UK hopes to end SEC play on high note

Published 3:13 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky will close out the Southeastern Conference schedule Saturday hoping to improve its bowl resume in the league final at South Carolina.

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While the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) are already eligible for the postseason, the Gamecocks (4-6, 2-5) are looking to end the season on a high note and a bowl berth. South Carolina carries a two-game winning streak into the contest and must defeat UK and Clemson next week to qualify.

Stoops is focused on his team getting back on track after losing five of their past six games, including a 49-21 loss to No. 8 Alabama last week.

“Zero influence on me on what happens to them,” Stoops said of South Carolina. “Bowl placement is a reality for us. Improving our placement, improving our record in the SEC, getting another win. I think that motivation is more of what we’re concerned about is us. Trying to get another win, get to .500 in the SEC and improve our placement.”

Kentucky’s lone win during the past six weeks was a 24-3 decision at Mississippi State on Nov. 4. The Wildcats are hopeful they can emulate the same success against South Carolina, which pulled off a stunning 24-14 win over the Wildcats last year in Lexington,

“Going into any environment, it’s going to be difficult to go out there and put up numbers,” Kentucky running back Ray Davis said. “We know that they’re going to go out there with their fan base and be loud. For us, it’s just staying poised. We can’t control the atmosphere, we can only control anything except for what we do on the field.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen agreed.

“They fly around to the football,” he said. “They’ve done a nice job rushing the passer at times. It’s more about us getting this thing right. You get an opportunity to go down and compete on a big stage.”

Stoops added the Wildcats need to put the past behind them in a hurry going into the final two weeks of the regular season. Kentucky closes the regular season at rival and 11th-ranked Louisville on Nov. 25.

“We’ve lost to some good football teams,” he said. “Three of our four losses are top-10 teams or top-11 teams. Three of them are top 11. All of them are in the top 20, good football teams. We have to find a way.

“We had an opportunity (with) the teams that are just outside of the top 10 to make plays to win those games. I’m as frustrated as most people to try and get better try to find those plays to win those games, but we’re not defeated.”

Stoops and the Wildcats have won seven of the past nine games against the Gamecocks, but despite the recent success, the Kentucky coach knows it won’t be an easy task in Columbia Saturday.

“They have also played some very good football teams and are more than capable of playing well in all phases. They’re always strong in special teams. Their offense is extremely explosive,” he said. (Quarterback) Spencer Rattler is a guy that’s been around a long time. I feel like their running back (Mario Anderson) is playing at a very, very high level. Defensively, [South Carolina] made a few changes this past week. It will be interesting to see which direction they will go schematically.

“They are a very good team and we’re looking to just get better, have a great week, go down there in another very tough environment, and get a win.”