STARKVILLE, Miss. — The three-point loss to Auburn a week ago and the five-point loss to Florida had Coach Mark Stoops feeling much worse after the game than the drubbing the Cats took from Mississippi State on Saturday.
"I felt a heck of a lot worse than I do right now," Stoops said after the Cats' 42-16 loss at Davis Wade Stadium in which Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott torched UK for six touchdowns, three through the air and three on the ground.
"They were a lot better football team and a lot better coached."
But to the fans worried that the Cats have lost their fight with five regular-season games left to play and Tennessee on the horizon Saturday, Stoops said no way.
"We'll get back to work," he said. "That's one football game we're not very proud of, but there's nobody that's going to sulk or pout or any of that. We're going to go back to work. We're going to get better and get ready for our next opportunity.
"There's not one bit of panic," he continued. "That's a good football team that beat us. We'll go back to work, believe me. We'll be excited to practice on Monday, be excited to play Tennessee."
Even before the locker room doors had closed on Saturday night, UK's players were talking about that Halloween night matchup with the Volunteers, who drilled the Cats 50-16 in Knoxville last season.
"It's not hard to regroup when we've got Tennessee coming in next week," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "We feel like they didn't get our best shot last year, so we're excited about that one. We've got to play like we've got a big chip on our shoulder."
When asked about the wide margin loss, a first for UK this season after it had played six straight games decided by eight points or fewer, tight end C.J. Conrad said simply: "We're not going to get used to this."
State's Dak Prescott came into the game riding the longest streak in the FBS of passes without an interception at 274. That streak ended at the hands of Kentucky freshman corner Chris Westry, who hauled in pass No. 289 for a pick in the first half.
It was Westry's second interception of the season and was UK's first pick since J.D. Harmon picked off Florida's Will Grier on Sept. 19.
Westry was joined in the UK secondary by several of the Cats' freshmen and true freshmen, including multiple snaps for safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards and corner Derrick Baity.
Edwards finished with seven tackles, including six solo. West and Baity added four tackles apiece.
'You have your life'
Lots of people feel for UK nose guard Melvin Lewis, who will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken leg, but defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh knows exactly how the senior feels.
Brumbaugh, a former star defensive lineman at Auburn, also had a serious injury (torn patella tendon and medial cruciate ligament) that derailed his junior year.
"He's disappointed and he's down, but he's such a good person," Brumbaugh said of Lewis, whom Coach Mark Stoops said had successful surgery on Tuesday to repair his fractured fibula. "I think that he'll bounce back emotionally and he'll bounce back physically."
The defensive line coach knows.
"I told him like this, I said, 'You know what, Mel? I was in the same spot you were 15 years ago,'" Brumbaugh said. "And I said, 'Things happen in your life that you can't control, but you've done enough in your life to help you and put you in position.' I said, 'The biggest thing is, you got your degree.' That's all he should worry about. 'You got your degree; you have your life.'"
Lewis became the first man in his family to earn a four-year college degree a semester ago. And coaches believe the nose guard has done enough to open some NFL doors as well once he's fully recovered in about eight weeks.
"The game really opens the door to a lot of things in your life, and it gives you an edge because you get your degree. You get your degree, so you've got a chance in life," Brumbaugh said to the media gathered around him. "That's why I'm standing here right now."
News and notes
Kentucky's Garrett Johnson, who injured his shoulder in the second half, had X-rays done and they came back negative. Stoops said the sophomore asked to go back in the game, but struggled to move his shoulder, so UK held him out.
■ The Cats were without junior linebacker Jason Hatcher, who injured his ankle this week in practice. Stoops said they thought he would be able to go, but he could not.
■ In his first career start replacing the injured Melvin Lewis, sophomore Matt Elam finished with one tackle.