Kentucky eager for high-stakes visit to LSU
Oct. 17, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Only a month ago, LSU ranked eighth in the nation and a mid-October home date with a Kentucky team that went 2-10 last season looked like a mere tuneup for ensuing clashes with Mississippi and Alabama.
Much has changed.
LSU (5-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) has plummeted out of the rankings because of losses in its first two league games. The Wildcats (5-1, 2-1), by contrast, are on the verge of cracking the AP Top 25 and remain in contention for an SEC East title.
So it is arguably Kentucky — a program which usually struggles in the SEC — with the most at stake in Death Valley on Saturday night.
"I guess it just makes the game more intensified," LSU defensive back Rickey Jefferson said. "They have something to lose and we do, too."
Poll voters have yet to be convinced of Kentucky's legitimacy because its two league victories came against struggling Vanderbilt and erratic South Carolina. The Wildcats also lost to currently unranked Florida, the same team LSU beat last weekend.
Likewise, oddsmakers have listed the Tigers as two-score favorites. But LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander insists he and his teammates aren't paying any attention to all that.
"I see it as not Kentucky but another great team," Alexander said. "They're winning games and in the position they are for a reason."
LSU coach Les Miles said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who comes from a family of coaches, deserves credit for the way the Wildcats are playing in only Stoops' second season on the job.
Stoops said he's been receiving congratulatory messages from friends in the coaching business as the season has progressed. He also deferred much of the credit to the work ethic and energy his players have brought to the daily grind between games.
"The bottom line is just about the attitude and how hard we're playing," Stoops said. "If it's a group that plays hard, then that's a compliment to me.
"Obviously, the more we win, the more significance these games have, and that's been evident by the way we've approached this week," Stoops said. "They've been pretty focused all week, and that goes with winning. If we take care of our business, we'll have the opportunity to play in some big games."
Here are some things to know about the Wildcats' high-stakes visit to Tiger Stadium:
FANTASTIC FOURNETTE: After some early lessons in humility, LSU freshman Leonard Fournette has increasingly shown signs he will live up to the hype that accompanied his recruitment. He rushed for 140 yards and two TDs at Florida and is now the Tigers' leading rusher with 504 yards and six TDs.
"Leonard is a special talent and we all knew that Leonard was going to dominate like he's supposed to," LSU center Elliot Porter said.
HERE COMES THE BOOM: Kentucky freshman running back Stanley "Boom" Williams has become the all-purpose threat expected for the Wildcats with 203 yards rushing, 180 on kickoff returns and 75 receiving. He's coming off a 104-yard rushing performance with a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe and opened the game with a 75-yard kickoff return.
COVERING THE SPREAD: LSU's defense struggled against spread offenses earlier this season, giving up more than 560 yards in each of its losses to Mississippi State and Auburn. The Tigers fared better against Florida, allowing 306 yards. "That's been our goal, to do better against spread offenses this year," Jefferson said. "For us to come out and do better (at Florida) was a great feeling and we plan to do that this week, too."
WILDCAT PRESSURE: Kentucky enters the weekend ranked fourth in the SEC with 17 sacks. Senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree's three sacks lead a dozen Wildcats with at least half a sack and he's the conference's active leader with 19.
LOPSIDED SERIES: Historically, the Tigers have dominated the Wildcats. LSU has won 39 of 56 meetings, including 23 of 29 in Tiger Stadium. Kentucky has lost its last two games in Death Valley by a combined score of 84-7.