Disappointed in Defeat, UK Looks to Offseason Improvement

Mark Stoops used the words “frustrated,” “frustration” or “frustrating” seven times in his postgame press conference.

Drew Barker called it “the worst feeling you can have.”

To call Kentucky downcast after the Wildcats squandered a 21-0 lead in a 38-24 loss to Louisville would probably be an understatement.

That feeling, however, is what tells Mikel Horton that UK’s future as a program remains bright.

“If we just were like, ‘Oh, we lost,’ and then we just went away with our own thing and we went to next season, then I’d be worried about football team,” Horton said. “But it hurts. There were people in that locker room that were hurt. Everyone was hurt, crying emotional. It’s emotional because we don’t like losing. We just gotta execute the little things.”

The little things are what will leave UK (5-7) a win shy of bowl eligibility for the second season in a row. Dropped passes, errant throws, missed assignments and an inability to adjust to the dynamic Lamar Jackson paved the way for the Cardinal comeback.

That, unfortunately, has been a theme throughout the second half of the season.

“Make one play here or there and we could have eight, nine wins,” quarterback Drew Barker said. “So we just gotta go in the offseason just really focused on getting better and no distractions or anything. That’s just the main focus.”

Though Barker and the Cats remain confident about the future and UK’s progress in recruiting, strength and conditioning, and facilities are clear, Stoops recognizes the 2015 season didn’t end the way fans believed it should. He recognizes that because he feels the same way.

“It's a setback,” Stoops said. “It is. It's disappointing. I know people have been patient even through a tough third year here and tough second part of this season. People were hanging in there. The fans were there, supporting us, and everybody wants to see a change.

“And nobody wants to see a change more than myself and the staff and these players that are working hard. And it hurts. I understand the frustration, believe me, very clearly. And we've got to do a better job. But we're going to do that.”

UK – barring selection as a 5-7 team – will miss out on the extra practices that come with making a bowl. The road to improvement still begins immediately.

“We're going to go back to work,” Stoops said. “And we need to get a lot tougher in the offseason. It starts there. And it starts with the way we go about our business right away here in this offseason program.”

Horton sees developing mental toughness as the priority. The kind of toughness that allows a team to overcome the bumps in the road that too often undid UK this season.

“Physically we’re tough enough,” Horton said. “Physically we’re tougher than anyone in our conference or who we play. Mentally, that’s our biggest thing. Mentally tough. Fight through it. Fight through the adversity. Fight through the little things. Fight through whatever we’re going through. We gotta learn how to do that.”

With the right kind of work, Stoops believes the framework is in place to make that happen.

“We've got to kick it up some serious notches to compete at a higher level,” Stoops said. “And we will do that. We've got a good nucleus of players coming back and we've got to coach them better and work harder in the offseason.”