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Cats chasing complete game heading into trip to Vandy

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Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt on Saturday for a 12:21 p.m. ET matchup with the Commodores. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt on Saturday for a 12:21 p.m. ET matchup with the Commodores. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops knows Kentucky has improved since day one.

Given the roles he's played in defensive turnarounds at Arizona and Florida State, he knows how to judge a team beyond its win-loss record.

The fact remains, however, that UK sits at 2-7. Nonetheless, he knows what he sees on tape, even after a 48-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday.

"What I take some salvation in is when I turn on that film and see good, sound football, and I see that from 80 percent, and I know that's not good enough to the common fan," Stoops said. "But I see us coaching and putting into position and see the players executing and playing hard. I see some good plays, and I know there is progress being made, even though that's difficult to see on the scoreboard and all that."

As true as all that may be, Stoops wants to win as badly as anyone else, and right now.

"I'll go back and I look at everything we're doing and we all do," Stoops said. "We're very critical of ourselves and we know we can do things better, that's for sure."

More specifically, he wants to hone in on those 20-percent plays that he believes is getting Kentucky beat as UK prepares for a road trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 12:21 p.m. ET. That starts with focusing on the positive.

"But I saw a good percentage of plays that were good football plays," Stoops said. "And that we have to build on, that we have to learn to play a hundred percent of those plays as best we can. Then we have an opportunity to beat a top-10 team. Until then, we have no chance to beat a top-10 team."

Vandy may not be a top-10 team like Missouri, but Stoops has seen enough to know the Commodores will take advantage of any mistakes UK should make. They did just that on Saturday, forcing four turnovers to take down Florida on the road in spite of gaining just 183 yards of total offense.

"They're good in all areas," Stoops said. "They're a team that just plays very hard, plays very smart. They capitalize on your mistakes, so it will be another good opportunity for us, a big challenge for us to go down there and win."

For UK's seniors, those opportunities are quickly running out. Though reaching a bowl officially became impossible with the loss to Missouri, Stoops like the mentality of his veterans.

"There's not a guy in that group that's going to lay down," Stoops said. "I think they'll work extremely hard and help turn the page in this program. I think they take pride in that and wanting to help being a part of turning it around and building for the future."

Those seniors will obviously continue to play major roles, but Stoops will also be thinking about that future in the coming weeks. Fourteen newcomers -- including eight true freshmen -- have already played for UK and Stoops anticipates involving the youngsters even more down the stretch.

"We have to continue to build our program and develop our young guys," Stoops said.

Stoops named cornerback Jaleel Hytchye and defensive end Jason Hatcher specifically in that group, but even the players the coaching staff intends to redshirt are included.

"We need to know exactly where they're at and where they're going to be in the spring and just to continue to work with those guys," Stoops said.

It won't ever come at the cost of preparing to win immediately, but Stoops is keeps his overarching vision for Kentucky football in mind at all times. Throughout the course of his first year on the job, that hasn't changed.

"I've never said since day one that I was going to come in here and change it overnight," Stoops said. "I promised to work extremely hard, and the players will work extremely hard to build this program the right way to get better. That's what we're going to continue to do."

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