Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Four takeaways from Kentucky Wildcats coach Mark Stoops' weekly press luncheon

Coming off a big road win a Missouri, the Wildcats return home this week to face the Georgia Bulldogs in a game that has some major ramifications for Kentucky and the SEC. Read more about four takeaways from UK head coach Mark Stoops at his weekly Monday press luncheon.

1. Cats Not Entertaining SEC East Talk

After beating Missouri 35-21 on Saturday in Columbia, Kentucky finds itself sitting in second place in the SEC's East Division today only one game back of Florida. With league games remaining against inconsistent Georgia (4-4, 2-4 SEC) and seemingly imploding Tennessee (5-3, 2-3 SEC), Big Blue Nation is starting to entertain serious thoughts of making a run at the division crown for the first time since the conference went to the format in 1992. Although the Cats were beaten 45-7 in Week 2 at Florida, they have remained within striking distance of the Gators, who have challenging games remaining at Arkansas this week and at LSU on Nov. 19 thanks to Hurricane Matthew. Could UK possibly find itself in Atlanta for a rematch with No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game? While fans may be dreaming, Stoops isn't allowing the UK team to go down that road. "There'll be no talk of that. We need to control what we can control, and that's playing Georgia well. Let's play Georgia the very best we can. We're in no position to look ahead against anybody. We're going to do the same things we've been doing, and we're going to try to do them better this week. And that's the great thing: I believe we have much better football in us."

2. Physically, Same Ol' Dawgs

Georgia may come into Saturday's game at Commonwealth Stadium with an unfamiliar record, but Stoops said the Cats cannot afford to judge the boys in the silver britches by their won-loss record. "I have a lot of respect for Kirby (Smart) and the way they play," Stoops said. "We'll have our hands full. It'll be a real challenge." For those who look to games between common opponents as measuring stick, there could be reason for UK to be optimisitic. The Cats defeated Vanderbilt 17-10, while the Dawgs lost to the Commodores 17-16. Kentucky handled Missouri easily at 35-21 in an outcome that wasn't as close as the score indicated, while Georgia narrowly edged the Tigers 28-27. UGA did, however, play Florida much more competitively than UK did, losing 24-10 this past weekend in Jacksonville. "They're very good defensively," Stoops said. "This is a very talented football team. I say it every year when we play them, but it's an absolutely good-looking bunch. I know by Georgia's standards, maybe not playing at the level that they expect and will under Kirby as he builds it and gets it going, but they still have some awfully good-looking players who are big and physical and can run across the board." The UK boss suggested the Dawgs have three running backs (Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Brian Herrien) who will play in the NFL. 

3. Hang With 'Em

Stoops reiterated that he never doubted the Cats would be competitive, even after the team's ugly 0-2 start. "I told you that a long time ago in the midst of some football that was not very pretty, that some of it would be easily fixed, and that we would get better," he said. "I've enjoyed doing that. I've enjoyed the challenge of it, and I've enjoyed coaching this group because they're different. It's a close team, and they're fun to work with. They're certainly buying in and getting better." Stoops added that the UK staff has tried to recruit character to have a team capable of overcoming difficult situations like the one the Cats faced two weeks into the season.

4. Punting A Concern

Kentucky's net punting average for the season dropped to 35.7 yards after Saturday's game at Missouri. Freshman Grant McKinniss has been struggling in recent games, including a short line-drive late against the Tigers that was returned 67 yards to set up a Mizzou touchdown. Only this week's opponent, Georgia, has a worse net punting average on the season than UK among SEC teams. The slump hasn't cost the Cats a game yet, but could loom large in upcoming games against teams like Georgia and Tennessee in which field position could decide the winner. "My therapist tells me if I was playing golf with somebody and he was missing some putts, I wouldn't be screaming at him to make the putts, right?" Stoops joked. "So I probably shouldn't saying anything to Grant, either...  I'm teasing. That's from my own mind."  Stoops said they need to "stay the course" and have faith that McKinniss, who signed with UK as a rare four-star prospect at his position, will get the job done.  "He's pressing. I'm sure he wants to deliver for his football team, and he will. He'll get back out there to practice this week. He was hitting them good last week in practice, so he'll come around."


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