Kentucky had plenty of momentum going into the Georgia game on Saturday night.
And one loss on a last-second field goal hasn’t stopped that forward progress, or at least that was the message to the media Monday from head coach Mark Stoops.
“I’m jacked up and ready to go. I really am,” Stoops said of UK’s next game at Tennessee. “I’m not going to lie. It’s a hard locker room after that game, of course it is. It’s not an easy Sunday. That’s it, 24 hours, man, I’m juiced up and ready to go.”
Kentucky’s coach said it’s easy to be optimistic and forward thinking when he saw so many things to like on film, mentioning specifics like a team that played hard and came up “fractions off.”
There was lots of talk about solid preparation through the week, players doing what they needed to do to win games, but needing to find ways to fix those fractions they were off.
The effort was there and will continue to be, he said of Kentucky (5-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference), which had won three in a row before the loss to Georgia.
“This team has come a long way,” he said. “That doesn’t come without an edge and an attitude. They’ve done that.”
The loss wasn’t without some discomfort, though. The coach admitted it was painful watching the final drive where Georgia scored easily on a 25-yard field goal to win it 27-24.
“It’s tough for me to watch,” he said. “I really didn’t want to watch that on Sunday. I really didn’t, but there’s things that I can do better. Again, that takes that fanatical focus that I’m talking about under extreme pressure.”
One of the things he discussed on that drive specifically was better communication with the Cats’ corners on some key plays late in the game.
This season’s team has shown a unique ability to bounce back from difficulties and he hopes they’ll do that again in Knoxville on Saturday against the Vols (6-3, 2-3).
“We’ll be ready to go,” Stoops said. “They’ll be back to work, I’m sure. They’ve been resilient and they’ll bounce back. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
A lasting impression?
It was one of if not the best environments at Commonwealth Stadium of the Stoops era on Saturday, and there were some 275 visiting high school players, including some of the Cats’ biggest recruiting targets.
The head coach said Monday he’d gotten “nothing but positive” reviews.
“Anybody that was here absolutely loved the environment and loved seeing the fan base so energized and liked the way our team’s playing,” he said. “Liked the passion and the effort and the energy of our team.”
Four-star seniors Lynn Bowden, Ayinde Eley and Joshua Paschal were all on the Commonwealth Stadium field before Saturday night’s game. They were joined by three-star defensive end BJ Sharpe — another class of 2017 target — as well as fellow seniors Austin Dotson, Alex King and Javonte Richardson, three players who have already committed to Kentucky for next year.
Four-star cornerback Jairus Brents — the top recruit in the state of Kentucky for 2018 — arrived at Commonwealth Stadium right around kickoff after visiting Tennessee earlier in the day. He has scholarship offers from both schools.
Four-star athlete L’Christian “Blue” Smith — the No. 33 overall prospect in the class of 2018, according to Rivals.com — visited Saturday along with Wayne (Ohio) teammate Alex Reigelsperger, a four-star linebacker who was making his seventh visit to UK in the past few months.
Four-star defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker (class of 2018) made the trip from Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Scott County offensive lineman Bryan Hudson — a Top 100 national recruit in the class of 2019 — was also in attendance Saturday night.
“Again I cannot thank the fans enough,” Stoops continued. “That’s what it takes. That’s an SEC football game at home against a quality opponent. That’s great energy and our team had great energy.”
Vols lose key player
Tennessee will be without one of its top playmakers when it plays UK this weekend with Coach Butch Jones announcing Monday that safety and kickoff return specialist Evan Berry’s season is over.
“It’s a knee injury, so I won’t get into specifics of the injury, but he’ll be out for the remainder of the season,” Jones said. “He’s going to be missed, not only in the return aspect of things, but also, we thought he was playing very, very well for us on the back end of our defense. He was really coming along at the safety position. That will be a position that we’ll be very, very thin there.”
Berry is well known to Cats fans. He had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at Commonwealth Stadium last season.
Before the injury, the junior led the league and was second nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 32.9 yards per return and more than 50 yards per game. He had one return for a touchdown already this season.
▪ The Vols might be getting some positive news on the injury front, too, with Jones announcing that defensive back Cameron Sutton and running back Alvin Kamara both could practice this week. Kamara likely will play, he said.
The status of injured Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker has not changed this week and he will not be practicing, Stoops said Monday. He gave no further timeline for the sophomore.
With just three games left in the regular season, it’s seeming less and less likely that the coaches would pull the redshirt off of true freshman Gunnar Hoak should Stephen Johnson sustain a season-ending injury.
“I feel like Luke Wright has really gotten better and is a good quarterback,” Stoops said of the transfer from Cincinnati. “I like what I’m seeing out of him. So, I’m unsure. We’ll continue to look at that and see what the situation is.”
News and notes
“He turned his ankle,” the head coach said. “It’s not a high ankle or anything major.”
▪ Kentucky’s home game on Nov. 19 versus Austin Peay has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on the SEC Network, the league announced Monday.
Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.
Kentucky at Tennessee
Noon Saturday (SEC Network)