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Stoops, Cats using bye week to prepare for second half of the season

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

It took Mark Stoops a little longer to get over Kentucky’s loss at Texas A&M and the Kentucky coach doesn’t think his team will lose focus during the lone bye week of the season.

“They’ve been really good to this point about staying on task, staying on the message,” Stoops said. “They reiterate the message sometimes before I get to it, which is a good thing. You’re starting to see the defense, you go to our meetings on Friday and you see things where they’re already in there.

“They’re already on the board talking about the things we must do and anticipating it. And that makes me very excited, just the way they’re approaching it, the way they practice and the way they care. Truly, I’ve said it for years but I’m not sure we’ve always lived to that standard, every yard is personal and every point is personal. And we’re starting to play that way.”

The Wildcats (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) dropped five spots to No. 18 in this week’s Associated Press poll following last week’s 20-14 overtime loss to No. 22 Texas A&M. Despite the loss, Stoops was pleased with his team’s performance against the Aggies, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats are taking advantage of a bye week to rest and get ready for the second half of the season. (Tammie Brown/Kentucky Today)

“It was arguably one of the better games since I’ve been here, the way we played defensively,” he said. “And there are still things to do better, whether it be communication, execution and just seeing things. Now they are seeing some things unbelievably well. They are seeing a lot of football. They’re playing really good, at a high level, but there are things we could do better.”

Stoops liked the performance by Darius West, who had 10 tackles, recovered a fumble and a 40-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.

“I think just he’s got the alpha dog mentality a little bit (and) that’s a good thing,” Stoops said. “He’d be the first one to tell you he’s really grown a lot just mentally putting it all together and just how hard it is throughout the whole season, concentrating each and every day. Meetings and practice, it gets long, but he’s been much better, much more consistent in that way.”

Stoops and his staff have been spending the week focusing on fundamentals and giving the younger players more repetitions.

“This week is for the rest of this year — for the next game and as we move forward with this season and also for the young guys, I want to challenge them to improve,” he said. “We lose some good experience off this team. There were some great examples of that Saturday with the way we responded and the way guys fought and hung in there and looked for a way to win that game.”

As for the offense, Stoops said “there is a lot of room for improvement” but added the Wildcats have plenty of room to grow in all phases of the game.

“I don’t mean to beat on a dead horse, but we are going to build on the good things we are doing and continue to do those and try to work on the areas we are falling short,” he said.

The Kentucky coach admitted that quarterback Terry Wilson didn’t have his best outing against the Aggies but said the issues have been corrected.

“He’s managed the game well (overall this season),” Stoops said. “ I think in this last game, we all know and he knows there are things he could’ve done better. That was addressed. He’s coachable. He learned from that and he will get better from that alone, the experience. Just managing the game and putting us in a situation to win each and every game has been one of his strengths. Obviously, the passing game and vision and just the timing of things need to improve and the confidence of the people around him needs to improve as well.”

Moving forward, Stoops said the first loss of the season hasn’t hindered his team’s determination as the Wildcats prepare for the second half of the season.

“I don’t know if winning every helps you that way (but) it shouldn’t,” Stoops said. “We don’t need the motivation. That’s for sure. Our guys were prepped to win the game and I love their approach. There are things we can do better and part of it is our composure and I feel like the situation affected us some. I talked about how it affected the quarterback. I think it affected us pre-snap with some penalties. It affected us with our frustration. You’ve got to realize that sometimes you’re going to be in a game like that and we’ve got to find a way to adapt, handle it and make plays to win the game.”

OH, BROTHER

Stoops has talked to his brother Mike Stoops after he was fired as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma following the Sooners’ 48-45 loss to Texas last weekend.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” he said. “I really feel for Mike and what he’s going through, but Mike’s a very good football coach. He’s won a lot of championships, and sometimes it doesn’t work. He’s a big man with broad shoulders, and Mike takes things like a man. He’s disappointed, but he’ll be just fine.”

Mike Stoops spent eight seasons as coach at Arizona before returning for a second stint as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2012.

Gametracker: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 20, SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

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

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