UK Football

Bye week crucial for ‘banged up’ Wildcats

UK quarterback Patrick Towles was sacked by Tennessee's Curt Maggitt during last Saturday's game in Knoxville. Towles hurt his ankle in the game, but played later in the game and is expected to be OK for the team's finale against Louisville on Nov. 29.
UK quarterback Patrick Towles was sacked by Tennessee's Curt Maggitt during last Saturday's game in Knoxville. Towles hurt his ankle in the game, but played later in the game and is expected to be OK for the team's finale against Louisville on Nov. 29. Herald-Leader

Eight football games in eight weeks — seven against Southeastern Conference opponents — takes quite the toll.

Your body aches, nagging injuries just get worse.

"You wake in the morning sometimes and you don't want to get out of bed, because you feel like you just want to sleep it off," Kentucky senior Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "It feels like you got hit by a truck sometimes."

The truck goes from pickup to Peterbilt when it carries the weight of five straight losses by an average of 25.6 points going into the biggest rivalry game of the season with a bowl trip on the line.

All of those reasons are why Kentucky needed a bye week heading into the game at Louisville on Nov. 29.

Mental, physical and emotional breaks.

Kentucky needs all of the above.

"That's a long run," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Eight straight games. Seven of those SEC games, and I think we caught at least two teams, maybe a third team, coming off a bye week. So, it's a tough stretch."

UK has focused on getting players healthy. Coach Mark Stoops seemed hopeful that the Cats would be close to full strength when they face Louisville next weekend with a bowl appearance still on the line.

If Kentucky had tried to play this weekend, for a ninth straight weekend, the coach seemed skeptical that it would go well.

"We're significantly banged up right now," Stoops said on Wednesday. "So this bye could not have come at a better time for us. We'd have really had a hard time fielding a quality team this week, if we had to play this Saturday."

Stoops declined to go into any lists of injuries, but it was piling up after the Tennessee game.

In the final weeks, there was quarterback Patrick Towles (ankle), tight end Steven Borden (undisclosed), defensive end Za'Darius Smith (ankle), cornerback Fred Tiller (neck), nickelback Blake McClain (shoulder), offensive lineman Darrian Miller (muscle strain), offensive lineman Kyle Meadows (ankle), defensive lineman Regie Meant (shoulder) and running back Boom Williams (concussion).

Some of those injuries kept players out for a series or two, others missed multiple games. The only player Stoops singled out specifically as a maybe for Louisville is Meadows.

"The rest of the guys, I think we have a very good chance to be close to everybody participating at whatever strength they are," Stoops said. "But I think everybody will be out there giving it a shot."

Lacking quality depth has been a big issue for Kentucky during this long stretch of games. Even healthy players have played too many snaps over too many weeks.

It's been a good illustration for coaches that the Cats' off-season needs are still huge.

"As we've gone through this stretch the teams we've played, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee, they're big," he said. "Very big teams. Very physical. To have that endurance at the end of the year, I think we've got to get bigger. We've got to recruit big, long guys, and we've got to develop them."

Six wins bigger than bowl

Getting that sixth win would be nice to show progress.

"To get to a bowl game here in our second year would be very big for us and what we're trying to do with recruiting and just the momentum that we've built with our fan base," Stoops said. "Just the fundraising and all the great things that are going on."

It would help with momentum and rewarding fans with a fun post-season bowl trip.

But there are serious team implications for Kentucky, too.

"It's almost like another spring practice," Stoops said. "So you can get out there very quickly after the end of the season and really start working with those guys and developing your young players for the future. There's so many things we need to do fundamentally better and coaching better and all kinds of things we need to work on."

It would have real-field implications especially for an offense that has so much youth and inexperience. It's 15 extra practices.

Neal Brown specifically talked about getting a jump at filling the tackle spot held by Darrian Miller and it would give red-shirt offensive linemen a chance to compete for spots, especially on the interior.

"The same thing at wideout," Brown said. "We're going to have a lot of competition there in the spring, and I think it would be a great benefit to us if we could start that in December also."

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