LEXINGTON – Neither Kentucky coach Mark Stoops nor his players are panicking despite a three-game losing streak threatening a repeat of last season’s second-half collapse that knocked the Wildcats out of postseason.
There is, however, a sense of urgency to correct breakdowns that have created the downward spiral. Stoops is working for Kentucky (4-4, 2-4 SEC) to pull things together before Saturday’s Southeastern Conference game at Georgia, a team smarting from a 27-3 thumping by No. 11 Florida.
Stoops believes staying positive is a good first step.
“The only way you make this feeling go away is to go get a victory,” the coach said during Monday’s weekly news conference. “That’s it. That is it. We are not alone. Georgia is going to feel the same way.”
A win is possible for the Wildcats if they show more poise instead of folding at critical moments, and there have been many of those in losses to Tennessee and Mississippi State. Poor tackling, missed assignments and lost containment have contributed to big plays by both schools, who have outscored the Wildcats 94-37 and outgained them 1,068-772 combined.
Tennessee scored five chunk-play touchdowns of at least 28 yards alone in Saturday’s 52-21 victory, with one second-quarter sequence shifting the momentum. After quarterback Patrick Towles scored on a fourth-down keeper to put Kentucky ahead 14-10, the Vols completed a 75-yard TD pass on its next snap and didn’t look back.
Special teams sealed Tennessee’s second straight 50-point effort against Kentucky as the Vols returned a kickoff 100 yards and a punt 84 for TDs.
“You can’t win that way,” Stoops said. “That’s frustrating, but there’s no panic. It’s not good enough and it’s not acceptable, but we know there’s plays in there we have to build on. It’s a loss, but we can’t let that shake us up and worry us as we move forward.”
Kentucky also must soldier on without leading rusher Stanley “Boom” Williams, who sustained an elbow injury in the second quarter against Tennessee and did not return. He’s out against Georgia and is being evaluated on a weekly basis.
Sophomore Mikel Horton takes over in the backfield after career highs of 14 carries for 109 yards rushing against the Vols. Special teams player Joey Herrick is also out with a bone bruise.
Georgia has its own issues as well after losing to the Gators in Jacksonville.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Sunday that he’s considering “all possibilities” at quarterback after Faton Bauta threw four interceptions in his first career start. His other option is Greyson Lambert, whose benching opened the door for Bauta.
No matter who starts behind center for Georgia, Kentucky’s mission is keeping them and other skill players from breaking free between the hedges if the Wildcats are to win for the first time in Athens since 2009. Stoops never expected the quest for respectability to be easy and after losing their final six last year, he’s working to ensure a losing mentality doesn’t take root with remaining games against Charlotte, Vanderbilt and Louisville.
The Wildcats are just thinking of winning one right now, which begins with keeping games in their control.
“There is not one bit of me that thinks our hearts were not in it,” Stoops said. “We have to do a better job in critical situations and a lot of that comes down to third downs on both sides of the ball.”
AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org