Next Opportunity Approaching for Kentucky
It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats to move from stewing over a loss to Tennessee on Saturday to focusing on the next opportunity awaiting them at Georgia.
Days later, that opportunity is at hand.
“We are looking forward to Georgia,” Stoops said. “That is the beautiful thing is we have another great challenge going in and playing at Georgia, on the road, and a team that is probably upset just like us. The only way you can erase this feeling in your program is to get a victory, I am sure they feel the same way, just like we do to go out and play a very good game this week.”
As Stoops referenced, the Wildcats (4-4, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) and Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SEC) enter Saturday’s noon matchup in Athens, Ga., in similar positions. Both began the season on a high note, combining for a record of 7-1 in September. October, however, wasn’t so kind. The two teams each went 1-3 and closed the month with blowout losses to SEC East Division rivals.
“The only way you make this feeling go away is to go get a victory,” Stoops said. “That is it. We are not alone. Georgia is going to feel the same way.”
The question come Saturday will be how UK and Georgia respond to that feeling. Kentucky’s leadership has done everything in its power to ensure a positive response.
Senior Josh Forrest and junior Patrick Towles summoned their teammates for a players-only meeting early Tuesday afternoon. The message was simple, but needed.
“That’s what we talked to those guys about today: just really try to do stuff extra and really giving it all we got,” Towles said. “Because like I said earlier, it’s a great opportunity. We got four very winnable games and we can’t afford to not give it everything we have.”
Towles and Forrest approached Stoops to let him know they were planning on calling the meeting. Trusting the two veterans, Stoops gave his blessing.
“I hope it has a positive effect,” Stoops said. “It’s nothing earth-shattering, no panic button. Those guys had talked to me. I saw Josh in the building on Sunday, and we were just having a great conversation. Guys were good, in good spirits, and he just said he had a few things to talk to the team. Patrick had class on Monday before our meeting, so they waited until Tuesday. Just wanted to talk to the team, so I don’t think it’s anything major or anything like that.”
Nothing major, but not something to be disregarded either. The details are what have escaped the Cats in their three game losing streak, so a little peer-to-peer reinforcement could be just what the doctor ordered.
“We are anxious to get back to work,” Stoops said on Monday. “I don’t see one bit of anything within our program or in our players after watching that film – there is not one bit of me that thinks our hearts were not in it. Not at all. Our speeds were good; they were flying around and playing football.”
Facing a team that rose to as high as No. 6 in the Coaches Poll earlier this season, UK will need to bring maximum effort to compete with the Bulldogs.
“Certainly, when we watch them on the tape and when I go watch them in pregame warmup, they will be everything that I think they are going to be which is big, strong and athletic,” Stoops said. “A very good football team and a coach that has been around for a long, long time and has an awful lot of wins. Coach (Mark) Richt has done a great job for a long time and a very good and storied program.”
On offense, Georgia has been held without a touchdown in each of its last two games. The Bulldogs are also without injured star running back Nick Chubb, but certainly not without an impressive array of talent otherwise.
“A lot of talent,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “A lot of talent. They have a very talented team, very talented offense. Running backs that can run and that are big, and wideouts that are fast and that can run, and tight ends and offensive line – they're a very talented team.”
The same is true on the other side of the ball.
“They’re big, they’re long, they’re fast, they rush the passer real good,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “What else? That’s about it.”
That’s plenty, but it doesn’t change what the Wildcats have in front of them.
“We’re 4-4 and we got four very winnable games left,” Towles said. “If we’re sitting here 8-4 at the end of the season, I’m going to be pretty excited about it and I think a lot of people in Kentucky will be too.”