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July 18, 2013

UK players felt disrespected after 2012 loss

It wasn't quite adding insult to injury. But it was adding disrespect to defeat.

Kentucky players still remember the sting from 2012's loss to Western Kentucky. They also remember what they saw from WKU after the 32-31 upset last year.

"Those guys were pretty disrespectful on our field - and disrespectful with some tweets and Facebook and some stuff," senior running back Raymond Sanders said.

Western Kentucky players didn't say anything directly to Kentucky players immediately after the game, which ended when the Hilltoppers converted a two-point conversion in overtime to slam the door on the Wildcats. But UK players noticed the Hilltoppers celebrating their victory at Commonwealth Stadium and noted it.

"It wasn't said. It was just after the game, jumping and stomping on the field," Sanders said. "It's our field. You've got to take pride in that. You can't be disrespectful of that. And it was a couple things that they said. We're just waiting until Aug. 31 and we're going to let that talk."

Last season's loss has made the Wildcats' season opener in Nashville even more important. The rematch in Nashville, the last game in a four-year series the schools agreed to play beginning in 2010, will be Kentucky's first chance to show if it's made improvement in the offseason.

Western Ketucky crept closer to Kentucky and became more competitive as the series went on. The Wildcats dominated the first game in the series before squeaking out a win in 2011. Last year's loss was the first time Kentucky had lost to the Hilltoppers, and UK's first loss to an in-state opponent other than Louisville since 1926.

"It's a lot of pressure," senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph said. "We're just trying to keep our composure and continue to work hard. We have to continue to prepare because we owe them a little something for last year. That's our focus right now. Our focus is to take it week-by-week, control what we can control and work hard every day."

Coaching changes in the offseason have brought attention to both programs, and both teams have spent the offseason targeting the opener. It's a chance for both teams to make a statement.

Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky can make noise early by beating an SEC opponent for the second straight year. Kentucky, under new head coach Mark Stoops, can begin to put last year's 2-10 season behind them with a win.

"We have an awful lot on the line," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We can't take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can't just show up and beat anybody. "

Rumph said he also felt disrespected after the game. It's not unfamiliar territory for many of the Kentucky players. At SEC Media Days in 2012, the Wildcats said they felt disrespected by Louisville and some offseason banter on social media from the Cardinals.

They're taking the same approach this summer to their season opener, even if it's a different opponent.

"They beat an SEC team and they did a great job of executing and we didn't take advantage of it, honestly, so kudos go to them," senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I can't say they did it disrespectfully or what. That's the way they celebrate. We're just going to take it out on them this summer."

Western Kentucky's celebration was right in front of the Wildcats on their home field last year. Now they're staring down a rematch.

"I'm not hiding from the fact that the Western game is important to us," Stoops said.


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