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Mark Stoops hoped a bye week would reenergize his team, leading to a strong week of preparation and good performance in its season finale.

So far, he's getting exactly what he wanted.

"It's been a good week of practice so far," Stoops said. "The guys are very energetic, worked hard, enthusiastic. So it's been good. Excited about the opportunity here this week."

The opportunity for Kentucky is two-fold.

To begin with, the Wildcats get to face rival Louisville at noon ET on Saturday in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. To that end, UK continued its educational series on the rivalry by watching a handful of clips from Governor's Cup games past.

Other coaches might downplay the importance of the matchup, but not Stoops. He sees UK-UL as an important part of what it means to be at Kentucky.

"It's a rivalry," Stoops said. "We want to embrace that rivalry. We want kids to be a part of that and know when they come play at Kentucky that Louisville's a big game for us."

Stoops and his staff have needed some educating too, since most have still only been in Lexington for less than two years. Included in that group is defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who has quickly learned about the intensity of the rivalry.

"Well, one thing that I've learned is this is as big a rivalry as anywhere I've been," Eliot said. "The players want to win. The fans want to win. It's something that is special and it's something you look forward to."

At the same time, the Cats are looking forward to their last chance to secure their sixth win and clinch bowl eligibility. Stoops, just as he hasn't hidden from the magnitude of UK-UL, has acknowledged the importance of reaching that plateau for his program.

Even so, that's not the message he's delivering to his team. He simply sees a group that deserves to keep playing football.

"I haven't said anything about a playoff, but I've said it's pretty self-explanatory," Stoops said. "If we win, then we're going to play another game and, I've told them, they deserve it. They've worked hard, they've done a lot of good things and worked hard for a solid year leading up into this season and did some good things. So I'd like the opportunity for them."

Before that opportunity, the Cats will tweak their game-day schedule slightly for Thanksgiving. They will practice earlier than normal on Thursday before eating a meal together. After that, Stoops has given them the night off, with an option to stop by his house in the evening.

Stoops and his wife Chantel are prepared for a crowd.

"We're going to have a dinner right afterwards for the whole group and then I told them my house was open," Stoops said. "So I may get anywhere from two to a hundred."


Mark Stoops leads Kentucky into a road matchup with rival Louisville on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops leads Kentucky into a road matchup with rival Louisville on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Patrick Towles emerged from practice on Tuesday without his customary red jersey.

At this late stage of the season, it's almost unheard of for a coach to allow his quarterback to be hit in practice. So was Mark Stoops trying something drastic before Kentucky's season finale?

No, it turns out. It's just Louisville week.

"No red in this facility this week," Towles said.

With UK (5-6) set to travel to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for a matchup with the No. 22 Cardinals (8-3) at noon ET on Saturday, Towles and his fellow quarterbacks decided in a walkthrough they wanted no part of wearing their archrivals' color. With the Ft. Thomas, Ky., native set to start against Louisville for the first time, it just wouldn't feel right.

"I've been a Kentucky fan my whole life, so this is a game that I look forward to every year," Towles said. "Being able to play in it is truly special for me and my family, so I'm excited - we're all excited to go down there and play 'em."

The excitement is team-wide, but Towles is somewhat of a rarity among the Wildcats when it comes to intimate familiarity with the heated UK-U of L rivalry. He's one of just 10 players on the two-deep depth chart from Kentucky, meaning the coaching staff has had some work to do in helping a young UK team understand the passion behind the annual battle for the Governor's Cup.

"We're giving them different things each (day) and having former players talk to the team a bit and just get them educated on (the rivalry) a little bit and the importance of it," Stoops said. "I don't think there should be any lack of motivation for our team. Just the opportunity to go in there and get our sixth victory, which we all know is very important to us and this program. So I think our team is motivated, but it's also good to educate them on the series and get them caught up to speed on the rivalry."

As Stoops said, UK is trying to manage the emotions of playing its biggest rival and working toward its sixth win, which would make the Cats bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Stoops expects his team to handle it all just fine, especially with the open date UK had to recuperate mentally and physically beforehand.

"We'll prepare and be excited to go play," Stoops said. "But there is no reason to be tense or to go play tight. I don't anticipate that. I'd like to see us play with that great passion and energy that we did for most of the season."

The Cardinals can be expected to do the same.

"They're playing some very good football coming off a great win at Notre Dame," Stoops said. "So Louisville's a very good football team, very well-coached and playing at a high level right now."

That starts on defense, where the Cardinals rank seventh nationally in total defense at 290.2 yards per game and 14th in scoring defense at 18.7 points per game. Only unbeaten and defending national champion Florida State has managed more than 28 points or better than 4.1 yards per carry against U of L.

"They've got one of the top defenses in the country," Towles said. "Bring a lot of pressure. They're really good at defensive end. They've got a lot of really good players, and of course they've got that defensive back with all those interceptions."

That defensive back is safety Gerod Holliman, who, with 13 interceptions, is one pick away from tying a national record that has stood since 1968.

"I think some of that is schematic," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "You have to give some of the credit to their defensive staff. He's a free player quite a bit. But the thing about it is he breaks on the ball really well and he's got good ball skills."

Louisville's pass rush doesn't hurt his cause either.

The Cardinals are ninth nationally in sacks, racking up 3.27 per game. Senior defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin (6.5 sacks) anchors the Cardinal pass rush while also helping to hold opponents to 88.5 yards per game on the ground, good for third nationally.

"They've rushed the passer so well you've got to keep them honest (with the run)," Brown said. "But I think that's important. We've got to do a good job, not only at the offensive line position, but our tight ends, fullbacks have to be involved in the game plan and we've gotta, our running backs have got to run."

On the other side of the ball, UK will contend with a U of L offense that has handed the reins to athletic freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon after a season-ending injury to Will Gardner. The Cardinals also have a stable of running backs that features three runners with at least 378 yards and four touchdowns, as well as a receiving corps boosted by the return of DeVante Parker.

In just five games in 2014, Parker has 29 catches for 555 yards.

"Certainly them having DeVante back outside is a real weapon," Stoops said. "He is a fantastic football player and a guy you've constantly got to have your eye on and know where he's at."

Whether it's in defending Parker or otherwise, it's all hands on deck for a UK team that's as healthy as it's been in a long time after a much-needed bye.

"We'll need to go in there and play our very best," Stoops said. "I expect our team to do that. We've had a great bye week and we're off to a great start here this week. Guys are energized and working extremely hard. Again, we'll need to improve to go in there and compete at a high level with Louisville."

Part of having a roster made up of 64 percent underclassmen creates a consistent learning environment in the Nutter Training Facility.

With Kentucky preparing for its regular-season finale at No. 23 Louisville at noon on Saturday, the Wildcats are getting a lesson in what the UK-UL in-state rivalry means to the Commonwealth and the fan bases from each school.

The Wildcats have a total of 77 underclassmen on their 120-man roster and only 10 of the 58 players listed on the depth chart entering the finale at UL are from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 

"So excited about rivalry week, been educating the guys all week on the rivalry," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We educated them today about the Governor's Cup, what it means. Some of the coaches talked about their personal memories. Some of the in-state guys are going to talk tomorrow. We're just taking a little bit of our offensive meeting and trying to educate them, especially for some young guys from out of state, educating them, teaching them what a rivalry is and a little about Kentucky-Louisville."

Kentucky (5-6) enters the rivalry tilt with a lot more at stake than bragging rights. UK is seeking to earn its sixth win to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.

While any rivalry game brings the challenge of managing the added emotion, UK's matchup in the Derby City will present a unique challenge for Brown's offense.

"Obviously Louisville is very, very talented on defense," Brown said. "They're well coached. They play hard. That's the thing that struck me last year preparing for them -- and I know it's a different coaching staff, but it's a lot of the same kids -- they really get after it. They rise up every week. And they play good, solid defense, as good as anybody we've played."

The Wildcats will be seeking to reestablish an offense that shined early in the season in games with UT Martin, Florida, South Carolina and ULM, and 31-point performances in losses to No. 1 Mississippi State and Georgia over UK's last four games.

After UK had an eight-game stretch - including seven against SEC foes - the Wildcats benefited from a bye on Saturday, giving UK fresh legs entering the matchup at UL.

"The bye was good for us. We needed it," Brown said. "I think we were getting worn down there. We used last week to kind of re-engergize, coaches and players. We had a good, spirited workout today, do that tomorrow and then kind of wind down and get ready for Saturday at noon."

UK in the NFL: Conner returns to action

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By Connor Link, UK Athletics

With two former Cats sidelined by injury and one former Cat enjoying his team's bye week, Week 12 saw five Kentucky NFL alumni emerge victorious and four go home with the sour taste of defeat.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (8-3)
In a game that concluded on a much tighter note than expected, Cobb hauled in four receptions for 58 yards in a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings. For the second consecutive week, Cobb failed to reach the end zone, leaving his season touchdown total untouched at 10 (tied for fourth most in the NFL).

John Conner | #38 FB | New York Jets (2-9)
Conner, who came to the University of Kentucky as a walk-on in 2005, has been considered one of the best blocking backs in football since his days in college. As many teams stray away from the fullback position in favor of today's modern rushing attack, Conner still continues to find his way onto an NFL roster each season. "The Terminator" recorded his first rushing attempt since 2011 with a 13-yard run in Monday's 38-3 loss to the displaced Buffalo Bills.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-9)
For the sixth time in his rookie season, Williamson totaled at least six tackles in one contest. The 6-foot-1 Tennessee native made five solo tackles and one assist in the Titans' 43-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-9)
For the fourth time this season, Woodyard totaled at least eight tackles in one contest. The seven-year NFL veteran matched Williamson's tally of five solo tackles, but surpassed his Titans teammate with three assisted tackles in Tennessee's fifth consecutive loss.


Win-or-go-home games are a rarity in college football.

With the way the season is structured, most teams know by the final week of the regular season whether a bowl game is in their future.

Kentucky's December, however, is still very much up in the air.

The Wildcats now face a simple choice: win a game on the road against their archrival or watch their season end one victory shy of bowl eligibility.

Mark Stoops doesn't dispute that it's a source of motivation, though he adds a caveat.

"I think they all know what we're playing for," Stoops said. "They know that. There's no point in hiding from it. But it's not the only message, right?"

The circumstances of UK's regular-season finale are different than any of the first 11 games of 2014, but Stoops isn't about to forsake the focus that he's had all year for a trip to Louisville at noon on Saturday.

"The message is to do what we constantly preach, and that is put the time and effort and focus into our preparation," Stoops said. "It's not just turning it on on game day. We've got to have a great week."

The hope is that UK laid the groundwork for that great week by capitalizing on a much-needed open date. The Cats' bye week began with days off for players on Sunday and Monday, followed by a return to practice on Tuesday.

"It was good just to get out, after a couple days' rest, get out and do some good, competitive work," Stoops said. "Get back to some fundamentals. Do some things that we do through camp where we go good against good, do some one-on-ones."

In the midst of a grueling stretch of eight games in eight weeks - seven coming against league opponents - UK had little choice but to go straight from one game plan to the next. The bye week afforded the Cats the opportunity to think about football, not any specific game.

"You get so enamored with the Xs and Os and assignments that you drift from some of the basics," Stoops said. "We obviously try not to. We constantly have individual in certain things, but it was good to spend more time with that last week."

Once the week of practice was over on Friday, the Cats were given the weekend off. Many players took the opportunity to spend some time at home considering they'll be practicing in Lexington over Thanksgiving this week, while Stoops stayed in town and watched football on Saturday.

"I couldn't get away from it too far," Stoops said. "I didn't watch as much as I normally do though, actually. I got out of the house. Took my boys out of the house for a while."

Stoops made sure to be in front of a television for most of Louisville's 31-28 win at Notre Dame on Saturday. He was impressed.

"Their coach (Bobby Petrino) is doing a great job," Stoops said. "They haven't missed a beat to what they've been doing. They win a bunch of football games, they play extremely hard. They're very well coached, and that's an impressive win. They're playing good football."

Stoops wants UK-U of L to go national


Stoops came to Kentucky to build a program. In doing so he hopes to turn UK-U of L into a football rivalry known nationally.

"Well, we're trying to create it to be a bigger and better rivalry," Stoops said. "I think that comes from us having to play better football and winning more games and putting ourselves in a position where we can get this game on a more national scale."

In the meantime, it's a game both sides still want to win badly.

"It's important to the people in this state," Stoops said. "It's important to our fans and our players and coaches. So, you know, I think it's just like most of these games. It's important to a lot of people, and you feel that, and you want to go play well."

Baker out for season with knee injury

Wide receiver Dorian Baker sustained a non-contact injury to his knee in practice last week. He will undergo surgery and will miss the Louisville, as well as a bowl game should UK reach one. The true freshman has appeared in 10 of UK's 11 games this season, making three starts and catching 19 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.

Also likely to be sidelined for UK's regular-season finale is tackle Kyle Meadows, who is suffering from an ankle injury. Patrick Towles also has an injured ankle, but he played through it against Tennessee and Stoops hopes to have him at full strength for practice on Monday afternoon.

UK football depth chart -- Louisville week

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Offense

Tight end
85 Steven Borden, 6-3, 246, Sr-1L
80 Ronnie Shields, 6-5, 254, Sr-3L

Left tackle

77 Darrian Miller, 6-5, 292, Sr-3L
76 Teven Eatmon-Nared, 6-7, 339, Sr-2L

Left guard
75 Zach West, 6-4, 318, Jr-2L
68 Nick Haynes, 6-5, 319, Fr-RS

Center
72 Jon Toth, 6-5, 301, So-1L
57 Zach Myers, 6-3, 287, So-Sq

Right guard
69 Ramsey Meyers, 6-5, 300, Fr-RS
74 Cole Mosier, 6-6, 348, Fr-RS

Right tackle
70 Jordan Swindle, 6-7, 306, Jr-2L
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS

Wide receiver
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
6 Blake Bone, 6-5, 198, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L

Wide receiver
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L

Wide receiver
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS
81 Rashad Cunningham, 6-4, 225, Jr-1L

Quarterback
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS

Fullback

39 D.J. Warren, 6-0, 251, Sr-3L
10 Jeff Witthuhn, 6-3, 246, So-Sq

Running back
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr
18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
4 Mikel Horton 6-1, 230, Fr-HS
3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L

Defense

Defensive end
94 Za'Darius Smith, 6-6, 263, Sr-1L
91 Farrington Huguenin, 6-4, 275, Jr-2L

Defensive tackle
90 Melvin Lewis, 6-4, 320, Jr-JC
69 Matt Elam, 6-7, 375, Fr-HS

Defensive tackle

50 Mike Douglas, 6-4, 288, Sr-3L
67 Cory "C.J." Johnson, 6-3, 299, Jr-JC or 96 Regie Meant, 6-4, 286, Fr-RS

Defensive end/Linebacker
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-1L
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L

Defensive end/Linebacker
2 Alvin "Bud" Dupree, 6-4, 264, Sr-3L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Middle linebacker
45 Josh Forrest, 6-3, 236, Jr-2L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Weak-side linebacker
33 Ryan Flannigan, 6-2, 225, Jr-JC
22 Khalid Henderson, 6-1, 228, Jr-2L

Nickelback
24 Blake McClain, 5-11, 194, So-1L
29 Kendall Randolph, 6-0, 168, Fr-HS

Cornerback
3 Fred Tiller, 6-0, 170, Jr-2L
11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L

Safety
5 Ashely Lowery, 6-1, 220, Sr-3L
15 Marcus McWilson, 6-0, 210, So-1L

Safety
1 A.J. Stamps, 6-0, 199, Jr-JC
28 Eric Dixon, 5-11, 193, Sr-3L

Cornerback
16 Cody Quinn, 5-10, 172, Jr-2L
21 Nate Willis, 6-0, 168, Sr-1L

Special teams

Long snapper
59 Kelly Mason, 6-3, 223, Jr-2L
56 Matt Howard, 5-10, 208, Fr-RS

Holder
13 Jared Leet, 6-3, 196, Jr-2L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS

Kicker
99 Austin MacGinnis, 5-10, 168, Fr-RS
95 Miles Butler, 5-9, 160, Fr-HS

Punter
9 Landon Foster, 6-1, 198, Jr-2L
93 Bryan Kirshe, 6-0, 155, Fr-HS

Kickoff returner

18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS or 11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L or 5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr or 9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L

Punt returner
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L

UK-Louisville set for noon

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Kentucky football's regular-season finale at Louisville on Nov. 29 has been selected for a noon ET kickoff on ESPN2. Stayed tuned for more on the matchup and an updated depth chart later today.

Also, Mark Stoops will preview the rivalry showdown at noon on Monday at his weekly press conference. Watch live on SEC Network +.

UK has an open date before a season finale at Louisville next Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK has an open date before a season finale at Louisville next Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Bud Dupree is one of the healthy ones.

Unlike many of his teammates, Dupree doesn't have an injury that's forced him to miss any time. He made it through eight games in eight weeks without a sprained ankle, strained muscle or any other malady Mark Stoops has had to publicly address.

He still felt like he got "hit by a truck" by the time the stretch was over.

"Your body feels horrible after a while," Dupree said. "You wake up in the morning, sometimes you don't want to get out of bed because you feel like you want to sleep it off."

With an open date this weekend, Dupree, at long last, got that chance. Following a loss at Tennessee on Saturday, the Wildcats were given days off on both Sunday and Monday to rest and recover.

"It felt good just to lay down, finally, for a long time and just don't worry about anything for that day," Dupree said.

Not only had Dupree and the Cats played on eight straight Saturdays, they had also faced seven Southeastern Conference opponents over that same time period. To say a break was needed would probably be an understatement.

"You get back in there, like I said, Saturday afternoon or Saturday night when you're done, and Sunday certainly, and it's on," Mark Stoops said. "It's on to the next opponent, and it's a full grind. That gets taxing on everybody. The players, they have to come in here Monday and we have to address the issues from the previous game and then on to the next opponent immediately."

Instead, the Cats get to take a breath before they dive headlong into preparing a matchup with Louisville in both teams' regular-season finale next Saturday. Don't think, however, that they forgot about football altogether. Even though there were no official team activities on Monday, groups of players gathered independently to meet and review film with no coaches present.

"It was some of the leaders on the team wanting to step up and make some changes," senior wide receiver Javess Blue said.

Neal Brown, meanwhile, had a film session of his own.

"We do a lot of evaluation," Brown said. "Like over the last couple of days I've watched every play that we've had. Kind of broke it down to every play by different formations and personnel groupings then kind of identifying some problems that have been consistent and going about fixing some things."

Some break, huh?

"With a bye week, of course there's just a little more time to sit (as a coaching staff) and take it in and look at things and see what we have done good and what we've done poorly and try to put them in a position to be successful," Stoops said. "It's our job to put them in a place that they can succeed."

When UK returned to the practice field on Tuesday, that effort continued.

The first step was to focus on some of the little things that began to escape the Cats toward the end of their stretch of eight straight games and a five-game losing streak. With lots of work on blocking and shedding blocks, pass coverage and getting open and one-on-ones with first-teamers, Dupree feels like it's fall camp all over again.

"We are doing all fundamentals this week," Dupree said. "It seems like we started over."

The results, according to Stoops, have been nothing but positive.

"Guys seem to have a little more energy, a little more pop in their step," Stoops said. "Got a chance to go back and do some things, just camp drills as far as competing and doing some things good against good and fundamentally getting better. So it's been a great time for a bye week for us, and I think, like I said, it's been helpful so far, both with rest, healing up some guys and fundamentally getting better."

Stoops said after the loss at Tennessee that "we didn't have a lot in our tank," but the bye week has given the chance for the Cats to refuel. He said he expects UK to be close to 100 percent for the Louisville game, though offensive tackle Kyle Meadows remains a question mark.

More importantly, Stoops sees a team that continues to be coachable and willing to work. The frustration, of course, is there, which is only natural when you've been stuck a win shy of bowl eligibility for two months.

But the Cats are eager for their final chance to break through.

"We know our shortcomings," Stoops said. "We know we all need to do better. But I see a team that's fun to coach, that care, that want to win, that are putting a lot into it."

Head coach Mark Stoops


Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


Defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree


UK in the NFL: Cobb, Williamson star again

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By Connor Link, UK Athletics

Five former Cats emerged victorious in NFL Week 11, including one UK alumnus who signed to an active NFL roster just last week. Alfonso Smith, a former Kentucky running back who went undrafted in 2010, re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers after falling casualty to the team's final roster cuts in training camp. Smith spent his first four seasons as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (7-3)

While Cobb failed to reach the end zone for only the second time all season (snapping his six-game TD streak), the fourth-year wide receiver still managed to haul in a season-high 10 catches for 129 yards. The red-hot Packers rolled over the Philadelphia Eagles, 53-20.

Jacob Tamme | #84 TE | Denver Broncos (7-3)

Like Cobb, Tamme was able to record a season-high number of receptions without scoring a touchdown. The Danville, Ky. native caught four passes for 31 yards in a 22-7 upset loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-8)

Once again, Williamson shined while the Titans were defeated. The rookie linebacker combined for eight tackles (two solo, six assisted) and logged two sacks on Monday Night Football. The Pittsburgh Steelers bested Tennessee by a score of 27-24.

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