Stoops Leaving No Time for Moping after Disappointing Defeat
Mark Stoops’ frustration was plain to see before he even said a word, but he wasn’t going to leave any mystery about his feelings when he started talking.
“It's not acceptable,” Stoops said. “It's not OK. And not very pleased.”
He was far from the only person wearing Kentucky gear feeling that way after Saturday’s 52-21 loss to Tennessee.
“We’re all upset,” quarterback Patrick Towles said. “Nobody’s excited, nobody’s happy, nobody’s in good spirits.”
The Volunteers, any way you slice it, were dominant in their first trip to The New Commonwealth Stadium. They gained nearly 500 yards, limited UK to only two offensive touchdowns, forced a pair of turnovers and scored touchdowns on kick and punt returns.
“Give them credit; they beat our butts in all phases,” Stoops said. “They were much more physical than us. And we've got to play with a lot stronger attitude and mentality than that.”
When UK seized even the tiniest bit of momentum, Tennessee took it right back, starting after C.J. Johnson picked up a sack-fumble forced by Marcus McWilson and returned it 77 yards for a 7-0 Wildcat lead. It was the first of two times in the opening half UK went ahead, but that didn’t stop the Volunteers from scoring 14 points over the final 5:26 before halftime to take a 24-14 lead.
“We would have one thing go right, then we’d have two things go wrong,” Towles said.
It’s the second time in as many weeks the Cats have been left feeling that way and the third loss in a row overall for a UK team that now sits at 4-4 (2-4 Southeastern Conference). The latest defeat has made a 4-1 start a distant memory and conjured thoughts of the six-game losing streak that left UK a win shy of bowl eligibility a season ago.
There’s no room for that kind of thinking, however, says Stoops.
“I don't want to see one person dropping their head or moping around. That's not going to be the way it is,” Stoops said. “It's clearly not acceptable, and we're not okay with it. But we're not going to start pointing fingers, and we're not going to put our head down. The only way you make this feeling go away is put your head down and go to work.”
To listen to Stoops’ players, the message is sinking in.
“We’re a tightknit family,” Towles said. “We can’t point fingers. It’s not one person’s fault; it’s everybody’s fault. It’s as much my fault as anybody else’s. We gotta get better, go back to work. I’m excited about Monday, excited about getting another chance to play this game. We’ll go down to Georgia and give them all we got.”
“A loss like this definitely does hurt, but we’re not taking any steps back,” said McWilson, who tied a career high with 10 tackles. “We face adversity every day, day in and day out. Just gotta move forward through it.”
Johnson, a senior leader for this Kentucky team, is applying Stoops’ locker-room message even more directly.
“How interpreted it, there’s basically four games left,” Johnson said. “If you get down about it, you can go and lose all four. Or you can rally up and try to win ‘em.”
That starts immediately as UK prepares for a trip to Georgia next Saturday.
“The only way you make this feeling go away is to go get a victory and go prepare the right way and go in with a tough mentality and go get a win,” Stoops said. “Go get No. 5 and that's the only thing we have got to concentrate on.”