Kyvin Goodin-Rogers heard the doctors saying how serious her condition was.
But lying in a hospital bed with her mother and Matthew Mitchell nearby, it had not quite sunk in. She was still thinking she'd be at practice the next day.
"Coach, he was there beside me, and I was like, 'Coach, I'll be there tomorrow,' and the doctor was like, 'No, you're not going to be playing,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
Last October, Goodin-Rogers, a 6-foot-1 forward, was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and would need to go on blood-thinning medicine for the next several months to ensure her long-term health. Though that was the only reasonable decision, it meant her first season as a Kentucky player had ended before it began.
"Our doctors and the family decided to put her on blood thinners, which was the protocol that would try to guarantee her recovery and make sure that she didn't have any more problems or another one didn't occur, and so the moment she went on the blood thinners, her season was done," Mitchell said. "That was a tough day certainly for her."
It didn't stop being trying either, and Goodin-Rogers wasn't the only one affected.
Her new UK teammates had gotten to know her as a person and player over the summer and in fall practices and all of a sudden she was relegated to watching from the sideline. For Makayla Epps, who played with Goodin-Rogers at Marion County High School, it was particularly difficult.
"It put both of us down really bad," Epps said. "That's like my best friend. I've been with her for seven years and when I found that out it was real heartfelt for me. Like, I almost got real emotional about it. But we tried to keep her positive about it and all of that."
With the support of her teammates and coaches, Goodin-Rogers made the best of a bad situation.
"It was an eye-opening thing. Over the year I actually got more mentally tough about it. I took it more in a positive way than a negative way because everything happens for a reason."
It would have been easy for Goodin-Rogers to get down, especially when she learned a blood clot is a career-threatening condition for some high-level athletes, but she refused to think in those terms.
"No, never," Goodin-Rogers said, asked on UK Hoops media day whether she ever thought she'd played for the last time. "I knew I would play no matter what."
A year later, she's proven herself right.
Goodin-Rogers, a sophomore who will be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt, is poised to contribute when the Wildcats open the regular season on Nov. 14 against Appalachian State.
"Kyvin Goodin-Rogers has just bounced back from a very difficult freshman year with her health problems, and she looks really good right now and looks like a player we're going to be able to count on," Mitchell said.
Goodin-Rogers began building that confidence when she was officially cleared on April 28 after a battery of tests. Hours later, she was on the floor with her teammates playing in the most gratifying scrimmage of her life.
"It meant a lot because once you start going a few trips, I was like, 'Yeah, I still have this. I haven't lost anything,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
If you ask Epps, Goodin-Rogers has actually gained something. In a preseason scrimmage last weekend, Epps saw a player even better than the one rated a four-star prospect in high school.
"The kid hasn't played in a year and I was on the court with her and I love seeing her out there with me," Epps said. "And then when I was on the bench watching her, she was just going like she played last year. I was like, 'That's crazy. Like, you're amazing.' But she's back and I think she's better than she's ever been. Sitting out a year, that's just crazy. I can't wait to be out there with her for real."
After the scrimmage, there was one final hurdle for Goodin-Rogers to clear this week. She had to get through practice on the one-year anniversary of the day she reported chest pains to senior athletic trainer Courtney Jones.
"Yesterday, I was like, 'If I get past this day, I'm good. I'm going to play this season no matter what,' " Goodin-Rogers said.
That day behind her, Goodin-Rogers has moved her focus solely to preparing for the season. She's a potentially important piece for a UK frontcourt that lost stars DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker to graduation, laying the burden on the shoulders of seniors Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney, freshmen Alexis Rice and Alyssa Rice and Goodin-Rogers.
"We just need to keep working hard because we know how to play the game," Goodin-Rogers said. "It's just another game, another practice. We just gotta be mentally tough and prepared and know our positions."
Goodin-Rogers is a contender to start, but she's not overly concerned with that.
"I just want to be there for the team, do my part, do what I have to do, do my role to win games and do better," Goodin-Rogers said.
That's the perspective of a player who knows how much of a gift playing basketball is.
"I take every position more seriously than I ever have in my life," Goodin-Rogers said. "I'm just grateful to be back on the court and show what I have and (can) do, what I can for my teammates."
With only three former Cats picking up wins in the NFL's Week 8, seven UK alumni went home with losses. Nevertheless, a familiar face was able to extend his league-leading touchdown total, while one young player achieved a career milestone.
Another former Wildcat--Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay--saw no action on the field in his team's historic thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Neither team recorded a single punt, marking the Packers' second such performance in four weeks, and only the third of its kind in NFL history.
Cats in the Spotlight
Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (5-3) Despite his team's 44-23 loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Randall Cobb came away with five catches for 126 yards and a 70-yard touchdown grab. Cobb's ninth touchdown of the season moved him into a tie for first place among all NFL receivers.
Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6) Juxtaposing his team's bumbling two-win 2014 campaign, Avery Williamson has continued to put together a sensational rookie season in terms of personal performance. The 6-foot-1 Tennessee native recorded a career-high 10 tackles and his first professional sack in the Titans' 30-16 loss to the Houston Texans.
Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-6) Playing alongside Williamson on the Titans defense, Woodyard assisted in two tackles and logged four more of his own. Woodyard has combined for 49 total tackles on the season.
As a college basketball player, Jennifer O'Neill has just about done it all.
Three Sweet 16s. Two Elite-Eights. A Southeastern Conference title. A 43 points on national TV in a football stadium. The list goes on and on.
But for the UK guard, plenty remains to be done. And she's put in a lot of time and effort to reach new heights in her last season at UK.
A player of O'Neill's stature -- having among other stellar credentials wowed a national audience with that school-record scoring performance in AT&T Stadium last season -- could be forgiven for lacking motivation. Yet given the work the senior has been putting in building up to the 2014-15 season, inspiration doesn't seem to be in short supply.
The fire that burns inside O'Neill is unique to her.
"So much motivates me," O'Neill said. "Definitely my mom, who set the bar high. My family, I want to be an example to my younger siblings and cousins. I read a quote that said, 'Work hard in silence and let your success speak for itself.'
"That's my mindset. I'm not worried about what people have to say about me, what people think about me. If I know what I'm doing, and I know I'm doing the right thing then I have nothing to worry about."
For her part O'Neill has always put in plenty of time in pursuit of improvement, but four years into her journey as a college basketball player, she has a more effective and efficient practice routine.
"When I first got here I was really out of shape, so I worked on my fitness and nutrition," O'Neill said. "I started taking it seriously and understanding when I was able to eat certain things at what time. Not counting calories, but really watching what I ate, when I ate it, at the time I ate it and stuff like that.
"Now I really work on my mechanics. Little things I could do to get better. As far as footwork, making sure how my follow-through goes so my wrist isn't twisted to the side. I'm constantly working with the coaches as much as possible. I get as many shots up as I can. Really that's it, just my mechanics and technique is what I'm working on right now."
As a player O'Neill can always work on her game, but as a senior expected to play substantial minutes, she could also be called on to assume a leadership role.
The role of veteran leader is a bit novel to O'Neill, but it's one she has already started growing into.
"I talk a lot more now," O'Neill said. "Sometimes I get quiet and I don't even realize it until Matthew (Mitchell) says things or my teammates say something. I'm definitely talking a lot more than I ever have since I've been here.
"I'm trying to lead by example by really showing my teammates what they need to do in order to get better. It's something I didn't do my freshman year."
While O'Neill may not have initially been comfortable showing the way to her teammates, some of the UK Hoops newcomers have taken notice of O'Neill's influence early this year.
"Players like Jennifer O'Neill have taken me under their wing," freshman Alexis Jennings said. "She's made me feel like I'm sisters with everyone on the team already. She's been here a while, and I can count on her to give it to me straight. Every practice she encourages me."
Indeed O'Neill's embrace of a role as a mentor was likely outside her comfort zone, but it's indicative of the attitude she's taken on since arriving at UK.
"I've grown up a lot; I've learned a lot," O'Neill said. "I've been exposed to a lot of knowledge from coaches. They have just passed their knowledge down to me and just showed me what I needed to do. How I need to improve."
Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns battle for a loose ball at Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari moved to the opposite of the court for most of Monday's Blue-White Scrimmage, taking a seat next to his wife and leaving his assistants to do the work on the bench.
He couldn't help but interject on occasion, but he spent most of his time watching his two platoons go head to head.
It was in those moments as an observer that he realized just how unique a coaching challenge he's created for himself. The thing is, he's created the same challenge for his peers.
"The issues I'm going to have, the other coach is going to have, too," Calipari said.
Given the opportunity, any opposing coaches who happened to tune in to UK's annual preseason scrimmage surely would trade places with Coach Cal.
Kentucky's unmatched depth was on display, with seven players scoring in double figures. Devin Booker led the way with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while Andrew Harrison had 19 for the Blue team, which came away with a 94-66 victory.
Though the final score wasn't close, this edition of the Blue-White Scrimmage was a departure from years past.
"I think we all could see that we were all really competing hard at each other and acting like it was a Louisville-Kentucky game, but it was against each other," said Karl-Anthony Towns, who impressed with 18 points and nine rebounds. "We really went hard at each other, but we had a lot of fun. I definitely had fun. I really enjoyed today and I just can't wait to play with the other team on our team."
"The other team on our team." That serves to illustrate what the Cats will try to do when they're all wearing the same color uniform.
For the better part of three months now, Coach Cal has been preparing his team to play the two-platoon system. Nonetheless, he can't be sure from games on UK's Big Blue Bahamas tour, practices or the scrimmage exactly what it's going to be like to coach the system when he doesn't have free rein to reset the score with 11:30 remaining as he did on Monday.
"I don't know," Calipari said. "We're going to find out. We haven't done it yet. Today we just played a bunch of guys."
Slightly more thought went into it than that.
The Blue team -- before Cal switched up the squads -- was comprised of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein and Towns. White's starters were Tyler Ulis, Booker, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins split time between the two teams.
"You want to have a point guard on each group," Calipari said. "You want to have some size on each group. And how do they fit together?"
Experience is also a consideration.
"I'll probably try some different combos," Calipari said. "I kind of like two freshmen on a team, three vets on a team. It gives it some balance."
With all the thought Calipari is putting into the composition of the two platoons, the players are steering clear of concerning themselves with who belongs on which team. They're just playing.
"The combinations we don't worry about," Towns said. "We just worry about going out there and doing everything we need to do to get a W. That's not our job. Our job is to go out there and execute the plan Coach Calipari gives us."
The plan is clear, though the particulars are still a work in progress. There's no manual for what UK is about to try.
"We're just going to see what happens," Calipari said. "I mean, I'm committed to it. It's the best thing for these players. Now we got to make it the best thing for our team."
Neal Brown was just finishing his breakdown of Kentucky's loss to top-ranked Mississippi State.
The Wildcats had come up just short in a hard-fought defeat, but Brown praised the way UK battled.
"We're close," Brown said. "We gotta continue to get better. We gotta find a way to get number six."
Six wins, of course, is a significant number. In college football, it means bowl eligibility. For a UK program that hasn't appeared in a bowl game since the 2010 season and won a total of just four games in the previous two years, reaching postseason play would be significant.
Even so, that's not what the UK coaches are talking about when they mention number six.
"I don't think that's the reason why we need to go get number six, even though we know the value in it," Stoops said. "I think the reason we need to get number six is because we're sitting on five."
Kentucky's next shot at that sixth win will come on the road against Missouri at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Tigers (6-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) are in the thick of the race for the SEC Eastern Division title after winning it a season ago.
"Look at what they did last year, sitting here 6 2, and they probably feel a lot like us, in that they haven't played their best yet," Stoops said. "You know, they're a very good team. They've won, they've been there before, they're an experienced group, especially as a coaching staff." Special teams improved in defeat
UK's final play on special teams against Mississippi State wasn't pretty.
Down 38-31 after Patrick Towles ran for his second touchdown with 2:31 left, the Cats lined up for an onside kick. The try went directly to Christian Holmes, who promptly sprinted 61 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
The play, however, doesn't come close to defining UK's overall performance on Saturday.
"Special teams responded extremely well," Stoops said. "I thought the guys competed and played very good this last week."
On the heels of a loss as LSU in which special teams were largely responsible for a big halftime deficit, UK's specialists were solid.
Following kickoffs, UK started on its own 21.9-yard line on average, while MSU started on its 23.6, not counting the onside kick. In the punting game, Landon Foster kicked six times for an average of 47.8 yards, three times pinning the Bulldogs inside the 20 and allowing just three return yards. His net punting average of 47.3 was two yards better than Devon Bell's for MSU.
"The kickoffs were great, the kickoff kicker it was ridiculous how high and how well he kicked the ball so that makes it extremely difficult but across the board I thought the guys responded," Stoops said. "None of us were happy with the week before. We know that's not acceptable. Coach (Craig) Naivar knows that and our players but we have all had our moments this year, offense and defense and special teams where we have not done our part."
Ground game a work in progress
UK has always been a running-back-by-committee kind of team this season, but never has that been clearer than on Monday.
On Kentucky's updated depth chart, Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams are listed with "or" between each.
It's a departure from previous weeks, when Heard and Kemp were listed jointly, but practice this week won't be any different.
"It's been like it has been," Stoops said. "Not much has changed. We need to continue to work some of those guys in."
Against Mississippi State, Horton carried just once after playing well at LSU. Expect to see more of the big freshman at Missouri.
"We had plans last week with Mikel (Horton) and then he goes in and fumbles the first play and that rattles your confidence a little bit," Stoops said. "We've talked about that, we can't let it. We need to get him back in there and get him playing and we will. Mikel has worked his way into the rotation and he needs to get in there."
If all goes according to plan, the same will be true for Williams. The dynamic freshman missed the Mississippi State game with a head injury, but is expected to return this week.
"He should be fine," Stoops said. "Let's hope he doesn't have any setbacks. He was very close (last week) and I don't want to get into all that, technically he probably could have played but we didn't want to."
No matter who lines up in the backfield, UK needs to improve in the ground game. Over the last two weeks, Wildcat running backs have combined for just 82 yards on 29 carries, though a lot of that has to do with tough LSU and Mississippi State defenses.
"We're still trying to be the team that we want to be," Stoops said. "We're not there yet. We want to be a team that's balanced."
Senior Day set for noon kick
Television selections for games on Nov. 8 were announced on Monday and Kentucky's home finale vs. Georgia will kick off at noon ET. ESPN will broadcast the game.
Patrick Towles had 477 total yards and four touchdowns in UK's loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Patrick Towles has never lacked confidence, but even the sophomore quarterback admitted he was shaken in a loss at LSU last weekend.
His steady hand, though in a losing effort, was back on Saturday against Mississippi State.
"I really just went after it," Towles said. "There was kind of a whole timidness down in Baton Rouge with the whole offense that was absent today. We ran into a really, really good football team who's going to win a lot of football games."
That football team - which happens to be ranked No. 1 in the country -- was too much for Kentucky to handle, in spite of a valiant effort by the Wildcats. In a back and forth battle that saw the Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) deliver multiple blows likely to spell the end for UK, the Cats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) kept battling back before falling, 45-31.
"We got beat by a better football team," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Give Mississippi State credit. They're a very good, strong, tough football team. Deserving of the No. 1 ranking that they have. I appreciate our team's effort. We did not play well enough to win, to beat the No. 1 team in the country."
Whether Towles played well enough individually to beat the No. 1 team in the country is up for debate.
His statistics were eye-popping. Combining his 390 yards passing, 76 yards rushing and one reception for 11 yards, Towles had a hand in all but 27 of the 504 yards the Cats gained in playing what Neal Brown called his signal caller's best game.
"Patrick competed," Brown said. "He competed. Really excited about how he raised his level. He's had two weeks where--Monroe he played so-so, last week not very well and to bounce back against the No. 1 team in the country."
He also did against the player many consider to be the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
Towles, at least in the box score, out-produced Mississippi State's Dak Prescott with 477 total yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers to his counterpart's 304 total yards, three touchdowns and one interception, though he was hardly concerned about that.
"I'm worried about the defense and our defense is worried about him," Towles said. "I was worried about winning the football game and we didn't get that done."
Towles was hell-bent on leading his team to a win, and every fan among the 64,791 in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium could see it plainly.
"It's a mindset you have to have every game: Go out there, do everything you can to win," Towles said. "Whatever Coach Brown or Coach Stoops asks of me, it's my job to do whatever I can to win the football game."
On this night, Towles was called on to carry the load not only in the passing game, but also as a runner. Disregarding the 47 yards he lost on six sacks, Towles ran 17 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns as UK's backs were able to find little room against the defensive front seven Brown called the best the Cats have faced all season.
"We got some good looks, good ideas watching their film," Towles said of his role in the run game. "They're kind of susceptible to it and those looks kind of carried over, obviously, to the game. So it worked early so we kept doing it."
In the passing game, Towles showed no signs of wear from the hits he took running the ball. He completed 24-of-43 passes for a career-high 390 yards and two touchdowns, including a couple plays that made his offensive coordinator's jaw drop.
"There's some 'wow' throws," Brown said. "That throw he threw to Javess Blue, that's a wow throw. ... He's got big-time arm talent."
The pass to Blue was certainly worthy of a "wow."
After Mississippi State scored with 4:44 left in the third quarter to claim a 31-17 lead, Towles dropped back three plays later and delivered a strike that traveled more than 40 yards in the air and his Blue in stride, leading to a 58-yard touchdown.
"We got a good look," Towles said. "The safety rotated wide and Javess was able to split them. I put out there and he was able to run under it."
Drops were an issue at times for UK's wideouts, but they made plenty of plays for Towles too, perhaps most notably one that came in the first quarter.
Down 7-0, Towles threw downfield to Demarco Robinson along the right sideline. In one motion, the senior jumped to snare the ball and shook two defenders before sprinting for a 67-yard score. All the while, he tip-toed the out-of-bounds line so closely the officials had to review the play to make sure he stayed in.
"Great play," Towles said. "Great play after the catch. I kind of threw him a little bit too far inside. He made two people miss and took off. He's a great player. We're lucky to have him."
Towles had plenty of big plays in him the rest of the way, but he never could get the Cats over the top.
Once in the third quarter and again in the fourth, UK took over trailing by only a touchdown after a defensive stop. The two drives were the Cats' only two three-and-outs of the second half.
"We just didn't make plays," Towles said. "That's the whole thing tonight. We got opportunities to make plays but we didn't."
Even after a career night, Towles was hard on himself. Along those same lines, Brown took encouragement from the fact that there were simple ways Towles could have played better.
"He was a decision here, a decision there from having a really big day," Brown said. "And the thing that's he's gotta learn is--and listen I'm proud of him, this is the best he's played so I'm nitpicking here, but he's gotta take what's easy. Take what's easy and not try to force the big play."
If Towles and the Cats improve the way they know they can, they might come away the victor the next time UK plays in a high-profile matchup such as this one. For now, the Cats will have to take some solace in the way they bounced back from that LSU loss.
"We knew that we could play with anybody in the country," Towles said. "I'm not sure the country knew that we could play with anybody in the country, but we fought like knew we would."
By no means is that enough.
"It's nice to see the improvement, for sure, but we're not happy with the way the game came out," Towles said. "We're in the business of winning football games, not competing in football games. So we'll get better and we'll get after Missouri on Saturday."
On Thursday, Mark Stoops spoke to the media for the final time before Kentucky's matchup with Mississippi State.
Once again, the UK coaching staff left the practice field happy with the Wildcats' work.
"Guys have been good all week," Stoops said. "We've had good energy and good practices, so hopefully we'll get a few mistakes cleaned up. Seems like we have, and looking forward to a great game here Saturday."
A great game and, if Stoops is right, a great atmosphere as well.
Asked about the opportunity to play against the nation's top-ranked team at home, Stoops repeated that he's excited to take the field in front of a big crowd at Commonwealth Stadium.
"Well, I think we're starting to create a great environment at home and we're looking forward to that, so obviously, always a lot nicer playing at home than at some of these venues in the SEC," Stoops said. "It's pretty challenging. So hopefully we'll get some good home-field advantage and it will help us."
Mississippi State's ranking has added to the anticipation for Saturday's game on the part of fans, but the No. 1 next to the Bulldogs' name only means so much to coaches and players.
"A big game's a big game," Stoops said. "You kind of feel it in the air and the energy and the practice and the focus, so they're really all big games. Once you get to the point where we're doing what we're doing and trying to win a bunch of games, then they're all important. We've got a tough stretch and this is our next one."
Patrick Towles and Kentucky will look to bounce back from a loss at LSU against No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Kentucky's loss at LSU stung, no doubt.
The Wildcats, for the first time all season, simply weren't competitive in a blowout in Baton Rouge, which turned out to be even more painful than being one play away as they were in a defeat at Florida.
That said, Patrick Towles wasn't about to let the loss linger. He knew the Cats had to get over it.
"It took me about a day," UK's sophomore quarterback said. "It hurt for about a day. Then if it keeps hurting, you gotta play a different sport."
Towles and his teammates are sticking with football, and it's a good thing because the nation's top-ranked team is coming to Lexington this weekend. UK (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) will host No. 1 Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0 SEC) at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in front of a CBS audience watching at home.
"They've had some impressive wins and they're playing outstanding football," head coach Mark Stoops said. "We're looking to improve this week and eliminate some mistakes if we're going to go out there and compete with a great Mississippi State team."
Calling Mississippi State's wins "impressive" may be somewhat of an understatement. The Bulldogs, No. 1 for the first time in school history as of Oct. 12, became just the fifth team ever to topple three straight top-10 opponents by taking down No. 2 Auburn on Oct. 11 on the heels of wins over No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 LSU.
As Stoops said, the Cats have improving to do to compete with a team the likes of Mississippi State. Correcting mistakes has been a priority in practice this week, but Stoops is just as focused on his team's confidence after its first and only lopsided loss of 2014.
"I told you, other times, speaking to you and to our team, we've gotten beyond the belief, then it's about execution and doing things and then we go out and don't do it very well, so now we got to make sure they don't slip back and start doubting," Stoops said. "And it goes back to preparation and work and controlling the things we can control."
By all accounts, the Cats have handled their business in preparing for Mississippi State, striking a balance between learning from their mistakes and moving on from them.
"I think there's a lot of learning points, especially where we're at," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "If we had a veteran team, hey, we may have came in and not even watched the video. Really. And just said, hey, we're better than that, let's go. But I think where we're at, especially on offense, we've got to learn from those mistakes, or you repeat them."
The Bulldogs, so far this season, have specialized in forcing miscues by their opponents.
Having built leads of at least 20 points in all six games this season, Mississippi State has had to defend the pass an inordinate amount this season. Consequently, the Bulldogs are last in the league in pass defense, allowing 308.3 yards per game. On the flip side, the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in both sacks and interceptions per game.
"They'll have the best front seven that we've played all year," Towles said. "They're strong. They're the No. 1 team in the country, so they're really good everywhere. We've gotta be sharp, be disciplined and pay attention to details to succeed."
Attention to detail might be even more important on the other side of the ball for Kentucky.
There, the Cats will have to contend with Heisman Trophy frontrunner Dak Prescott. The junior quarterback has been nothing short of dominant, ranking second in the SEC in total offense and fifth in rushing yards. He's accounting for an average of 23.0 points per game -- third nationally -- with his 14 passing touchdowns, eight rushing scores and one receiving touchdown.
"He's as talented of a guy as there is in the country," Stoops said. "He can run it, he can throw it. He's making great decisions and their offense puts stress on you."
That stress, more than anything else, stems from Mississippi State's incredible offensive balance.
The Bulldogs are first in the SEC and No. 10 nationally in total offense at 529.7 yards per game, and they do their damage running and passing in nearly exactly equal measure. Mississippi State has piled up an average of 264.3 yards on the ground and 265.3 through the air.
"That's a credit to what they're doing schematically and a credit to their coaching staff and obviously a very talented group," Stoops said. "I guess it's fair to say it's a little bit unlike anybody we've seen in recent history here. So very balanced and like I said, they present a lot of problems because they can certainly be as physical as they want to be but also have the ability to spread you out and throw it around, too."
In spite of the challenges Mississippi State will present on both sides of the ball, Stoops knows little else will matter if the Cats don't come ready to play.
"I think because we got whupped and because we made some mental mistakes, sometimes that can shake somebody's confidence, and we'll see how they respond," Stoops said. "I have no reason to believe that, though. I have a good feel we'll bounce back and prepare well and play well."
Demarco Robinson was a bright spot in UK's loss at LSU, catching three passes for 52 yards. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
By Nick Jones, UK Athletics
Kentucky fans have been outspoken in their appreciation for head coach Mark Stoops and his ability to recharge the program with high-level athletes.
The influx of youth has surpassed all expectations throughout the first seven games in Stoops' second year at the helm. And despite a 41-3 letdown at Louisiana State Saturday night, this young team is still holding onto a 5-2 overall record.
It's hard to imagine UK starting the 2014 nearly so well without Demarco Robinson, a player who came to Lexington before Stoops' talent infusion.
"Demarco's a really good player," said sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles following Tuesday's practice. "He's been here; he knows what works, what doesn't; he's quick and he's strong for his size and he makes plays on the football. It's nice having him out there."
The numbers do not necessarily to jump off the page, but Robinson led the Kentucky receiving corps in Saturday's loss with three catches for 52 yards. In fact, he was one of the only players among the skill positions to earn praise from the coaching staff following the disappointment in Death Valley.
"There were some times, like Demarco Robinson got open a lot," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Tuesday. "And there were some times some other people got open. But Demarco, he won more of his battles than anybody else."
His speed, quickness and attention to fundamentals has helped Robinson rank second on the team with 20 catches for 306 yards on the season while averaging 71.6 all-purpose yards per game as a starter at wide receiver and the team's top punt returner.
And while the on-the-field production may be appealing to box score fanatics, the statistics pale in comparison to the daily leadership Robinson brings to the locker room.
"I'm the leader of the wide receiving corps because I'm one of the oldest guys," Robinson said. "I've been through a lot in my time here and I've played against a lot of guys in our league in either high school or college."
Just as any adept leader would, Robinson came off as a bit a bashful in his response when asked to talk about himself. He is an unselfish teammate who, in his senior year, brings an invaluable set of intangibles to a group of young receivers that do not hesitate to look to him for guidance.
Freshman wideout Garrett Johnson came off the practice field on Tuesday with yet another update on Robinson's role as a leader.
"Today I was just out working on some routes during practice and he was right there kind of critiquing me on the fly," Johnson said. "A lot of times we'll sub in and out and as he is coming in he's telling me what I did wrong on the route and giving me tips to improve. And that's an everyday thing with him. He challenges the rest of us to be all-in with everything."
Possibly the most difficult challenge of the entire 2014 season awaits Kentucky this week as the nation's top-raked team rolls into town. The Cats will take on No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
College football experts, as well as previous opponents, have raved about the Bulldogs' front seven. However, not much has been made of the MSU secondary, which is giving up 308.3 yards per game in the air as the Bulldogs have built big leads of at least 20 points in every game this season.
This could be a perfect opportunity for Demarco Robinson and the rest of the Kentucky wide receivers to come up big against Mississippi State.
So what is the message from the senior to the rest of his team?
"Step up," Robinson said. "It's a big game so you've got to show up to the party."
As much as he may have wanted to, Neal Brown couldn't just throw away the tape from a blowout at LSU on Saturday.
Even though it's a painful reminder, there's too much to be gained from looking back at the loss for a young Kentucky team.
"If we had a veteran team, hey, we may have came in and not even watched the video," Brown said. "Really. And just said, hey, we're better than that, let's go. But I think where we're at, especially on offense, we've got to learn from those mistakes, or you repeat them."
UK began the business of correcting those mistakes on Monday and Tuesday, with a practice on both days. Some tough coaching has resulted, but it's all geared toward preparing the Cats to play their best game on Saturday against Mississippi State.
"When we met yesterday, we were hard on those guys because we've got to be better," Brown said. "In those type of games and those type of atmospheres, we've got to be better. Why did things go wrong? Here's why, now let's go out and fix them."
The issues on offense, according to quarterback Patrick Towles, were across the board. UK, however, is on their way to fixing them.
"We just didn't really make plays," Towles said. "The coaches can call a perfect play, but you need to execute. We didn't execute at any level at any position, which you're going to get beat by everybody if you don't do that. We executed really good today. We'll build on that tomorrow so come Saturday we're ready to rock."
The Cats don't have much choice about whether to be ready if they want to win with the top-ranked Bulldogs coming to town. Both Brown and Towles said Mississippi State's defensive line and linebackers represent a challenge the likes of which UK has not yet seen, even against LSU and Florida.
"I think they've got the best front seven that we've played against, maybe the best in the league," Brown said. "I haven't seen them all yet, but their front seven is very talented, d-tackles, they go four deep there and they're big."