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Newly-ranked Wildcats staying grounded, hungry despite ranking, perfect start


By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky is ranked for the first time in more than a decade, but that won’t change the Wildcats’ demeanor going into Saturday’s game against South Carolina.

“We have to stay grounded and we absolutely will,” Kentucky senior right end C.J. Conrad said. “We wanted this, we wanted to change this program, but we are far from done and we’re going to keep this thing going.”

Coming off a 28-7 win over Mississippi State last weekend, the Wildcats (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) cracked the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since 2007 and are ranked No. 17 ahead of the Bulldogs, who fell to No. 23 following their first loss of the season. South Carolina (2-1, 1-1) rolled to a 37-14 win over Vanderbilt last week.

Kentucky senior tight end C.J. Conrad said the Wildcats are keeping a chip on their shoulder going into Saturday’s contest against South Carolina. (Kentucky Today/Bill Thiry)

Although the performance against Mississippi State turned heads nationally, the Wildcats saw it coming and have developed a winning culture within the program.

“We came here to change the program and you saw our best players making big plays (against Mississippi State),” Conrad said. “It was amazing. For us, it’s not a huge surprise, because we thought we were this good and we’re going to continue to have that hunger about us and that chip on our shoulder mentality. We don’t care about the outside noise. We knew back in the summer how good this team was going to be.”

Conrad also credits Kentucky’s defense, which shut down Mississippi State’s potent rushing attack and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the second half in four games this season.

“They were amazing and I think that really has a lot to do (with our success),” he said. “We have some dudes and some really good players. They worked extremely hard in the off-season to get to where they are. We’ve just got some really good players stepping up and making big plays. You can see that people are playing with each other because we love each other. We’re a close team and I think that makes a huge difference.”

He added another key has been the team’s mentality on the defensive side of the ball.

“This is the most physical they have been since my time here,” Conrad said. “They just have an edge about them. They’ve worked extremely hard in the off-season and there’s no denying that has played an impact. They’re much bigger, stronger guys and they just love each other and they play for each other. There’s something to be said about that.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops agreed and is confident the Wildcats can continue the trend against the Gamecocks, even though his team is listed as an early underdog.

“We’re knocking the dang doors down one at a time,” he said. “So we’re going to knock a door down every seven days is what we’re trying to do … What other doors do you guys got?”

ALLEN, STALLINGS HONORED

Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week and Bunchy Stallings received the Offensive Lineman of the Week honors following the team’s 28-7 win over Mississippi State last week.

Allen collected six tackles — two for a loss — had a sack, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Allen has collected 25 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss to go along with three sacks, four quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

“I came back for a reason,” Allen said. “This is the reason why I came back — to get better and be a dominant player in the SEC and in the country. I feel like so far, I’m doing good. I just hope to maintain this pressure I’m giving and get right.”

Although a “dominant football player” Stoops said Allen also is an unselfish player.

“The great thing about him is he is so happy for the team. It’s not — he’s going to get his (tackles) and he’s doing what he has to do, but it’s about the team and having success and that’s the way all these guys are,” Stoops said.

Stallings helped the offense rack up 229 rushing yards last week and paved the way for Benny Snell’s 165 yards and four touchdowns. Stallings had four knockdown blocks and 21 at the point of attack. The Wildcats are 11th in the nation in rushing, averaging 269 yards per game.

Gametracker: South Carolina at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.


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