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In the afterglow of Big Blue Madness and the basketball teamâ€™s first day of practice Saturday, letâ€™s hope the Cats tuned in to watch their football counterparts Saturday night.
If they did, they may have learned a lesson overshadowed by Fridayâ€™s fanfare.
In the Southeastern Conference â€” football, basketball or any other sport â€” expectations mean nothing.
Auburn was almost a two-touchdown favorite headed into Saturdayâ€™s game. Why not? The Tigers boasted the leagueâ€™s No. 1 offense, and UKâ€™s defense was without its best player, senior cornerback Trevard Lindley.
The game, in which freshman quarterback Morgan Newton took his first collegiate snaps, was on the road in one of the leagueâ€™s most hostile environments.
And more than anything, Auburn just seemed to be a better team coming in.
But the Cats went down to that lovely little village on the plains and didnâ€™t just play well. They played perfectly.
Even after having a field goal blocked and returned for an Auburn touchdown, UK didnâ€™t fold. Instead, the defense motivated itself to help make up for the miscue.
And oh, did the defense make up for it.
The SECâ€™s No. 1 offense â€” no, not Floridaâ€™s or Alabamaâ€™s, but Auburnâ€™s â€” scored just seven points. Auburn quarterback Chris Todd, whose touchdown-to-interception ratio before the game was 12-1, tossed one pick and no touchdowns.
Flustered, the Auburn offense fell apart. On one drive in the fourth quarter, tied and just out of field goal range, the Tigers committed six penalties.
While the Tigers fell apart, the Cats stayed calm. Eventually, they took the lead thanks to Randall Cobb breaking off a 61-yard run straight up the middle and eventually punching it in from four yards out.
UKâ€™s offense, which hasnâ€™t produced many big plays this year â€” let alone without its starting quarterback â€” made the big play, not Auburnâ€™s.
UK head coach of the offense Joker Phillips summed it up pretty well:
â€œNo turnovers, no penalties and no turnovers,â€â€ˆhe said.
With such a disadvantage on paper, the Cats had to play a perfect game to have a chance.
With its season in the balance, UK needed to make a statement against Auburn and keep its bowl chances alive.
This coming season at Rupp Arena, donâ€™t you think opposing teams will come to town with something to prove, like UK did against Auburn?
â€œYou’re going to have to take on all comers because you’re going to be the hunted everywhere you go,â€ UK basketball head coach John Calipari said at media day Thursday. â€œEvery game you play, youâ€™re someone’s Super Bowl.â€
Thatâ€™s how Billy Gillispie suffered his tenure-defining losses to Gardner-Webb and Virginia Military Institute.
On Wednesday, UKâ€™s No. 7 volleyball team faces Tennessee, currently third in the SEC East. The Vols could define their season by being the first to knock off UK (19-1, 9-0 SEC) in league play.
UK volleyball coach Craig Skinner started in Lexington five years ago aiming for targets on othersâ€™ backs. Now, the target is squarely on his.
Even with such expectations surrounding those programs, they arenâ€™t invincible. Ask Gene Chizik and Auburnâ€™s football team.
Any of UKâ€™s varsity athletes would have learned a lesson by tuning in to the football game Saturday. If they didnâ€™t, itâ€™s OK; their coaches may break it out before the yearâ€™s end.
James Pennington is a journalism senior. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.