Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Resilient Wildcats eager to repeat breakthrough win against Georgia

AP Sports Writer

Jacob Tamme considers himself a pretty tough guy.

Growing up a Kentucky football fan, then becoming a player on one of the Southeastern Conference's historically mediocre programs, has a way of steeling your resolve.

Still, the Wildcats' tight end admits he just couldn't control his emotions after Kentucky's 24-20 upset of Georgia a year ago.

``I balled for about 15 minutes on the field in front of everybody,'' Tamme said. ``It was such an emotional win because of the history of this program. Then, to be able to build on that since then, we've had some other great wins.''

The win was the breakthrough victory the Wildcats had been working toward for years.

And while there has been plenty of celebrating since the students stormed the Commonwealth Stadium turf after beating the Bulldogs last fall - namely victories over Louisville and LSU this season - there is something special about that moment that sticks with the No. 22 Wildcats (7-3, 3-3 SEC).

``It was definitely part of the process of this team learning how to win, and then learning to understand that they can win against good competition,'' coach Rich Brooks said. ``If you don't do it the first time, it's hard to do it the second time.''

The entire mindset of the program has changed in the last year, Tamme said. The proof is in the way the Wildcats reacted after surviving Vanderbilt on Saturday and all but assuring a second straight bowl bid.

``This time last year, we were really excited to be bowl eligible, and everybody was talking about bowls, and this year we do still want to continue to kind of make a mark in the SEC East,'' he said.

Though the Wildcats can't win the conference, they can still ruin the title hopes of No. 8 Georgia (8-2, 5-2) and No. 19 Tennessee. If Kentucky wins its final two games over the Bulldogs and Volunteers, it could lead to a three- or four-way tie for the SEC East crown.

If that happens, No. 14 Florida would earn the spot in the SEC title game against No. 1 LSU.

Yet, the Wildcats consider themselves far from spoilers, and as great as last year's win was, Brooks said it's no time to get nostalgic.

``The Georgia game last year means nothing for us going into this game,'' he said. ``We are at least still a factor in the SEC race, no matter how you cut it, we're a factor in it and we need to stay a factor in it.''

To stay a factor, the Wildcats will need to do something they haven't done in 30 years: win in Athens.

But this has been a year of firsts for a program more used to simply playing out the string in November. If the Wildcats win on Saturday, it would be the first time in school history they have knocked off three Top 10 teams in one season.

They're victories that couldn't have happened without the gritty victory over the Bulldogs a year ago.

``When we did get over that hump with the Georgia game last year, it allowed us to continue to progress from there,'' Tamme said.

The Wildcats know, however, that they can't afford the mistakes that plagued them against Vanderbilt.

The offensive line, solid for so much of the season, allowed the Commodores to consistently get pressure on quarterback Andre Woodson. And the defense allowed Vanderbilt to run for 239 yards, though it was able to stop the Commodores from tying the game in the final minute.

The resiliency the Wildcats showed in bouncing back following a disappointing loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 27, is just part of the difference in the program now and the one that struggled for respectability before knocking off the Bulldogs last year, according to defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.

``That was a devastating loss to Mississippi State,'' he said. ``They came in and played some good football and they were physical. It took a little bit out of us. But we were able to hang in there.''

It's something the Wildcats hope they can do against the surging Bulldogs. Georgia has won four straight games behind a suddenly explosive offense led by running back Knowshon Moreno and quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Bulldogs have averaged 43.7 points over their last three games, and looked dominant in a rout of Auburn last weekend.

And for all the progress the Wildcats have made in the last year, they feel they still have to prove themselves.

Center Eric Scott, a Woodstock, Ga. native, said there are those who consider Kentucky's win last year ``lucky,'' no matter how many times the Wildcats have come through in the clutch since their dramatic victory last fall.

``After that game, everyone was calling me, friends and family, telling me 'Good luck' and then other guys were calling me and telling me we got lucky,'' Scott said. ``(But) I think that hard work overrides a lot of luck. A lot of games, we've got darn lucky because sometimes the ball rolls your way. But in the games it doesn't, you've got to strap it on and grind it out. That's what we do now.''