More than a few times, Jalen Whitlow emerged from a pile of players on Saturday clutching his shoulder or hunched over in obvious pain.
"It was pretty painful, especially when I get hit on it or land on it," the Kentucky quarterback said of the strained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder.
Whitlow, who's been battling ankle and shoulder injuries for the past couple of weeks, never left the game.
He kept playing. He ran the ball 24 times.
That wasn't lost on the other guys wearing blue in the Cats' 48-17 loss to No. 9 Missouri on Saturday.
"This group is hungry on offense," coordinator Neal Brown said. "We are starving for somebody to take the reins and I thought (Whitlow) showed some toughness today.
"We're looking for production and leadership. ... I thought he did some really gritty things in the third quarter. He ran the ball some; sometimes he pulled it. He had a look in his eye that he wasn't going to be denied in that third quarter, and we need more of that."
Whitlow's efforts, which included 225 yards passing, matching his career high, and his 44 yards on the ground, definitely weren't lost on the head coach who two weeks ago challenged the sophomore to step into a leadership role.
"He had some very tough runs against a very tough, physical defense, and it was nice," Stoops said of Whitlow. "You could tell he was hurting, and again, I think he's learning to compete."
Brown hopes that Whitlow's fight becomes contagious for the offense.
The quarterback went a long way toward becoming that leader on Saturday, his teammates said.
"He's being a lot more vocal and playing well, continuing to get better," senior running back Raymond Sanders said. "You know, he's being vocal and it's helping out. The thing is, he played through some pain this game and you can't ask for nothing more from your quarterback than to play through some pain."
Even a player on the other side of the ball is seeing the growth happen.
"People build off that," junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said of Whitlow playing through pain. "And once you start yelling at people and getting after people, the offense will step up to a whole other level."
Turnover ends streak
Kentucky was one of the nation's best at taking care of the ball, coming into Saturday's game with just six miscues.
Missouri was a team of ball hawks, forcing 24 turnovers this season, second most in the nation. They had forced a mistake in 39 straight games, the longest streak in the BCS.
The Tigers found a way to extend their streak, forcing the Cats to cough up the ball in the third quarter when Raymond Sanders' 40-yard catch ended in a fumble at midfield.
"It was very frustrating," Sanders said. "I let my team down right there on that play. I've got to be cautious of those guys coming from behind, so it definitely hurt."
It also ended UK's school-best streak of four straight games without a turnover. Knowing the Cats had been so sure-handed was motivating for Missouri.
"We knew they do a great job of holding onto the ball," said linebacker Andrew Wilson, who forced Sanders' fumble with a back tip. "We knew we were going to have to do a great job getting after the ball."
The loss to Missouri guaranteed a fourth straight losing season for Kentucky and means the Cats will miss out on a bowl for a third straight season.
With three games to go, how do the coaches keep the Cats motivated?
"I've got to get these guys up," Stoops said. "We've got to get them mentally prepared to practice on Monday and to prepare, and to go out there and compete and try to win a game. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go back to work and stick to the things that I feel are necessary to help build this program. I may get frustrated, but I'm not discouraged."
The UK players still sounded motivated to play hard for various reasons.
"We just have to keep building from there, play for pride since a bowl game's not an option," Dupree said. "We play for pride. We play for next year's team. We play for the future of the program."
Wide receiver Jeff Badet said the team still has obvious motivation: victories.
"We've still got three games left that we're capable of winning, so we just need everybody to just come together and be brothers," he said.
Fellow freshman Jojo Kemp had a different perspective. What's left for UK to play for? "Just to kill somebody's dream, I guess."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.