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The first signs of trouble in the UK football team’s 2011 season came in the season opener against Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers actually gained 44 more yards of total offense that UK in the 14-3 Wildcat win. Perhaps more famously, Western Kentucky linebacker Andrew Jackson was caught by cameras with a frank description of the Wildcats.
“They’re supposed to be SEC,” Jackson said while shaking his head.
Jackson and his teammates will get another shot at UK on Saturday. The Wildcats are 3-0 all time against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have never beaten a Southeastern Conference team with their most recent loss coming in a 35-0 drubbing by No. 1 Alabama last week.
Still, UK players need only to look back to last year for proof that the Hilltoppers will arrive at Commonwealth Stadium believing they can snap that streak.
“The score (last week) was not even close to the way those guys played,” said UK head coach Joker Phillips of Western Kentucky. “We’ve got to get ourselves prepared.
“It’s going to be a physical game, game that they and we think we can win. When you have that type of attitude on both sides, you’re in for a really good game.”
Western Kentucky can look to fellow Sun Belt Conference member Louisiana-Monroe’s win versus No. 8 Arkansas last week for further inspiration.
The Hilltoppers appear to at least be a difficult matchup for UK’s struggling defense.
Western Kentucky has averaged 410 yards per game in two games against Austin Peay and Alabama. Louisville and Kent State averaged 437 and one-half yards per game against the UK defense in the first two weeks of the season.
Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes has completed 38 of 54 pass attempts for 474 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions on the season.
“You’re looking at a senior, a guy who’s been in this system for three years,” said UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter. “It’s always tough to play veteran quarterbacks.”
The Hilltoppers rank 12th in the country in total defense at 241 yards per game and have totaled eight sacks on the season, including six against No. 1 Alabama.
While Alabama had little trouble putting Western Kentucky away in a 35-0 blowout, the Hilltoppers’ defense held its own for much of the game. Three of Alabama’s five touchdowns came off turnovers, and the Crimson Tide did not move the ball more than 17 yards on any of the six non-scoring drives.
“It’s a lot of the same names that we played two years ago up here and beat them pretty good when they were young,” said UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders of the Western Kentucky defense. “Now, they’ve grown up and matured, and it’s a challenge.”
Western Kentucky has won eight of its last 10 games. The Hilltoppers’ recent success should be enough motivation without factoring in Jackson’s assessment of UK compared to the rest of the SEC, Phillips said.
“There’s really nothing anybody can say to get me ready to play this game,” Phillips said. “I mean, shoot, just give us an opportunity. We’re only guaranteed 12 opportunities. That should be enough.”
At least one UK player has put the Jackson video clip, which has found a life of its own on the Internet, behind him.
“It’s just a comment,” said senior linebacker Taylor Wyndham. “You can’t really do anything about it. Last year we didn’t play as well as we should. That’s just how it goes.”