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Author: Dick Gabriel

Cats have to find a way to minimize damage of USM loss

There is a difference between pain and injury. One means discomfort; the other, damage. This one is damaging. Even the most faithful, stubborn, hard-bitten Kentucky football fans are having a hard time figuring out where to put Southern Mississippi 44, UK 35. A Wildcat team that looked as though it had found a way to hush even its fiercest pre-season critics instead is in a position now to where it has to either win every SEC “swing” game on its schedule (South Carolina, Mississippi State, Vandy and Missouri) or steal one it’s not supposed to win. That’s IF it still plans on winning at least six games and playing in a bowl game sometime in December. Oh, yes – it has to figure out a way to stop the run, something it never did Saturday night. A Southern Miss team that made a living last year on huge passing plays gashed and gouged Kentucky for the entire second half. Ito Smith would take a handoff, pause and read the holes being opened up by his buddies on the offense line, and then slice through for chain-moving, time-killing yardage. The Golden Eagles defense likewise had out-adjusted the Wildcats by using the intermission to figure out a way to stop being a punching bag for Drew Barker and his talented corps of receivers.  After a sluggish start, the Cats set up...

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Predicting (again) that Kentucky will land in a bowl game this year

My bags are packed. I’m ready to travel in December, to cover Kentucky’s trip to a bowl game. But as a matter of full disclosure: They’ve been packed since last year.  That’s when I boldly (foolishly?) predicted an eight-win season and a nice visit to a warm stadium somewhere around Christmas. This year? I’ll take Shreveport. Anything.  Just get me to the post season, where a .500 record and a pulse qualify your team to go bowling.  It may not be glorious, but I like covering college football and the more games, the better. I do believe the Cats will make it, but not necessarily with the gaudy record I foolishly (boldly?) forecast in 2015. Here’s how the season will unfold:   SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI , Sept. 3 Most football fans in the Big Blue Nation now know the name “Nick Mullens” almost as well as they know Drew Barker.  Mullens is the guy who’s thrown for more than 8,000 yards and 63 touchdowns in his career for the Golden Eagles.  Barker is the first-year starter, proud owner of one TD toss.   USM lost significant personnel from last year on both sides of the ball.  The UK pass rush will be suspect until the Wildcats prove otherwise, which means this game could be one of the most entertaining in the country on opening Saturday.  We might see a track meet;...

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Ex-Wildcat: No more excuses – it’s time for current UK players to produce

Ten years ago, Kentucky football fans awaited the inevitable.  Another disappointing season loomed, one that likely would end the tenure of Rich Brooks, whose team the previous season had limped home with a 3-8 record. They had been competitive in most of their losses but the “limp” was hard-earned: After the season, the football Wildcats endured a total of 35 surgeries. A faction of UK fans were in full throat during that ’05 campaign, demanding Brooks be ousted just a few weeks in.  The outcry was stifled during an open week, midway through the schedule, when Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart publicly stated that Brooks would finish the season and be evaluated then.  Players spoke out on behalf of their embattled mentors. “Leave our coaches alone,” said Keenan Burton, a wide receiver with the sway not of a quarterback, but a team president. You know the rest. The 2006 Kentucky team put aside a mid-season, 49-0 shellacking at LSU, re-grouped and won its way to the Music City Bowl. This year’s UK team stands at a similar fork in the road. Go this way and you’ll be sitting home in December, watching roughly half the teams in Division I play in a bowl game somewhere.  Go that way to join them. It’s time.  And that’s not me talking.  That’s from a guy who was part of the turnaround in ’06....

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Stoops respects Dawson but says his concern is with Southern Miss

When Mark Stoops decided to change offensive coordinators at the end of last season, he knew Kentucky’s Opening Day opponent in 2016 was going to be Southern Mississippi.  What he didn’t know was that Shannon Dawson would land on his feet there, in Hattiesburg. And now, on Saturday, Stoops has to prepare a game plan designed to stop a USM offense that will be running Dawson’s plays, triggered by strong-armed quarterback Nick Mullens, who some say will be the first QB chosen in the next NFL Draft. Concerned? “Of course,” Stoops said at his first weekly news conference. “Because I do have respect for him and he’s a good coach. I wouldn’t have hired him. You guys have seen our offense move at times and I’ve seen it move at times. So he certainly can get you off balance, especially with some of the talent he has around him.” The Wildcat offense did, indeed, keep opponents off balance at times last year, piling up five victories in their first six games.  But then came another six-game losing skid, where it seemed as though the Kentucky offense was off balance – and so was the relationship between head coach and OC. Hence, the change and the delicious coincidence pitting the two men who this time a year ago were putting together a game plan for Louisiana-Lafayette.  Instead of whispering into...

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A gathering of Wildcats in Miami: The ’96 champs reminisce

MIAMI — It was a weekend full of joy, and the happy residue that often comes with it. Belly laughs, ear-to-ear smiles, hugs, back-slapping, story-telling and candid moments.  That’s what happens when friends who are tighter than brothers gather to relive one of the greatest moments in their collective lives. They were all together for the first time since they won the 1996 NCAA basketball championship, bringing enough joy to the Big Blue Nation that night in New Jersey to fill the swamps surrounding the Meadowlands. That Kentucky team had carried the big trophy back to Lexington for the first time in 18 years, the sixth title in school history. And now, two decades later, they had re-assembled to talk about it – in Miami. Most of them had made it to Lexington three years ago, when John Calipari had seen to it that they received customized championship rings, baubles a bit gaudier than the standard rings issued by the NCAA to all of its champions.  To a man, they talked of how they appreciated Calipari’s gesture.  But this party at the Fontainebleau Hotel officially marked the 20th anniversary of Kentucky 76, Syracuse 67. On both Friday and Saturday nights they gathered first on a boat, for cocktails and stories; then it was on to a restaurant for more laughter and memories.  On the first night their coach, Rick...

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