HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky defensive tackle Donte Rumph says the Wildcats “owe Western a little something” after the way the Hilltoppers came into Commonwealth Stadium and beat UK last year 32-31 in overtime.
“It is a lot of pressure on it. We have to keep our composure and work and prepare because we owe Western a little something from last year. That is our focus right now to control what we can,” said Rumph of the Aug. 31 season opener in Nashville against Western. “Any first game, not just WKU, is big. You have to take it serious and not lay down because you may have a lesser opponent.”
Rumph wouldn’t talk about what he remembered from Western’s postgame celebration in 2012.
“It brings back some memories I don’t want. I just have to grind,” Rumph said.
Senior running back Raymond Sanders was a bit more blunt about the game.
“We want to beat those guys. We’re looking forward to Aug. 31, I can tell you that. Those guys were pretty disrespectful on our field, and disrespectful with some tweets and Facebook and some stuff,” Sanders said here Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference Media Days. “After the game, jumping and stomping on the field. It’s our field. You got to take pride in that. Just little things that they said. We’re just waiting until Aug. 31 and we’re going to let that talk.”
Rumph wouldn’t contradict Sanders, but he had a different view.
“That’s last year. We can’t dwell on last year,” Rumph said. “We are working hard to beat Western Kentucky this year. That is a little bit of revenge to seek, but we are excited for season to start on the right foot and start a new era with coach (Mark) Stoops. I am just anxious see how it turns out and go out and play. It’s not like Western was the only team to beat us last year. We have a lot of revenge to seek.”
Not only will the game at LP Field be the first in the Stoops’ era at UK, it will also be the first for new Western coach Bobby Petrino. The former Louisville coach was mentioned in connection with the Kentucky coach search after he lost his job at Arkansas before the Cats hired Stoops.
“I really do not know coach Petrino very well. I expect a very good team, good offensive mind,” Stoops said. “He’s had some great success. I’m sure they’re going to be very excited to play us. But we are, as well. That’s our first game of this new era of our program.
“We have an awful lot on the line. We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That’s our job to be ready to play in that opener. It will be an exciting time for both of us.”
Linebacker Avery Williamson, UK’s top tackler last season, sees Western as a “huge opportunity” for Kentucky.
“They did a great job last year, so kudos go to them. They outplayed us,” Williamson said. “We’re just going to take it out on them this fall.”
Stoops wouldn’t back away from the feeling some have that Western could be the most important game of the season for him.
“I would agree with that certainly because it is our first game,” Stoops said. “It’s important because we’re doing an awful lot of work and the players are working hard, coaches are working hard, the fans are buying in, there’s a lot of momentum going right now. It’s our next game. It’s our first game. So it’s very important to us.
“Like any of our games, we’ll approach it as a one‑game season after that. I’m not hiding from the fact that the Western games are important to us.”