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Live stream: Stoops pre-Tennessee press conference

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Kentucky-Georgia a matchup of resilient teams

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Kentucky will play at Georgia at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky will play at Georgia at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A longtime defensive backs coach, Mark Stoops watched the way Georgia lost against Auburn and winced.

With the Tigers facing a one-point deficit and a fourth-and-18, quarterback Nick Marshall tossed a desperation heave over the middle of the field. Two Bulldog defenders converged and Josh Harvey-Clemons got a hand on the pass, but it deflected ahead to Ricardo Louis' for a game-winning 73-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left.

Stoops knows how the Bulldog staff coached its players to defend that situation, but also that predicting how anyone will react in the heat of the moment is impossible.

"Sometimes players' instincts take over," Stoops said. "They had two guys that are trying to make a play, with great effort, and it's unfortunate for them. But I know they talk about it and we talk about you have to knock it down right there."

The loss was the latest in the latest of a string of misfortunes for Georgia (6-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference). The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 5 but lost at Clemson in week one before climbing back to No. 7 in early October.

It was then that injuries -- particularly at wide receiver and running back -- befell the Bulldogs, who have lost three of five games in spite of holding fourth-quarter leads in each defeat. Never, however, has Georgia packed it in, not even down 20 in the fourth quarter on the road against a top-10 Auburn team.

The same will surely be true when Kentucky (2-8, 0-6 SEC) travels to Athens, Ga., for a game on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

"That's what I was so impressed with," Stoops said. "You know, kind of a fluke play to lose it, but to see them battle back, we had a chance to watch it on the way back (from UK's game in Nashville on Saturday). It was on the bus, we had satellite and were actually watching that game and just watching it live and then watching it on film."

That never-say-day attitude, in Stoops' opinion, begins with Georgia's quarterback and senior leader. Aaron Murray's name is all over the SEC's passing record books, as he now occupies the top spot in touchdown passes, total offense, passing yards and completions.

"He just knows where to go with the ball at all times and is a great leader and on top of that, he's got a very strong arm and a very accurate passer," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I'd say the biggest thing about him is he's just so intelligent with how to handle the game."

Murray's leadership through adversity is what most impresses Stoops.

He has managed to throw for 2,892 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013 with many of his top weapons sidelined, including 415 yards against Auburn. Nine Bulldogs have at least 10 receptions on the season, including leading receiver Chris Conley (32 catches for 442 yards), who returned against Auburn after missing two games with a sprained ankle.

Also back in the lineup is sophomore running back Todd Gurley, who has 704 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in just seven games played and two starts. His presence is a game changer.

"(Defending a balanced offense) is always hard, so you've got to make sure that your defense is made where you're making the right call at the right time, you know," Eliot said. "If I want to stop the run, I've got to have a run called. If I want to stop the pass, I've got to have a pass called. That makes it very difficult."

Particularly in the passing game, UK's challenge against Georgia will be much different than the one it faced at Vanderbilt. The Commodores relied heavily on Jordan Matthews -- who caught 12 passes for 141 yards -- but Murray figures to spread the wealth.

The Wildcat secondary is still in search of its first interception of the season -- a statistic that both befuddles and maddens Stoops -- and now UK will look to get it against one of the best quarterbacks the SEC has seen.

"It's right there sometimes and just hasn't gone our way it seems like," Eliot said. "But it will. It will. We keep putting them in position, those kids keep fighting hard, we'll start making our side of the plays."

Georgia has made more than its share of plays on defense, particularly behind a stout defensive line. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC in sacks with 28 and have hurried the opposing quarterback an incredible 93 times. For the sake of comparison, Georgia has given up just 12 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries.

"It's going to be tough," offensive guard Kevin Mitchell said. "Fortunately we're not too banged up. Hopefully we're all going to be playing. Every week we go against good D-lines."

Mitchell has contended with a variety of maladies this season, ranging from a bruised knee to regular stingers to an ankle injury to balky AC joints, but has refused to let any of them affect his senior season for too long.

That kind of mentality has become more and more common as Stoops' first season in Lexington has worn on. The losses may be tough to take, but the Cats -- much like their opponent this weekend -- have refused to wilt.

"I think you're starting to see more accountability on this team as guys understand us and start understanding that whether it's off the field or little things, it all matters," Stoops said. "And I think we're starting to get some leadership."

Head coach Mark Stoops



Offensive coordinator Neal Brown



Mark Stoops spoke to reporters on Wednesday for the final time before Kentucky's Saturday trip to Georgia. Once again, the Wildcats delivered the kind of effort he expects.

"Moving forward with the week," Stoops said. "Got some good work in today, and I thought our energy was good, thought the guys were practicing hard and doing as best we can. So, moving forward, looking forward to getting on with the preparation for Georgia."

Playing an important role in that preparation, both this week and all season, has been UK's scout team. Each week, the Wildcat backups are tasked with simulating the upcoming opponent's scheme while also working to improve.

Included in that group is a handful of players redshirting this season who might not be seeing the field, but that certainly doesn't mean they are putting in less work. In fact, they are in the weight room much more often with an eye on contributing next season and beyond.

"They do more than our travel team," Stoops said. "The guys that are redshirting and not playing are lifting much heavier and of course, when we're traveling and things like that, they get in some extra lifts over the weekend. So they are gaining some weight and getting some strength."

Freshman defensive lineman Regie Meant is foremost among those weight-gainers, as he now comes in at around 290 pounds according to his coach. Meant, at times, has been a menace on the scout team, drawing the praise of the offensive coordinator who calls plays against him.

"Regie Meant, he's gonna be a big factor," Neal Brown said. "I don't want to speak for D.J. or Mark, but he's gonna be a major factor in what they're doing."

Stoops also mentioned defensive lineman Jacob Hyde as a player who has improved his physique and flexibility and he was the first player Jalen Whitlow named when asked about the scout team. Amusingly, Whitlow compared the Manchester, Ky., native to the cartoon character Binky, a bulldog from the children's television show and book series.

"He is an animal out there sometimes," Whitlow said.

UK's crop of redshirting offensive linemen has been impressive as well, particularly Ramsey Meyers and Kyle Meadows. In fact, when asked which redshirt players could contend for immediate starting roles, Stoops named both.

"Ramsey's a guy that jumps out, Ramsey Meyers, right away," Stoops said. "He's got good size to him. I want to say he's in the 330 range right now. And again, he plays very hard. He's nasty and athletic. He's a guy that can help us inside definitely. Kyle Meadows. I like Kyle and all those guys, really."

Watching their development, Brown believes both Meyers and Meadows would provide needed depth right now. Even so, he knows redshirting both was the right decision.

"I just believe from a wear-and-tear point up front, I think the right thing is to redshirt those guys," Brown said. "They're gonna be so much better as redshirt freshmen. They have a chance to have four great years, where this year it would have been up and down."

Stoops pleased after practice on chilly Tuesday

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Head coach Mark Stoops



Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot




Though he's a native of Youngstown, Ohio, Mark Stoops has grown accustomed to mild winters. He's made coaching stops at Houston, Miami, Arizona and Florida State since 2000.

Now at Kentucky, Stoops is once again becoming acclimated to cold November practices. On Tuesday, UK practiced in the coldest temperatures of the year.

"Pretty decent practice," Stoops said. "Little bit cool out there today, but the energy was up. Guys were moving around, bouncing around good, so overall fairly pleased with the practice."

Headed to Athens, Ga., (Saturday forecast: 62 degrees and rainy) this weekend for a game against Georgia, Stoops won't need to bundle up this weekend, but the Cats will have to prepare for a Bulldog offense that has rolled up 856 yards passing over its last two games. That starts with star senior quarterback Aaron Murray.

"They're very good and very efficient," Stoops said. "They have a lot of balance in their offense, and so when they need to throw it -- like you saw at the end of that game last week -- they can throw it as good as anybody, really. I think they have a really good group of receivers, good tight ends. They like hitting the back (Todd Gurley) and checking it down to him as well. But Murray's just a very special quarterback."

A young secondary is in for a test, particularly with junior corner Nate Willis unlikely to travel. It's a group that is without an interception this season -- UK's lone pick was by linebacker Josh Forrest -- a fact not lost on Stoops. His background is as a defensive backs coach, so he's having to balance between using the lack of interceptions as motivation and preserving confidence.

"There's a line," Stoops said. "There's definitely a line between beating them down and getting them to, you know. It'd be good to cover them and knock the ball down sometimes as well, honestly."

Over the Cats' last two games, they've dealt with Dorial Green-Beckham of Missouri and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, two players sure to play on Sundays. Georgia, only now recovering from a rash of injuries at skill positions, might not have that kind of top-end talent, but will still be a test.

"We'll have our hands full each and every week in this league, but we're improving and we'll be out there ready to play," Stoops said.

Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Saturday matchup at Georgia. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops will lead Kentucky into a Saturday matchup at Georgia. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It was plain to see that Mark Stoops was frustrated after Kentucky lost to Vanderbilt on Saturday. He saw many of the mistakes and missed opportunities that had plagued the Wildcats in their previous close losses and was growing tired of the feeling.

But by Monday, Stoops had come to realize that his team isn't the same one that dropped tough road games at South Carolina and Mississippi State.

"I think you're starting to see more accountability on this team as guys understand us and start understanding that whether it's off the field or little things, it all matters," Stoops said on Monday, "and I think we're starting to get some leadership."

That leadership translated on the field, as Stoops was more pleased with his team's overall effort than he has been at any point this season, in spite of the 22-6 final score.

"I thought last week was as good as we've played all year with that mentality, a toughness and a desire and a hunger across the board to go out and win," Stoops said.

The Cats were particularly sound on defense, holding the dangerous Commodores to 313 yards of total offense, the fewest for a UK opponent in Southeastern Conference play this season. Vandy's first touchdown of the game came on a short field following an interception and the only other on a fourth-down jump pass with less than a minute left.

"Defensively definitely our best outing since we've been here," Stoops said. "I thought we really did some good things and played well."

UK didn't execute quite as well offensively, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.

"I thought we played very hard," Stoops said. "On either side of the ball, and in special teams, we're not always the smartest and we don't always execute everything perfectly, but I thought for a team effort, that was as good an effort and the attitude was right and the fight was right, and that's something that I'm proud of and happy to see."

Stoops feels Bulldogs' pain after Auburn loss

Georgia played in arguably the game of the season over the weekend, falling in heartbreaking fashion at Auburn.

The Bulldogs mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback, rallying from a 20-point deficit to take a 38-37 lead in the final minutes behind start quarterback Aaron Murray. Georgia was a play away from sealing the upset on the next drive, but Nick Marshall's downfield heave on fourth-and-18 deflected off the hands of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and to Ricardo Louis for a game-winning touchdown that will be on highlight reels for years to come.

"You know, that was an extremely tough loss," Stoops said. "I mean, unbelievable to see the way they battled back and to take that lead and to have an opportunity to win. That's what I was so impressed with."

In a bus on the way home from Nashville, the Cats watched the crazy finish.

"Unbelievable effort by that team, and you see the leadership with Murray and the talent around him to come back and take that lead and really--I'm sure they're sitting there kicking themselves, should have won," Stoops said.

That sympathy, however, only extends so far as UK prepares to travel to Athens, Ga., for a game at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.

"It'll be another great challenge for us, a team that's led by a terrific quarterback, fantastic running back (Todd Gurley)," Stoops said. "They're a big, physical, athletic team across the board. It'll be a good challenge, and looking forward to getting out there and playing again."

Recruiting signs still positive


Since Stoops and his coaching staff arrived nearly a year, they have made waves on the recruiting trail.

It started with a 2013 signing class that was the highest-rated ever for Kentucky according to Rivals.com and has continued in 2014. Due to NCAA rules, Stoops can't comment specifically on unsigned prospects, but he continues to be pleased with the way UK's message is being received on the trail.

"I feel very good about the way things are going in '14 and off to a good start in '15," Stoops said. "You know, makes me very optimistic about the future. I think we're recruiting some great leaders, some great young men that will help our program."

But even if those two classes come together as Stoops believes they will, the work isn't done. In his words, "It takes time."

"So I think you see our freshman class this year being very good," Stoops said. "I think you know the '14 class is going to be a very good class. It's going to be a great class. And I anticipate those guys having a good impact on our program.

"Then you let them grow up a little bit and you let them get another year older and you bring in another good class on top of that, possibly a couple (junior-college) guys here and there, and you start putting together a very good team."

In talking at length about years to come, Stoops caught himself. He refuses to sacrifice the present for UK football's far-off future.

"I like our locker room," Stoops said. "We're improving. We're going to improve it next year, and we're going to improve it the year after that. We're building. We're going to win, and I can't tell you when, but I hope it's this week."

Update on 'banged-up' Cats

Like any team in mid-November, Kentucky is far from full strength entering this weekend's game.

TraVaughn Paschal is doubtful and Khalid Henderson will play in his place at weak-side linebacker. Cornerback Nate Willis is also doubtful, so UK will start Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller at the two corner spots.

The Vandy game was a tough one for the UK offensive line, as both Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller exited with injuries. Stoops, however, anticipates that both will be available. The same goes for wide receiver Ryan Timmons, who was limited to "four or five plays" by ankle injury.

UK football depth chart (Georgia week)

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Offense

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

Left tackle
Darrian Miller
Jordan Swindle

Left guard
Zach West
Max Godby or Teven Eatmon-Nared

Center
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
A.J. Legree

Quarterback
Jalen Whitlow
Maxwell Smith

Fullback
Cody Jones
D.J. Warren

Running back
Raymond Sanders or Jojo Kemp
Jonathan George
Dyshawn Mobley

Defense

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
Tyler Brause

Weak-side linebacker
Khalid Henderson
Miles Simpson

Nickel
Blake McClain
Marcus McWilson

Cornerback
Cody Quinn
Jaleel Hytchye

Safety
Ashely Lowery
Daron Blaylock

Safety
Glenn Faulkner
Eric Dixon

Cornerback
Fred Tiller
Eric Simmons

Special teams

Snapper
Kelly Mason
Matthew Adolph
Tyler Robinson

Holder
Jared Leet
Landon Foster

Kicker
Joe Mansour
Austin MacGinnis

Punter
Landon Foster
Joe Mansour

Kickoff returner
Demarco Robinson
Javess Blue
Raymond Sanders

Punt returner
Demarco Robinson
Javess Blue
Daryl Collins

Live stream: Stoops' pre-Georgia press conference

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Donte Rumph (No. 99) had a career-high 10 tackles in UK's loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Donte Rumph (No. 99) had a career-high 10 tackles in UK's loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
NASHVILLE, Tenn.  -- Reporters watched as Donte Rumph hobbled from the locker room for his postgame interview.

Naturally, they asked about the reason behind his limp, wondering whether his status might be affected for Kentucky's final two games.

Rumph smiled at the question, almost as if to suggest the pain wasn't even worth acknowledging.

"Just football," Rumph said.

The bumps and bruises were well-earned on Saturday, as Rumph tallied 10 tackles, including one for loss, in UK's 22-6 defeat at Vanderbilt. Coming up with stops at a rate uncharacteristic for a defensive tackle, Rumph agreed the performance was likely the best of his career.

"I think so, but I don't try to pay attention to stats," Rumph said. "I just try to do my job and just try to pull out a win for my brothers and my teammates."

Rumph may have fallen just short of that victory, but it was not for a lack of trying, particularly on the part of his defensive unit.

UK held the Commodores to 313 yards and just 3.1 yards per carry. Vanderbilt was stuck on nine points entering the fourth quarter and the Commodores' first touchdown came on a short field following one of Jalen Whitlow's four interceptions, while the other was on a fourth-down jump pass with less than a minute left and the outcome all but decided.

Vandy generated most of its offense through star receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught 12 passes for 141 yards. Adding in his 31 rushing yards, Matthews accounted for more than half of the Commodores' total offense.

"Other than that," Stoops said of Matthews' big say, "I thought defense played extremely hard and very well. A lot of good stops."

Rumph was in the middle of more than his fair share of plays, but his presence had something to do with them all. The senior seemed to inspire his teammates from the game's opening drive.

"I try to lead by action," Rumph said. "I'm not really a vocal guy on defense. I just try to lead by actions and just do my job. That's it. And just do my job. Nothing incredible, nothing extraordinary. Just do my job."

Rumph's UK career is nearing its end and his chances at playing in a bowl evaporated with last week's loss to Missouri. That doesn't mean he's about to stop.

His teammates are taking notice.

"I feel like he's fighting hard for us and it's remarkable to see the fight because we don't have anything to play for now but our team," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "These guys come out here each week still playing hard, still going for a win and I salute them for coming out and trying each week. It shows the character we have on this team."

Williamson is included in that group of seniors who are refusing to let the disappointment of a losing season sap their effort. The veterans won't be on the field to reap the benefits of the foundation for the future of UK football they are helping to build, but that doesn't diminish the importance of their role.

"That makes me feel good because those guys, they haven't quit on us," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They're still playing, doing everything they can to help the team win and just trying to get a W. When you got seniors like that that are going to put that type of effort into it, it makes you feel good."

With just two games left in a Kentucky uniform, Rumph has begun to reflect on his four seasons in Lexington. The mounting losses are increasingly more disappointing, but Saturday is proof that Rumph isn't letting them get to him.

"It's definitely emotional, especially as a senior, knowing there's no looking back," Rumph said. "But, I mean, it's just your motivation. Be competitive in football. You can't just give up because your season's going the way you don't want it to and I can't give up on my teammates. I gotta come out and give my hardest every day."

Video: Stoops after loss at Vanderbilt

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Live blog: Football at Vanderbilt

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