. And there's a good chance that both the winner and the loser will look back on this contest as the one that defined the season. State still has to play Alabama as well as Arkansas on the road, so a bowl trip would be a shaky proposition at best if the Dogs don't leave Lexington with a "W." And what would a victory mean for a seemingly resurrgent UK team that looked dead in the water just a couple of weeks ago?
The easy answer to that question is "a lot" and so count me in favor of Joker Phillips' move to break out the black uniforms. Is it a gimmick? Sure, but what the heck. This particular team, because of its slow start, has been emotionally beaten down through the first half of the season. Last Saturday's performance, which admittedly coming against a lesser foe, was nonetheless encouraging because of the way the Wildcats' offensive line dominated and the way the defense forced turnovers.
Suddenly, these players are feeling much better about themselves and so the coach's move to maximize that newfound confidence with the uniforms that players have clamored to wear for a couple of years is a smart play. If the Cats don't win, it'll be a footnote. But if they upset MSU, the black uni's will take on legendary status.
Washaun Ealey will be going for a unique accomplishment this Saturday against Kentucky--to rush for more than 100 yards against the Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium in back-to-back years.
Ealey ran for 157 yards and five touchdowns last fall in Georgia's win here and having transferred to Jacksonville State of the FCS, he's back for a return engagement.
"He was a little beat up coming out of preseason camp. I really thought last week at Austin Peay, he showed maybe what he was like at Georgia for the first time," JSU radio voice Mike Parris said on "The Leach Report" radio show yesterday. "He'll have to have a big game for us to have a chance on Saturday."
Parris says this was thought to be veteran coach Jack Crowe's most talented team of his 12 at JSU but some injuries have led the Gamecocks to count more heavily on some younger players. One of them is quarterback Coty Blanchard, who was pressed into service when the starter was lost for the season in the first quarter of the first game.
Parris says some SEC schools recruited Blanchard as a defensive back but he came to JSU because he wanted to play quarterback--and he wanted to double as a baseball player, a sport for which he was recruited by Mississippi State.
Kentucky is loaded for a national championship run this winter, but John Calipari's team, like every other in the game, has a few questions to answer. For SportingNews.com college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy, one of those questions is the 5-spot.
Anthony Davis is wonderfully talented but DeCourcy wonders how he'll match up with other big men who bring more bulk to the court.
"He doesn't look like a typical college center. He's very thin. He looks a little bit like Sam Bowie but there aren't a lot of guys like that playing center now, so I don't know what direction Cal goes at that spot," said DeCourcy. "I think that's going to be the most fascinating thing to watch. They certainly have multiple options there but no ideal option. Last year, they had Kanter. It didn't work out but then they put Josh (Harrelson) in there and they were able to get him to be okay for awhile and then terrific when he needed to be."
The spotlight on a Kentucky basketball player can be intense and Davis already had a feel for that even before Big Blue Madness.
"When I came on a visit, Doron (Lamb), Darius (Miller), they all told me how it was going to be," Davis said. "Sometimes. But sometimes it gets overwhelming. Sometimes you just want to go hang out without being bothered."
We'll get our first extended look at Calipari's team under game conditions next week in the annual Blue-White game. And that means we could get a glimpse of that much-talked about hook shot of Kyle Wiltjer's.
"It came straight from my father. He's taught me since I was in the fourth grade, just doing these George Mikan drills," Wiltjer explained. "I thought they (the drills) were stupid but I'm really fortunate to have him in my life and teaching me about the game."
Miller says he was "surprised" the first time he saw Wiltjer's hook shot but the senior now has come to appreciate that Wiltjer is "really good around the basket."
The open date on the schedule gave Joker Phillips and his staff time to take an extended look at some of their younger players and the coach says a few of them had eye-catching performances in last Thursday's scrimmage.
On his radio show on the UK-IMG sports network Monday night, Phillips singled out linebackers Tim Patterson and Demarius Rancifer plus defensive linemen Farrington Huguenin.
Who will make up the starting five for this Kentucky basketball team?
It made for a great summer topic on my radio show, because the discussion focused on where senior Darius Miller fit into the mix. Marquis Teague figured to start because he's the point guard and Anthony Davis seemed like safe bet because of his size. Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb seemingly had to be sure things because they might well be the top two scorers but who would be the fifth starter? Would it be Miller, the senior, or highly-touted freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Truth be told, the key question will be "who finishes the games" for Kentucky but whether you're talking about the starting five or the finishing five, it's hard for me to imagine Miller not being a part of it either way.
How does feel about the battle for minutes on such a talent-laden team?
"You should come here expecting that. It makes us better as a team," he said.
Do you ever envy players at other programs that don't have to compete as hard to get their minutes?
"I feel like they're rather be in my situation," Miller answered.
On a team built on the concept of versatility, Miller might be the most versatile of all. He's a 40-plus percent three-point shooter, has a great "floater" when he takes his man off the dribble and remember last year's Louisville game when he became a key factor in the UK offense as a postup player? Coach John Calipari's even mentioned Miller as a possible option at point guard if needed and Miller is fully capable of guarding anything from a point guard to an opposing center.
"We have a lot of versatile guys," said the senior from Maysville, KY. "We don't have any true, dominant post players. We haven't figured out how we're going to play yet."
One thing of which Miller is certain--Kentucky is much one of the "hunted" teams this season.
"I just feel like we're going to have a target on our backs. It should be fun. I think the guys have a personality where they're going to be ready for it," he observed. "We have a lot of competitive people on the team. And coach Cal is doing a great job of getting us ready for how it's going to be.
"This is a good group of guys," Miller added. "They didn't really come in with egos. They're good teammates and they listen to everybody."
Miller says he can remember his freshman year "like it was yesterday," adding that he's really enjoyed his time at UK. But how sweet would it be to get a national championship ring on the way out the door?
To make that happen, Miller will be counted on for not only his production on the court but also his leadership off of it. Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy sat in on a discussion by Miller about that topic at last week's Media Day and DeCourcy came away impressed with what he heard.
"I thought Darius really sounded like a leader. Cal said different players will take the leadership role at different times and I don't buy that. He's a Kentucky kid and he's got great presense and he's become a terrific player. I have little doubt that he's ready to lead this team," DeCourcy noted. "You don't always have to be the best player to be that guy but you have to have composure and a stately manner about you and I think he'll have that.
I think he's ready to do it. I've always liked him but I was really impressed with him. I think this team needs that because Doron and Terrence are really soft-spoken kids. And you've got a group of freshmen that really needs leading," said DeCourcy. And he took particular note of a comment that indicated Miller's self-awareness when it came to leadership.
"He said 'we allowed them to find their way (last year) and that wasn't the best way. The veterans need to stand up here and do it right'," DeCourcy recalled, adding "I think that recognition is a big part of being a leader."
Miller said he's ready to be more vocal and more assertive.
"We know what the expecations are. They really want us to win a national championship, after coming close two years in a row."
Freshman big man Anthony Davis is comfortable with those aspirations for the Big Blue fan base, in part because he was prepared for it.
"I expected it. When I came on a visit, Doron and Darius told me how it was going to be. Even coach Cal said 'it gets crazy here'. Sometimes it gets overwhelming," he said, adding the team draws strength being close. "We have really jelled together and have a good team chemistry."
Many pundits believe Davis will be the first pick in the next NBA draft because of the upside his game features. But for now, he knows he'll have to meet some interesting challenges, particularly when he faces off against a beefier, veteran opponent. But Davis got a taste of that this summer at the Lebon James camp, when he worked with Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger.
"It helped a lot," Davis said. "Sully is one of the top big men in college basketball and going up against him really helped me out a lot."
"That's a big honor."
That was the reaction of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, when a reporter told him coach Calipari compared Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive ability to that departed UK lockdown specialist Deandre Liggins.
"I love defense. That's my game right there," Kidd-Gilchrist said.
Marquis Teague hopes to become the latest in a line of Calipari-coached point guards who excel in their rookie season of college basketball. Teague says Calipari's Dribble Drive Motion system is a perfect fit for players at that position.
"He gives you a lot of freedom. That's one of the main reasons for coming here. He opens the floor up for you and lets you play," Teague noted, adding that the collection of talent around him makes his job even easier.
"It's almost easy playing with these guys. You make a pass to Doron Lamb and he's knocking it down. Throw that alley oop to Anthony Davis and he's throwing it down," Teague explained. "He (Davis) gets everything. He does something amazing every day."
"Just keep working, with a positive attitude, just keep going."
Morgan Newton says that is his mindset as he tries to bounce back from a miserable day at South Carolina. Newton appreciates the confidence-boosting efforts of offensive coordinator and QB coach Randy Sanders but says that tape doesn't lie.
"There's not really much you can reaffirm after a game like that. Just gotta keep going," Newton said after practice earlier this week. "Going back to the some of the fundamentals this week. You try to look at the tape, try to learn as much as you can."
Today marks the anniversary of the first-ever 300-yard passing game by a Kentucky quarterback.
Vito "Babe" Parilli did it, in 1950, throwing for 338 yards in a rout of Cincinnati for a Kentucky team on its way to a national championship.
Parilli is out with a new book, "Kentucky Babe," that chronicles his time at UK as well as the NFL and other professional football organizations, as both a player and coach.
Any college basketball pundit will tell you an NBA rule on the so-called one-and-done players is the only thing that would keep Anthony Davis at Kentucky beyond this upcoming season. But Davis' high school coach at Perspectives MSA in Chicago says his former protege is not one to look down the road.
"He is not looking ahead to the NBA at all. He is the type of kid that takes things one day at a time, and his goal right now is to get to Kentucky and make good of his promise to win a national championship," Cortez Hale told "The Leach Report" radio show earlier this summer. "That is just him, he sets his goals very high and aims to reach them, so why not go for the top goal."
Hale says Davis is a former six-foot-three point guard who grew into a dominant big man.
"His career has just taken off for the good right now. He started out as a nobody and nobody knew who he was except for the people in our little conference, to now being the number one player, where people recognize him everywhere he goes, it's amazing, just amazing," Hale said, adding that Davis retained the skills from his guard days and did not sacrifice any coordination.
"He is a tall point guard. He can handle the ball, shoot from outside, and he is not uncoordinated. He is comfortable being outside the perimeter," Hale noted, "where some guys his height are not comfortable being outside. Anthony can run the offense and things like that."
How scary is that prospect for UK's opponents this season?
"The thing that most impresses me first is his passing ability is remarkable. For a kid his size, he loves to pass the ball. Another thing, his basketball knowledge and his knowledge of the game. For a kid that is 18-years old, he knows the game and knows a lot of things and is always watching," said Hale. "He doesn't just watch who shoots and scores, he sees 'are they running the 2-3 zone or they are running this type of play'. He knows the game well. Another thing is his scoring ability. He hasn't shown it that much as far as the all-star games but he can actually shoot the ball very well, very well."
But the skill that has attracted the most attention during the early practice sessions at UK is blocking shots. Davis has the build to be good at it, but he has also the instincts.
"When he was a sophomore at 6-3, he was kind of a shotblocker. Now, it's easier for him because he is 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan so it is easier to catch those shots now," Hale noted. "Sometimes in games, me and my assistant coaches we look at each other (and say) 'did he really just block that shot'. He is so long and is just perfect at it."
My UK radio network broadcast partner has compared Davis to a former University of Louisville star, Purvis Ellison, was the Final Four MVP in 1986. Hale can see that comparison but he points to a current NBA star as the player whom Davis reminds him of.
"We compare him to Kevin Durant because of the fact that he is 6'10 going on
7-feet and can shoot outside, handle the ball, and go inside when need be. A lot of people look at Anthony and think he is a power forward or a center but naturally he is a small forward," said Hale.
But the coach is confident that Davis can play the 5-spot at UK if needed.
"I think he would be great as a center because he could be that new age center where they can step outside and take people outside and not just be a banger," Hale explained. "As far as not having the beef in the SEC and nonconference teams, he will be okay because I know him and I know his motivation and work ethic and he will definitely be in the weight room getting bigger, so he will not be the same size as he was this year. He is going to be okay."
Hale says Davis became a celebrity in the Chicago high school ranks and so he's comfortable with being in the spotlight. Ofcourse, the attention in Big Blue Nation goes to a whole other level but Hale has no worries about Davis adapting to that part of being a Wildcat.
Steve Spurrier has never been one of those coaches to throw out a lot of faint praise when talking about an opponent. So it's interesting to see what the South Carolina head man had to say about the UK defense this week.
"They're as strong as probably any team in the conference up front, their defensive line and linebacker guys," the ol' ball coach said. "Florida had a bunch of long runs where they reversed field but as far as going straight at them, Kentucky is a very tough defensive front."
Is it hard to stay positive after three losses in a row? Senior All-America candidate Danny Trevathan says not so much.
"It's hard but it's necessary. It's necessary for leaders to stay positive and it's going to be beneficial. This team has been working too hard for us to just be negative," he explained. "I've been pushing these guys, trying to be out here and be more enthusiastic. You got to push yourself and keep that right mindset and I think these young guys are really making themselves better."
With a change at quarterback, some analyst foresee South Carolina relying more heavily on its running game and All-SEC candidate Marcus Lattimore. He only played a half last year against UK before getting injured but Trevathan remembers him well.
"I remember he was a big dude," said Trevathan, "like a freak of nature."
Kentucky has struggled to convert third-down plays into first downs this season but South Carolina is also having issues with its defense being able to get off the field on third down. USC ranks 80th nationally (according to cfbstats.com) by allowing opponents to convert at a rate of 42 percent.
As for some other interesting statistical notes...
There's a stark difference in passing accuracy this season for USC. Last year, Gamecock quarterbacks completed 65 percent of their passes. So far this season, it's just under 50 percent. Inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the completion rate falls to 37.5 percent with two interceptions. Where Kentucky needs to improve is inside its own 40. Morgan Newton is hitting only 41 percent there and thus the Cats are giving up too much field position on the punt exchanges and eventually, that takes its toll.
South Carolina has really improved its pass defense this season, relying on more man-to-man coverage, according to one of its cornerbacks. USC is on pace to give up almost half as many pass plays of 25-or-more yards than it did last season.
And with a new QB, many experts believe the Gamecocks figure to lean heavily on Marcus Lattimore tomorrow. USC averaged 242 yards per game in the first three contests but only 130 per game in the last two.
Saturday marks the 61st anniversary of the first night game in the month of October at UK, meaning it was the first "Bluegrass Doubleheader" of Keeneland racing in the afternoon and Wildcat football under the lights.
Wideout LaRod King likes what he has seen on the practice field this week--he just wishes he had seen it earlier.
"They're motivated. It kinda makes me mad that it takes a loss to Florida to get them motivated. It should have been that way from day one," King said.
What about the dropped passes, a malady that has affect King and almost everyone else in the wide receiver corps.
"Definitely it is a mental thing. Everybody here can catch," King said. "We've got a lot of young guys and when you get to the game, the atmosphere is totally different and it's something that comes with experience."
Football coaches always preach about the importance of field position and here are some stats to drive that point home as it pertains to the Wildcats.
In the last two games, UK has started only one drive outside its own 40-yard line--and the Wildcats converted that one good-field-position-opportunity into a touchdown. Once UK crosses the opponents' 40, Morgan Newton's completion rate is 61 percent but it drops to 45% when the Cats are inside their 40-yard line. Inside his own 20, Newton's completion rate falls to 38 percent (numbers courtesy of cfbstats.com).
If Kentucky is fortunate enough to cross LSU's 40 this Saturday, then the numbers say put the ball in the air. LSU is allowing a 73 percent completion rate but less than one yard per rushing attempt.
Turnovers have been the biggest thorn in UK's side through four games. And LSU ranks fourth in the nation in turnover margin, with 11 takeaways versus only three turnovers commited by the Tigers. And turnovers have been a big problem for Kentucky. This season and last, in seven SEC losses, the Cats have given it away 21 times. It's hard to beat mediocre teams doing that, much less really good ones.
Joker Phillips had one of his best nights as a player when Kentucky won at LSU in 1983, 21-13.
Phillips caught two touchdown passes from Randy Jenkins to spark a second-half comeback for the Wildcats. UK scored only its only first-half points on the game's fourth play, when cornerback Kerry Baird picked off a pass and returned in 35 yards to paydirt.
Cawood Ledford would later note in his radio broadcast that the final score was "Franklin-Simpson 21, LSU 13," since Phillips and Baird were both FSHS products. Phillips says some folks in his hometown had bumper stickers printed up with those words on them.
Craig Yeast has never been one to listen to the skeptics.
He'd no doubt be considerably richer if he had a dollar for every time someone told him he was too small to play football. And yet the former Harrodsburg High School star became the all-time leading receiver (in catches and yards) at the University of Kentucky and now ranks number two to Randall Cobb on the all-time touchdown list, before heading off to play professional football for several years.
This past summer, Yeast took on another challenge--his first head coaching job, for a Bryan Station team that won only one game last season. Six games into his rookie season as a head coach, Yeast has guided his team to a 4-1 record. Last Friday, the Defenders won the first city game of the year, rallying from a 22-6 deficit to defeat Tates Creek.
Yeast says changing the mindset on his team started with demanding more.
"To be honest with you, when I came in, I was very, very tough. I tried to change the mindset and get the kids to understand, if you want to win and want to be successful, you have to work hard and be disciplined when you do it. The staff, we have worked diligently with our kids to try and change the mindset and those are the things--work hard and be disciplined and understand what you need to be doing and just do right. That was one of the main things for us was to enstill in them," said Yeast.
Yeast's final two seasons at UK coincided with the arrival of coach Hal Mumme and his "Air Raid" offense and the emergence of Tim Couch as a prolific passing quarterback. The "Couch-to-Yeast" pass that sealed the historic win over Alabama in 1997 is one of the famous plays in Wildcat football history but Yeast says he has learned that a coach has to fit his system to his talent.
"We aren't running the air raid. We are not in the position to line up and throw the ball every play, but we do have a system that we open it up a little bit," he said. "We run the ball and our mindset is that we are going to take what the defense gives us and if we need to throw the football, we will. We are a no-huddle football team, so the things I learned in college and in coaching have rubbed off on me and it makes things easier when you have the athletes."
Before the win in Yeast's first game, the Defenders did not have a good week of practice. Yeast said he had a "heart-to-heart" with them and he was pleased to see the passion with which they responded on Friday night.
"It's funny because when you get into coaching-- I had Hal Mumme say this to me when I first got into coaching--as a player, it's all about the game and as a coach, it's about the practice," Yeast noted
Mumme is one of several coaches whom Yeast turns to for his advice.
"One of the main guys that I have always talked to was my high school coach, (former UK administrator) Alvis Johnson. A lot of the things I do, or moves I have made, he is one of the guys I have always consulted. Our superintendendant was a coach, and I could give him a call. I speak with Hal Mumme on a regular basis. I talk to Tony Franklin. I am really good friends with Mark Berry at Central Hardin and I worked with him at Washington County, but those are just a few of the guys I work with on a regular basis that have helped me out in my journey," Yeast said.
Yeast was touched by all of the text messages and phone calls he received from former teammates and coaches after that win in his first game.
"It's good to have people behind me," he said, "that want to see me succeed."
Back in his playing days at Kentucky, coaching was not something Yeast ever considered.
"When I was in Kentucky, I thought I would play football forever and I that I would never be a football coach. It wasn't until my playing career began in Canada when I was up there a few years, I was asked by some coaches up there if I'd be interested in coaching some high school football and I agreed to do it," Yeast explained. " I enjoyed it and when I retired and came home, once I started coaching, I fell in love with it and knew that's what I wanted to do."
And has always been the case with Yeast, he's a natural.
Blocked punts by Florida have been a big issue for Kentucky in recent years, including two of them in the first quarter of the 2008 game in Gainesville. And eventhough the Gators have a new coach, Will Muschamp is just as commited to special teams success as Urban Meyer was.
Florida blocked a punt last week in its win over Tennessee, its second of the season, and since '08, UF has recorded 17 blocked kicks.
"We have some good players, that's the first thing," Muschamp said on the SEC coaches teleconference this week. "We've got some guys that have got special ability. There's been a huge emphasis on special teams from when Urban (Meyer) was here and I've carried that over. Special teams are very important to me."
Muschamp, a one-time Eastern Kentucky University assistant under Roy Kidd, says he subscribes to Bill Parcells' line of thinking when it comes to special teams.
"'If you're not a quarterback or an offensive lineman and you don't play special teams, you're a selfish football player' and I live by that. Our guys understand our best players will play on special teams," he said. "And we've got good speed. To create 'space' plays on special teams, you've got to have guys that can run. And our special teams coordinator does a great job. He does a great job of scheming to get guys free. You take a combination of all those things and that's why we are where we are."
Muschamp says blocking a punt is an almost certain ticket to victory.
"The percentages of winning the game go through the roof," he said. "I don't know that I've won many games where we've had a punt blocked. The momentum of the game can flip pretty quickly."
Newton's, UK's character to be tested
"Really this is the first season where he's been 'the man.' We've seen a lot of progress from week one to last week."
That's what grad assistant coach Andre Woodson had to say this week, when asked about the progress of his protege, junior signal-caller Morgan Newton.
Back in 2006, when the Cats were getting pounded in a loss to Louisville, then coach Rich Brooks later said he learned a lot about Woodson that night, to see how he kept battling back despite taking a beating.
Newton was sacked six times last Saturday and now faces an even better defensive front this week and Woodson says the current coaches can learn about Newton in how he responds to these challenges.
"Absolutely," Woodson said. "These next (few) games are going to judge his character, how he competes. (These) games are going to say a lot about the quarterback we have. He has a fire in him and that's what we need from the quarterback position and he delivers. We just we can continue to improve as an offense and see where we are from there."
He added that it's important for all of the players to rally around each other at a time like this, when many outside the program are jumping off the bandwagon.
"It's tough," Woodson noted. "But that goes to the character of the players. It has to be the players that build that bond, that family, that trust and it doesn't matter what anybody else says. They know they're playing for each other and they're going to stick through it."
Hall of Fame inductee Ransdell recalls win over Florida
It was 25 years ago this November that Kentucky last beat Florida, prevailing in a 10-3 slug-fest on a chilly, damp day at Commonwealth Stadium.
"We controlled the ball enough to try and keep it out of their guys' hands," recalled quarterback Bill Ransdell. "We had goal-line stands and the play that sticks out to me (involved speedster Ricky Nattiel). He does a square in (pattern) and Tony Mayes is covering him and Tony made up some ground and stripped the ball and I got to go out and drop to a knee and call it day,"
Ransdell actually set a school record for accuracy that day, hitting 20 of 23 passes in the less-than-ideal conditions. Of course, the Kentucky guys liked the turn for the worse in the weather.
"When it was good and cold, you'd see the Gators over there bundled up," Ransdell noted, adding he wishes the series would return to a November date.
Those kinds of memories will resurface this weekend when Ransdell is honored as part of the latest class of inductees into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. For his introduction at tonight's dinner, Ransdell has asked head coach Joker Phillips to do the honors.
"He and I were roommates during the season, off season. I've stayed in touch with him through the years," said Ransdell, "and there's not too many people who know more about me."
It's the nickname for one of the most famous plays in Commonwealth Stadium history, Stevie Johnson's 57-yard touchdown catch that beat ninth-ranked Louisville in 2007. Johnson also made the catch that provided the margin over victory over number one LSU later that year but he says the one against the Cards stands out.
"The Louisville game is the best one for me. It did a lot for the team, it did a lot for Lexington and it just put the Kentucky Wildcats over the Louisville Cardinals," Johnson told "The Leach Report" radio show this week.
Johnson caught a touchdown pass last Sunday in the Buffalo Bills' shockingly easy win over Kansas City. He has emerged as the Bills' go-to receiver over the past couple of years after coming into the league as a seventh-round draft pick. What was the key in making the transition from college to the NFL?
"Mental toughness. I didn't come in and play right away. Being patient and waiting for my turn," Johnson said. "Coming from Kentucky, we ran that pro-style offense and it was easy to pick up the playbook."
And Johnson hopes the week one performance by the Bills portends big things for 2011.
"It's only one win but at the same time, it showed a lot, with a new group of guys around here in the locker room. We gotta have confidence. In the NFL, you gotta have confidence, period," he said. "It's about going there and doing what we're supposed to do."
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While Kentucky's offense struggled to move the ball through most of the first two games, an improved and aggressive defense kept the opponent sufficiently in check to assure a victory.
But Donte Rumph says there's no need to worry about the defensive guys lamenting the pressure on them.
"We're all brothers here. We have our brothers' back. They depend on us to do our job, just like we depend on them to do their job," said the sophomore defensive tackle. "Fortunately, it worked out well for us."
= = =
So who does freshman running back Josh Clemons remind you of?
I've heard suggestions like former UK stars Artose Pinner and Sonny Collins but Clemons' teammates have another idea.
"They joke around with me and say I run like him and I'm big like him. He was a really good running back," Clemons said. "I don't think I can put myself up there right now."
= = =
Perhaps Clemons' emergence will give a much-needed boost to the Wildcats rushing attack. Coach Joker Phillips knows that is a crucial element to this offense finding its identity.
"It gives you confidence when you run the ball at will. We haven't been able to do that yet," said Phillips. "The running game is about attitude."