LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops hasn’t forgotten how Kentucky opened the second half of the season last year.
The Wildcats (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) returned from a bye week and dropped a disappointing 45-7 setback to Mississippi State. The blowout was a sign of things to come for Kentucky, which lost its last three games of the season despite a promising start.
“I looked at last year’s game immediately after the bye week — I did look at that,” Stoops said earlier this week. “(I looked) at the sports science behind that, what we did. I am making some changes. Some things were brought to my attention on how we played and what we did rep-wise and things like that.”
In its last outing nearly two weeks ago, Kentucky, No. 14 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll, couldn’t get over the proverbial hump in a 20-14 overtime loss to Texas A&M. The Wildcats struggled offensively and quarterback Terry Wilson wasn’t at his best.
“I’m hard on myself,” Wilson said. “I know the expectations I have to bring that some with this position. If I mess up, I’m already on myself before anybody else can get on me.”
Stoops said the bye week gave the Wildcats a chance to get over the loss and Wilson time to get back on track.
"Terry (Wilson) will learn from that experience and he will get better and we all, once again, (have to) look at what we can do to put him in the position to be better, what the players around him can do better,” Stoops said. “We can coach better. There is room for improvement for all of us. Again, he is not immune to that. He certainly did some things in that game that needs (to be) corrected. He will be corrected and move on."
Stoops added he has no “concerns” with Wilson and said he’s “built” to handle adversity.
“He may make mistakes, but he really will not get rattled,” Stoops said. “He will learn from it. He will grow. He will get better. That is just the confidence that I have in him. But, it is different. We talk about it more often. We always talk about who is starting because it is different. I told you earlier in the year. I believe that. I do not believe in having a quick trigger and pulling someone there once you make your decision. That doesn't mean that we won't have some opportunities to see some quarterbacks. You don't know how things are going to play out."
Kentucky’s defensive unit has been solid through the first six games but will likely be challenged by Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
“He is extremely fast,” Stoops said. “He is a guy that, he is just a good player. He really is. He is really fast and explosive, talked to a few people who have played him and they say that as fast as he looks on film he is faster in person. So, that means that definitely, you can you feel him on the field. We are going to play team defense. We are going to play the way we always play. He is a very good player. We have great respect for him. We are going to do what we do."
In addition to getting a head start on Vanderbilt last week, Stoops and his staff looked back on the first six contests to get an idea of how to perform better during the next six weeks.
“We did a good amount of self-scout, and then we did very, very slight implementation of some new things,” he said. “We do have an array of things that we could possibly build into the future of this season. But, it is hard to just put … you can’t do that to your kids. You have put them in a position where they are comfortable and playing fast. So, there are always new wrinkles, but we can't put it all on them at once."
Like his coach, Wilson is looking forward to the second half of the season.
“I feel like I’m getting better every day at practice (I’ve) just got to put it into the game,” he said. “I feel like the second half of the season is going to be good.”
Gametracker: Vandy at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.