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."