Louisville, Ky. (WDRB) -- Now comes the biggest challenge of all.
Kentucky will play a top 20 opponent for the fourth consecutive week, and while it may seem that this happens every other year or so in the SEC, it's actually a first in the school's history. And the historic quartet closes with a visit from none other than top-ranked Alabama Saturday.
When asked if he knew about the schedule before he took the job, UK head coach Mark Stoops laughed.
"I didn't. I didn't," said Stoops. "I really didn't, because we were in the middle ‑‑ we were in‑season there at Florida State so I was pretty consumed with what I was doing. So, no. Wouldn't have deterred me, though."
No it doesn't seem like the first-year coach is one to back away from a challenge. His team showed some grit on Saturday night in Columbia, rallying from a 21-0 deficit in a game that looked to be headed toward a rout, ultimately losing 35-28 to South Carolina.
"Well, I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games," said Stoops. "You know, we ‑‑ it's not just me up here talking about that. If we truly believe, if we go about our business; if we work the right way; if we prepare the right way and execute and make plays when the game is on the line ‑‑ we had every opportunity to win that game and that's a very good team, very well coached and we have a lot of respect for them.
But had we done some things right, we could win that game. And that's taking nothing away from them, because I know every coach can say that. Everybody can say they always do things better; we all feel that way."
Admitting that it's tough with all the youth he has playing, Stoops said his team needs to be mentally stronger and have more awareness on the field.
"It was a test on Saturday of my patience and that's something that we as a staff, when we talked about it, we just have to keep on staying the course, we really do.
But we cannot let off, and that's the big thing is holding them accountable every day, every minute, every snap. And that's where we have to stay consistent as a staff and we need to get it out of these players that they can do it. You know, they just have got to be more consistent. We have got to execute. It takes a lot of things.
But believe me, there's plays in every game that we are leaving out there that we have to get away from."
An example of the kind of toughness he's looking for came from Freshman Defensive End Jason Hatcher, who continued playing despite breaking his hand during the game.
"It tells me that his toughness is there and his heart is in the right place. Like I said, he didn't flinch," said Stoops. "I see good things from Jason. I thought he did some very good things. He was in a tough spot. There's a lot going at him. Different calls, different things. He made a few mistakes, but I love him; I love his work ethic, his ability. He's been versatile for us and we've been force‑feeding him and it's good to see him making plays."
As for how he measures success in a game against the number one team in the land, Stoops continued, "I think it's just really how we play, how we prepare, how we fight. Just execute plays. It's really all we're worried about right now is executing plays and not getting behind like we talked about. Try to get out and get off to a good series, whether it be a stop or moving the ball. And just competing and fighting.
Obviously we know how talented this (Alabama) team is and how well coached they are. It's going to be a real tough challenge, but again, we'll measure that by how we play, how we compete and go from there."
Kickoff is Saturday at 7:00 pm at Commonwealth Stadium.
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