UK Football

UK football: 22-game road losing streak on Cats' minds

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops showed his anger at linebacker Jordan Jones in the third quarter of the Cats' game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops showed his anger at linebacker Jordan Jones in the third quarter of the Cats' game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Herald-Leader

Not a single player on the Kentucky roster has won a game on the road since he got to college. Not a single coach has boarded a plane for the trip back to Lexington with celebratory joy.

Mark Stoops wasn't shy about bringing up the Cats' 22 straight losses on the road — a streak dating back to the season opener in 2010 at Louisville — this week with his players.

When asked if he worried about mentioning the road loss streak or the fact that Kentucky hasn't won a road Southeastern Conference game since Nov. 21, 2009, to his team, Stoops balked.

"It's a fact," he said as UK prepares for its first road game to South Carolina on Saturday.

If there were any true freshmen or other players who didn't know about the streak, he wanted to make sure they had all of the information.

"Facts are facts and in this league and this game — you can't hide," secondary coach Derrick Ansley said. "It's time for us to go out on the road and compete, put a good product on the field and do a good job. ... The numbers don't lie. It's on us to change those numbers."

The numbers are harsh.

If Kentucky were to win at South Carolina (where it hasn't won a game in 15 years) it would be 1,834 days between road victories and 2,121 days between SEC road victories.

Since taking over the program in 2013, Stoops has been responsible for just nine of those losses dating back to his first trip to Columbia, S.C., when the Cats fell 35-28 on Oct. 5. But the lack of celebration in a visiting locker room has Stoops calling attention to it a lot this week.

"I feel like it was something that needed to be brought up, reminded," senior linebacker Josh Forrest said. "Nobody here has had a road win. I have been thinking about it myself."

Although rooted in fact, Stoops had a pointed reason for bringing up the 22 straight road losses so early in the week of preparation.

"You don't win the game by just a bunch of hoopla, just a bunch of rah-rah on Friday and Saturday," he explained.

He wanted to see "what little extras" his team was willing to do this week to prepare for the weekend.

Defensive back J.D. Harmon said the message was loud and clear.

"That was a great thing he did because the team is practicing very well," Harmon said. "That's in the back of our minds: getting that road win. We haven't experienced that yet, so that's one of the things he's said to get us excited."

True freshman tight end C.J. Conrad said Stoops "implanted in our heads" the road number and it made the players more "focused and excited."

There have been a couple of road blowouts for UK in Stoops' short tenure, but there also have been several near misses, like three overtimes at Florida last season and the trip to Louisville that Kentucky lost by four points.

There are lessons to be learned from all of them.

"I don't necessarily have to bring up those specific instances or specific games," Stoops said. "Our players know that we're very close in a lot of situations. ... You have to be able to step up and make plays to win the game at the end of the game."

And while fans might have been frustrated by the end of Kentucky's opener against Louisiana-Lafayette when the Ragin' Cajuns came back from 23 points down to tie it up 33-33 late, Stoops said that win provided a valuable lesson that the team can use in hostile environments like the one coming up.

"Last week was good in certain situations, because it just wasn't a runaway," he said. "We had to make some stops on defense and we had to go down and score on offense."

All of those big plays at big moments will be key at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday and again for UK's three other road games at Mississippi State (Oct. 24), at Georgia (Nov. 8) and at Vanderbilt (Nov. 14).

Stoops said: "It's a mentality, it's a toughness that you have to have going on the road and be disciplined to come out of there with a victory."

Starting linebacker Ryan Flannigan, who missed the opener with a shoulder injury, practiced in a red, no-contact jersey again on Wednesday and is listed as questionable for the game at South Carolina.

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