By LARRY VAUGHT
His first two seasons at Kentucky, linebacker Avery Williamson was used to seeing capacity crowds — or near capacity — at Commonwealth Stadium when the Wildcats played. This year, that has changed dramatically thanks in part to UK’s 1-6 record going into Saturday night’s game against Georgia.
“You can tell, you can sense it if they (the stands) are really full or not,” said Williamson, who ranks third in the Southeastern Conference in tackles per game (9.7). “That is just part of it. You have to take it.”
After last week’s 49-7 loss at Arkansas when UK trailed 42-0 at halftime, the Wildcats could have an even smaller crowd at the Georgia game. Williamson insists while he notices the crowd size, it does not impact his play.
“If it is not full, it is not. I am not going to change my game because fans are not there,” Williams said. “I would play if my mom and dad were just out there in the stands. I am going to play the same tempo. Hopefully the fans will come out and support us. If not, I am still going to be out there flying around and going 100 miles per hour.”
Senior center Matt Smith says the Cats have to put the 49-7 loss behind them but also remember the feeling so it does not happen again in the remaining five games.
“It was one of the more embarrassing games that I have been part of,” Smith said Monday. “We looked at the film yesterday and saw what we could do better and just take that and go from there and put it behind us and focus on rest of season because we still have a lot of good teams left to play.”
The players understand why fans are upset and do sense many have given up on the team.
“I know that it is not going to be the same when you are losing,” Williamson said. “I feel like some of the fans have kind of shifted away from us. Hopefully we can gain it back with a win this week.”
“There is always the fans that are going to feel resentful toward us and feel we should have done more and be mad at the coaching staff and players. It’s all understandable,” Smith said. “We have fans and a lot of people that are getting hold of me through Twitter and I am getting a lot of text messages and stuff and there are fans still behind us, and that’s encouraging.
“To see the fans who traveled to Arkansas and know that we are still going to have fans in the stadium on Saturday is encouraging. We know there are fans who will always be behind us no matter what. It is tough when you have won only one game to keep all the fans you had at the beginning of the season, obviously. We know that the Kentucky fan base has always been a good fan base for every sport that we have. We are just happy that we have those fans still.”
What if more fans than expected showed up Saturday”
“It would mean a lot. We need as much support as possible. It would mean a whole lot for the fans to show up,” Williamson said.
Both Williamson and Smith says the players have no reason not to finish the season playing as hard as they can despite the record or speculation about coach Joker Phillips’ future.
“We just say we have to finish the season out as strong as possible. We can’t just give up and put our heads down and pout about it. We have to go out and have a good practice every day,” Williamson said.
“Some of the younger players sometimes might get down. You just kind of have to bounce them back. You have got to be a leader. Juniors, sophomores and seniors have to tell those guys we have to keep fighting. They are young and it is a long, physical season. It is tough on older guys as well. We have to keep them positive.”
Smith says strength coach Ray “Rock” Oliver told the team to push the “reset button” after last week’s loss.
“Get it out of our minds and start fresh and move forward in a new direction and just come together as much as a team as we can,” Smith said. “I know what we can do, but it is a matter of putting it all together on Saturdays.
“One of the things about the team this year that I love is that a lot of these guys don’t give up. I know it is not a part of me to give up and it is not a part of a lot of these guys that are seniors and have been around. That is the last thing on their mind to give up like this. I think that attitude has rubbed off on guys. During practice we are practicing just as hard as we have been. As long as we can keep that going and keep the guys’ spirits up, and I know it is tough to do that right now, but the older guys are taking the leadership and younger guys are following and we are not going to give up.”