UK football coach Mark Stoops works to maintain perspective

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 14, 2013 

Mark Stoops drew a crowd at UK when he was announced as the new football coach.

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  • Kentucky at Mississippi State

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24

    Records: Kentucky 1-5 (0-3 SEC), Mississippi State 3-3 (0-2)

    TV: ESPN

After a brutal loss to the nation's best football team that saw his Kentucky defense gashed for 668 yards, Coach Mark Stoops was down.

When asked if the Cats' 1-5 record was deceiving since UK had faced four straight teams ranked among the nation's top 20, Stoops struggled to find the right answer.

"I think we're making progress, but I don't think anybody cares, you know what I mean?" he said. "The record is what it is."

A couple days removed from the 48-7 pounding by Alabama, the winner of three of the last four national championships, the Kentucky coach sounded more positive on his weekly radio show.

"It's been a tough stretch for our team," he told show host Tom Leach on Monday night. "It's a good time for a bye. We've got to regroup, heal up a little better, but we also need to improve as a football team."

He is trying to erase the mental and physical bruising a game like the loss to the Crimson Tide did to his team.

Stoops wants his team to learn from the defeat, but not be defined by it.

The head coach instead wants the players to find positives from close losses to teams like Louisville and South Carolina.

"You saw signs through each game that we can play with anybody," Stoops said on Monday. "We're not as consistent as we need to be and we need to get more consistent. You see plays, you see series, you see quarters where we can hang and play with the very best. We have to be able to sustain that."

Kentucky (1-5, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) still has half of a season to play and won't see any more stretches like the one this past month. There are still games against ranked teams like No. 14 Missouri and at No. 15 Georgia.

But those games won't be like facing Alabama, and Stoops trusts that his team will continue to show improvement.

"Their hearts are in the right place," he said Monday. "We're working hard; we need to get better. ... Our players care and they're going to get better."

At least one UK senior, running back Raymond Sanders, sounded optimistic that things will get turned around, starting with extra practices this week during the bye week before the Cats head to Starkville, Miss., to take on Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2).

"We're going to have a lot of fight. I can tell you that," Sanders said after the loss to Alabama. "We're going to call people out who's not giving 100 percent every play, no matter the score. We're going to see that. We're definitely not going to be a team that gives up.

"We've got a whole new season and me and some other guys are going to make sure of that, call people out after this film and see who wants to play and who wants to play the whole game and give 100 percent for the team to win."

While Neal Brown said he was "very disappointed" in his offense's performance on Saturday night, which included a season low 170 yards of offense, the UK coordinator tried to provide some perspective.

"The truth of the matter is we've played four top-15 teams in a row, three of the top defenses in the country," Brown said of games against Louisville, which has the nation's No. 1 scoring defense; Alabama, which has the nation's No. 2 scoring defense; and Florida, which has the nation's fourth-best scoring defense.

As coaches, they have to find the positives from those games and try to build on them for the future.

"We've got half the season left, so I think you look at it and say, 'Hey, here's what we did. Here's where we're at. Our record's obviously not where we want, but here's where we're at and this is the positives we've done and here's where we need improvement,'" Brown said. "Trust me, we have drastic improvement that needs to be made. And then you treat it like a new season from here out."


Next game

Kentucky at Mississippi State

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24

Records: Kentucky 1-5 (0-3 SEC), Mississippi State 3-3 (0-2)

TV: ESPN

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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