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Notebook: Cats excited to face yet another ranked opponent

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It's getting to the point where Mark Stoops doesn't even have to look at the schedule.

For the fifth time in seven games, Kentucky will face a ranked opponent with No. 8 Missouri coming to Lexington. The grind of the Southeastern Conference has been unrelenting in Stoops' first season, but the Wildcats aren't growing weary of it.

In fact, it's why they're all here.

"It's definitely a great opportunity for us," Stoops said. "We've got a great team coming in here, playing at home, at noon on a Saturday. It should be a beautiful afternoon and we're excited about it definitely."

The fact that the Cats (2-6, 0-4 SEC) are eager for another chance to prove themselves doesn't make the challenge facing them any easier.

A season ago, the Tigers struggled to a 5-7 record in their first year as members of a new conference. Now much healthier, Missouri controls its own destiny in the SEC race and is a fourth-quarter South Carolina comeback away from a perfect record through nine games.

After a day of watching film on the Tigers, Stoops knows it's no fluke.

"Missouri is a very good football team, as we all know," Stoops said. "Very balanced, do a good job of running it, throwing it, keeping you off balance. Their defense has been the biggest improvement for them."

The Tigers rank fourth the SEC in scoring defense (20.6 points per game) and third in rushing defense (109.4 yards per game).

All of Missouri's wins have come by two touchdowns or more, so opponents have had to turn to the pass in an effort to overcome deficits. The Tigers have capitalized, intercepting a league-high 17 passes en route to a plus-15 turnover margin.

"I think they are active," Stoops said. "A lot of it has to do with their front four and a lot of it has to do with they're scoring a boatload of points. So any time you're scoring over 40 points a game, the teams have got to get desperate at times and start throwing the ball around."

Perhaps no team in the SEC is better equipped to deal with the Tigers in that area than UK. The Cats haven't committed a turnover in their last four games and have just six giveaways on the season.

"They have been very conscious of that," Stoops said. "I think we do a good job of coaching ball security.  The quarterbacks have done a nice job of protecting the ball. That's a big key."

Whitlow with plenty of room for improvement

The UK coaching staff has been waiting all season for a quarterback to step up and grab hold of the position. Injuries and inconsistency have prevented that from happening, at least until last weekend's win against Alabama State.

Jalen Whitlow accounted for four touchdowns in UK's 48-14 victory, becoming the first Wildcat quarterback to run and pass for two touchdowns since 2004. Stoops, however, left the game thinking about a handful of throws the sophomore missed.

"He needs to get a feel, get better, get reps and playing time," Stoops said. "He did that. I thought he made some nice throws, but he just short-armed or guided it or tried to be too accurate and aim it. Whatever the reason, he just missed a few."

A few miscues are understandable, particularly given how green Whitlow still is as a thrower. He has made 12 collegiate starts now, but wasn't a full-time quarterback in high school. That's not always easy for a demanding coach like Stoops to remember.

"You do have to remind yourself that he's going to get better," Stoops said. "After watching the tape, I really thought he did some good things. He made some nice throws. He's going to get better and better."

Montgomery out for season; Timmons doubtful for Missouri

UK lost three receivers during the Alabama State win and will likely be without two of them this weekend against Missouri.

Ryan Timmons sprained his ankle late in the game, while Alexander Montgomery hurt his knee celebrating a second-quarter touchdown. Test results confirmed Stoops' postgame fears, as Montgomery will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.

When the team reconvenes on Monday, Stoops said he will address the way the Cats celebrate in the wake of the injury.

"We're not going to overdo it, but I'm going to definitely talk to them about relaxing a little bit with the jumping and chest-bumping and all that stuff," Stoops said.

Unfortunately, the Cats will be without Montgomery, his 6-foot-2 frame and his 137 yards receiving regardless. Javess Blue, however, should recover in time from an eye injury he suffered during warm-ups to play. Beyond Blue -- the team's leading receiver -- UK will need others to emerge for a thin receiving corps.

"I thought Jeff Badet played his best game," Stoops said. "That was good to see. Demarco (Robinson), we need to continue to get him healthy and get him back in the fold doing some good things. A.J. (Legree) is doing some better things as well, so that's a good sign.

Mobley turning heads with special-teams play

Dyshawn Mobley hasn't played a down of defense this season, but he has 10 tackles through eight games.

The sophomore running back has turned into a force on special teams, delivering forceful blows in kickoff coverage. He had tackles on three of UK's eight kickoffs against Alabama State, including a bone-crunching third-quarter stop of Jarrett Neely.

With his background as a defensive coordinator, Stoops sees a play like that one and wonders what Mobley would like on the other side of the ball.

"I would love to have him on defense, but that's the basically the message," Stoops said. "He's going to get the ball or he's going to come play defense."

It seems Neal Brown wants to hold on to his bruising back, because Mobley carried a season-high eight times for 36 yards against Alabama State.

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