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Cats not shying away from hype going into Georgia showdown


Kentucky receiver C.J. Conrad celebrates after the Wildcats rallied for a 15-14 win over Missouri Saturday. Kentucky plays Georgia Saturday, with the winner advancing to the SEC Championship game. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Mark Stoops knows the stakes will be high when Kentucky hosts Georgia Saturday. His players aren’t shying away from the hype, either.

“You can’t shy away from (the hype),” Stoops said Monday. “There’s too much information out there and (the players) know what’s going on. That’s OK and they’re allowed to be excited. Whatever they need to do to help motivate (themselves), that’s fine, but the preparation is going to be the exact same.”

The Wildcats, ranked No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, can secure its first Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title with a win over the sixth-ranked Bulldogs. Stoops said his main focus this week will be to keep his team grounded.

“We’ll be consistent in our approach,” Stoops said. “We’ll do the same things that we do every week. … Every week the situation is different. Situational awareness is something that I address with (the players) every week. There’s always situational awareness, the situation, the football piece, and the preparation and that won’t change. Obviously, the situation is a little different. We’ll talk about that but our approach will be the exact same.”

Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC) had to rally in the last five minutes to defeat Missouri 15-14 last weekend and remain in contention for an SEC East title. The Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1) easily defeated Florida 36-17 at Jacksonville to set up this week’s highly-anticipated showdown between the SEC East rivals.

Stoops hopes his team can build from the fourth-quarter rally but added the Wildcats “need to address issues.”

“There’s always (room for improvement) and there’s always bringing them back down to earth and being very direct with things that are not acceptable and things we need to improve on,” Stoops said. “Our players will understand the areas where we need to improve and embrace that and they know the challenge that’s ahead of us.

“It’s really about beginning with our best preparation (starting Monday) and put ourselves in the best position to be successful. The situation is what it is and they’ve worked hard to put themselves in that position. We’ve just got to stay consistent and be the best version of ourselves that we can be.”

Stoops said the Wildcats are still celebrating last week’s dramatic rally as they prepare for perhaps the biggest game in four decades.

“The joy of the game (against Missouri) was just how dramatic it was and how unlikely at times it was to pull the victory out,” he said. “We were always fighting and it was a fun moment for our football team. There’s no question, just the way it ended.

Stoops said the pouting was “far from a complete game” but was pleased to see starting quarterback Terry Wilson rebound under pressure after throwing an interception on Kentucky’s next-to-last drive. Wilson threw for 267 yards a touchdown a week after completing just three passes in nine attempts for 18 yards in a 14-7 win over Vanderbilt.

“That to me is a sign of progress,” Stoops said. “We need to continue to build on that.”

The Bulldogs, last year’s national runner-up and one of the favorites to win the SEC title, defeated the Wildcats 42-13 a year ago in Athens but used a last-second field goal to edge Kentucky 27-24 two years ago at Kroger Field.

Things figure to be different this time as the Bulldogs go against the Kentucky defense that ranks first in the nation and the SEC. In last week’s contest at Missouri, the Wildcats forced eight three-and-outs and didn’t surrender a first down in the second half.

“It was a remarkable effort,’ Stoops said. “When I look at that drive chart …. It’s just as complete of a half that I’ve been a part of with the quality of opponent (that we played against.”

HONORS

Josh Allen and Lynn Bowden were honored by the SEC following their respective performances in Kentucky’s win over Missouri last weekend in Columbia.

Allen was named Defensive Player of the Week for the fourth time this season, while Bowden was Special Team Player of the Week.

Allen had 11 tackles and a pair of strip sacks against the Tigers. Allen ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks with 10 and leads the SEC and is third nationally in tackles for a loss with 14.5. He is second nationally in forced fumbles with five.

Bowden caught 13 passes for 166 yards last week, but his 67-yard punt return for a touchdown ignited the Kentucky offense in the final five minutes.

Bowden’s 13 catches were the second-most in school history and his final yardage tally was the highest for a Kentucky receiver since the 2010 season.

Bowden is averaging 99.2 yards per game in all-purpose yards.

Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, CBS, UK Radio Network.

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


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