Plays under Pressure the Focus before Florida

The sting Mark Stoops was feeling after Kentucky’s season-opening loss on Saturday had not faded by Monday afternoon. Not even close.

But neither had his belief in his team.

“We feel the same way today as we did after the game,” Stoops said. “It hurts just as bad, but I promise you, as I said all year, this is a good football team. They knew what to do. We gotta execute.”

For nearly a full half, execution was no issue for the Wildcats. But when things began to go haywire – starting with a long touchdown just before half – it began to slip. Not across the board, but enough to open the door for a dramatic comeback. 

“When things go wrong, we have guys on there that start rat-trapping and doing some things that are inexcusable,” Stoops said. “And that’s gotta stop. That’s a losing mentality that we will not tolerate and that’s gotta change because there are so many people doing so many good things and we cannot do that. Players have to make plays when things are going wrong.”

Borrowing a phrase from Jimbo Fisher, his former boss at Florida State, Stoops reference “rat-trapping” a few times. He described it succinctly.

“It’s going back to bad habits,” Stoops said. “When pressure is on the line you go back to bad habits.”

The Cats have trained for hours on end to break those bad habits and replace them with better ones. The good news is UK has come a long way in that regard. The bad news is it only takes a few instances of reverting to spell doom.

“There’s 10 plays at that game, whether we don’t execute because we’re rat-trapping or we go back to a losing mentality or whatever it is, but that’s gotta change,” Stoops said. “That we will get changed because the vast majority of this football team is much better. And so we’ve got 11 games and we’ll move forward.”

First among those 11 games is a trip to Florida, where the Wildcats will look to end a 29-game losing streak at the hands of the Gators. No. 25 Florida is coming off a season-opening 24-7 victory over UMass.

“We know it’s a real challenge,” Stoops said. “I think we know we have to play very well or we will not have a shot. They deserve the respect that they get, but our players also know it’s about us and what we do and if we go execute and play the very best we can then we’ll have an opportunity, a great opportunity. And if we don’t, we’ll have no chance.”

How well the Cats play come Saturday will be unknown until kickoff at 3:30 p.m., but Stoops doesn’t anticipate having any trouble getting his team to shift its attention to the Gators.

“I don’t believe that will be difficult at all to get them back on point and get them focused on Florida,” Stoops said. “That won’t be difficult. We’ll have a meeting today and we’ll show them all the things we did well, all the things we need to do better and we’ll get going on the Gators, but I don’t think it will be hard to get them motivated and get them going.”

But as Stoops mentioned, UK’s preparation won’t be as much about the Gators as it will be about the Wildcats. And he’s not going to be shy about challenging his players. He doesn’t have to be anymore.

“We show it to them and we put it on them,” Stoops said. “And here’s the deal: Because there’s so many guys doing so many good things, we’re beyond having to be delicate with these guys because they can handle more. They are tougher and they can handle it, but you gotta be honest with them.”

Being honest means Stoops will be clear in pointing out the 10 or so plays that turned the season opener. Then it’s up to the Cats to make them when they’re in position next time.

“Until we do it, until somebody makes a big play when those games are on the line and flip it then that’s the result,” Stoops said. “That’s what we have to get changed and will get changed.”