LEXINGTON – September 13, 2021 – KEITH TAYLOR
Mark Stoops will be focusing on his own squad this week before Kentucky dives into the thick of the Southeastern Conference schedule.
The Wildcats (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), will take on Tennessee-Chattanooga (1-1) Saturday in the last of a three-game homestead to open the season. Kentucky kept its perfect record intact following a 35-28 win over Missouri in its conference opener last weekend at Kroger Field.
“It was a very physical game,” Stoops said Monday. “Our guys were emotionally ready to play, took a lot out of them, played extremely hard, very proud how physical and how hard we’re playing,” he said. “(We) just want to get some details fixed up but it’s our job to get our team right here this week, continue to build on the good things we’re doing, tighten up the ship on certain aspects of it. We got a lot of good football ahead of us, so I’m very encouraged and looking forward to this challenge here this week.”
Stoops said his squad did “a lot of very good things,” many of which he said Kentucky can “build on” as the Wildcats delve deeper into the schedule. He added the main emphasis will be his own squad.
“It’s about us this week, much the same, we need to concentrate on ourselves, playing a very good team in Chattanooga, and we just have to focus on ourselves,” Stoops said. “… I would never use the word, you would never hear me use the word ‘breather’’ — that’s not in our vocabulary.
“The only thing we’re interested in is pressing on and moving forward. Any great team, no matter what the competition level is, plays to the best of their ability.”
The biggest point of emphasis for Stoops and his staff will be eliminating turnovers. Kentucky had a fumble and an interception in its last outing. Rodriguez coughed up a ball that was recovered by lineman Eli Cox in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, a score that was rewarded to Cox following further evaluation by the SEC office Monday.
“We’ve talked about it before,” Stoops said. “I captured this (thought), I don’t pretend it was mine, it was another coach said it that I listen to. I thought it was a good way to say that ‘when you have the football in your hands, you have the program in your hands’ and that’s a pretty good statement. I think that was coach (P.J.) Fleck if I’m not mistaken. I heard him talking about that. I borrowed that from him, but you know we talk about that. He’ll get it corrected. I’m confident.”
Stoops also will be seeking improvement from the defense. The Wildcats struggled somewhat against the Tigers and failed to get a key stop or sack until late in the fourth quarter.
“If you go back and look at that game, that’s probably one of the worst defensive games that we’re going to play,” Kentucky linebacker Jacquez Jones said. “That’s scary, because we came out with a win. We had a lot of mess-ups. We’ve got a lot of stuff to fix, but our ceiling is high.”
• Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez was named Southeastern Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 206 yards and scoring four touchdowns in the win over the Tigers.
• Kentucky’ first road game of the season is set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 at South Carolina and will be televised on ESPN2.
Gametracker: Chattanooga at Kentucky, noon, EST. TV/Radio: TBA, UK Radio