Players remain focused during highly anticipated Louisville week

Even though rainy weather loomed over Lexington yesterday morning, the feeling around the UK campus seemed noticeably different from the first two weeks of the UK football season.

Flyers attached to light poles and building doors announced last night’s pep rally on South Campus, and the Wildcat Den at Commonwealth Stadium was full from the migration of media to Lexington.

After all, it is “Louisville week.”

Fans of both programs can come up with a list of reasons miles-long as to why the 2007 version of the battle for the Governor’s Cup seems to have more meaning than many in recent memory: UK and Louisville boast two of the nation’s most productive offenses; Andre Woodson and Brian Brohm, both Kentucky natives, are two of America’s most highly-touted quarterbacks; and, according to UK head coach Rich Brooks, this is the first time in his five-year tenure that the Cats have really matched up with   the Cardinals.

Still, senior wide receiver Keenan Burton, one of nine Louisville natives on UK’s roster, was reluctant to say that this game had any special meaning to him or the rest of the Cats.

“Winning the next game means everything,” Burton said. “But as far as beating Louisville, it’s the next step. It’s a great team and it’d be a great thing for us.”

A win over Louisville wouldn’t necessarily give Burton bragging rights in his hometown, he said.

“I don’t really go home often,” Burton said with a laugh.

Sophomore offensive lineman Justin Jeffries, also from Louisville, agreed.

“I don’t think (it’s about bragging rights),” Jeffries said. “If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. (Losing) always makes it a little tougher to go home, but if it happens, it happens. Everybody always hypes (the rivalry) up to make it seem bigger than it really is.”

Junior linebacker Braxton Kelley isn’t buying the words of Burton and Jeffries. Kelley, who hails from Georgia, said that after three years in Lexington, he’s aware of how much the rivalry means to fans and the Louisville natives on UK’s roster.

“Everyone here that’s from Louisville, they’re always pushing, ‘We got to beat Louisville, we got to beat Louisville,’ ” Kelley said. “I don’t think Keenan has beaten Louisville since he’s been here. It would be great for us to send him out with a win.”

Unlike his teammates, Kelley isn’t downplaying UK’s rivalry with the Cardinals, even if it took him time to learn about the disdain between programs.

“I had to adapt to the rivalry, rather than being a part of it from day one,” he said. “Now I accept it as a rivalry, and every time we play them I feel just as much hate for them. I want to win the game as bad as anyone else does.”

Like Kelley, Brooks admitted that the UK-U of L contest is different than an ordinary game. He’s not hiding that from his team, either.

“I’ve been honest with my team forever,” Brooks said. “To make them think it’s just another week is pretty silly. It’s a huge game.”

U of L, the No. 9 ranked team in the country and the defending Orange Bowl champions, present the Cats with a chance to continue their growth as a program, Brooks added.

“This one obviously has a little more meaning because it’s an in-state rival,” he said. “We talked this year about having lots of opportunities to do things Kentucky hasn’t done. I think one of those things is not beating a ranked opponent for a while. It’s a big week and we approach it as that.”

The Cats last defeated a top-ten team in 1977, when they knocked off Penn State.

The Cards won last year’s Governor’s Cup 59-28, their fourth consecutive victory against UK. As badly as senior tight end Jacob Tamme wants to beat U of L before he leaves UK, he didn’t offer any guarantees on the outcome of the game.

“It’s not comprehensible for me to guarantee something when you’ve gotten your butt kicked for the last four years,” Tamme said. “This is our opportunity to change that.”