CRAWFORD | After beating South Carolina, don't expect Stoops to - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | After beating South Carolina, don't expect Stoops to let off the gas

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I don't know what I expected from University of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops after the Wildcats beat South Carolina 45-38 to win back-to-back SEC games for the first time since 2009 Saturday night, but it wasn't this.

If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought Stoops was a little ticked off. He sounded like a guy whose defense had given up 282 yards rushing -- which it did -- so he couldn't quite enjoy the joy in the situation for the Big Blue Nation.

Come on, man, you beat Steve Spurrier, the Ol' Ball Coach. You're 4-1. At Kentucky. Live it up. Somebody name a street after that guy.

No, Stoops doesn't think that way. And for UK, that's a good thing. On his postgame radio appearance with Tom Leach on the UK Radio Network, he sounded like he wanted to bring his defense in to watch some video right then. Five times in his postgame news conference Stoops used the word "frustrating." He used it four more on his radio show, including three here in quick succession.

"He (Spurrier) was ahead of the chains all night and we were behind the chains," Stoops said. "They were getting too many yards on first and second down. It was very frustrating. I know the fans were very frustrated. Shoot I was frustrated all night. We've got to do a better job in certain sets at getting some stops. I take responsibility for some of that, and some of it was we just didn't make plays when we had to."

Timeout. Blow the whistle. Look, coach. You know how to make a peace sign with your hands? Two fingers up? That's how many times Kentucky has beaten Steve Spurrier. In 22 tries. Here. Have a cocktail.

No, Stoops wasn't quite in the celebrating mood. He told Leach, "I felt like our guys were looking around a lot. And that's what I really got after them on the sidelines, I said quit looking around for everybody and every call. We've got to beat somebody sometime. We've got to beat somebody on a pressure, we've got to make a play. That's a good football team with a Hall of Fame football coach. They're not going to give you anything, you have to go get it."

Kentucky is getting it done in SEC competition right now, and it is having success because Stoops has not given in to the way things have always seemed to go at Kentucky. Not getting any calls? So what, he tells his players. Forget it. Go make a play. No excuses. No shortcuts.

Talent helps, of course. His recruiting successes have given UK the size and speed to compete.

But he's also done an excellent job of shifting the focus of his players from "what's about to go wrong" to "let's make something go right." It's not as easy as it might sound. Commonwealth Stadium has not been the most optimistic place in college football. I know Rich Brooks could feel it, even when he had the program going. There's a "here we go again" atmosphere that can take over the place. Stoops doesn't want his players buying into that. His pregame message, as relayed to Leach, was an example of how he wants his players thinking.

"I just told them we were going to leave that locker room and we were going to be united," Stoops said. "We knew the game was never going to go perfect. Even if we got off to a good start there was going to be adversity, but to lean on each other and believe in each other and stay with the plan. And they really did a great job."

Things are going to go wrong. Expect them -- but overcome them. UK fell behind 14-0 in this game, but had all the momentum by halftime. It's huge change in the way the Wildcats do business.

And then there was the Wildcat formation. When told at the post-game news conference that his team had scored all five of its touchdowns out of the Wildcat formation, Stoops said, "Did we really?"

Sigh. Defensive guys. Say this for offensive coordinator Neal Brown -- he went visor-to-visor with Spurrier Saturday and came out on top. That's something to put in your scrapbook.

Forget the chrome UK helmets. It was the Wildcats offense that was tricked out. South Carolina couldn't stop the Wildcat look in the red zone, or much of anywhere else.

JoJo Kemp ran for three touchdowns. A week ago he didn't play until the end of the game, because he'd had a bad week of practice. This week, he took the game over. 

Stoops said on his postgame radio program that he hasn't given a game ball to a player since he's been at UK. He gives game balls to special guests, or kids who the team wants to inspire. This time, he called Kemp up and handed him a ball. He liked the way Kemp played a week ago, not sulking on the sidelines but waiting his turn and delivering when called upon.

Now, don't get the impression that Stoops didn't understand the significance of winning that game for his program. He did. And he had 62,135 delighted fans in Commonwealth Stadium to remind him.

"You know, it was one of the special atmospheres that I've been in because of what it means to this program, because of how far we've had to dig ourselves out of the hole."

They dug out of a huge hole from a talent and organizational standpoint. They're digging out of a facilities hole. And Saturday night, they had to dig out of a 14-point deficit. Twice.

Now they have a good chance to be 5-1 at the season's midpoint for the first time since 2007 if they can beat Louisiana Monroe next Saturday. But Stoops isn't taking that for granted. Shoot, it's not even out of shouting distance to say that they're a contender in the SEC East, with Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia.

"I'm so proud of them," he said. "They need to enjoy it. But we have a lot more in our tank. We can play a lot better."

From Stoops, that's about all the celebration you're going to get.

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