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The weather threw a curveball at Kentucky football on Thursday, with a storm pushing practice back and eventually forcing it to move inside to the Nutter Field House.

The Wildcats managed to adjust and turn in a good practice.

"Guys seem to be locked in," Mark Stoops said. "We had a little weather delay and got a little chance to watch some more film and get prepared before we went out to practice. But everything went well. Getting ready to gear up here and have a good game."

If this week is any indication, that's likely to happen on Saturday.

There were of course areas for improvement in UK's season-opening win over UT Martin, but the energy Stoops was looking for was there. He sees no reason to think the Wildcats won't duplicate that effort.

"I hope we have the same eagerness to go out there and play and the same enthusiasm," Stoops said. "I expect that we will. They've had a great week of practice. I just don't want any letdown mentally."

Speaking for the final time before UK takes on Ohio, Stoops gave an update on wide receiver Javess Blue and running back Braylon Heard, both of whom sustained ankle injuries against UT Martin. Blue has not practiced this week, while Heard remains questionable.

"More than likely will not play," Stoops said about Heard's status. "He tried to get out there and run around a little bit, so we'll see. I mean, maybe he'll heal up. I'm not trying to hold anything. It's just the way I feel right now and the way he looks. It's questionable."

Photos of new men's basketball uniforms emerge

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Thursday was Photo Day for the UK men's basketball team and a few images of the Wildcats' new uniforms began to trickle out. That's when @UKequipment stepped in to provide an up-close look.


UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Neal Brown knows Kentucky football.

He grew up a UK fan and followed the program even as he moved up the collegiate coaching ranks as a bright young offensive mind at stops across the country.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown is well aware of the Wildcats' history with their opponent this weekend.

"I very much know what happened the last time they rolled in here to town, so we'll be ready to roll," Brown said.

That last time was in 2004, when the Bobcats came into Commonwealth Stadium and posted a 28-16 victory. UK (1-0) is in a very different place now than it was 10 years ago during Rich Brooks' second season, but the lesson learned on that day still holds true.

Accordingly, UK is intently focused on Ohio heading into a matchup at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, not that Mark Stoops needed a past game as a reminder.

"My team, myself, we definitely can't take anybody for granted," Stoops said. "We're at that stage where we need to play well no matter who we're playing."

If they don't, the Bobcats are likely to take advantage.

Ohio (1-0) opened the season with a 17-14 victory over Kent State, needing a last-second field goal to overcome the Golden Flashes. The Bobcats, however, had a 437-295 edge in total yardage and held Kent State to a paltry 31 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio. ... They're a team that's not going to beat themselves. They're just good and sound."

On defense, the Bobcats return eight starters from last year's team, a group that carried Ohio to a fifth straight bowl berth.

"They're not going to do a whole lot (unusual)," Brown said. "They will blitz their linebackers, but they play base defense, mix up their coverages. They tackle really well; their guys aren't out of position very often at all. I thought they played really, really well last Saturday night."

The same was true of UK's offense in its opener.

The Wildcats piled up 656 total yards - fourth most in school history - behind first-time starting quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles completed passes to nine different receivers in spite of throwing just 29 times and exiting before the start of the fourth quarter.

"It's just a testament to Coach Brown and his offense," Towles said. "There could be a play where five guys are open and the stat only shows the one guy who I threw it to."

The offensive improvement Stoops and Brown talked about all offseason was on display against UT Martin, but it's not clear exactly how much better UK has gotten just yet. Ohio's athletic defense will be another measuring stick.

"I think a lot more of the story will be told this week," Brown said. "See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe. But there were some moments -- we threw the ball and caught the ball. That didn't happen one time last year."

The UK defense was good too, pitching a shutout deep into the third quarter behind a strong starting group. In practice this week, the Cats have gone to work building depth. The second team, however, isn't alone in pursuing improvement.

Seniors Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are the cornerstones of the group styling itself the "Bad Boys," but the pair combined for just nine tackles against UT Martin, with none coming behind the line of scrimmage.

"I saw a couple instances when they were trying to do too much, and that's bound to happen when you have guys that want to be playmakers and they want to do is what they can do, make big plays," Stoops said. "But you have to do that within the scheme. Nothing earth shattering or anything like that. Nothing we can't get corrected. Simple little things that we'll get fixed."

Dupree and Smith will need to be on their game Saturday against Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick. The first-time starter was a terror against Kent State with both his arm and his legs, throwing for two touchdowns and 262 yards and running for 35 more.

"We have to execute the defense within the plan for athletic quarterbacks, but you don't have to do anything different," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You just have to be aware of what your responsibility is and aware that is a threat within the game."

Execution, in other words, will be the name of the game.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

Matsoso more comfortable in second year at UK

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Napo Mastsoso (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Napo Mastsoso (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Brent Ingram

For many freshmen, adjusting to the first semester of their collegiate careers, while also managing the strains of debuting on the soccer field, can be a difficult transition.

Kentucky sophomore midfielder Napo Matsoso managed that transition well as a freshman in 2013, immediately emerging as one of the top players in talent-laden Conference USA.

Matsoso hails from Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Matsoso's home country has a population of just over two million, with approximately 40 percent of the nation living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day).

As a youth, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire, a couple in Louisville, Kentucky. Matsoso joined his five brothers in Louisville, James (23), Lepe (22), Sunny (22), Marc (20) and Setho (19). During his high school career at Louisville's St. Francis, Matsoso totaled 72 goals in four years, earning all-state accolades.

Matsoso had four brothers playing collegiate soccer in 2013, with Lepe and Sunny completing their careers at Northwestern and Maryland, respectively, and Setho playing his debut season at Northern Kentucky University.

"It helps a lot because during the offseason, we get to hang out together and talk to each other about the experiences we all have through college," Matsoso said. "We all try to help each other as much as we can. My other brothers have a lot of experience and they share a lot with me about their college careers."

As far as his collegiate debut, Matsoso turned in a strong season as UK's lead attacking midfielder. Matsoso, a 5-foot-6, 138-pound speedster, started all 20 games for the Wildcats, one of only two players to start each game of UK's season.

"Being in Lexington has been really fun," Matsoso said. "Being around my teammates all the time has helped me a lot. We pretty much do everything together. One of my brothers goes to UK too (Marc), so it is like this is my third home. It has been good back home."

He ranked second on the team in minutes played, finishing with one goal and five assists, ranking second on the club. A member of the 2013 Conference USA All-Freshman Team, Matsoso finished with 32 shots fired.

"I learned it is all about the team," Matsoso said. "You have to put the team before yourself. If we work together as a team, then everything will work out how we want it to be."

Kentucky will need Matsoso's dynamic abilities as a scoring threat in 2014, as the Wildcats replace their top three scorers, including 11 goals between graduated seniors Brad Doliner and Tyler Riggs.

While UK must replace some goals, Matsoso and forward Justin Laird combined for 11 assists, and the Wildcats boast a bevy of talented midfield options alongside Matsoso.

"Our midfield has a lot of players that allow us to go forward and score goals," Matsoso said. "It will work out well this year because we have a lot of technical players that like to play and people that love to score goals and push forward more."

Matsoso appears to be an anchor in the midfield for the Wildcats, helping direct the UK attack from his attacking role.

"I like playing attacking mid because the ball basically has to find me," Matsoso said. "From there, I can help the team out a lot with playing with the forward and other players that play behind me. With the players we have, it will work out pretty well this year."

With Kentucky needing to supply some new faces to replace its goal-scoring punch, one question mark that doesn't need answering is UK's defensive unit. Returning preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving, and three of four starters on the backline, UK is poised to have one of the best defenses in the league.

"It will help the team a lot," Matsoso said. "Those guys have been playing with each other for a while now. They understand each other well. (Head coach) Johan (Cedergren) talks to them a lot; they have a lot of individual meetings with Johan and talk about their roles. That will help the team a lot, and that they are only sophomores, they still have a lot of development to go."

Now, two games into his sophomore season, Matsoso's comfort level is drastically different than at this point in 2013.

"I am more comfortable this year," Matsoso said. "Last year, it was a lot of freshmen coming in and now the freshmen that were here last year are still coming back. Everyone tries to make everyone comfortable to be around and play with. It is getting a lot easier for me to get used to everyone and spend so much time with them."

Kentucky (1-1-0) returns to action on Friday with a grueling weekend in South Bend, Indiana, facing the last two national champions in two games over three days. UK will face 2012 national champion Indiana on Friday, before concluding the weekend with defending NCAA Champion Notre Dame on Sunday.


UK going to work on building defensive depth

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Following an otherwise strong performance, UK came out of its season opener with a clear area for defensive improvement.

This week in practice ahead of a Saturday matchup with Ohio, the Wildcats have gone to work.

"Did some good things," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're just concentrating on getting better fundamentally. So we have to get some depth, gotta establish some players at all positions for our backups. That's our emphasis."

Against UT Martin, UK pitched a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Afterward, the Cats allowed nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-14 victory. The UK backups, in other words, have some work to do to catch up to the starters.

Based on the way the first team played on Saturday, that won't be easy.

UK's starters handcuffed the Skyhawks to the tune of 164 yards through their first nine drives. Safety A.J. Stamps made plays all over the field, tying for the team lead with eight tackles on top of a one-handed interception that was No. 3 on SportsCenter's Saturday night Top 10.

"I really haven't seen it on SportsCenter yet, but I saw a couple videos," Stamps.

Incredibly, it wasn't even his personal top play, according to his coach.

"Well the best play that he probably made went unnoticed, but it was on a screen when he defeated a block, then the guy grabbed him from behind, then somebody else tried to block him and he got after it and he tackled him for a loss," Eliot said. "And they called holding on the play as well."

The blown-up screen and interception, together, show why Stamps is a perfect fit at his safety position. He played cornerback in junior college and has the athleticism to play on the outside, but also the physicality needed to play his current spot.

"We like to recruit safeties that could play corner," Eliot said. "That's what we saw in A.J. We saw a guy that was athletic enough to be a corner. He was a corner in junior college, but yet we knew he was big enough and strong enough and physical enough to be a safety as well."

It doesn't much matter to Stamps where he plays.

"As long as I'm on the field," Stamps said.

He doesn't have much to worry about there.

Wilson leads from the back

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Jordan Wilson (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jordan Wilson (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Brent Ingram

When coaches sit down and start conceptualizing their lineups, one of the key elements to a strong defensive unit is a set of vocal personalities.

Kentucky is blessed with a vocal center back to anchor the backline in sophomore Jordan Wilson.

"As a center back, being vocal is a part of the game," Wilson said. "You can see the whole game in front of you so it is your job to be able to call things out and let them know what you are seeing. Being a leader on the team, that is something that I have always been like. Even growing up in Scotland, I just liked to take on a leadership role, just try to get other players involved and get them moving forward.  We are all in this together, we have the same common goal, and we are just keen to reach that."

A native of Auchterarder, Scotland, Wilson stepped right into the UK lineup as a true freshman in 2013, starting all 17 games he played in.

"Playing a lot as a freshman, I can just take a lot from that as confidence going into this season," Wilson said. "Having had that experience and that extra knowledge when seeing the field can be a big help."

A 6-foot-3, 173 pounder, Wilson helped anchor a strong backline in 2013 that allowed 20 goals in his games. Wilson logged the fourth-most minutes on the club (1,531), despite missing three games.

Wilson helped lead the Wildcats to the Conference USA Tournament Semifinals, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.

Entering his sophomore year, a strength of the UK roster could be the defense. Led by first-team All-Conference USA keeper Callum Irving and three returning starters on the backline, UK's defense will be stingy.

"We have a really strong back four," Wilson said. "We played together a lot in the spring. A lot of the focus in the preseason has been on defensive structure and making sure that everyone coming in as a good base knowledge of how we play. We are working on getting that down first and then focusing on the attacking side of it."

In UK's first win of the season over Belmont last Sunday, the Wildcats started Wilson and sophomore Kaelon Fox at center back, along with fellow returning starter Charlie Reymann at outside back. Sophomore Matt Quick has slid into the outside back role opposite Reymann.

Fox, a 6-2, 155 pounder, has joined forces with Wilson at center back, giving UK a pair of athletic, physically imposing defenders. As a freshman in 2013, Fox played in 19 of UK's 20 games, seeing time all over the field.

"Kaelon is doing fantastic," Wilson said. "I really enjoy working alongside Kaelon. We have a good understanding of each other on the field and we are really good friends off the field as well. We think that partnership is good for the team. I really enjoy playing with Kaelon, he is a great player."

The Wildcat's defense as a whole will be looked to as a team-strength as the 2014 continues. UK has allowed one goal over its two games, posting a clean sheet in its home-opening win over Belmont, a 2-0 result.

Going forward, the Wildcats will hope Wilson along with Fox will anchor the team.

"When you look at Kaelon and Jordan we feel they are a really good partnership at the back," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. "You have Jordan who reads the game really well, and then Kaelon who likes to take chances and try to win balls. But he's fast so if he gets beat he can recover. Then with Jordan as that steady guy at the back, they play off each other well."

The Wildcats will return to action with a grueling weekend tournament in South, Bend, Indiana, facing the last two NCAA Champions, Indiana and Notre Dame. UK opens the weekend on Friday at 5 p.m. vs. Indiana, before concluding the tournament on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame, a team that went 17-1-6 a season ago.

UK carrying confidence into Ohio prep

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Solid Tuesday practices are no guarantee. With game day four days away, the urgency isn't always there.

Kentucky had no such issues this week, and that had something to do with the way the Wildcats played in a season-opening win on Saturday in Neal Brown's estimation.

"We had good work today," UK's offensive coordinator said. "A lot of good energy for a Tuesday. I think we're building some confidence after going out and playing well on Saturday, which we needed."

That's particularly true on offense, where UK gained 656 total yards, fourth most in school history, and scored 59 points against UT Martin. For a coach who grew accustomed to leading some of the nation's best offenses at Texas Tech and Troy, that was a welcome development.

"We threw the ball and caught the ball; that didn't happen one time last year," Brown said. "We threw the ball, we caught it, we were able to get it to them in a position so that they could run after the catch. Those things were positives."

A season ago, Patrick Towles was on the sideline as the Wildcats went through growing pains in the first year in Brown's system. On Saturday, he made his first start to the tune of 377 yards passing and another 30 on the ground, benefiting from the new dimension added by the 6-foot-5 Blake Bone and his fellow freshman wide receivers.

"It's super nice," Towles said. "It takes a lot of stress off me. Every ball I have doesn't have to be perfect. Coach (Tommy) Mainord always talks about, 'Hey, just get it in our zip code.' Blake really put that on display Saturday."

Bone's most impressive play came on a go route down the left sideline. Even though the defender shadowing him was flagged for pass interference, Bone jumped and made the play for a 36-yard gain.

Towles was able to make the throw because he had time. Relying on the protection of reigning Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week Jon Toth and his fellow linemen, the redshirt sophomore was not sacked on Saturday

"I'm extremely comfortable with those guys to not worry about it," Towles said. "Takes a lot for a quarterback not to have to worry about the rush. I take three steps back there and I'm not paying attention to what they're doing because I trust them to take care of it."

Instead of worrying about pass rushers, Towles is focused on working with Brown to fine tune his game after a solid debut.

"I think fundamentally there were some things he did," Brown said. "He was a little late on some throws that he got away with in that game that he won't moving forward. So getting the ball out on time. There's, like I said, a couple fundamental (things) - a little bit of some wasted movement in the pocket. We'll get those things corrected. But all in all, I was really excited about how he went out and performed."

That goes for the offense as a whole as well.

Throughout the offseason, Brown said that UK would be improved. It's clear now that was true, but the jury is still out on exactly how much. The Cats' next opponent, Ohio, will reveal a bit more.

"I think it's still to be determined, to be honest with you," Brown said. "I think UT Martin is a good football team, but we went out and performed like we needed to perform. I think a lot more of the story will be told this week. See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe."

UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops kicked off his weekly in-season press conference on Monday as he often does, reflecting on UK's previous game.

He began by singing a tune similar to the one he sang following a dominant win over UT Martin on Saturday, praising his team's effort and attitude as a "good first step" in a long season.

That's when the perfectionist in Stoops came out.

"There's also a lot to improve on," Stoops said. "There's a lot of things we can do better that we will do better."

If you were concerned about the Wildcats resting on their laurels after a 59-14 victory, fear not.

"It won't be a pleasant film session today, I can promise you that," Stoops said, laughing.

However, the positives that had Stoops fired up 48 hours ago remain from the blowout win.

He still likes the way Patrick Towles operated the offense in his first start and the play-making ability A.J. Stamps brings to the safety position. The energy the Wildcats brought in the way they started the game, that's a great sign too.

The difference now is that Stoops knows how much his team has to work on before UK takes the field on Saturday against Ohio, which is a positive in and of itself.

On offense, a lot of that work to be done is in the ground game.

"There were some good things," Stoops said. "But there were some things in the run game, some of our fits, just not striking people, being as violent as we need to be. So there's a lot of areas to improve, and we will."

Defensively, Stoops' primary focus will be on sustaining energy.

Through nine drives on Saturday, UK had allowed just 164 yards on 39 plays, pitching a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Over UT Martin's final four drives, the Skyhawks rolled up nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think part of that is guys were enthused and they were anxious to play," Stoops said. "That first game, everybody was jacked up. It's been a long offseason. That's the good thing. I want good energy. But then we have to maintain it. We have to come out of the locker room the second half and be a consistent football team."

Some of that can be pinned on UK's offense too, considering all but two of the Cats' nine scoring drives lasted less than three minutes. That's a good problem to have.

"Statistically it's not always going to be pretty," Stoops said. "But I hope we're in that situation. I hope we're up a whole bunch and the defense has to be up there, we score quickly."

Stoops, however, isn't giving the defense a pass, especially not to the backups who gave up the bulk of the yardage and all of the points on Saturday.

"We need to get some depth and we need some guys to step up and compete," Stoops said. "To give up two touchdowns and a bunch of yards the last four possessions is something that we can't do and we won't do."

UK needs to improve right away because Stoops says Ohio represents a significant step up in competition.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio."

Ohio needed a field goal as time expired to finish off a 17-14 victory over Kent State over the weekend, but the Bobcats outgained their opponent 437-295. Ohio had four fumbles in the game, but Stoops knows better than to expect those mistakes to repeat themselves.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

Based on both the things they did well against UT Martin and the things they didn't, the Cats are well positioned to do just that.

"The good thing is that I felt like, as I said after the game, it was a good game," Stoops said. "Our team needed it. Our fans needed it. The whole deal just to go out and play well. Good news is there's a lot of areas I think we'll improve on."

Injury, depth chart notes

  • Senior Darrian Miller returns to his regular role as UK's starter at left tackle following a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. With his return, Jordan Swindle moves back to right tackle with Kyle Meadows backing him up after starting last week at the position.
  • Wide receiver Rashad Cunningham is also back after a one-game suspension. He is listed as a third stringer at one wide receiver position behind Javess Blue and Dorian Baker.
  • This week's depth chart has changed to reflect UK's regular switches between playing three and four down linemen. Bud Dupree and Jason Hatcher are the starters at the two defensive end/linebacker spots.
  • Khalid Henderson is now listed as the lone starter at weak-side linebacker. Last week, he and Ryan Flannigan were listed jointly. However, the competition between the two continues and both are expected to play this weekend.
  • After tweaking his ankle on the second of his two long touchdowns, Braylon Heard is in recovery mode. Stoops reported the Nebraska transfer is "still a little sore" and "a question mark" for Saturday.
  • Alexander Montgomery continues to rehab following knee surgery, but is now running and cutting as works to return, while fellow wide receiver Jeff Badet has an appointment Thursday to evaluate an eye injury. Neither is expected to play this weekend.


Video: Stoops' Ohio week press conference

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