UK Football

Cats angry about loss, motivated by SEC race. Is there room to focus on Vandy?

There’s been a lot of talk during the bye week about not looking back and letting one loss snowball into more losses for Kentucky.

There’s been a lot of talk about the number of veterans and returning starters keeping the team on task, not allowing it to look too far ahead at what could happen in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division race.

“We have a mature football team. They’ve been around,” Coach Mark Stoops said Monday to preview the No. 14 Cats’ game against Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

“We addressed it about just staying the course. … Successful seasons are built on successful weeks and the only way you’re going to have successful weeks is if you have a great Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.”

Kentucky’s players heard that loud and clear and counted Monday and Tuesday among their best team practices, but that doesn’t mean they’re not looking back at the overtime loss at Texas A&M.

Or ahead at what could be.

They seem motivated by both.

“That Texas A&M loss, it really upset a lot — for lack of a better term — it pissed us off,” senior tight end C.J. Conrad said Tuesday night after practice.

“We haven’t felt that way after a loss, I personally haven’t felt that way about a loss in a long time. And I think that’s kind of what has motivated us to stay one game at a time because we don’t want to have that feeling again.”

When Stoops met with the team and members of the unity council this week, he reminded them of what happened after last season’s bye week: a 45-7 drubbing at Mississippi State.

Stoops pulled out UK’s exercise science data from the practices the week before that game clearly showing lower heart rates and speeds in practice the week before the loss.

“Our levels in practice weren’t very high and it was a direct reflection on how we played,” Conrad said.

It resonated with the players.

“We had great energy at practice today,” Conrad continued. “We definitely won’t let that happen.”

The players weren’t the only ones to notice.

“Had a really good practice today,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday night. “Excited about their energy. The weather was perfect. It’s a good start to this new week coming off a bye.”

That bye week also offered some UK players a chance to ponder the future, something Stoops cautioned against.

But center Drake Jackson thinks the Cats can be both focused on this week and an important game against Vanderbilt as well as the next few weeks, which will decide their fate in the SEC East.

Jackson called the opportunities ahead “motivation for everyone.

“I don’t think you do avoid looking too far ahead,” the sophomore center argued. “Everybody does. I don’t think there’s any question about it, everybody knows where we stand and what’s possible and I think it’s motivation for a lot of people. It’s a little bit easier to go out and prepare better and play better when you have a chance to win the SEC.”

Saturday

Vanderbilt at No. 14 Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

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