By LARRY VAUGHT
Perhaps Kentucky’s biggest improvement against Louisville was just the way UK competed. Sounds simple, but the Cats just looked like a team that was playing harder with more desire.
“We sat down together and talked and came together as a team. That helped us,” said receiver Javess Blue, a junior college transfer.
Blue was not here for UK’s 2-10 debacle in 2012, but he was on the field to open the season when UK lost to Western Kentucky for a second straight year. He admitted embarrassment from that loss has motivated the team.
“Exactly. Embarrassment is something nobody wants. It hit us right in the heart. We don’t want to feel like that and we are going to respond to that,” Blue said. “We are going to push every team until the end. We are going to make you run every play you have until the end because we are going to fight on and not quit fighting.”
That was a common theme from UK players during spring practice and preseason camp, but it didn’t come across that way against Western when UK was outplayed physically and emotionally. But it was a different Cat against Louisville, especially on defense, with players flying to the ball more and making few mistakes.
“That’s just the way we have been practicing,” linebacker Avery Williamson, UK’s top tackler again this year, said. “Coaches have been drilling in our heads to be like that and we have to be physical. We set the tone early that we weren’t going to be a pushover defense. I feel like we did a great job against Louisville and we have to do that in the SEC. I thought we would do that from the start this year, but we were just kind of unsure of ourselves that first game.
“But we showed against Louisville that we have fight in us. I feel like we dominated them sometimes in the first half and even sometimes in the second half we did.”
Williamson admitted that despite the loss, he feels better now about UK going into the next game Sept. 28 against Florida than he did before the game.
“I feel like we are a physical team and we have great talent all around. I know we can win games. We let this one slip away with simple mistake,” he said. “But I know we didn’t lay down. I didn’t lay down and I know the guys beside me didn’t lay down. We just have to keep grinding.
“Defense has to try and get turnovers. We missed out on a couple, but it’s part of the game. You have to get better. We did get a little tired, fatigued. But we have to pick up slack for the offense. We’re in this together and have to play that way.”
Williamson knows Louisville is a top 10 team coming off a Sugar Bowl win over Florida to end last season with a potential Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“They were a good team. I will give them credit for that,” he said. “But I feel no different about any team. I am going to do the same thing, be physical and play hard. We are all going to be downhill players and keep playing the same way. We saw what we can do when we all play our hardest from start to finish.”
That’s why Blue thought a late touchdown by the offense — which missed scoring chances in the red zone because of turnovers — was important.
“It is something we have to work on, learning how to finish. That last play that we need to get scores, we have to pick that up in practice and work on it,” he said. “But we put up a fight until the end. We didn’t stop. We put another touchdown on the board. We need to plays to get everybody’s adrenaline going. Big plays are going to make us fight and keep going.
“Right now everyone is going to be at each other. ‘Come on man, pick yourself up. We have got to work at this.’ We have to go back and work even harder. But we most definitely have a better attitude than we did a few weeks ago.”
Even Blue knew the effort against Louisville was something that had not only been missing this season, but was missing last year when UK went 2-10.
“We fought to the end against Louisville,” Blue said. “That is something that last year’s team probably would not have did, but we stuck it out and we’re going to keep doing that. We are not the same Kentucky. People are going to start seeing that more and mor