One can't help but wonder about the psyche of the Kentucky football team these days.
The Wildcats found out Monday that the collegiate career of their best receiver, Dicky Lyons Jr., is over after he sustained a knee injury in Saturday's loss to South Carolina.
And they have lost back-to-back close games. Against the Gamecocks, they forced four turnovers and got four missed field-goal attempts from Ryan Succop, yet didn't have enough offense to win.
UK Coach Rich Brooks said the Cats spent most of Sunday's practice talking about where they go from here. He won't have a good read on his team's emotional state until later this week. But the consensus among the players during Monday's press luncheon is that everything is OK.
"I think we just need to stick together, pat each other on the back and bring each other up, because everybody's kind of down after those two hard losses," junior tailback Alfonso Smith said. The first setback was a 17-14 loss at Alabama on Oct. 4.
"You lose, and it's so close, and you know that you can beat those teams. It's really hard on you. At first, I was kind of worried about everybody pointing fingers. But judging from (Sunday's) practice, everybody's sticking together as a team and is more and more focused and worked harder to get better."
Most of the veterans are on defense, and senior cornerback David Jones said junior linebacker Micah Johnson challenged each individual on the team to raise his performance.
"(Johnson) just said everybody needs to be accountable for themselves," Jones said. "If you need to catch some passes on the jugs machine, go catch some passes. You're helping yourself and the team. If you need to go and work on press coverage or backpedaling, do that. If you need to do an extra gasser to get some wind, do that. It's all on us, and we know that."
Johnson said he took it upon himself to assume a leadership role.
"Me being one of the leaders on the team, when something needs to be said, I can take it upon myself to say it and expect everybody to listen to it and at least respect it," Johnson said. "It's a team game, and everybody knows that. But individuals create that team. Each individual has a job, and if you're not doing your job, you're bringing down the team as a unit."
The last couple of seasons, the UK offense carried the load while the young defense took its lumps and played through growing pains. Now it's the defense making the plays while the offense tries to find itself.
"That's kind of been my history as a head coach," Brooks said. I've really had a hard time getting the offense and the defense on the same year together, you know, the really good defense with the really good offense. It can be frustrating."
That often can lead to divisiveness among the units, but Brooks said he addressed that situation Sunday.
"I kind of reminded the defensive guys, 'Hey, let's look back a couple of years and remember how many times the offense had to come back and score points because you guys were giving it up in great big chunks and giving up a lot of touchdowns.' "
Jones said the units have a mutual respect despite the struggles of the offense. He pointed out that the defense and special teams had their share of mistakes Saturday.
The defense allowed South Carolina to convert eight of 17 third-down situations. The special teams allowed an 81-yard blocked-field-goal return for a touchdown and gave up an 84-yard kickoff return that set up another score.
"We still control our own destiny," Jones said. "We know the season isn't over. We've still got everything in front of us."
UK-Florida game selected by Raycom
The UK-Florida game on Oct. 25 has been selected for a live regional telecast by Raycom Sports. Game time will be 12:30 p.m. This will be Kentucky's fifth national or regional telecast, in addition to Louisville (ESPN), Alabama (CBS), South Carolina (Raycom) and Arkansas (ESPNU).