LEXINGTON – September 10, 2021 – KEITH TAYLOR
Mark Stoops hasn’t forgotten last year’s loss to Missouri.
“I’m not going to forget,” the Kentucky coach said. “That’s on my mind. He (Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz) had his team more prepared than I was. Maybe he’ll have some compassion for me. … They were much more prepared to play last year than we were. That’s on me. I can promise you that’s not going to happen again.”
Coming off an emotional 34-7 win the previous week at Tennessee, the Wildcats fell 20-10 to the Tigers in a contest that wasn’t even close despite the final margin.
“They had 20 points, but it felt like 40 by the way they controlled the ball,” Stoops said. “(They had) a lot of third (down)-and-manageables, and then some fourths that they converted. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Kentucky easily defeated Louisana-Monroe in its season opener last week, rolling to a 45-10 victory in Liam Coen’s debut as the team’s offensive coordinator. Drinkwitz took notice of the Wildcats’ performance, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Knowing the time it takes to install an offense, Drinkwitz said the Wildcats have adapted well to the change in schemes.
“The only thing that’s a surprise to me is how quickly they’ve gotten to where they’re at,” Drinkwitz said. “You know sometimes when you come in as a new offensive coordinator, to make such drastic change, it’s kind of hard to get in that quickly. But they’re humming on all cylinders right now. It obviously helps to add some great players like they’ve been able to add.”
Stoops isn’t concerned about the hype surrounding his offense after the Wildcats amassed 564 yards worth of offense against the Warhawks in the opener. Led by quarterback Will Levis, who threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns in his debut, Kentucky ranks No. 2 in the nation in passing offense (419 yards).
“We have the exact same approach every week,” he said Thursday. “But there’s a message every week. That doesn’t mean they listen to you. It doesn’t mean, I’ll be the first to admit, you know that certain games, like I’ve told you, in a 12-game season you’re not always going to peak and play your best. You’ve gotta be good enough to win when you’re not at your best. But that’s no excuse. We only get guaranteed 12 opportunities. We have to make the most of it. “
The Wildcats have won five of their last six games against Missouri, including three straight at Kroger Field. Despite the recent success, Stoops knows it won’t be an easy task in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“We have a lot of things to improve on to beat this team,” Stoops said of the Tigers, who defeated Central Michigan 34-24 last week to open the season. “(I’ve) got a lot of respect for coach Drinkwitz and what Eli does and the way he runs his program, very good team, making a lot of improvement. We’re going to have to play a lot better here this week to beat them.”
The Tigers will wear, “Never Forget 343” decals on their helmets in memory of the first responders who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks 20 years ago on 9/11.
“(It’s) an opportunity for us to say thank you to those brave souls and to their families for the sacrifices that they’ve made, and to represent truly some heroic individuals from that day,” Drinkwitz said.
Stoops was with the Miami Hurricanes at the time and recalled that fateful day earlier this week.
“ I was in my office,” he said. “One of the GAs (graduate assistant coaches) or quality control coaches were in their office breaking down film and saw it happen. We were in the defensive meeting and went over to his office, all of us, and watched it and then we saw the other plane hit as we were watching it. Obviously, I think just shock at that point in time. Shock and a lot of different reactions – sad, angry, disappointed. I think after a short amount of time we knew we were not going to play a football game that Saturday.”
Gametracker: Missouri at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., EST, Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.