Vaught's Views: UK's numbers will not scare Western Kentucky
Sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree (2) says the Kentucky defense starting playing looser and more aggressively in the second half Saturday and must keep that same attitude for this week's game against Western Kentucky. (Clay Jackson / September 10, 2012)
However, those numbers won’t likely scare Western Kentucky, and not just because the Hilltoppers had a great chance to beat UK in Nashville last season before falling 14-3 despite having 234 total yards to UK’s paltry 190.
Two of Western’s last five games have been played against the No. 1 team in the country. The Hilltoppers were respectable in a loss at LSU on Nov. 12 of last season and then fell 35-0 at No. 1 Alabama Saturday in front of 101,821 fans. That’s twice as many fans as UK had at Saturday’s game and one could easily argue Alabama likely had at least twice the talent of UK as well.
Still, Western senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes finished the game 20-for-31 passing for 178 yards. The Hilltoppers also had six quarterback sacks, including three by senior defensive end Quanterus Smith, along with two other tackles for loss as Western held Alabama to 103 fewer yards than it got in a season-opening rout of Michigan.
In fact, if not for four turnovers, Western could have made the game even more respectable at Alabama.
“We certainly didn’t play the way we are capable of. You can’t turn the ball over four times against anybody, but especially against the No. 1 team in the country,” Western coach Willie Taggart said after the game. “Our defense played the way we had hoped, but offensively we just weren’t able to capitalize. We’ll regroup from this and come out ready to play next week.”
That sounds like what the Wildcats said after their 32-14 loss at Louisville — and they did come out and play much better against Kent State. Okay, maybe the defense didn’t start that way but the last 25 minutes of the game, UK’s defensive unit came to life when the Cats went on a 30-0 run after the visitors had cut the lead to 17-14.
“We started to stop worrying so much and just have fun basically,” sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree said.
He noted that defensive coordinator Rick Minter gave the players advice they liked.
“Coach Minter told us if we mess up, just make sure you mess up going 100 percent. We just went out with a different attitude to stop them the second half,” Dupree said. “We didn’t want the outcome to be bad.”
But why hadn’t the defense been playing that way before? Where had the emotion and aggressiveness been?
“Maybe we were too tense and trying too hard not to mess up. Everybody was thinking what if I do this, what if I don’t this right. We now have put it all behind us and just play football,” Dupree said. “We had to come out and show we were better than last week. Everybody on our team was embarrassed by the loss last week. We have to just get better.”
Better to beat Western?
“That will be a big game. From now on, every game is big. That will be big. The Florida game (in two weeks to open SEC play) will be big. They all will be, but we know what Western will bring,” Dupree said. “We just have to make sure we prepare and stop focusing on certain teams and make sure we are ready. It would be nice to build on this and get a good win over Western, but we know their fans are excited and they will come here thinking they can beat us.”
That’s won’t be as easy now that Smith is directing a potent offense. He’s now 65-for-89 passing for 634 yards and six touchdowns in two games. Against Kent State, he completed passes to 10 receivers, including four who caught scoring passes.
He ranks seventh in the SEC and 32nd nationally in passing efficiency at 155.12 and second in the conference and 24th nationally in total offense at 313.5 yards per game. That’s why UK is 18th nationally and third in the conference in pass offense and fifth in the SEC in passing efficiency.
“As a defensive player, seeing the offense score is great. We struggled a little bit last year on offense, so seeing the offense scoring is great,” We can just go out and build. If we get a big stop, the offense will capitalize and get points on the board for us,” Dupree said. Dupree said he hopes the offense took note of one thing about the defensive play against Kent State.
“The effort. Effort was better and nobody was flinching,” Dupree said. “It does help to have a lot of young guys playing. The young guys go out and just try to fly around and don’t hold nothing back. We have a lot of improvement to do and we will get better in every aspect of defense if we continue to play with this effort, and we will.”
Is that what Minter said after the game?
“He said just keep getting better. No pats on the back, just get better,” Dupree said. “But that’s fine. Pats on the back don’t win games. Effort does.”