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Keith Taylor: Stoops pleased with UK’s preparation going into showdown against Georgia

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops likes his team’s mentality going into Saturday’s showdown against Georgia.

Stoops praised his team’s preparation prior to last week’s 35-21 victory over Missouri and hasn’t noticed much difference in the Wildcats’ approach this week.

 Boom Williams and Stephen Johnson celebrate a touchdown during a win over Mississippi State earlier this season (Bill Thiry Photo)

Boom Williams and Stephen Johnson celebrate a touchdown during a win over Mississippi State earlier this season (Bill Thiry Photo)

“I feel good about our prep and their mindset right now,” Stoops said. “I was pleased with the way we went about our business (at Missouri last week). It’s gonna take much the same this week. We need to challenge our team and stay aggressive in our approach and preparation as we look forward to the Georgia game. We know it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

Heading into the final month of the regular season, Kentucky (5-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) needs just one win to become bowl eligible for the first time in five years.

In addition, Stoops and his squad are seeking five conference wins for the first time since an undefeated league finish in 1977 and can clinch a runner-up finish in the SEC East with a win over the Bulldogs.

Stoops said his team’s successful turnaround after opening the season with two straight losses goes beyond the effort the Wildcats have put forth during the past six weeks.

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“I think it says a lot about our team and the character our players have but I think it goes back a long way,” he said. “I don’t think any one thing changed in the past five or six weeks. I think part of this turnaround has been going on for a long time.

“Our players have worked extremely hard, our coaches have for many years to keep on building and doing the right things and developing our players to put them in position to win. It is very gratifying to see us play better football.”

Unlike the Wildcats, Georgia (4-4, 2-4) enters the contest on a downward spiral and has lost three straight, including four of the past five games under first-year coach Kirby Smart.

Despite the recent trend, the Bulldogs have won six straight over the Wildcats, including a 27-3 victory a year ago in Athens. Kentucky has only beaten Georgia twice in the past decade and the last win in Lexington came 10 years ago when the Wildcats yanked out a 24-20 triumph at Commonwealth Stadium.

Smart, a former Georgia standout and assistant coach under Alabama coach Nick Saban, has been impressed with Kentucky’s progression and recent improvement.

“They are a physical team,” he said. “Having talked to several teams that have just recently played them, they’re sore after the game. They’re a physical bunch. They do a good job getting after you. We’ve got a tall task in order to stop that run game and also to get ours going, so that’s the challenge in front of us.”

Kentucky’s running game has been bolstered by the emergence of Benny Snell, who has complemented veteran running back Boom Williams. Going into Saturday’s encounter, the Wildcats are averaging 299 rushing yards per game against league foes.

“They’re physical,” Smart said. “They’re stubborn. They continually do it. They’re obviously using wildcat a lot with the back they’ve got, (Benny) Snell (Jr.) is a really good player. Talking to the teams who have played him, they talk about how physical he is, how good a down-hill runner he is. Then they’ve got the change-up with Williams and with Jojo (Kemp), so they’ve really got good backs and they do a good job of using them.”

In addition to putting an emphasis on the running game, Kentucky’s defense also has made a significant improvement, especially fundamentally during the past month.

“It starts with fundamentals and effort and I think our guys are more confident,” Stoops said. “They’re fundamentally better. They’ve been practicing harder with great sense of urgency in practice and it’s carried over to the games.”

Gametracker: Georgia at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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