LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops didn’t like what he saw in a 24-7 loss to Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville. He wasn’t much happier after breaking down his team’s second consecutive setback to close out the Southeastern Conference schedule.
As he did following the Wildcats’ 17th consecutive setback at Neyland Stadium, Stoops pinned the loss on himself for not having his team ready to play against the surging Volunteers.
“We didn’t play good enough, didn’t have them prepared well enough and we need to do a better job,” Stoops said Monday. “It was a vert important game and we did not put forth our best effort. That can’t happen. It’s inexcusable and we need to do a better job.”
Stoops added that it’s “one game and we have to move on” and the loss “doesn’t diminish all of the good things we have done throughout this year.”
“We have to do whatever we have to do to get ready, get our eighth victory and that’s very important,” Stoops said.
The 20th-ranked Wildcats (7-3, 5-3) will get that chance Saturday when they take on Middle Tennessee in the home finale set for noon. Kentucky closes out the regular season at Louisville in a 7 p.m. kickoff set for Nov. 24.
Amid his team’s offensive troubles during the past couple of weeks, Stoops said changing the scheme this late in the season “wouldn’t be a very good idea” and “that would be called panic mode.”
“We have two opportunities to get the most victories we’ve had in the regular season since 1977 and I don’t think that would be very wise,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of good things to win seven games and we plan on trying to get eight and nine (win).”
The Blue Raiders (7-3, 6-1 Conference USA) have fared well against conference foes this season but lost to Vanderbilt (35-7) and Georgia (49-7) during the first three weeks of the season. Stoops said beating Middle won’t be an easy task..
“There’s no team that we could say that’s a breather,” he said. “You see it in college football and you see it all of the time. You saw Tennessee score seven points on Charlotte the week before (playing us) and they come out and play lights out against us. These are college kids and there’s going to be us and downs. You’ve got to be good enough to win when you don’t play your best and it’s very difficult to play at your peak for 12 straight weeks. It’s difficult and you’ve got to be good enough to overcome them when you don’t play well. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you don’t.”
Stoops said the Wildcats went through the motions against the Vols and said the they simply “weren’t ready to play up to the level we need to play at.”
“I think you could see maybe Tennessee played that way the week before (against Charlotte),” he said. “They got straightened out and come out and played with a lot of passion. Our team has done that this year and we didn’t (last) Saturday and that’s on me. I appreciate Benny (Snell) pointing those things out and that’s what leaders do. I don’t think he (meant) one person, just in general. I told (the players) we didn’t do a good enough job.”
Stoops said the team’s recipe for success is sustaining long drives, an issue that has plagued them during the past month, especially on third-down chances.
“In our victories throughout the season, we’ve had 12- to 13-play drives, because we’re not overly explosive,” he said. “You have to be very good and you have to be precise. You can’t have a missed assignment here or a missed assignment there. … we have to put it all together and play clean.”
Stoops was equally disappointed in his team’s defensive performance against Tennessee and “didn’t keep us in the game as they have in other games.”
“We didn’t play very good at all,” he said. “We didn’t play up to our standards whatsoever … as a team we didn’t play good enough.”
Stoops expects that to change Saturday.
Gametracker: Middle Tennessee at Kentucky, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.