By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree knew he would get a lot of unpleasant questions when he was one of three players who came to the press conference following Kentucky’s practice Monday.
Kentucky is 1-8, has lost seven straight games and was mistaken-prone in last week’s loss at Missouri, one of the worst teams in the Southeastern Conference.
“I am pretty straight with it (the press conference). I don’t care too much about it. It is our fault we are losing. If talking to you all (the media) would help us win, I would do it,” Dupree said. “I understand why all the fans are frustrated. We are their team. They don’t have any NFL team. They all want to win. I know why they are mad over the way we are playing. If I was a fan, I would be mad, too.
“The coaches have been pretty much doing the same since beginning of the season. They have been hyped with lot of intensity and trying to make us feel like we can win. We are pushing, but it is hard. I don’t feel like I am going to give up. Sometimes it takes a toll on you when you lose so many games. It gets in the back of your mind. Sometimes you worry players may quit mentally, but we have a strong group of guys so far. We just have to stay together and make sure we get each other advice. I am not used to this, but sometimes things come in life for a reason.”
Dupree was one of the most optimistic Wildcats coming into the season. He envisioned a winning record, a bowl bid and SEC wins. Instead, Kentucky has been hit with injuries and has likely become the worst team in the SEC going into Saturday’s home game with Vanderbilt.
So what went wrong?
“To be honest, I have no idea. Coming into the season, I thought we had a pretty good team and pretty good scheme coming into the Louisville game (to open the season). I had a good vibe for the team, a good feel. It seemed like everything just started going downhill,” Dupree said. “Maybe the seniors see something that I don’t see, but I don’t even know what happened. The effort is still the same in practice. It ain’t like we don’t want to win. Everyone wants to win. We just can’t pull one out.
“Nobody wants to lose this amount of games. I hate losing two games, three games. I hate losing one game. I hate losing. Everyone wants to win. We just have to keep grinding and not give up.”
So why didn’t the Wildcats keep grinding at Missouri when they were within 17-10 at halftime?
“Really, I just think like we probably underestimated them when we were in a game so close. Coming from the half, we probably thought we were just going out here and blow (them) away. But you can’t do that in football, especially in the SEC. We just have to find ways to eliminate things that we don’t do to win and do things to win,” Dupree said.
Give him credit for being brutally honest. But how could a 1-6 team “underestimate” any team at halftime, especially when the other team already had the lead?
Dupree said holding Missouri to under 300 yards, UK’s best mark of the season, meant nothing — and he’s right.
“If we ain’t winning, it don’t matter. Winning is the big key. If we give up 500 yards and still win, it’s different than giving up smaller amount of yards and still losing,” he said. “Winning is all that counts, and we ain’t winning. I don’t care about my stats. As long as we win, I will be happy with that instead of the individual effort.”
Maybe the Wildcats should have learned a lesson at Vanderbilt last year, when the Commodores dominated them. But pay attention to what Dupree said the attitude was like going into the game, even though UK had just four wins at the time
“Going into the game we thought we were going to beat Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is supposed to be like the bottom of the SEC. But we turned out to be the bottom,” Dupree said.
Bingo. Kentucky has turned out to be the league’s worst team the last two years.
“We thought we were going to win and had high expectations and everything. We practiced good. But this year we can’t go in and take them lightly. We just have to go play hard,” Dupree said. “I remember a lot of bad plays down there last year. We have to have a chip on our shoulder coming out against them this year. They wound up beating Missouri and Missouri beat us, so we have to work extra hard.”
Dupree did back off any significant statements about whether he worried about coach Joker Phillips’ job status because of the team’s play. “Me? No, I don’t think about it. He is a cool guy though. I don’t think about. We really don’t focus on that. We just focus on ourselves and trying to win,” he said.
Dupree says he talks often to friends and family, especially his mother, back in Georgia for inspiration.
“Me and (junior linebacker) Avery Williamson talk about some things to make sure I am working hard. If we give up, basically everybody else will give up. We just don’t want to put the team in that situation,” he said. “But it is tough. After a loss you find out everything wrong with your body. Fingers hurt, toes hurt, calves hurt. After a win, you do not know you are hurt until two days later. But this year we have had that pain way too many times after games.”