UK Football

UK football notes: With three of last four away, Cats look to end road woes

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops called out to his defense in the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State at Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 25, 2014. Miss. St. won 45-31. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops called out to his defense in the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State at Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 25, 2014. Miss. St. won 45-31. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Less than a handful of Kentucky players were around the last time the Cats were able to pick up a true road win.

And none of them played.

It was the season opener in 2010 at Louisville, when Joker Phillips was just starting as head coach of the Cats.

A lot has changed since then, including UK head coaches.

Now Mark Stoops and company will have three road contests in their final four games of the season to change that stat and earn the all-important victory that would get Kentucky back to a bowl for the first time since that same 2010 season.

The road test starts at Missouri on Saturday.

Stoops pointed to toughness and resilience as being the keys. He relayed that message to his team on Sunday, a day after a tough loss to top-ranked Mississippi State.

"There is no reason not to play our very best and have that attitude about us," Stoops said. "Nobody is going to hand you over any victories. You gotta go earn 'em and you gotta win 'em and you got to get on the road and get on the plane with a tough mentality about you."

After that loss to the Bulldogs, senior Alvin "Bud" Dupree was asked if the best course of action was to forget the painful loss and move on.

He balked.

"Just think about the opportunities that we had to finish the game, close the deal," he said. "Just take all the momentum that we have to Missouri next week."

One common thread after the Mississippi State loss was the Cats' desire to get the sixth victory needed to propel this team to post-season play.

But coaches said they don't want the team to carry that baggage with them on the road or against Georgia next week at Commonwealth Stadium.

"That's always my message: Let's go get that next victory, it just happens to be six," Stoops said. "It would be nice, I'm not going to deny that, but it's important, it's our next game and what's important is our next game and that's how we think about it."

Junior linebacker Josh Forrest acknowledged that getting that all-important sixth win is talked about regularly among players.

"People mention it, saying this is the sixth, this is the one, but we just take it one game at a time," he said.

The pressure of getting the sixth win doesn't need to be the thing that causes Kentucky to stumble, its head coach said.

"It's too soon to talk about that, I don't think that's the reason why we need to go get No. 6, even though we know the value in it, I think the reason we need to get number six is because we're sitting on five," Stoops said.

Williams will return for Missouri

Kentucky freshman Stanley "Boom" Williams will return to the field for the Cats' game at Missouri on Saturday.

The running back, who suffered a head injury at Louisiana State, "should be fine," UK Coach Mark Stoops said.

The UK coach said Williams might have been able to go against Mississippi State, but they held him out as a precaution.

Williams is the Cats' third-leading rusher with 30 runs for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

He leads the team and is 12th in the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yards, averaging 92 yards a game. He has 552 total yards this season.

Stoops speaks up for special teams

For fans on message boards and call-in shows, it's been a falling sky about Kentucky special teams the past two weeks.

A punt return for a touchdown and a big kickoff return at Louisiana State coupled with a failed onside kick for a touchdown versus Mississippi State all have equaled public hand-wringing.

But Stoops was hearing none of that Monday, noting that Kentucky had a 47-yard net on special teams against the Bulldogs.

"I thought we played outstanding on special teams," he said matter-of-factly about the MSU loss.

"None of us were happy with the week before," Stoops said. "We know that's not acceptable. Coach (Craig) Naivar knows that and our players, but we have all had our moments this year, offense and defense and special teams where we have not done our part. Special teams responded extremely well. I thought the guys competed and played very good this last week."

The UK special teams last week shouldn't be judged based on a 61-yard onside kick returned for a touchdown at the end of the game.

"I don't like those odds no matter who is kicking it or how you're kicking it," Stoops said. "And the ball didn't bounce our way on that, you can't blame that on — that's our fault for being in that situation."

Quick hits

Kentucky's final home game this season against Georgia was selected for ESPN as a noon start on Nov. 8. It's the Cats' first game on ESPN this season. Their last game on the flagship network for ESPN was at Mississippi State last October.

■ Quarterback Patrick Towles was named to the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll for the first time this season. He had a career-high 390 passing yards with two touchdowns and ran for 76 yards, another career best, and two touchdowns versus top-ranked Mississippi State.