Vaughts' Views: November 9, 2017

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Midway of the 2006 football season LSU not only beat Kentucky, it embarrassed Kentucky 49-0. The winners rolled up 546 yards while holding UK to 227.

 

Some thought the loss might cost coach Rich Brooks his job — but his players told UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart they wanted him to stay.

 

Kentucky had an open date before it played Mississippi State. That’s when sophomore receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. guaranteed that Kentucky was going to win the game — a boast that infuriated Brooks.

 

But 11 years later, Lyons — a Louisiana native and son of former UK star Dicky Lyons — has no regrets about what he said.

 

“I was just embarrassed. I grew up, came here and was fascinated with my dad and Kentucky football,” Lyons Jr. said. “It was everything I loved and grew up wanting. It was a big dream of mine going to LSU and winning. My junior year (of high school) I watched the Bluegrass Miracle (when LSU beat Kentucky on a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play). But I had dreamed I would be an all-SEC receiver and we would beat LSU. Losing to LSU like that crushed me.”

 

Teammate Keenan Burton remembers Lyons’ guarantee — and that Kentucky won 34-31 at Mississippi State. Lyons had a spectacular, one-handed touchdown catch in the end zone but also had a career-high eight total receptions for 117 yards in the win that might have been his best overall game at Kentucky.

 

“Nobody other than Dicky would have guaranteed a win. Having somebody like him do that put the season in perspective. It was a high risk, high reward deal for him,” Burton said. “Dicky always had the tools to be a great receiver. But when he got to Kentucky he was used to doing what he wanted to do. It was different being part of a team.”

 

Brooks made Lyons run — and then run some more for what he said before the Mississippi State game. At times after practice Brooks would even run around the field with Lyons.

 

“I think me running around the field with him after we’d already had conditioning, and kept running and kept running and kept running and all the players sitting there watching it and they kept saying ‘Don’t let him break you! Don’t let him break you, Dicky!’ … I think it brought our team together,” Brooks said. “I thought it gave our team a purpose. And I thought it was part of the major turnaround that happened with this football team.”

Teammates started running with Lyons during the 5 a.m. sessions he had to have with then offensive coordinator Joker Phillips.

 

“It got to the point that he did not want to put all us though this at 5 a.m. for him. He got to where he was caring more about the team than himself,” Burton said. “Obviously he did what he did but maybe seeing how it impacted innocent people changed him. We thought if we ran with him maybe he would change his mindset, and he did. He’s one of the greatest receivers ever to play here.

 

“We all knew he loves us and wanted to be a great teammate. He did not want to see us keeping going through all that. Once he got his mindset right, he was great. And he did play a great, great game.”

 

Lyons finger-tip catch of the 18-yard touchdown pass from Andre Woodson still ranks as one of the best all-time catches in UK football history. Considering that the catch and win started a streak of five consecutive bowl games for UK just makes the play even more remarkable.

 

Kentucky beat Georgia the week after it knocked off Mississippi State. Kentucky fans stormed the field and tight end Jacob Tamme was so overwhelmed he cried during the postgame celebration.

"I knew I was going to say something that people didn't like when I guaranteed the win,” Lyons said. “A lot of the guys were beginning to think that we'd win three or four games and call it a season like ‘old Kentucky.’

“I wanted to do something to light a fire so I just said that we would beat Mississippi State just like LSU beat us. I meant every word and I also believed we would win.”

Lyons had another memorable play in 2007 when UK beat eventual national champion LSU when he pancaked LSU safety Craig Stelz — a high school friend. He flattened the LSU defensive back on national TV.

The two had run track against each other in high school. He made his bone-jarring block on a reception by Stevie Johnson.

“I squared up, and made a nice, clean hit that really got him,” Lyons said. “If Stevie would've followed me, he would've scored a touchdown. But that’s a play I obviously will never forget, either.”

* * *

It’s really hard to explain just what playing an exhibition game against Kentucky meant to Division III Centre College.

The team spent about an extra hour at its shoot around the day of the game just taking pictures. After losing by 43 points to UK, the team took more pictures on the Rupp Arena court long after the game ended.

Centre coach Greg Mason took his 6-month-old daughter, Lucy, to the postgame press conference with him. She also got in a pregame photo at midcourt with the national champion Kentucky cheerleaders and the Centre cheer squad.

The Colonels had fans — mainly alumni — sitting all through the arena and likely had the biggest contingent of opposing fans ever in Rupp Arena.

“We’re just thankful for Kentucky having us here, and what better way to play than in Rupp Arena? There’s a lot of history behind this arena and we’re really thankful to be able to play here,” Centre guard Tucker Sine, who played in Rupp Arena in the state tournament for Bowling Green, said.

 

“I can’t imagine a better memory than this,” Perry Ayers, another former Bowling Green High School player, said. “Twenty-years from now, we are going to be talking about this.”

 

Mason grew up a Kentucky fan. He was as excited as his players about being in Rupp Arena. He also liked what his players had to say about the Cats.

 

“One thing our guys talked about was how good of guys they were on the floor, and lot of times we don’t talk about that. No talking, they just played, good sportsmanship,” Mason said about the Cats.

 

* * *

 

Kentucky volleyball had its 14-match win streak ended last week when Florida swept the Wildcats in Memorial Coliseum to avenge an earlier loss to UK when the Gators were ranked No. 1.

 

“They did better overall. We should have made plays but we didn’t and we have to learn from it,” Kentucky sophomore Leah Edmond said. “There are some things we do well that we did not do as well as we should. I will give them credit. They played very well.”

 

A record 5, 329 fans came to support the UK volleyball team.

 

“The crowd was incredible. I have been here (living in Lexington) for six years and been to every volleyball game and I have never seen a crowd like that,” Edmond said. “I really appreciate it and hope they continue to come back out. Even though we didn’t get this win, I promise you there will be plenty more.”

 

Kentucky started another win streak with a 3-1 win over South Carolina Sunday when Edmond had a match-best 19 kills, a career-high five aces and 11 digs to notch her 14th career double-double.

 

“This team always has fight and is extremely competitive. We just fight. We are not going to give up just because we lost one match,” she said.

 

* * *

 

Can Kentucky bounce back from last week’s heartbreaking loss to Mississippi? The Cats lost in the final five seconds when they gave up a touchdown pass with a 34-30 lead. It wasted another stellar running game from Benny Snell — who now leads the Southeastern Conference with 897 yards.

 

Snell ran for 176 yards and three scores and became the first player in school history with at least five 100-yard rushing games in consecutive seasons. He also became the first UK player with three rushing touchdowns in back to back games since Moe Williams in 1995. He’s on track to become the first UK running back to have two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

 

Snell was seen crying as he met with his parents after the game. By the time he met with the media, he had regained his composure and said the loss was “not that crushing” but then said “losses are hard on us and on me especially.” He also vowed to do “even better” at Vanderbilt this Saturday.

 

“Benny did incredible. I’m so proud of him. I talked to him afterwards and told him to keep his head up because he puts his heart and soul into it. You can tell that this loss hit him the hardest even though he did so well,” Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson said.

 

Kentucky’s biggest issue again was a pass defense that ranks last in the SEC and continues to get torched for big plays. Even worse, coach Mark Stoops said after the game that he tried every scheme possible and nothing worked with the secondary. He even refused to take a penalty that would have taken Ole Miss out of field goal range early in the second half because he didn’t trust his defense not to give up a big play.

 

Now the question is whether UK can get a seventh win — which would trigger a one-year contract extension for Stoops through 2022 with a salary of $5 million that season for the coach — at Vanderbilt with no lingering doubts due to the Ole Miss loss.

 

“We can't let it be. We have to get back to work. We have three big games left, and we've got to invest. It should hurt a lot if you invest a lot. It hurts,” Stoops said.

 

* * *

Boyle County eighth-grader Jackson Smith is ranked as the No. 1 combo kicker in the 2022 recruiting class.

“If he hits the ball well, he can punt it 50 yards easily,” his father, former UK punter Andy Smith, said. “He probably averaged 40 yards per punt this season. His kickoffs are really good. He had a lot of touchbacks.”

 

Andy Smith’s longest field goal in high school was 39 yards. He only attempted one longer than that. His freshman year at Western Kentucky he did not try a field goal and after he transferred to UK he was only a punter.

 

His son recently kicked a 51-yard field goal in the state middle school championship game where Boyle lost to Corbin.

 

“He has me beat (on field goal distance) but he has a long way to go to beat me in punting,” Andy Smith said. “But for us, the 51-yard field goal was not that big a deal other than a lot of people just happened to see it. He has hit from 56 yards in pregame with ease. So it was not that big a surprise he made it from 51.”

 

Jackson Smith also plays linebacker and receiver. He will play for former UK linebacker Chuck Smith, who was on both Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips coaching staffs at UK, at Boyle.

 

* * *

 

Quote of the Week 1: “There was nothing more rewarding to me than my high school days. Playing with my buddies I grew up playing middle school with. There’s just something special about running on the field with your best friends. You appreciate that moment and embrace it,” former UK quarterback Tim Couch on playing at Leslie County High School.

 

Quote of the Week 2: “Just our approach. Maybe playing harder on a play or seeing our coverage, just stuff like that. We need to start doing the things that we know we can do. It’s nothing in particular, it’s just football and we have to get better at what we do,” linebacker Courtney Love on what the UK has to change to play better.

 

Dicky Lyons Jr. with his wife Mindy at the recent reunion of coach Rich Brooks' players at UK. (Larry Vaught Photo)