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Wildcats used bye week to rest, get healthy, get a jump on Vandy


By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Mark Stoops took a break from football last weekend but kept tabs on other college football teams during Kentucky’s only bye week of the season.

“It was a wild weekend that’s for sure,” Stoops said, referring to Georgia’s 36-16 loss to LSU and Tennessee’s 30-24 triumph over Auburn. “It was good to sit there and be stress-free for a day. I enjoyed that. You sit back and watch other people and that’s the one day you get to do that. Our staff, they needed it (too) … you better make the most of it.”

Stoops also watched a “good piece” of No. 11 Florida’s 37-27 comeback win over Vanderbilt and attended a birthday part with his son.

“That’s stress,” Stoops said with a laugh during his weekly press conference Monday.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats will take on Vanderbilt in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Kroger Field. Kentucky had a bye week last weekend. (Kentucky Today/Keith Taylor)

Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) used most of last week to get healthy, reflect back on the first half of the season and look ahead to Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt. The 14th-ranked Wildcats opened with five straight victories before dropping a 20-14 overtime loss to Texas A&M in their last outing on Oct. 6. The week off also gave Stoops and his squad to decompress following the loss to the Aggies.

“We’re excited about getting back to work this week and getting into game week,” Stoops said. “I thought we had a really good bye week, healed up a little bit, got some rest and got a jump on Vandy. (We were able to) build on some of the things we’re doing well, work on some areas that need improvement and we’re excited about this opportunity this week.”

Overall the Stoops said the Wildcats are healthy, but said center Drake Jackson benefited the most from the break last week as well as offensive tackle Naasir Watkins.

“After the (Texas) A&M game, (Jackson) needed it,” Stoops said. “It would have been hard for him to play if we played (last) Saturday. He’s the one player who jumps out as a player who needed it (the most). There’s a good chance we’ll have (Naasir) available this week. That will be good for him as well.”

Although winless in the SEC, the Commodores (3-4, 0-3) led the Gators 21-13 at the half in Nashville last weekend before Florida roared back and outscored Vandy 24-6 in the second half to get the win. Earlier the season, the Commodores rallied from a 16-3 deficit before dropping a 22-17 loss at No. 4 Notre Dame.

“You see a team that’s very hungry, that plays very hard,” Stoops said. “They are well-coached and they’re just looking for that breakthrough. They really had a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame and they had another great opportunity against Florida, two very-very good football teams and you see what they’re capable of. Vandy is a good team, they play hungry and they play hard. We’re going to have to play very good football.”

Going into the second half of the season and one win away from becoming bowl eligible, Stoops said his message to the team won’t change.

“It’s about us and what we do and prepare and respect the game in our preparation, no matter who we’re playing and it starts with a very good Monday,” Stoops said.

Although in a three-way tie with Georgia and Florida for first-place in the SEC East, Stoops hasn’t spent much time looking ahead, especially to a matchup against No. 8 Georgia at Kroger Field in two weeks.

“We’re going to do one week at a time,” Stoops said. “I’ve said that all year. We’re going to try to go 1-0 (for the next six weeks. We’re going to try to win this week and put ourselves in a position to win this week. We have six, one-week seasons left.”

PASCHAL HEALING

Stoops said sophomore defensive lineman Josh Pascal is on the mend and could be ready to offer a full update in a couple of weeks. Pascal was diagnosed with melanoma prior to the season.

“Josh is doing good,” Stoops said. “He’s doing very, very good (and) we’re very encouraged by Josh and his recovery and what’s he’s doing. Maybe I’ll have a nice smile on my face and a good update in a couple of weeks.”

GAME-TIME SET

Kentucky’s game at Missouri on Oct. 27 is set for 4 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. The Tigers (3-3, 0-3) are coming off a 39-10 loss to Alabama last weekend.

Gametracker: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m, SEC Network, 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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