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UK travels to Neyland Stadium for a matchup with Tennessee at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) UK travels to Neyland Stadium for a matchup with Tennessee at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
The question is inevitable, and Mark Stoops didn't dodge it.

With his team in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Stoops was asked this week about the mental makeup of the Wildcats' mental makeup.

Collectively, do they have what it takes to shake off the losses against a tough opponent? Can they go on the road and punch their tickets to a bowl game?

"It's a fair question," Stoops said. "I don't know. We'll see. We address them today and get with them, we'll see how we respond this week.  It will be a challenge, but, heck, just like I said, if you look at it that way, we're 5 5 and with two great opportunities left, again, starting with this one."

This one, of course, is a game Saturday at 4 p.m. ET against rival Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference). According to Stoops, it will be a matchup of similar teams in front of 100,000-plus at Neyland Stadium.

"I think we've shown that as well, very energetic, fun to watch team, team flying around, and then we've been inconsistent," Stoops said. "I think if you ask them they would probably say the same thing, I don't know. But, I see a team that's very, very good, and, again, any compliment to a coach, I see a team that plays hard, a well coached team that plays hard."

UK (5-5, 2-5 SEC) has received similar praise from opposing head coaches this season, but the fact remains that consistency has escaped the Cats, as Stoops said. One week, as was the case at Missouri, it's the defense and special teams carrying the load with the offense lagging behind. The next, like against Georgia, the offense takes a step forward and other two units a couple in the other direction.

"It's a mystery," Stoops said. "It's frustrating because we're inconsistent. To beat good football teams, you have to play good -- or at least as good as you can -- in all phases. We haven't done that lately, and that's what gets frustrating. I'm tired of going back and forth where the offense plays well and then the defense and vice versa and all that. We need to be a complete football team, and we haven't done that."

So, with two games remaining, do the Cats have it in them to turn in the kind of complete performance it will take to topple a good team on the road? Offensive coordinator Neal Brown thinks he knows the answer, but, like Stoops, he cannot say for certain.

"I like the kids we have," Brown said. "I think we got good kids. I think we got quality individuals in our room. But I think that's a quality question until we do it. If we bounce back, then yeah, we know the answer to it. If we go out and have a lackluster performance, then the question's still up in the air. So I want to say yes. I want to believe in my heart yes. But until we do it, I think it's still a question."

Though the answer to that question won't be clear until game day, the Cats have shown positive signs in practice this week.

"The one thing I've seen about our team this whole year, even though we had bad games, Monday, the next Monday practice doesn't really show it," senior Bud Dupree said. "We bounce back real quick and move on to the next (opponent) and we just gotta make sure we go out and play four quarters Saturday."

The Volunteers won't make it easy.

Tennessee had a bye week following its best win of the season on Nov. 1, a 45-42 overtime victory in which the Vols overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit. Leading the way was quarterback Josh Dobbs, who was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 301 yards and rushing for 166 in his first start and second appearance of the season.

"He's just playing very well," Stoops said. "Number one, he gives you a great athlete. The run game, the (quarterback) run game is obvious, but he's also throwing the ball exceptionally well. When he led the comeback versus South Carolina, threw some incredible balls in there at the right time and put it in some tight windows and executed very well."

Dobbs is joined in the backfield by freshman running back Jalen Hurd, a 6-foot-3, 227-pounder who rushed for 125 yards against South Carolina. On the outside, UT has five receivers with over 200 yards this season, four of them standing 6-3 or taller.

"There are teams that can run the ball and they have size outside and can throw it, there is no way around it," Stoops said. "We've got to win some one on ones, we can't put two guys on all of them, they'll run it up and down the field until they hit their head on the goalpost so you've got to do what you got to do. You've got to win some one on ones."

Winning individual battles has been a focus in all phases for UK. On offense, the Cats showed progress on that front by running the ball effectively against Georgia and putting up 31 points, including a 24-point second quarter.

"In the second quarter against Georgia we played as good as we have all year," Brown said. "I thought we did some really good things. We've got to figure out a way to get started faster. We kind of had ... a lull there at the first of the game and a lull in the third quarter."

UK can afford no such lulls against Tennessee, a team led by A.J. Johnson. The senior middle linebacker has 96 tackles, tops in the conference whom Stoops called a "war daddy" and Brown said may be the best defensive player in the SEC.

"You look at Tennessee, I think the No. 1 thing that jumps out to me is they're playing really, really hard," Brown said. "I think that's a credit to their coaching staff. They are. They're playing hard, and they play aggressive."

The Cats, considering the opponent, the environment and the stakes, expect to do just the same.

"These are the games that we like," Patrick Towles said. "It doesn't take much for us to get excited about this game."

Temps drop as Tennessee prep continues for Wildcats

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Temperatures dipped into the 30s for the first time this season for a Kentucky practice on Wednesday, but the Wildcats remained focused on the task at hand.

UK's work in preparing for a trip to rival Tennessee continues.

"We had a good Wednesday practice," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were flying around and staying warm, for the most part, so that's a good thing, and were into it. We're harping on fundamentals, and for the most part we were able to do that today."

The Cats, particularly on defense, are opting to focus on fundamentals rather than wallow after a loss to Georgia last weekend.

"Everybody was disappointed and frustrated from the loss," Eliot said. "But you got no other options in this league. You got to get on to next week, so that was our approach."

As difficult as that seems, that's been no issue for UK. Bud Dupree remains confident the Cats won't let one loss pave the way for another.

"The one thing I've seen about our team this whole year, even though we had bad games, Monday, the next Monday practice doesn't really show it," Dupree said. "We bounce back real quick and move on to the next (opponent) and we just gotta make sure we go out and play four quarters Saturday."

More than anything, playing four quarters means winning the individual battles that have too often gone against UK in recent weeks. Eliot says that's mostly to blame for Kentucky's struggles both defending the run and in forcing turnovers of late.

UK figures to stand a better chance of winning one-on-ones if standouts Za'Darius Smith (ankle) and Blake McClain (shoulder) are available on Saturday. In a bit of good news, both the defensive end and nickelback practiced on Wednesday.



For close to two months now, Kentucky has been on the grind, playing seven games in as many weeks without a bye.

But if you're concerned about the Wildcats starting to drag, particularly in the midst of a four-game losing streak, don't be.

Not this week. Not with a trip to Neyland Stadium to face rival Tennessee looming on Saturday.

"These are the games that we like," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "It doesn't take much for us to get excited about this game so we're excited. We were sharp today. We threw it and caught it well today so we're ready to go."

UK's offense is looking to carry forward a small measure of momentum built in an otherwise disappointing loss to Georgia on Saturday. The Cats started slowly, but offensive coordinator Neal Brown said his group played as well as it has all season in a 24-point second quarter. And in the fourth quarter, UK put together a long scoring drive, though the outcome was decided.

"It's a sign that we are growing," Brown said. "Obviously we're inconsistent, not playing as consistent as we would like, but there were some real positives out of that game."

Perhaps the most notable positive was UK's running game, which rolled up 214 yards against a stout Bulldog defense.

"Sometimes you look at the score and you get lost in what it was, but there were some positives for us," Brown said. "I thought we played improved from where we were at at Missouri. Obviously not pleased with the result at all, but we did make a step last week."

Among the next steps for the UK offense is a faster start.

"At the start of the year we got off to some really good starts and scored points, got up on people early, and then in the last few weeks we have not started well at the beginning of the game," Brown said. "So we've got to figure out -- we'll change some things, how we go about calling the game early and I think that will help."

In their first two games, the Cats scored 28 combined points in the first quarter. Since then, UK has managed just 20 total over the course of eight games, going scoreless even in solid showings against South Carolina and Florida.

"We've just gotta get started a little quicker," Towles said. "I don't know what the deal is with that, but we gotta find it and fix it. And I think we took a step today."

By Connor Link, UK Athletics

After a lackluster 0-5 collective performance in Week 9, Kentucky's NFL Cats bounced back in a big way with an 8-3 overall record in Week 10. Even in losses, two defensive alumni were able to match season highs in tackles.

Unfortunately, Larry Warford--a 2013 third round pick with the Detroit Lions--suffered a knee injury that could possibly sideline the right guard for several weeks. Regarded as one of the league's top offensive linemen after a stellar rookie season, Warford had not missed a career snap until the injury.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (6-3)
Randall Cobb continues to demonstrate that the only time he can't find the end zone is when the Packers aren't playing. In a 55-14 thrashing of the Chicago Bears on national TV, Cobb made four catches for 72 yards and a one-handed TD grab you have to see to believe.

http://cdn2.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/BUxwmT1FajUvvoV2lRimbdqBJuQ=/800x0/filters:no_upscale()/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/2443176/cobb.0.gif

Cobb's 10-touchdown total is tied for third most in the NFL and has found the end zone in six straight games and eight of nine of the season.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-7)
Though Avery Williamson's Titans are far from fielding a competitive football team, the rookie linebacker shined in a 21-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Williamson tied his career high of 10 total tackles, including six of the solo variety.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-7)
Alongside his teammate Williamson, Woodyard headed a two-way defensive spark for Tennessee. The former first-team All-SEC selection recorded three solo tackles and six assisted ones, tying his season high of nine.


Mark Stoops knows nothing about the last three weeks of the regular season will be easy.

Ending a four-game losing streak and getting that sixth win will be tough. Doing it on the road against either Kentucky's two biggest rivals will be even more difficult.

But as Stoops sees it, there are two ways to approach what the Wildcats have in front of them.

"It will be a challenge, but, heck, just like I said, if you look at it that way, we're 5-5 and with two great opportunities left, again, starting with this one," Stoops said.

This one, of course, is a trip to face Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) with another to Louisville two weeks later. Before UK (5-5, 2-5 SEC) heads to Rocky Top, though, there's work to be done.

After a 63-31 loss to Georgia on Saturday, Stoops told reporters he was considering going against his custom and tossing the tape of the disappointing defeat and moving on. A day and a half later, he had decided he can't go quite that far.

"As coaches we can never do that," Stoops said. "We have to look at the things we do good and the things we did bad and move forward and push to improve. We will continue to look at those things and our players will look at pieces of it. The accountability piece has to be there. We'll watch some of it but we'll move on pretty quick."

UK's performance against Georgia came on the heels of a week in which Stoops minced no words in telling his team its effort against Missouri was unacceptable, starting with a Monday team meeting Bud Dupree called "ugly." Stoops will now look to find the right tone with his players, calling it the "million-dollar question."

"You guys know the approach I took last week, obviously it didn't work so that's my problem as a head coach and you can't continue to do the same thing over and over again and get the same results, that's for sure," Stoops said. "Maybe we're not to the point where we can - I better be careful of my words - not to the point where you can push 'em through that wall.

"We've got to do the very best we can and find the right mental approach, put them in the right position with coaching and continue to push and move forward."

In his second season as a head coach, Stoops has experienced a roller coaster of sorts with the way his defense and offense have played. Against Missouri, the defense kept the Cats in the game while the offense sputtered. Against Georgia, the offense dug out of a deep first-quarter hole before succumbing in the second half, the defense unable to stop the Bulldogs.

"We've been inconsistent that way," Stoops said. "It's been the offense playing well and the defense playing well and trading off. We have not put it all together. Of course we're not a complete team yet, but we're still striving to get there and put it all together and play a complete game."

In spite of all that, UK still has more wins this season than the previous two combined. Stoops and his staff continue to recruit at a high level, but work remains before the Cats are able to go toe to toe with the SEC's elite. Stoops reminds himself of that fact from time to time, that his long-term plan is still in place, but never at the cost of overlooking the here and now.

"You know I'm quite disappointed whenever we lose, no matter who we are playing and that's the situation it is," Stoops said. "That's the mentality our team has to have as well. They're not perfect but we're going to give it everything we have this week."

Injury update: Z. Smith expected to play Saturday

In the second half of Saturday's loss to Georgia, senior defensive end Za'Darius Smith limped off with an ankle injury. According to Stoops, the injury is not a high-ankle sprain and Smith "should be back" for the Tennessee game this weekend.

Stoops also said he is "hopeful" that defensive tackle Regie Meant and nickelback Blake McClain - both with shoulder injuries - will play, while tight end Steven Borden is still "iffy" with an undisclosed injury.

Finally, wide receivers Alex Montgomery and Jeff Badet have not yet played this season due to injury. Stoops said on Monday that he considered playing Montgomery a few weeks ago as he neared 100 percent, but decided against it for the sake of the player. Badet, meanwhile, is practicing but not as close to Montgomery to being able to play. Both are redshirt candidates if they do not play in UK's final two games.

UK football depth chart -- Tennessee week

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Offense

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

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
2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS
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

Fullback

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

Running back
18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr
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

Stanley Stanley "Boom" Williams rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in UK's 63-31 loss to Georgia on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For Mark Stoops, every game, including losses, provides teachable moments.

His custom is to watch video with his staff on Sunday and reconvene with his team on Monday to begin the learning process, no matter what the film shows.

He's considering making an exception after Kentucky's defeat on Saturday.

"I'm not much on throwing things out, but I may have to throw this one out," Stoops said.

It was a 63-31 loss at the hands of Georgia that gave Stoops pause. The Wildcats (5-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) didn't force a Bulldog punt all afternoon in allowing 559 yards, only preventing Georgia (7-2, 5-2 SEC) from scoring thanks to a fumbled kickoff and the ends of both halves.

"I don't want to keep on going on and on, but when I say I'm embarrassed, I'm embarrassed," Stoops said, restating for the final time a sentiment that came up often in his postgame press conference. "We didn't play good, and I'll sit here and accept that, and it is what it is."

It all started with the opening kickoff, taken 90 yards for the first of two return touchdowns by Georgia's Isaiah McKenzie.

"That's just kind of how the day went," Stoops said. "It's hard to have an explanation for that. It started with a terrible kick and some guys not doing their job. You play a very good football team and they make you pay like that, it kind of takes the air out of the stadium right from the start."

More air left the stadium as Georgia scored twice more before the end of the first quarter to take a 21-0 lead. The Cats would battle back by halftime, scoring 24 points on their next four drives to make it 35-24 at the break, but the outcome was all but sealed when Patrick Towles' pass tipped off Ryan Timmons' hand for a Corey Moore interception.

"I really felt like we had a chance coming out of the half if we could have--what, were we down 10, 11 or something like that - if we could have done something positive, put some points on the board," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "I don't know at the end of the day if we were good enough to win it, but it wouldn't have turned out like this."

In spite of some offensive strides (UK had 214 rushing yards, including 100 by true freshman Stanley "Boom" Williams), 22 Wildcats had their Senior Day spoiled and the 60,152 fans in attendance saw a loss in the final game played in Commonwealth Stadium before the completion of a $120 million renovation. Included in that group is star defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree.

"It was embarrassing," Dupree said. "We gotta watch film. We really don't know what happened. Just not executing calls and not playing with a lot of effort. Just different things that we gotta fix. But you can't point any fingers. We just gotta go on to the next game."

Even though he called Saturday's game "not acceptable," Stoops agrees that moving on is UK's only reasonable course of action.

"We'll look at all the things we could do better," Stoops said. "But the fact of the matter is we're a .500 football team with two big games left, starting with Tennessee, and we'll see."

The other game, of course, is a season finale at Louisville, meaning UK will play its final two games on the road against its two biggest rivals. In doing so, the Cats have a clear motivation.

"Just try to get win No. 6," Dupree said. "We got two more games to win No. 6, to go to a bowl game. We're still going to end up having a good season, be over .500 and it's just up to us if we want it or not."

UK might be in the midst of a four-game losing streak against four bowl-bound SEC teams, but the Cats haven't backed off in their preparation to this point. Stoops doesn't expect that to change.

"Our guys, they've had a good attitude in practice," Stoops said. "They've worked. They've given me no indication throughout the week. This team was better than us and played much better than us and took it to us. They had a lot to do with it. I think we'll see. This will be a test of our character here this week. We'll see how we respond and dig down and how we come back and play."

Fortunately, the Cats have proven performance to call on as they look to bounce back. UK has won a pair of conference games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt and played well in two more against Mississippi State and Florida.

"We know what it takes to win," Towles said. "We've done it. We just have to do it more consistently. I have all the faith in the world in these seniors, these guys."

One of those seniors, defensive tackle Mike Douglas, was asked whether the veterans will call any players-only meetings or do anything special to rally their younger teammates. The time for that, he said, has passed.

It's time, simply put, to do.

"There comes a point in time where there are no more words that can be said it's all about action, you either put up or shut up," Douglas said. "... Now we are at a point where we need to come out and be focused and come out and know the mission at hand. Thank God that we still have two games to prove that we are better than we have shown."

Video: Stoops on UK's loss to Georgia

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Senior Day live blog: Football vs. Georgia

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Live Blog Senior Day: Football vs. Georgia
 

Recent Comments

  • joel alberto luna colon: I agree with you, UK has not only the talent, but some experience. They could go undefeated if they want read more
  • Berdj Rassam: This was expected to be an easy win for UK. read more
  • dannyone: if the cat,s play like that in every game as they should they could go all the way.so what I,m read more
  • Dale Sine: Coach Cal at it again. He is the best coach in America and the only coach that could handle coaching read more
  • Mike J.: Cal is the best coach out there. He returned Memphis to national prominence and stayed 9 years, a helluva lot read more
  • Berdj Rassam: Booker will be a key part of whether or not this team will be successful this season. read more
  • Tom Moore: Since Tubby 98 and 2003-2004 team which should've won it all, Kentucky fans ( I am true blue ) have read more
  • John Mylant: Kentucky verses Kansas I am a UK fan but bringing this into perspective, this was just one of those games. read more
  • Catherine: We have the Blue Platoon and the White Platoon, I say we should name the rest team "The Closers"! read more
  • Sandy: Great game. I couldn't take my eyes off in the second half. Proud of all of you. I thought Epps read more