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In search of a sixth win, Kentucky hit the practice field on Wednesday in preparation for a trip to face Missouri this weekend.

On another productive day, the focus was clear for the Wildcats.

"We're really harping on fundamentals," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're pushing the kids to the limit and they're responding well to that, getting ready for Missouri."

Fundamentals, for Eliot's defense, start in the running game. Last weekend, UK allowed 326 rushing yards to top-ranked Mississippi State, many coming after initial contact.

"Give them credit," Eliot said. "They have some very good runners: quarterback, tailbacks, wide receivers. They're all big. But I think that we could have played a lot better fundamentally. Tackling being the biggest thing. The players saw that too so we've really harped on that this week."

That began in the film room, where a long run with numerous broken tackles by running back Josh Robinson was a featured attraction after making the rounds online over the weekend.

"It was embarrassing just to watch how people were missing tackles," senior Bud Dupree said. "People had him wrapped up. There's no excuse for missing that many tackles."

Embarrassing as it may have been, Eliot called the play and others like it "a good learning opportunity" in the coaches' continuing quest to hammer home the importance of fundamentals. It's a message the Cats have heard all season long and even before.

"They say fundamentals every day," Dupree said. "All the meetings, just showing us fundamental things that we could do better. Showing you if your shoestrings aren't tied the right way, you need to tie them the fundamental way."

Tying shoelaces, however, hasn't been the primary emphasis in practice so much as not going for the forced fumble on first contact and flocking to the football.

"You gotta get a good swarm, swarm of guys to the ball," Eliot said. "When the first guy hits him and wraps him up, if he doesn't bring him down there's somebody else to bring him down."


One of the major focuses for Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown heading into the week was improving the running game.

After the Wildcats opened the year with at least 230 rushing yards in three of their first five games, Kentucky has faced stout defensive efforts from its last two foes, at LSU and vs. No. 1 Mississippi State last week.

In those games, the Tigers limited UK to 71 rushing yards and the Bulldogs held UK to 103 yards on the ground.

"Well, I think it's two-fold," Brown said, pinpointing the obstacles in running the football the last two weeks. "I think, No. 1, let's not -- I think I said this after the game too -- let's not take away from those guys. I mean, they're good. You know what I mean? 91, Preston Smith is a really good player, a guy that will make a solid living in the NFL. The two d-tackles are really big. They really rotate four in there. So they gave us some issues, but we had some technique. We leaned, and when you lean good players are going to put their hands inside and go around you. We didn't do a good job getting depth, and our communication was off a little bit. So, we can play better. Our guys are disappointed in how they played up front, and we had a good practice, maybe our best practice in probably a couple weeks up front, today. So, (offensive line) Coach (John) Schlarman will get those guys straight."

When Brown met with the media following Tuesday's practice, he emphasized improving the rushing attack before the Wildcats travel to Missouri for a 4 p.m. ET kickoff on the SEC Network on Saturday.

"Well, first of all, I've got to give them more opportunities," Brown said about getting the running back's involved. "When we get those opportunities, we've got to run through some tackles. And we've got to hold onto the ball. Running back is a lot like a guy that shoots a lot in basketball: you can't just go out there and give a shooter a couple shots. You've got to get him open, and we've got to do the same thing. We've got to feed the running backs and get them in a rhythm."

Kentucky (6-2, 2-3 SEC) boasts a strong stable of running options, including junior Braylon Heard - who has started seven of eight games in 2014 - sophomore Jojo Kemp, and freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams. Kemp leads UK with 314 yards and four TDs, with Heard charting 299 yards, Williams - who missed last week due to injury - contributing 222 yards and the bruising Horton totaling 201 yards.

"Well, it helps us," Brown said about potentially getting Williams back on the field Saturday. "I mean, he's one of our better players. And he will play as long as he doesn't have anything that sets him back this week. He'll play. Excited to get him back. He's a guy that we can get in space. I think he's eager to get back on the field. I don't think he played his best game against LSU. He realizes that, and he'll add a spark to us for sure."

UK sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles has also been a dual-threat option for Brown, leading the team with 90 carries, running for 174 yards, and equaling Kemp for the team lead with four TDs.

"Early in the game it does." Brown said about getting Towles settled into the game with an early rush and contact. "Yeah, it does, really. When he has success early in games and when he does get in the flow, whether running or pass, high-percentage pass, I he does get going."

Brown's unit faces another stiff road test on Saturday with Mizzou, the defending Southeastern Conference Eastern Division Champions.

"Missouri is playing with a lot of confidence," Brown said. "Two really good years in a row. They're playing their best football right now, starting to gain some momentum on offense. They've played good defense all the time. Got a lot of respect for their DC, Coach (Dave) Steckel. Does a good job consistently -- they do a good job evaluating talent, very similar to Mississippi State."

Missouri (6-2, 3-1 SEC) ranks second in the SEC in total defense (310 ypg) and third in scoring defense (20.2) in conference games. Last week, Missouri held Vanderbilt to just 240 yards of offense in a 24-14 win, after limiting Florida to 283 yards in a 42-13 win in Gainesville.

"We've got another stiff test this week with their front," Brown said. "They're going to move a lot. They twist, they don't sit still. They do a good job of speed rushing, and they're defense is built on making negative plays. They've got some linebackers that have got a lot of tackles, solid tacklers, and they've got safeties that have experience. Little bit of youth at corner, similar to what we are at wideout. But again, a tremendous challenge. Tough place to go up and play, but our guys will be ready and like I said, we need to put it all together this week."

UK in the NFL: Cobb continues torrid TD pace

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By Connor Link, UK Athletics

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.

Notes: Win No. 6 important because it's next

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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.

UK football depth chart -- Missouri 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
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS

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
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
82 T.V. Williams, 5-10, 160, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L
2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS
81 Rashad Cunningham, 6-4, 225, Jr-1L

Wide receiver
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS

Quarterback
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS or 7 Drew Barker, 6-3, 216, Fr-HS

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 or 3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L or 4 Mikel Horton 6-1, 230, Fr-HS or 18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS

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
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-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
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

Patrick Towles had 477 total yards and four touchdowns in UK's loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) 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."

Head coach Mark Stoops


Patrick Towles and Demarco Robinson


Live blog: Football vs. No. 1 Mississippi State

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Live Blog Football vs. No. 1 Mississippi State
 

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."

Recent Comments

  • Stephen brown: Kayla, great words. Nicely written. Chris Stevenson, your PA for meets is a friend of mine. He got permission from read more
  • Anthony Spurlock: I'm 56 and have waited a very long time to see a uk football team with football player. So proud read more
  • John: wildcats doing awesome this year read more
  • Guy Ramsey: He mentioned coaching numerous times in his postgame press conference, including his opening statement: "OK. You know, there's not a read more
  • Brian: Funny that Stoops said they got outplayed but forgot to mention that he and his staff were also out coached... read more
  • William Bagshaw: The Kentucky Madness was a failure for the fans that was not on court. This was useless to put on read more
  • justin: Poythress is a straight beast. read more
  • John Lee: On the article, it says "early in the fourth quarter," but it should be 'first' instead..because we only trailed early read more
  • Hugh Jones: We'll be in Memorial and Rupp for all your games. Love you gals! Go Cats! read more
  • Ryan: This is intense, I've never seen a live blog like this, keep up the good work! read more