CRAWFORD | Cheer up -- UK football progress still ahead of sched - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Cheer up -- UK football progress still ahead of schedule

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — You have to forgive some University of Kentucky football fans if they feel a bit jittery. Heck, even a cheerleader apparently got a little over-the-top frustrated and started shouting at the coaches coming off the field after Saturday's 20-10 setback at Missouri.

Three straight losses are tough on any program. UK coach Mark Stoops just wants to make sure his players' frustration is in the right place as they prepare for Saturday's home game against Georgia. When it looks like a breakout season one game and broken the next, everybody is down.

But be of good cheer. Most people around UK, including most fans, realize that the process takes awhile, and that Stoops remains ahead of schedule on his rebuilding job.

The best way I can explain it is this: Trying to build a football program at Kentucky is a lot like many of the SEC basketball programs trying to build to a position of challenging Kentucky hoops.

It can be done. You can recruit and build and win. Other programs have. But they can't build as quickly as UK basketball in the hands of a good coach.

Rick Pitino built a dynasty at Kentucky. He got Louisville to the top, too, but it took him a lot longer. John Calipari was a good coach at Memphis. He wasn't a juggernaut till he got to UK.  There are a lot of reasons, including the magnitude of UK's brand, history, tradition, passionate fan following, media footprint, and more.

All those reasons? They're what UK football is fighting against. They're why Auburn can go from losing record to national champions in two seasons. Well, those and Cam Newton.

Most places, it takes longer. And that will be the case for Stoops and UK.

Here's why there's little reason to worry about UK's direction — the math works out. The bulk of UK's major contributors are underclassmen. The current recruiting outlook remains strong. Mark Stoops just re-upped his contract through 2019.

And perhaps most important, Stoops has the right mix of outrage and outlook. He's ticked that the team isn't playing better, but knows what he's doing. There are no gimmicks involved.

“The bottom line is we're too undisciplined,” he said at his regular Monday news conference. “We need to be a more disciplined football team. We need to be tougher mentally and physically to win on the road and win in environments like that. It gets down to us and what we're doing and how we're coaching. . . . We either choose to be disciplined or we choose to be undisciplined. We either choose to be a trained football team and us as a coaching staff need to train them. At times we're an untrained football team.  You're not going to win like that.”

Stoops' definition of toughness is an interesting one.

“When I talk about toughness, it's not just always physically,” he said. “Mentally being tough. If you're supposed to run a six step out, run it six, not eight. If you're supposed to follow the guard on a run play, follow the guard, not just run anywhere you want to run.”

It's not easy against the stretch of schedule the Wildcats are facing. Amid questions over play-calling at Missouri, Stoops said that he and coordinator Neal Brown are on the same page, just that, “We didn't play our best.”

When the Wildcats were 5-1, spirits were high and the future was full of unexpected possibility. At 5-4, reality seems to be settling in. But reality for this program still isn't what it was.

“I don't know if we lost our way,” Stoops said. “We just need to be better. We're inconsistent. The wheels aren't falling off; we barely had them on. . . . Anybody that didn't understand that is sadly mistaken, including our players.  We've got to scratch and claw and fight and dig down for everything that we get. . . . I constantly talk about that. We cannot wait for our moment.  We've got to train to go take it and make our moment. Right now we're in that mode of hoping, hoping things happen.”

Expect that message — with a little more volume and force — to be delivered pretty strongly in Lexington this week before the Bulldogs get to town on Saturday.

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