UK not looking past FCS opponent


UK running back Derrick Locke runs in for a successful touchdown in the fourth quarter of the football game against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009. The Wildcats beat the Commodores 24-13. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

When the Cats’ schedule was released, the upcoming game against Charleston Southern appeared to be an afterthought.

Things have changed for the Cats (4-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference), who need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible, meaning Saturday’s game can’t be overlooked.

UK defensive line coach David Turner, who filled in for UK head coach Joker Phillips at his weekly Monday news conference while Phillips dealt with a death in his family, referenced former Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings to emphasize the importance of the Cats’ game versus a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

“The big thing (among the coaches) is just making sure they stay focused,” Turner said. “I use a quote Gene Stallings used, somebody asked him in a press conference in a similar situation … he said, ‘If you don’t think it’s a big game, lose it. So it is.’”

The Cats’ hiatus from Southeastern Conference play against the Buccaneers (2-6, 0-4 Big South) will be pivotal if the Cats hope to extend their bowl-appearance streak to a school-record five seasons.

“You don’t want to be the guy or the team known as the people that broke the streak for the bowl games,” junior defensive tackle Mark Crawford said.

Three of UK’s five losses in the SEC have come by one touchdown or less, and as losers of five of the last six games, the Cats want to avoid an emotional letdown against the Buccaneers, who are 0-8 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Senior fullback Moncell Allen said his teammates are emotionally drained after so many close losses, especially considering the lofty preseason expectations UK set forth.

“At the beginning of the season, just looking at this team that we had and just practicing, and the different talent we had on this team, it’s kind of mind-boggling,” Allen said. “We do have a good team. No doubt about it. We’re just coming up short.”

An emotional letdown on gameday might prove to be dangerous for the Cats as several FBS opponents have fallen to FCS opponents this season.

Turner pointed to some examples from this season, including fellow SEC school Ole Miss losing at home to Jacksonville State in double overtime.

“You have those examples out there, what can happen if you’re not focused, what can happen if you don’t take an opponent seriously,” Turner said.

Add to that list James Madison’s upset of then 13th-ranked Virginia Tech and Charleston Southern’s fellow Big South conference members Gardner-Webb and Liberty’s victories over Akron and Ball State, respectively.

The Buccaneers have been battle tested by an FBS opponent already this season, a 66-7 loss to Hawaii in the fourth week of the season.

UK players and coaches know falling victim to an upstart team this week would prove disastrous.

“If (Charleston Southern) beat us then we’ve really got trouble,” Allen said.

Injury report:

Senior tailback Derrick Locke could make his return to the field this Saturday after missing the last three games with a right shoulder stinger. Locke was cleared by doctors and will participate in non-contact portions of practice this week; Turner said Locke’s status will remain day-to-day.

Despite the missed time because of injury, Locke still leads the team in rushing with 574 yards and seven touchdowns. The Cats are 1-2 in Locke’s absence.

Freshman tailback Raymond Sanders (abdominal strain) and sophomore cornerback Cartier Rice (ankle) are both day-to-day.