Primetime battle places pressure on ranking

When the lights shine down on the UK football team tomorrow in its primetime matchup with South Carolina, all eyes will be on the Cats and their No. 8 national ranking.

In what will be UK’s first Thursday night game since 2003, which was also against the Gamecocks, the Cats will have the opportunity to prove how good — or how overrated — they are to an ESPN nationally televised audience.

“This is a chance to go out there and prove that we can take respect from people,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “We have a lot of respect to go out there and earn. Getting a chance to play on a Thursday night — if we pull out this victory we’ll be the first team in the nation to be bowl eligible.”

Although the Cats have been on national television already this season when they beat Arkansas 42-29 on ESPN2 and in their 40-34 win over Louisville on ESPN classic, tomorrow’s tilt with the No. 11 Gamecocks is the only college football game on the slate for Thursday.

The opportunity presents the Cats with a rare chance to show the entire country that they are among the nation’s elite football teams this year.

The game could also be a huge indicator of quarterback Andre Woodson’s Heisman Trophy chances.

“I think it’s a big opportunity to make a big statement on national television,” Woodson said. “A lot of teams right now are going to be watching us to figure out if we’re that good of a team.”

Although the Cats are proud of their ranking, head coach Rich Brooks is more concerned with extending his team’s undefeated streak and remaining in first place in the Southeastern Conference East Division.

“I’m not as interested in showing the people across the country what we’re doing or what we’re about,” Brooks said. “I’m just interested in trying to find a way to get to 2-0 (in conference play).”

Playing on a Thursday night presents the Cats with a short week, which can be a huge disadvantage when going against a Steve Spurrier-coached team. The “Ol’ Ball Coach” is 14-0 against the Cats, largely because of the high-octane offense and trick plays he typically runs.

“Reverses and trick plays, they’re always going to be a factor you have to defend, and you never know when they’re coming,” Brooks said. “Sometimes we do what we’re supposed to and sometimes we don’t.”

Thursday night games have not been too kind to the Cats either.

UK is just 1-3 in Thursday night games on ESPN with the Cats lone win coming in 1993. The Cats lost to the Gamecocks the last time UK played in a primetime game on Thursday, losing 27-21 in a down-to-the-wire matchup.

If tomorrow’s showdown turns into another close battle, much will be determined on how well Woodson throws against the No. 1 pass defense in the country.

“I just need to try to get us into good situations with audibles and communicating (with the team),” Woodson said. “I think we should be fine but it should be a test because we’re going to be in a tough atmosphere.”