This time last week the Kentucky football team was talking about improving its bowl pedigree.
Now, after Saturday's 31-24 loss to Mississippi State, the Wildcats are going to have to fight, scratch and claw just to get to a fourth straight bowl game.
UK (4-4, 1-4 SEC) faces Eastern Kentucky this week before a two-game road trip to Vanderbilt and Georgia. Then the Wildcats close out the season at home with Tennessee, who blew out South Carolina 31-13 on Saturday.
Brooks admitted to being concerned about how his team will bounce back from the tough loss.
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"I worry every week about the mental frame of mind and focus and mental preparation," Brooks said. "With that loss we go from a team that could have done something that maybe the previous teams weren't able to do and win more games and climb up the SEC ladder to maybe a team that might break that bowl streak."
Brooks said that a lack of focus and intensity largely contributed to the MSU setback, particularly on the defensive end. Mississippi State tailback Anthony Dixon bulldozed his way to 252 yards rushing on 33 attempts.
Brooks said the linebackers and safeties were constantly out of position, and that the defensive line wasn't as physical as they had been in recent weeks. That Kentucky shut down a similar offense two weeks ago at Auburn was a good sign that his defense wasn't 100 percent focused against MSU, Brooks added.
"We were more ready to play mentally (at Auburn) therefore we were ready physically," Brooks said. "In this game we weren't prepared mentally, and that has an impact on you physically. Obviously, I didn't get the message across to my team about the importance of being ready to play this game."
Besides the defense, another issue concerning UK moving forward is quarterback play. Outside of a handful of Randall Cobb snaps in the "wildcat" formation, freshman Morgan Newton went the entire way. Newton finished 11-of-18 for 119 yards and had several big third-down conversions but also threw a costly interception near the goal line and also missed some open receivers down field. Brooks said he considered using Will Fidler in relief of Newton but thought Newton had done enough good things to warrant a shot at pulling the Cats through.
And with the defense playing the way it did, Brooks said it might not have mattered who was at quarterback.
"We went through two games where we had the three-headed monster" at quarterback, Brooks said. "One worked out well because our 'D' played outstanding; the other game it worked because we were better physically than the team we were playing (Louisiana-Monroe). This last week it didn't work, by and large, because our defense didn't perform. If it had, we would have been OK with Morgan taking most of reps, but it didn't and we weren't" OK.
Locke questionable to doubtful
Brooks said that junior tailback Derrick Locke is questionable to doubtful for Saturday's game with Eastern Kentucky with torn scar tissue in his surgically repaired left knee. Locke was able to finish Kentucky's 31-24 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday and was the Wildcats' leading rusher with 103 yards on 17 carries.
Hartline setto run with trainers
Junior quarterback Mike Hartline (knee) was scheduled to run with trainers on Sunday, and Brooks said he'd hopefully have a better grasp on the possibility of a return to the field this week.