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Stoops says experienced UK ready for challenge at No. 8 Auburn on Saturday in season opener


By Tim Letcher
University of Kentucky

It’s finally game week for the University of Kentucky football team, and head coach Mark Stoops and his squad have certainly put in their time in the preseason. And it’s been a fall camp unlike any other.

“For us, it’s been a long preseason,” Stoops said. “A couple of weeks longer than usual, so it seems like it’s been a long time. But we will need that preparation.”

Stoops and the Wildcats are excited to have the chance to play someone else, beginning this week. Even if that means traveling to eighth-ranked Auburn for the Saturday season opener at noon.

Mark Stoops

Kentucky faces a formidable challenge against Auburn. The Cats are 2-12 all-time on the Plains. However, the last time UK played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Cats came away with a 21-14 win, in 2009.

“Looking forward to a great opportunity from the start, going to Auburn and playing Gus Malzahn and Auburn,” Stoops said. “It’s going to be a real challenge. I have never played there before and I know that it’s one of those great SEC venues that is usually packed. Obviously, it will be a different circumstance this year, only allowing a certain percentage (of fans to attend). Nonetheless, we know the challenge that we have ahead of us.”

The Wildcats, who are currently ranked 23rd by the Associated Press, face a daunting, 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only schedule this season. As if playing in the time of COVID-19 is not enough of a challenge, Stoops knows that his opponent, each and every week, will be talented and ready to go.

“We’ve got a challenging schedule ahead of us,” Stoops said. “It’s brutal. Brutally hard. I just shake my head in amazement at how difficult and how well-prepared that each and every team we play is. That’s a challenge.”

Stoops does think he has a team that can navigate that challenge in 2020.

UK quarterback Terry Wilson. (UK photo)

“An experienced quarterback (Terry Wilson) helps, an experienced football team helps,” Stoops said. “Certainly, in these uncertain times and the way things have been so different. An experienced football team is something that I like. A team with strong leadership is something that I like. A team that is very tough physically and mentally, I like.”

Coming out of fall camp, Stoops thinks his team is prepared to begin the season.

“I’m excited about our team. I appreciate the work that they’ve done,” Stoops said. “I feel like we’re in a really good position. Guys have worked hard. We’re relatively healthy. So, looking forward to going in there and getting started this week.”

What Stoops and the other SEC coaches don’t know is how playing 10 conference games will affect their teams.

“Being able to stay healthy and having enough depth to compete and to play 10 SEC games is something that’s an unknown,” Stoops said. “But I like our football team. I like a lot of things, starting with their experience and their toughness, physically and mentally.”

Facing Auburn to open the season was not the original plan. But Stoops believes that his experienced, tough team will be up to the challenge that awaits them at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

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