Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Kentucky sets sights on 4-0 for first time in 18 years

AP Sports Writer

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky linebacker Morris Lane doesn't think 3-0 is any big deal.

        Don't get him wrong. Having a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1984 is nice, but these surprisingly feisty Wildcats have much more lofty goals in mind.

        “What does 3-0 mean? Nothing if you don't win that fourth game,” Lane said Tuesday. “We're not playing to be 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0. We're playing to prove we can be one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference.”

        As ridiculous as that may have sounded just three years ago, Kentucky is making a strong case in its favor with each passing week.

        After three games, the Wildcats boast the SEC's leading rusher, it's top-rated passer and are ranked first in scoring offense at 42 points per game.

        “Who would have ever thought they would hear "SEC's leading rusher' and the "University of Kentucky' in the same sentence?” said senior tailback Artose Pinner, who has carried the ball 69 times for 344 yards and two touchdowns.

        “I guess it goes to show you how much things have changed around here. Maybe we're finally starting to prove some things to some people.”

        Against Indiana on Saturday, Pinner rushed 25 times for a career-high 141 yards and caught 10 passes for another 92 yards and a touchdown.

        Kentucky coach Guy Morriss knew the team's rushing attack could be potent but didn't know how long it would take to establish itself.

        “We've probably got a better running game now than in all the time I've been here,” Morriss said. “I'm not surprised at all, really, and that's a credit to Artose and those guys up front.

        “The difference hasn't been Artose. The difference is that we're putting the ball in his hands.”

        Although Kentucky isn't racking up the air miles it did under former coach Hal Mumme, whose philosophy was to pass, pass and pass some more, junior quarterback Jared Lorenzen has flourished in the Wildcats' more balanced offensive system.

        He hasn't even come close to throwing for 300 yards in a game — a plateau he reached in 13 of his first 17 starts entering the season — yet he leads the conference in pass efficiency with nine touchdowns and only one interception.

        “It takes so much pressure off of me and the receivers knowing we can move down the field running the football,” Lorenzen said. If we get 150 or 200 yards rushing a game, I won't have to throw for 300 yards.”

        More surprising than the team's emergence as a rushing team has been its consistency on the other side of the ball.

        Kentucky's defense, which ranked at the bottom of the Division I rankings the past two seasons, has allowed 338 yards per game — 137 yards fewer than last season.

        Even more important, it's making big plays that are helping to win games. Kentucky is tied for second in the SEC and tied for 12th nationally in turnover margin with five fumble recoveries and three interceptions.

        “It's amazing the confidence we have in each other right now, and that all goes back to the coaching staff,” Lane said. “Knowing they have confidence in us allows us to go out, take a few chances and make those plays.”

        Despite the team's success, Morriss said he's determined not to let his players become complacent.

        He'll harp on a multitude of errors in the team's 27-17 victory over the Hoosiers as the team prepares to face a talented Middle Tennessee squad that already has played close games at SEC powers Alabama and Tennessee.

        “After the Indiana game on Saturday, I think our kids will have their feet back firmly on the ground,” Morriss said.

        “(Middle Tennessee) is a good football team. They'll come in here believing they can beat us, and they'll have nothing to lose. We'll have our hands full with them.”


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