Satisfaction Not in the Cards for These Cats
Kentucky had been playing its best football of the season, winning four games in five tries.
The defense had bounced back from a tough start, the running game had become dominant and the passing game was beginning to reap the benefits.
The Wildcats never were able to soak in a victory though, always finding a way to let opponents back in.
Things were just a little more comfortable against Missouri.
“We did an awful lot of good things today, in all sides,” Mark Stoops said. “The beautiful thing is there’s still so much we can do and will do. That what gives us so much optimism as we move forward.”
In spite of a couple fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Tigers, UK (5-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) was all-out dominant in winning its third SEC game in a row for the first time since 1999, 35-21. That ascendant running game – Boom Williams and Benny Snell, Jr., to be exact – was the driving force.
“You see the physicality, you see the run game and you see how it helps it helps a program,” Stoops said. “You have to be able to have that physicality. I’ve talked about that since day one. It is a process to get there that nobody wants to go through and wait, but we weren’t ever discouraged. You just gotta stay the course and get better.”
The Cats rolled up a staggering 337 rushing yards, with Williams and Snell doing all but two yards’ worth of the damage behind a steamrolling offense line. Instead of falling victim to mistakes that led to late-game drama, UK stifled any Missouri hopes for a rally by controlling the line of scrimmage, the ball and therefore the clock.
“You have to give that credit to the offensive line, a big, big piece of it,” Stoops said. “I really noticed them finishing blocks. I saw them really playing physical and enjoying that.”
Thanks to that offensive line, Snell (38 carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns) and Williams (19 carries for 182 yards and a touchdown) became just the second duo in the last 10 years to top 175 yards in an SEC game.
With plenty of time to breathe, the UK defense was able to do the job against a potent, fast-paced Missouri offense. The Tigers were held more than 100 yards below their season average of 505 yards per game, with the Cats coming up with stop after stop early and important ones late.
Impressive as the defense and UK’s first road victory of the season might have been, it’s hardly time for the Cats to rest on their laurels in Stoops’ mind. His familiar refrain of getting back to work on Monday, it made its regularly scheduled weekly appearance.
“It’s a very good group and we’re excited,” Stoops said. “I think for the first time, this isn’t about relief of winning the game. This is about how much more we can do. That’s what’s fun about this group, is the mentality to go back to work Monday for another challenge.”
First on UK’s to-do list is addressing the turnover issues that continue to plague the Cats. By losing the turnover battle 2-0 on Saturday, UK now has a turnover margin of minus-11 on the season, ranking among the bottom four in America in the category.
In spite of that fact, UK stands a single win away from bowl eligibility with four SEC wins. The Cats are currently in sole possession of second place in the SEC East with an opportunity to move into first pending the result of the Florida-Georgia game with a matchup with the Bulldogs coming on up on Saturday.
He’s not all that interested in SEC standings at this point, nor in speaking about Saturday’s game as any kind of endpoint.
“That’s what I just asked them right now,” Stoops said. “ ‘Are we satisfied? Is that it? Are we satisfied with this or are we going to go take it to another level?’ ”
He has a good idea of the answer to those questions already.
“That’s what I love coaching about them,” Stoops said. “They want to go to work. They want to enjoy it and they should and the music’s on in there and they’re having fun and they should, but tonight go home and watch somebody else sweat and relax and get back to work on Monday and not be satisfied.”