'Keep on Swinging:' Cats Already Looking to Next Opportunity
Kentucky went toe to toe with a talented Georgia team on Saturday night, falling just short as a Bulldog field goal went through the uprights as time expired.
In past years, such a performance likely would have had Mark Stoops at the podium for his postgame press conference badly disappointed, yet praising his team’s effort.
Tough as this instance may be, it’s another example of the Wildcats’ growth that the script was different this Saturday night.
“We had really good preparation all week, and I really didn't feel like we had an edge about us today though,” Stoops said. “I just didn't like—just a certain look in our eye. I think our players wanted it to happen, and I don't know, I just got to do a better job of getting them to play with that mentality and that edge.”
Like Stoops said, it was another good week of work for the Cats (5-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) leading up to a 27-24 loss. They did everything they could to position themselves for a fourth straight win that would have given them first place in the SEC East, but a little something was missing when the ball was kicked off.
UK’s quarterback thinks he knows what it was.
“I think we had more fight some other games,” Stephen Johnson said. “Like I think he said, we expected to win this game. We didn’t fight to win this game.”
No one outside the UK locker room would have recognized that, because the Cats sure seemed to be battling. They battled when Georgia scored the opening touchdown, answering quickly with a Benny Snell, Jr. touchdown. They battled when UK turned the ball over twice in a row in the third quarter on what should have been two big passing plays, Snell carrying his team on his back for a game-tying field goal with less than three minutes left.
“He has great heart and great toughness and maturity for a freshman, that's for sure,” Stoops said. “And we talked about it with Boom (Williams) and with him and all of our guys that they were going to be tough yards today.”
In spite of Snell’s 114 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and Williams adding 77 yards and a score of his own, UK couldn’t quite pull this one off. The Cats were clearly dejected as they dutifully fielded questions from media, their lack of an edge and missed opportunities weighing heavily on their minds.
“We missed some critical plays that could have turned the whole game around,” Williams said. “And so that’s what happens when you don’t make those routine plays against a good team like Georgia. It comes back to bite you in the end.”
The good news for UK is there’s no time to wallow in defeat. A trip to rival Tennessee – a game that will kick off at noon on the SEC Network, it was announced in the wee hours of Sunday morning – awaits.
“Just gotta keep playing,” Williams said. “Three games ahead of us starting with Tennessee next week, so just gotta come out and practice well and be able to go out there and play a good game against a good Tennessee team in their stadium. It’s going to be very hard so we gotta do what we do and be able to make plays.”
Just like after every game – thrilling wins and agonizing defeats alike – that begins by getting back to work on Monday.
“We got a lot of things we gotta work on,” Snell said. “A lot of things we gotta work on. But we’re just going to fix our mistakes and we’re going to keep growing as a team like we have all year. We’re going to get after it next week.”
The raucous atmosphere, quality opponent and vacuum atop the SEC East standings might have created an opportunity UK was unable to capitalize on Saturday night, but that won’t change the Cats’ approach. Not one bit.
“We're going to keep on swinging and keep on going back to work,” Stoops said. “So we're not going to let -- you win and you lose. And these guys are battling and they're in the arena, and they're competing and coaches are working hard and we'll all stay together and we all can do a better job and we will. We'll go back to work, but we're not going to stop.”