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July 31, 2011

Preview: Kentucky

This is the fifth of a series previewing LSU's opponents and the other teams in the Southeastern Conference.

Five Southeastern Conference teams have appeared in a bowl game each of the past five seasons.

There is no surprise with four of these schools - Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. However, team No. 5 is usually not associated with this quartet in football. It's Kentucky. The Wildcats have participated in a bowl game for five consecutive years.

However, Kentucky has never contended for an Eastern Division title during that stretch. In fact, none of those five Wildcats teams posted a winning record in SEC games.

As a result, one can understand the word around the Kentucky football program.

"Our theme this year is 'Rise'," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We have shown we can compete in this league at Kentucky. 'Rise' doesn't mean just going to bowl games. It means being able to contend for championships in this league."

The Wildcats knocked off SEC East champion South Carolina 31-28 last year. Kentucky almost upset eventual national champion Auburn, which came away with a 37-34 victory in Commonwealth Stadium.

If Kentucky is going to make a move up the SEC East standings in 2011, the Wildcats defense must rise. Kentucky's three best offensive players from a year ago - quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke and do-everything player Randall Cobb - are out of eligibility.

The Wildcats' moderate success in recent years has been the result of their offense. Only in 2008 did Kentucky play some semblance of good defense - allowing 332 yards and 21.5 points per game. But, that scenario must change if the Wildcats record is going to rise this fall.

Kentucky returns all but one starter on defense. The lone newcomer is tackle Mister Cobble. But, the Wildcats must make some significant strides on defense. Opponents averaged 354 yards and 28 points per game last season. SEC teams averaged 33 points per game against Kentucky.

"We're going to try and capitalize off of the mistakes from last year's bow game (27-10 loss to Pittsburgh)," senior linebacker Danny Trevathan said. "The defense didn't really know what was going on because we were trying to learn a new defense and play our defense. It kind of hit us in the head.

"We've got to get on track. We learned that we have to play together. We have to pick it up a lot. There are a lot of guys out there that want it. We have to want it more than them."

It didn't take long for Phillips to recognize that a change in his staff had to take place. So, Phillips brought in former Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter prior to last season's BBVA Compass Bowl game. Minter will be co-defensive coordinator with Steve Brown, who had the sole responsibility in 2010.

"Rick has a wealth of knowledge," said Phillips, who worked with Minter for three seasons at Cincinnati. "He's been a mentor to me for a long time. The thing that we wanted to achieve on defense was to be more attacking, be more aggressive. We want to create minus-yard plays. We want to create turnovers.

"If you look across this league, who are winning are teams which are playing great defense. For us to take this thing to the next level, which is being in the race as long as we possibly can, we have to play great defense."

The heart of the Wildcats defense will be the three senior linebackers - Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ronnie Sneed. Both Trevathan and Guy were credited with more than 100 tackles last season. Sneed made 61 tackles with five quarterback-hurries.

"I'm not really worried about the defense," Trevathan said. "I have the kind of relationship with everyone where I trust them to the extent that I know they're going to take care of business. We've been through so much together that we don't have room to make mistakes that are going to be costly.

"Last year, we were thinking 'why not us?' The division was wide open and we beat South Carolina. We just didn't do the things off the field to take care of business. We didn't come in and do extra stuff. The difference between extraordinary and ordinary is extra."

LSU vs. Kentucky at Tiger Stadium
Saturday, Oct. 1, TBA

Head coach: Joker Phillips (6-7 in one season)
2010 record: 6-7 (overall), 2-6 (fifth in SEC East)
2010 postseason: lost to Pittsburgh in BBVA Compass Bowl

Returning starters: 16 (six on offense, ten on defense)
Top returning rusher: Raymond Sanders, So. - 68 carries, 254 yards, 3 touchdowns
Top returning passer: Morgan Newton, Jr. - 43 attempts, 58% completion, 265 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Top returning receiver: La'Rod King, Jr. - 36 catches, 478 yards, 5 touchdowns
Top returning defensive players: LB Danny Trevathan, Sr. - 144 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks; LB Winston Guy, Sr. - 106 tackles, 4 tackles-for-loss, 3 interceptions; LB Ronnie Sneed, Sr. - 61 tackles, 5 quarterback-hurries, 3 tackles-for-loss
Top returning specialists: P Ryan Tydlacka, Sr. - 47 punts, 43.8 yard average; K Craig McIntosh, Jr. - 11-of-15 field goals, 34-of-35 extra points



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