Stoops: Cats can get much better

Kentucky has faced programs like Florida and South Carolina this season, but the Wildcats’ biggest challenge to date may be coming this week.

Handling success.

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Fresh off his team’s thrilling 45-38 upset of South Carolina, UK head coach Mark Stoops said Monday that the 4-1 Cats need to stay grounded and understand they have much room for improvement.

“We'll stay with the plan we do, but the message will be different,” he said. “They're going to hear enough good things from a lot of people, and they're excited, I'm good with that. But they're going to hear about some of the negative, too… They're going to hear about that and see that (on film). That's the good news. There is a lot to correct from. There is still a lot more in this team. We can be a lot better, and we're going to continue to work extremely hard to improve.”

The Cats step out of conference play this week, welcoming Louisiana Monroe (3-2, 2-1 Sun Belt) to Commonwealth Stadium.

It’s clear where Stoops’ focus is. Asked during his weekly Monday press luncheon about the SEC East race, his response was quick and to the point.

“One week. ULM,” the UK boss said.

“We need victories, you know?" Stoops added. "That's the bottom line. We can't worry about that. We will worry about ourselves and getting better.”

Kentucky’s run defense will certainly be a topic of conversation across Big Blue Nation this week. The Cats were gashed for 282 yards and 5.9 yards per carry by South Carolina’s power-oriented scheme.

The Gamecocks finished the game with 11 rushing plays of 8 yards or longer, including touchdown runs of 25 and 26 yards. UK dropped from fifth to 10th in the SEC in rushing defense after Saturday’s game.

“Some of that would be coaching,” Stoops said. “We need to coach better and put them in a better position, make quicker adjustments. Some of it is players need to play better, and some of it is the technique and the simple things we talked about as well. So we'll improve.”

Part of the adjustment equation could be more playing time for highly-regarded freshman Matt Elam (pictured above). The 6-foot-7, 375-pound defensive tackle, a five-star prospect in this year's UK recruiting class, played his best game to date in a backup role against the Gamecocks.

”He really did,” Stoops said. “That was the best Matt's played. He is starting to do some good things… He was physical at the point of impact inside. He was using up a couple of blockers, being disruptive in the run game. In the pass game, he did a nice job driving the center back and getting in windows and had a big deflection. So he played the best he's played.”

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