Stoops sees silver lining ahead for Wildcats amid disappointing loss to Ole Miss

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Kentucky coach Mark Stoops answers questions during his weekly press conference Monday. The Wildcats take on Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. Saturday in Nashville. (Keith Taylor/Kentucky Today)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Mark Stoops admitted last Saturday’s 37-34 loss to Mississippi wasn’t easy to swallow, but after reviewing the loss on film, Stoops feels better about his team’s chances going into the final three weeks of the regular season.

“I felt better when I went into the office early yesterday and got back to work and looked at the film because, and I’m not saying this to give a silver lining or anything like that, but when I watched the film and see some of the good things we’re doing and position we’re in, that wasn’t always the case around here when I’ve been here or what it was like prior to me getting here,” he said. “But since I’ve been here, you can’t always say you’re just a play or two away, and I know that’s not good enough, I know we want more. That’s not what we’re hunting. We’re hunting victories.”

Two of Kentucky’s three setbacks this season — home losses to Florida and Ole Miss — were by a combined margin of four points. The Wildcats’ lone blowout was a 45-7 loss at Mississippi State last month.

“I like the way this team plays and I’m excited to get back to work,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “Once I get in there (Sunday), get in there early and watch the film and see the issues and know there’s things we can get fixed, that’s the good and the bad. I know that’s the frustration. I accept that, it’s not OK. But I also know that we’re a couple plays away from having eight wins.”

The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) have a chance to reach seven victories for just the seventh time in 40 years Saturday at Vanderbilt. The Commodores (4-5, 0-5) are winless in the SEC and broke a five-game losing streak with a 31-17 win over Western Kentucky last weekend in Nashville.

Although Kentucky’s offense had four straight three-and-outs that led to a second-half meltdown in the loss to the Rebels and the defense struggled to contain Mississippi’s uptempo passing attack, Stoops said the Cats can build on the performance.

“Offensively we were completely very affective in keeping them off-balance,” Stoops said. “You know, unfortunately we had to settle for two field goals early, and I’m not gonna sit here, and I’m not saying this to criticize, but we had a great play again with the tight end. That’s a touchdown. You know what I mean? I’m not gonna make any excuses, but we had a touchdown and he got tackled.

“Unfortunately we only got three out of that drive, but we really had them off balance and did some good things. Defensively was better than you think. I know what the numbers look like. There are things we’ve gotta get ironed out and fixed in some coverages that we will, but again, we’re a play away from sitting here feeling a little better about yourself than you do. So, that’s the good part.”

Stoops added the league is struggle from top to bottom, resulting in several close games. During the past two seasons, Kentucky is 8-3 in games decided by six points or less.

“You look around the league and I know it’s easy for people to act like just because of records teams aren’t good or this or that,” he said. “That’s not the case. Don’t go tell that to the rest of the teams. Everybody fights for every game, every victory, every win or loss, and it’s a grind. I know sometimes people just look at the bottom line and just dismiss people because of their record, but that’s not the case when you look around this league. We’re right in the middle of the pack as far as wins and losses with people above us and below us. We wanna keep on working our way up, and we’re a couple plays away from being in a lot better position.”

Panton suspended: Kentucky kicker, Matt Panton, a graduate transfer, was suspended for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt after he was arrested and charged with public intoxication Sunday morning in Lexington. His arrest came hours after Kentucky’s loss to Ole Miss.

“He will not participate for failure to meet the standards and expectations of our football team,” Stoops said.

Grant McKinniss will take over punting duties against the Commodores. Stoops had planned to redshirt McKinniss prior to Panton’s arrest last weekend.

“Grant is the one that has to sacrifice because we could have saved his year and gave him a redshirt year,” Stoops said. “But with the situation the way it is, he’s our best option. Every game is important, I talked to Grant about that, and he is willing to go do whatever is necessary to help the football team win. We appreciate Grant for his unselfishness in this situation.”

Game-time set: Kentucky’s game at Georgia is set for 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 in Athens and will be televised nationally on CBS.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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