Cats want to pounce on Pitt running game



The UK fan who called out Ricky Lumpkin and the rest of the UK defense for their inability to stop the run during a game earlier this season will have one more chance to see his favorite team offer a redeeming performance in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh.

“Sometimes they love you. Sometimes they hate you … especially behind the defensive bench,” Lumpkin joked.

The fifth-year senior defensive tackle said he will miss the fans when he graduates, even those that have been particularly vocal about their displeasure of the Cats’ run defense, ranked 11th in the 12-team Southeastern Conference and ahead of only a two-win Vanderbilt team.

However, pitching a staunch defensive effort against a vaunted Panthers rushing attack may help UK fans forgive, if not completely forget, the times the UK defense has been porous.

“It’s going to be fun and you know they are going to run the ball at you, so the thing is can we wrap and tackle?” Lumpkin said. “We’re always there in the right position to make the plays, now it’s just finishing, and if we can do that we’ll be just fine and we’ll sing the fight song at the end of the game.”

The inkling might be that Pittsburgh will rely on pounding the ball in the cold weather, but whom the Panthers will select from play-to-play is more of a mystery.

Sophomores Dion Lewis and Ray Graham are the Big East version of a tandem running back system, such as the one used in the SEC by Alabama with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Lewis averages 87 yards per game while Graham averages 76 yards per game and both players average more than 10 carries a game.

“(Pittsburgh is) a balanced team,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “They’ve got a really strong running game, two good running backs. Lewis ran for 260 yards (at Cincinnati) in the snow with a mascot throwing snowballs at him, so we’re excited about having an opportunity to play him.”

Phillips’ mascot reference made light of the situation involving the Cincinnati mascot, the Bearcat, who engaged in a snowball fight with fans during Pittsburgh’s regular season finale on the road at Nippert Stadium.

Although snowballs were not actually thrown at Lewis, he has been a feature tailback in his short collegiate career.

Lewis was third in the NCAA in rushing yards as a true freshman in 2009 and broke Tony Dorsett’s Big East freshman rushing record with 1, 799 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns to boot.

This year, the emergence of Graham in the backfield has kept Lewis fresher and reduced his workload by 128 carries thus far.

Lumpkin said one more chance to make a defensive statement would end his career on a high and set a different standard following the season and moving into spring practice.

“(A good defensive performance) would be good because it will show a lot of people that we can do it and it will show a lot of the younger guys that they can do it because they get down, people miss tackles and that’s where it hurts us,” Lumpkin said. “They get in the backfield, he breaks a tackle and next thing you know he’s 30 yards down the field.

“Just to end on a great defensive performance will send (my teammates) into the spring having a good feeling of what they need to do next year. They can only build on it.”