Bye week comes at opportune time for Cats

Published 12:30 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2023

A bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Kentucky.

The Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) are coming off two straight losses after opening the season at 5-0 for the third time in the past five seasons. The downfall began with a 51-13 loss at top-ranked Georgia on Oct. 7, followed by a 38-21 loss to Missouri Saturday night.

“I think the bye week comes at a good time,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. “Our players need to get healed up. We are down a bunch of guys. But that is no excuse. We have plenty of players that can step in and play better than we did. And we will use this week to coach better, develop the guys that we have, and try to get some guys healthy.”

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Although getting healthy is a concern, getting back to the fundamentals and playing disciplined on both sides of the ball will also be an area of concentration for Stoops and his staff this week. The Wildcats were slapped with 14 penalties for a loss of 122 yards.

“I did talk to the players about that,” Stoops said. “I was like, listen, ‘It starts with me.’ I’m the head coach, and we’ve got to get the discipline under control. But those players have to help, too, yes. They have to hold each other accountable as well. It is their football team.”

Kentucky defensive lineman Deone Walker agreed and said getting the penalties addressed is “vital” and will be a point of emphasis in practice and behind the scenes.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined as a team,” Walker said. “That’s on the leaders and on the captains; there’s only so much the coaches can do and that is something we have to take more pride in as a team. So, worry about getting better for our team’s sake and stopping the emotional penalties. There were a lot of them. We got to learn to play with passion, not emotion.”

Following the loss to Missouri, Stoops didn’t want to point fingers at his squad for a “lack of leadership.”

“I have to own that myself — and we will,” Stoops said. “Through the years, we have been far from perfect. But we have been unselfish and played for each other. And that’s the message, and we will get that across.

“I think frustration is a big piece of some of this. Guys are frustrated and, you know, I think we all are frustrated but we have to handle the situation better than that.”

Kentucky center Eli Cox said the break will help give them a renewed focus.

“It just goes back to the details and discipline that you build in practice. It’s just something we’re going to have to get back to work and [back to] the drawing board during the bye week,” he said. “We’ve got some extra time to focus on stuff like that. Not as much on the game plan. So, it’s really what we need to be doing in the bye week. Focusing on those little things.”

Stoops hopes the week off will give his team a chance to get past the last two setbacks.

“I’ve been here 11 years and I’ve taken the good with the bad,” Stoops said. “You know, either way, I will hold my head up high, try to coach the team, work my butt off to get them right. And like I told the team, the next opportunity we have in this stadium, after a bye week, is a big game.”