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Head coach Mark Stoops

Having not played for 10 days, Kentucky wrapped up an extended period of practice with a day of "good preparation" for Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Continuing to make the lead-up to this midweek game as similar to a typical game week as possible, the Wildcats held a regular Thursday practice.

"We went through our normal Thursday routine," head coach Mark Stoops said. "We stayed with a normal Thursday practice, which consists of the normal things. We start with a special-team period and we go to situational work then we go to another special-team period then we come back with team with moving the ball in a game-like situation."

Maxwell Smith continued to take the majority of snaps at quarterback and Stoops confirmed the redshirt sophomore will start Thursday's game. Jalen Whitlow, who is nearing full recovery from an ankle sprain he suffered against Alabama, will be the backup.

"He'll be ready to go, if we need him," Stoops said. "Again, I think Max got most of the reps last week and this week, but Jalen will be ready to go and we'll use him if we need to."

Whitlow wasn't the only Wildcat to take advantage of the bye week and UK hopes to reap the benefits.

"We're feeling pretty good," Stoops said. "We're, I think, much healthier than we've been in some time mentally and physically and ready to go."

Bye week has Cats refocused before MSU trip

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

With just three days before Kentucky's game at Mississippi State, the Wildcats practiced on Monday like they would on a Wednesday before a regular Saturday game.

UK's bye last week allowed the Cats to shift their preparation ahead by two days, but more importantly gave them an opportunity to heal, and not just physically speaking.

"I think the bye came at a good time," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We were a little banged-up coming out of that Alabama game for sure. It was really a culmination of four consecutive tough weeks. But I think as much mentally as physical, also. Our guys got a chance to catch their breath and relax a little bit and kind of get refocused."

The coaching staff hasn't reported many difficulties in adjusting this week's schedule. In fact, Brown likes the idea of playing a midweek game.

"Once you get your clock set it's not too difficult," Brown said. "Now, it's hard on a short week, when you play on Saturday and go to Thursday. But this sets up nice for us, because you got the bye week before and you got a couple extra days after it. I like them. You're one of the only shows going to play that primetime game. I think it's exciting for our kids."

The Cats, however, aren't getting too carried away with the excitement of playing with the eyes of college football world on them.

"We're treating it just like any other game coming in," quarterback Maxwell Smith said. "We're working as hard as we can this week, but we all know and we've been told it's a Thursday game. It's the only game on television, so we gotta showcase ourselves and we gotta play much better than we have been."

Smith was listed as the starter at quarterback on UK's depth chart released Monday and has been getting snaps accordingly, though Jalen Whitlow has returned to practice.

"Maxwell's been getting all the starter's reps," Brown said. "Really didn't know until probably yesterday what Jalen's status was gonna be. But Maxwell's been getting those starter's reps and Jalen's been getting the backup reps."

UK is preparing under the assumption that Whitlow will be available, but will adjust his package based on his health. If the last two days are any indication, he could be close to full speed.

"He's progressed really each day," Brown said. "Moved around probably a little better today than he did yesterday, and so I think he's got a chance."

Other than having one of the team's best athletes available, Whitlow's improving health is good news on another front as well because the staff would like to redshirt both Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips.

Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Thursday game at Mississippi State this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Thursday game at Mississippi State this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The last time Kentucky hit the road, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter after a game-opening blitz by South Carolina. UK would steady the ship and nearly rally to victory, but the slow start ended up being too much to overcome.

A few weeks later -- as his team prepares for a trip to Mississippi State -- head coach Mark Stoops knows UK will need to be ready for an opponent looking to put UK in a similar hole.

"I think it's no secret any time you're playing a team that's struggled a little bit like we have, that's what they're going to say, they're going to want to get off to a fast start and put a dagger in us early," Stoops said. "We have to go out and offset that and play and execute well to start the game."

Mississippi State has scored 142 of its 183 points in the first half so far this season, outscoring opponents by 73 points before halftime and being outscored by 28 after the break.

Stoops also said he expects Mississippi State to try to involve its home crowd in Davis Wade Stadium early, one that has a reputation for affecting opponents with its unique form of ambient noise.

"The cowbells is going to be new to me," Stoops said, referring to Bulldog fans' traditional noisemakers.

Also new to the Cats will be the Thursday-night kickoff. UK hasn't played a Southeastern Conference game on a Thursday since 2007 and Stoops is already pondering game-day routine.

"There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they're up usually watching football if we're playing a Saturday night game or in between meetings, and now they'll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess," Stoops said, drawing laughs at his Monday press conference. "I think we'll try to get them up and have a few more meetings and not as much dead time."

Though players' television-viewing habits may be a consideration, Stoops is much more concerned about a Mississippi State team (3-3, 0-2 SEC) also looking for its first conference win.

"You see a physical team, a team that can create the quarterback run game, put you in a bind with the quarterback run game and still be physical, throw the ball off of that, the play actions off of that," Stoops said. "It'll be a real challenge."

Stoops talks Madness, dancing

Friday was a holiday of sorts for the Big Blue Nation, as UK's men's and women's basketball teams held their annual Big Blue Madness event. Stoops, however, was holed up at the Nutter Training Facility preparing for Mississippi State.

"I had some work to do, but I would have enjoyed being there myself," Stoops said. "I'd like to see Matthew Mitchell do his dance and all that."

As a follow-up, Stoops was asked whether he himself would dance if he knew it would help his recruiting efforts. He gave a progressively more honest answer.

"I probably would," Stoops said. "In fact I know I would. I probably have. I'm just not as talented as Matthew, so I can't do it for everybody to see."

On a more serious note, Stoops does take notice of the passion of Kentucky fans when he sees a night like Madness. It also makes him even more steadfast in his belief in UK football's bright future.

"I think when our recruits come on campus and our players are on campus and they see the success of all of these programs and the way they go about their business, I definitely think it helps," Stoops said. I think we feel an obligation to live up to those standards, and we're working to get there, and we embrace that.  We want to be at the level of some of these programs, and we're working hard to get there."

Whitlow returns to practice

Soon after Jalen Whitlow sustained a sprained ankle in UK's loss to Alabama, Stoops said he did not expect the sophomore quarterback to be available for the Mississippi State game.

After Whitlow practiced on both Sunday and Monday, there is more hope.

"He was out there practicing," Stoops said. "Max (Smith) was getting most of the starting reps but he was out there working, and we'll see how it goes the next couple days."

Smith was listed as the starter on UK's updated depth chart on Monday with Whitlow listed as the backup. Stoops said Whitlow "has improved" and will practice again on Tuesday and no decision on a starter has yet been made.

"We'll see how it plays out here today and tomorrow," Stoops said.

UK football depth chart (Mississippi State week)

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Tight end
Jordan Aumiller
Anthony Kendrick
Steven Borden
Tyler Robinson
Patrick Ligon

Left tackle
Darrian Miller
Jordan Swindle

Left guard
Max Godby or Zach West
Teven Eatmon-Nared

Jon Toth
Zach Myers

Right guard
Kevin Mitchell
Jack Gruenschlaeger

Right tackle
Jordan Swindle
Shaquille Love

Wide receiver
Demarco Robinson
Jeff Badet

Wide receiver
Ryan Timmons
Daryl Collins
Ronnie Shields

Wide receiver
Javess Blue
Alexander Montgomery
A.J. Legree

Maxwell Smith
Jalen Whitlow

D.J. Warren
Cody Jones

Running back
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
Jonathan George
Dyshawn Mobley


Defensive end
Alvin Dupree
Jason Hatcher

Defensive tackle
Donte Rumph
Tristian Johnson

Defensive tackle
Mister Cobble
Mike Douglas
Christian Coleman

Defensive end
Za'Darius Smith
Farrington Huguenin
Alvin Davis

Strong-side linebacker
Josh Forrest
Kory Brown
Malcolm McDuffen

Middle linebacker
Avery Williamson
Miles Simpson

Weak-side linebacker
TraVaughn Paschal
Khalid Henderson

Blake McClain
Marcus McWilson

Nate Willis or Fred Tiller

Ashely Lowery
Glenn Faulkner

Eric Dixon
Daron Blaylock

Cody Quinn
Jaleel Hytchye
Eric Simmons

Special teams

Kelly Mason
Matthew Adolph
Tyler Robinson

Jared Leet
Landon Foster

Joe Mansour
Austin MacGinnis

Landon Foster
Joe Mansour

Kickoff returner
Demarco Robinson
Javess Blue
Raymond Sanders

Punt returner
Demarco Robinson
Javess Blue
Daryl Collins

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

With Kentucky set to play its first Thursday night conference game in six seasons this week, the Wildcats have shifted their practice schedule ahead by two days.

The Cats prepared for Mississippi State on Saturday and Sunday as they would on a typical Monday and Tuesday.

"We just took an approach like it was a regular Tuesday and they went out there and practiced like it was a regular Tuesday," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said on Sunday.

With no game on Saturday, players and coaches were able to watch more games from around the Southeastern Conference. What they saw was one of the most memorable days of upsets in recent memory.

"I think the league is a strong league and every week you gotta come to play regardless who you're playing," Eliot said. "This weekend just justified that. All those teams that got those upsets are on our schedule and we still gotta play them. We just approach it one week at a time and know that there's no shortcuts in this league. I think that every team in this league knows that."

Unranked Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt defeated No. 6 LSU, No. 11 South Carolina and No. 15 Georgia, respectively. No. 24 Auburn also took down No. 7 Texas A&M on the road.

"I wish we could have played yesterday," defensive end Bud Dupree said, smiling. "We probably would have upset somebody real big."

As much as the Cats feel like they missed out, the string of upsets serves as a reminder of why they continue to work so hard each day.

"I don't feel like we've laid down all year," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I feel like we've just given up certain plays and then played good at times. I definitely feel like we've been continuing to fight. If we keep that mentality, we can still win some games in the second half of the season."

Also working in UK's favor looking ahead to the second half off the season is a bye week well spent. Williamson, nursing a bone bruise, was wearing only a wrap on his injured hand after previously playing with a cast. Dupree, meanwhile, said he was allowed much more contact on Sunday as he recovers from an injured pectoral muscle that kept him out against Alabama.

"I feel like we're significantly healthier and the off week was good for us for that reason," Eliot said.

Rich Brooks was recognized in Commonwealth Stadium during the Oct. 12, UK vs. Alabama game. Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics Rich Brooks was recognized in Commonwealth Stadium during the Oct. 12, UK vs. Alabama game. Photo by Barry Westerman, UK Athletics
A familiar face roamed the halls of the Kentucky football building earlier this week. Former head coach Rich Brooks was offering up just the prescription the Wildcats need at the moment: inspiration.

After four straight games against top-20 teams capped by last Saturday's 48-7 loss to top-ranked Alabama, a downtrodden mood overtaking the Nutter Football Training Center might be understandable.

Even though the Wildcats have just navigated through the toughest four-game stretch in school history, they still play in the Southeastern Conference, and as such face a second-half schedule which features next week's trip to what head coach Mark Stoops considers an underrated Mississippi State team, undefeated No. 14 Missouri, No. 15 Georgia and a Tennessee team which took Georgia to overtime in its last game.

But Stoops would never allow his players, coaches or even support staff to give up, let alone become discouraged.

"I was very honest with you after the game: I was frustrated and down, but we don't have any time for that," Stoops said. "Come Sunday morning, after a win or a loss, you've got to be ready to go. That's where the consistency comes in. That's what we ask of these players, and that's what each of us coaches have to do each and every day. So coaches need reminded of that from time to time. But for the most part, our coaches have been very consistent."

By no means do any of Stoops' words fall upon disinterested ears on the UK campus. Still, when Stoops' statements are reiterated by a UK legend who has successfully undertaken many of the challenges facing the current UK football team, such remarks take on added weight.

Enter Brooks.

The former coach was in town for the Alabama game, and he received a rousing Commonwealth Stadium ovation upon being introduced on the field between the first and second quarters. Brooks made the rounds to all his old Lexington stomping grounds during his time in town, but his time around the football team seems to have made the most lasting impression.

The former UK coach met with the current man at the helm of the program, the two hit it off and Brooks described some past experiences leading UK to help encourage the current group of Wildcats.

"I talked to Coach Brooks yesterday for a good while," Stoops said on Tuesday. "I really enjoyed it. That's the second time we got a chance to sit down and talk, and I love visiting with him and have a lot of respect for Coach Brooks and what he's done, and I want him to feel welcome and be around here. He came to practice today and I asked him to talk to the team for a little bit, and it was great. It was a great message."

As it turns out, the current 1-5 Wildcats are in a position similar to a team from relatively early in Brooks' tenure. In 2006, with Kentucky looking to be on track for a fourth losing seasons in a row a 49-0 loss to LSU made the Cats 3-4 on the year.

Brooks saw fit to tell the story of how those Wildcats picked themselves off the mat, and bounced back to salvage the season after a disappointing first half was capped by a big loss to a SEC power.

"I just think they need to know there are better things in the future, and that they're improving," Brooks said of his address to the players. "The improvement they've shown even since the start of the year fundamentally and competitively hasn't shown up in the won-loss column, but it could happen at any time."

Perhaps Brooks' words could spur somewhat of a reprisal in UK history.

The 2006 Wildcats had a bye off the big loss before traveling to Mississippi State, much like the 2013 edition of the team does now. Kentucky beat Mississippi State 34-31, and went on to win four straight and five of its last six games, which included a memorable win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

Brooks' message made an impression on UK coaches and players alike.

"I thought that was a good message," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I think we're probably in a little bit different situation as far as where we're at (with the) youth of our team. But I think obviously we got handily beat like they did and we've got an opportunity to bounce back and go down to Starkville and have a chance to turn our season around."

Senior members of the team like Mister Cobble and Avery Williamson, who are quite familiar with Brooks considering he was head coach when their recruitment process began, were also moved by the striking similarities between the two teams' plot.

"He reinforced the motivation not to give up on the season just because the first half didn't go the way it should have gone," Williamson, who leads the SEC in tackles, said. "We just have to keep grinding, and as leaders we have to keep the guys motivated. We need a confidence booster to keep everybody going because we still have a long six games to go."

For his part, Brooks very much enjoyed the ovation received from the Big Blue Nation during Saturday's game, and he, like much of the Big Blue Nation is excited about the program's direction under Stoops.

"It was nice to be recognized," Brooks said. "I'm hopeful that the program can get back and compete at the upper level of the SEC where they can be able to knock off teams like we were fortunate enough to do during my last three-year period there.

"I think (Stoops) is truly a professional. He and his staff are doing a good job of coaching fundamentals. They seem to be off to a great recruiting year for the incoming season so I think they will get the play-makers that they need to compete moving forward."

Brooks' comments were in line with what Stoops has been preaching to his team of late, and the message he will continue to hammer home over the next few days. While the UK coaching legend's speech to the team certainly provided much-needed positive reinforcement, Stoops knows his team's goals are only attainable through hard work.

 Just ask Brooks, hard work was how the 2006 team achieved its success.

"That was good to hear, but I'm not getting that far ahead of myself; I'm worried about one," Stoops said of Brooks' story about the 2006 season. "I would just like to get one, but it was good to hear that. And I think that's where he started turning the program. It just clicked and it turned and they had some good success from there. So it was good to hear those stories and just visit with him."

Cats have 'spirited' Wednesday practice

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Head coach Mark Stoops

Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown

With his team in the middle of a bye week, Mark Stoops said on Tuesday Kentucky would hold a less physical Wednesday practice to give the banged-up Wildcats a chance to heal.

But when Stoops walked into the team meeting room to deliver a few pre-practice remarks, he found his players dressed in full pads with loud music blaring, eagerly anticipating an intense day of work.

As much as Stoops liked his team's approach -- particularly on the heels of a Tuesday practice during which UK was "a little bit down emotionally" -- he still opted to stick with his additional plan. Even so, he liked what he saw once the Cats hit the field.

"It was a more spirited practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we got some good work in. Guys enjoyed themselves. I thought we got better. Overall, it was pretty good."

It was a rainy Wednesday in Lexington, but not at the start of practice. Even as the rain picked up, however, UK got done what it needed to.

"It worked out pretty good today, really, because when we first went out there, there was nothing and then it was very light, then during our last 20 minutes it started coming down pretty heavy," Stoops said. "But that was pretty good for us to work in the rain and work a wet ball and all that. We still got the looks we needed."

Getting the "majority" of the snaps at quarterback was Maxwell Smith, who is stepping up in place of the injured Jalen Whitlow (ankle). Whitlow's status for next Thursday's game against Mississippi State is uncertain, so the Cats are preparing as if he will not be available.

Smith is not far removed from an injury of his own after leaving UK's game vs. Louisville early due to a shoulder injury. In spite of Smith's injury history, offensive coordinator Neal Brown says Smith is still capable of making all throws that will be required of him, so long as he remains sound mechanically.

"It's his lower body," Brown said. "He's not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those maybe hash(mark) to sideline throws. When he uses his body, he's got no issues whatsoever."

Smith understands that.

"It's been a focus to just make sure I keep a good base and use my lower body and throw the ball," Smith said. "Like he said, I know I can make any throw on the field."

Assuming Whitlow is unable to play, UK will have to select a backup between Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips. Multiple factors will go into the decision since Stoops and Brown would ideally like to redshirt both.

"It's gonna be determined by how hurt Jalen is for the backup," Stoops said. "If it's gonna be one game, we don't want either of those backup quarterbacks to play, because we'd like to redshirt both of them. But Patrick sacrificed a little more in that he's the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt, so I think we got to be conscious of that as well."

Regardless, the coaches know both Towles and Phillips will do what's asked of them without a second thought.

"We're just looking at the best option," Stoops said. "And either of the guys would do whatever we needed them to do. They've been very unselfish."

Head coach Mark Stoops

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot

Mark Stoops gave his players an extra day off, adding Monday to the usual Sunday away from practice, following the team's loss to Alabama last Saturday.

Coming off a tough result - with a game against the top-ranked, two-time defending national champions concluding a brutal stretch of four straight games with top-20 opponents  - conventional wisdom would dictate the Wildcats were chomping at the bit to get back on the field.

Yet, Kentucky has an open date on Saturday, meaning 12 days will pass before UK faces its next opponent on Thursday, Oct. 24 at Mississippi State. Faced with the prospect of a long and relatively uneventful buildup to the next game, the full practice week got under way on Tuesday, and the afternoon workout started a little slower than the coaches had expected.

Stoops and his staff took matters into their own hands, and injected some energy into the team themselves upon sensing the practice's sluggish start.

"Just an OK practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we were a little bit down here emotionally; physically, still beat up a little bit. Emotionally, maybe down a little bit. So just an average day. I thought we got ahead and started working a little bit on Mississippi State. That was good, get some looks for the coaches, get the players getting a little bit of an early start on Mississippi State, but I think we've still got a little work to do physically and emotionally getting back, getting our energy level back up again.

"Yesterday we came in and watched the tape, and we didn't practice. Today is the first practice out and they're not used to two days off. It just took a little while to get going. The energy wasn't what I would like it to be. We will gear that up as we get going here."

Having to provide energy to their younger players posed a challenge for the coaches, but the UK staff took the obstacle in its stride. After all, UK coaches "attack every day" with the same enthusiasm.

"We just tried to motivate them, try to create the energy out there for them," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Coaching college football can be hard in a lot of ways, but you just keep plugging and just keep coming to work every day. You take the same approach that the players do, that you've got to get better every day as well. You just wake up in the morning and go to work, take it on with the right attitude."

"With ankles I hate to say that because things change with ankles," Stoops said. "People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator on that."

Stoops did confirm that while he will only give status updates on Jalen Whitlow's left ankle once every three or four days, the team will go into Mississippi State preparations as if the quarterback will be unavailable, at least for the time being.

"Not much different," Stoops said of Whitlow's status after confirming he thought the sophomore would be out for a few weeks on his weekly radio show Monday. "(With) those types of injuries we will know things about every three days or so. I'll give you a little bit update on it.

"I hate to say that because things change with ankles. People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator."

The injury news was a little better on the defensive side of the ball as junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree returned to practice on Tuesday. While the Preseason All-SEC selection isn't quite back to full-strength, his coordinator was encouraged by the progress of returning to the practice field.

"Bud got some reps, did some things," Eliot said. "He's moving around ... It's good to see him out there at practice, moving around. It's nice to have him out there."

In lieu of an unconventional schedule considering UK's next game is on a Thursday with 12 days between games instead of the traditional six on a normal week - or the typical bye week's 13 - Stoops laid out how his team will approach preparations for a trip to Mississippi State.

"We have to get back and be ready to go. That's our job this week. It's kind of in between a full off week and not. As you know, we play on Thursday so it's a little different than a complete bye week. We will be out here practicing this weekend."

And despite completing the toughest four-game stretch in school history Stoops isn't letting his team think they'll have any easier time next Thursday against another strong Southeastern Conference opponent.

"You watch this league and you go see Mississippi State, there's no drop off there," Stoops said. "That's a big, long, physical, good football team, and they are chomping at the bit to get a win too. For us we just have to worry about ourselves."

Maxwell Smith completed 7-of-16 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in UK's 48-7 loss to Alabama on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Maxwell Smith completed 7-of-16 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in UK's 48-7 loss to Alabama on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For the first time all season, Mark Stoops stepped to the podium for his postgame press conference dissatisfied with his team's effort.

The execution had not always been there, but Stoops had not found himself questioning his team's fight until after Kentucky fell to Alabama, 48-7. Of course, a lot of that had to do with facing a team that has won three of the last four national championships.

"Disappointing night," Stoops said. "I thought we'd compete a little bit harder than that, but give credit to them. Like I said, that's the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason. I was really impressed with them, just like you watch them on tape."

Even as UK played its way to a scoreless tie at the end of the first quarter, Stoops felt like his team was overmatched. The Wildcats forced a pair of Alabama fumbles with the Crimson Tide driving into the red zone, but UK was unable to capitalize.

"They drove it down there, and we'd get the turnover, and they kept us back there, playing great defense," Stoops said. "Even though we got a couple of turnovers, we were still behind the eight ball most of the night and chasing it. It was an uphill climb."

The statistics show just how uphill the climb was. UK (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) was outgained 668-170, its offense hurt by a sprained ankle suffered by Jalen Whitlow. Maxwell Smith stepped in at quarterback, but was unable to find a rhythm. Smith prepared as well as he could in a backup role in case his number was called, but he faced a tall order.

"It hurt in a sense that Jalen, we gave him a bunch of reps," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We gave him the starter's reps this week and Maxwell didn't get as many as he had been. And then we had a lot of quarterback run game in the game plan, so it took us a couple series to get a plan together because we were going to use the quarterback run game and use some of that as a decoy also."

Between facing a team loaded with future professionals and injuries to a number of key players, UK could make all kinds of excuses. Stoops, however, isn't interested.

"We've got to hold ourselves to a higher standard," Stoops said. "We've got to coach better. We've got to play better. That's not acceptable no matter who we're playing.  We know how good Alabama is, but we could do some things better."

Brown feels the same way.

"Our production is unacceptable," Brown said. "Obviously not used to it. We will use this bye week and we will be significantly better."

After an "unacceptable" performance, pursuing improvement is the only rational response.

With a brutal four-game stretch against top-20 teams now in the rearview mirror, UK is halfway through the 2013 season. The Cats have 12 days to prepare for a Thursday-night trip to Mississippi State and take inventory of the progress they've made to this point, which is far from negligible.

Save for a third-quarter touchdown drive -- the first allowed by Alabama in nearly a month -- positives from Saturday night are hard to come by, but that's not the case for the other five games from the first half of the season. The Cats went toe to toe with some of the nation's best teams and refused to back down.

"We got half the season left, so I think you look at it and say, 'Hey, here's what we did. Here's where we're at. Our record's obviously not where we want, but here's where we're at. This is where we have improvement,' " Brown said. "And trust me, we have drastic improvement that needs to be made. And then you treat it like a new season from here on out."

Stoops and Brown may have coached together for less than a season, but you wouldn't know it from the way they echo one another.

"We'll clean up our mistakes, and we will compete for the second half of this season," Stoops said. "I expect our players to bounce back and prepare the right way and play hard."

The record being what it is, concern over the Cats' ability to remain tuned in is reasonable, but UK's senior leader isn't worried.

"I feel like these games are winnable and we can still become bowl eligible," said Avery Williamson, who had a game-high 13 tackles. "We gotta win five games to be bowl eligible and we just gotta really grind and dig and try to get some wins."

For both UK's mental and physical health, the timing of the bye week could be ideal. Injured players have extra time to heal and coaches can hone in on making sure players' psyches are where they need to be.

"We have this bye week like we have been talking about," Smith said. "Guys will get healthy, we are going to keep practicing and keep getting better. Those guys are going to get healthy. We are going to be all right. We are going to come through this thing."

Williamson knows the message he'll be delivering.

"You've just gotta tell yourself that we can win," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "That's the biggest thing. You've gotta tell yourself that we can win. And you can't focus on the negative. We just gotta move on from it."

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