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September 26, 2011Before Kentucky's game against LSU in Baton Rouge in 1983, head coach Jerry Claiborne took his team down on the field at Tiger Stadium. It was a scene that might have been reminiscent of Gene Hackman leading Hickory High into Hinkle Fieldhouse before the final scene in Hoosiers.
Offensive coordinator Jerry Eisaman, who had beaten the Tigers as a player in 1960 in Lexington, led the team to midfield while the stadium was still empty.
"He asked us just to smell the popcorn, smell the grass and all those things that come with being on the college football field," said Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips, who was a player then. "Those things helped us mentally in understanding and preparing ourselves for what was about to happen the next day and to give us an opportunity to go in there and win, because we were prepared. None of the things shocked us."
Kentucky won that game 21-13. Phillips has also had some success as an assistant coach in the stadium known across the Southeastern Conference as "Death Valley." In 1992, when Phillips was coaching the wide receivers, Kentucky beat LSU 27-25 in Baton Rouge.
More recently, though, things have been grim for the Wildcats in Tiger Stadium. They were shut out in their last two trips; 49-0 in 2006 and 34-0 in 2000. Kentucky (2-2, 0-1 SEC) will try and avoid a similar result this week, when they face No. 1 LSU (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at noon on Saturday.
That early start is unusual in Baton Rouge, where Tiger home games are traditionally played at night. Because kickoff will be so early, Phillips said he likely won't have the same chance to take his team on the field before the game. He likes the idea of an early start, but he still expects the crowd to be just as raucous.
"It's going to be loud, it's going to be hostile," Phillips said. "You're going to be called every name under the sun except for your God given name."
Late starts traditionally give LSU fans longer to tailgate and prepare for the game. Even without that time, though, Kentucky's players are still expecting a challenge.
"It's going to be loud either way," senior offensive tackle Billy Joe Murphy said. "We have to focus on the field, not the stands."
Phillips talks facilities
A week after former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks discussed some facility upgrades he'd like to see the football program add, Phillips said he likes some of the improvements the program has made recently.
"We want to take care of our present players and that's the two locker rooms that we built, the three new surfaces on our practice field and we have done a good job at that," Phillips said.
He also cited the new turf in the indoor practice facility, new meeting rooms with theatre-style seating and rooms used for position meetings.
Phillips did acknowledge that some improvements have to be made for the fans, though there have been some of those as well. In addition to the new jumbotrons and ribbon boards inside Commonwealth Stadium, he said there have been some talks about renovating the stadium.
No matter what facilities they add in the coming years, though, Phillips said there will always be something else they can improve on.
"It's like mowing a 100 acre field," Phillips said. "As soon as you get it mowed, you mow it again. As soon as we have done the facilities, the things that we have done over, in a couple of years, we'll have to do some other things to do it."
Freshman running back Josh Clemons is questionable with a strained hamstring. Phillips said he was still hopeful he would be able to play. If he cannot play, the Wildcats would be without their top two tailbacks. Sophomore Raymond Sanders will miss his third straight game after undergoing knee surgery.
"We think we should get (Clemons) back this week," Phillips said.
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu is out with a sprained knee. Junior wide receiver Gene McCaskill is questionable with a back injury. He was expected to play against Florida but was unable to go.
Junior safety Martavius Neloms, who had concussion symptoms after Saturday's game, will be restricted from contact in practice this week.
Senior defensive tackle Mark Crawford, who has not played this season and missed the last two games of last season with a suspension, has been reinstated and will play this week.
For the first time this season, there were no offensive linemen on the injury report.