LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The next three weeks will make or break Kentucky’s chances of reaching the Southeastern Conference Championship game for the first time in school history.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats (6-1, 4-1 SEC) have three conference games remaining, starting with Saturday at Missouri, followed by a home contest against Georgia and a road game at Tennessee. Although the final stretch of the league schedule looms large, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops isn’t looking past Missouri, which is 4-4 on the season but 0-3 against conference foes.
“It’s not hard for me (to stay in the moment) and it shouldn’t be hard for our team to have an unbelievable focus today to get things fixed from this past Saturday and give 100 percent attention to Missouri,” Stoops said. “I think you would have to be a moron to not realize the threat that you’re going to go up against with Missouri. They’re a very good football team that I have a lot of respect for. I think Barry (Odom) has done a great job and one thing I really notice and admire about their football team is they play hard, tough, they’re motivated and they’re hungry. That’s a very good football team. It should not be hard to have their attention with everybody in our building.”
Stoops also isn’t concerned with the hype within the team’s fan base.
“Outside of our building I don’t care what anybody thinks,” he said. “I say that in a good way and not in a negative way. It doesn’t matter and it doesn’t affect us. I’m glad people are excited, that way, but that doesn’t affect us or our team. We have a lot to do and we have a mature football team. They should be 100 percent locked in on Missouri. I don’t think (lack of focus) will be an issue. It better not be, we have a lot to do (in order to improve).”
In addition to preparing for Missouri, Stoops and his staff are focusing on the team’s struggles on offense, especially with the passing game. Starting quarterback Terry Wilson completed just three passes on nine attempts in a 14-7 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday and has thrown two interceptions in the past two games.
Stoops met with Wilson on Monday and doesn’t think confidence is an issue with his starting quarterback. Stoops said Wilson is open to suggestions, but added the coaching staff is looking at “all options” if the struggles continue for Wilson. Stoops did say Wilson will be the starter against the Tigers.
“It will start with us the coaches, what we’re doing and the position we’re putting him in to be successful and to get (Wilson) to pull the pin and make accurate throws,” Stoops said. “He has done that this year and he’s been successful and put us in the position — the spot we’re in right now. He’s also not played his best the past couple of games. We’ll have to look that (from the staff to Wilson to the offensive line). We’re all in this together and it’s not any one person’s fault. Certainly, we need to play better at that position … We certainly need to look at the other guys to get an opportunity to get in there and play and help us.”
Although Wilson has struggled during the past two games, Kentucky’s defense continues to shine and is ranked No. 2 nationally and first in the league in scoring defense, giving up just 12.9 points per game. The success on defense has the players enjoying the spotlight.
“It’s pretty fun because we are getting recognized nationally and so everyone is looking at you differently,” Kentucky senior cornerback Derrick Baity said. “They notice you and we’re finally getting talked about on TV, but then, outside of that, just the locker room and the environment within this team (is better).”
Stoops said Josh Pascal is on the mend and working his way back into playing shape. Pascal, a linebacker, was diagnosed with a melanoma before the season and has been around the team more often during the past two weeks.
“The wound is healing and then there’s a matter of getting him in shape, football shape,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it than just the wound itself. He’s working his way in shape. He’s working his way back into the fold.”
Kentucky’s game against No. 7 Georgia is set for 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 and will be televised by ESPN or the SEC Network.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Missouri, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. 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.