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August 27, 2012

Smith, Phillips embrace underdog role against Cards

Maxwell Smith is known for his cool demeanor. The California quarterback's calm is one of his trademarks.

Until games roll around, that is.

"I'm nervous for every game," Smith said. "Nothing is really going to change. When we played a really bad team in high school, I would be nervous for that game. That's just how I am. Nerves are a part of it. That's good. If I'm not nervous, something is wrong."

The countdown clock in the weight room at the Nutter Training Facility is winding down. With less than a week until kickoff, the point the Wildcats have looked toward all offseason is coming close.

Smith will be feeling his nerves again when Sunday comes, but it won't be the same as in previous years. After beating Louisville four straight seasons before last year, the Wildcats enter the game this season as 13.5-point underdogs.

"Everybody likes being the underdog," Smith said. "You go out and try to prove yourself."

His coach likes the role as well. Joker Phillips said the Wildcats have no problem entering the game - and the season - with lowered expectations, even if the pressure is still there.

"What a great opportunity for us," he said. "We've played a lot of top 25 teams and come out on top of some. This is a great opportunity for us to be able to play against a top 25 team in our first game."

The 5-7 campaign from 2011 hasn't been forgotten, though. The Wildcats still feels the results of last season even nine months later.

It's a subject they'll likely have to address until there are signs of something different.

"I'm sure some of the fans are upset with us," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "That's our job to go out and gain the trust back and win some games."

Triple-threat quarterback

It's no secret that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a threat in the air and on the ground. He had 14 passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns as a freshman.

But there's a third way he can win football games, Phillips said on Monday.

"I like the way he operates," Phillips said. "He's not only a guy who can beat you with his legs, we all know that. He can beat you with his arm and he can beat you with his mind. He's a guy who can see a blitz, change a protection and then hurt you with it."

Bridgewater entered the game against Kentucky last year in the second quarter for the injured Will Stein and threw two touchdown passes to help lead Louisville to a 24-17 win in Commonwealth Stadium. He was less successful on the ground, finishing with -9 rushing yards while being sacked three times.

His legs still make him dangerous, though. Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu said keeping Bridgewater in check will be the first priority for the defense.

"He's probably a 4.4, 4.5 guy. He's quick, he's fast," Ukwu said. "You have to game plan around that. That's our main thing is containing him and keeping him in the pocket."

After that, the game plan is similar to last year's: Make sure to hit the quarterback.

Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Randall Burden all had sacks a year ago. There will have to be new players chasing after Bridgewater this year, including some with no career sacks. Williamson hasn't gotten a sack to this point in his career, but he hopes that will change on Sunday.

"I'm planning on getting me some sacks this game," Williamson said. "Bud (Dupree) out on the edge is going to wreak havoc, I feel like. We have a great defensive line and we really should get some hits on the quarterback."

Harmon enters season as No. 3 corner

Walk-on defensive back J.D. Harmon will likely be the third cornerback to enter the game when Kentucky shifts to a nickel package this season, Phillips said on Sunday.

Harmon, from Tilghman High School in Paducah, arrived on campus as a wide receiver but was moved to defense to help shore up a thin secondary. He's beaten out fellow freshmen Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn and could be on the field early. He impressed coaches with his size, length and strength.

"He'll be the fifth defensive back that goes in the game," Phillips said.

Injury report

Sophomore running back Josh Clemons will not play against Louisville. He had previously been listed as doubtful after loose bodies in his injured knee were found during exploratory surgery a week ago.

Junior tight end Jordan Aumiller is day-to-day with plantar fascia, a foot injury. He's been struggling with the ailment all summer, Phillips said. He was not listed in the top three tight ends entering fall camp.

Senior wide receiver La'Rod King and defensive tackle Mister Cobble were limited in practice at the end of last week as a precaution, but are expected to be ready to play on Sunday.

"We are as healthy as we've ever been around here," Phillips said. "That's key to success in this 2012 season."


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