By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Mark Stoops didn’t expect a perfect game in Kentucky’s season-opening 38-24 win over Toledo but the Kentucky coach knows his team has plenty to build on moving forward.
“Obviously in game one, you look around the country and there’s a lot of mistakes going on and a lot of things happen in week one, so it’s good to get that game under the belt,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “We knew Toledo was going to be a very good football team, they’re well-coached, they’re used to winning football games, came in here and played well.”
Going into the second week of the season, Stoops would like to see the Wildcats improve in several areas and said those concerns can be corrected without getting into a state of panic. Stoops is expecting better things against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
“The good news is early on in the game (against Toledo) some of the mistakes that happened are easily fixable,” he said. “And we’ll get back to work here this week and work on those things and hopefully make a big improvement between week one and week two.
“We’re really focusing on ourselves and now that we have a game under our belt we have some guys that hadn’t played a lot of football and we kind of see what they can do, get back to work here this week and look to improve.”
Compared to other teams in the Southeastern Conference, especially the Eastern division, Kentucky dodged an upset, considering Tennessee lost to Georgia State, South Carolina fell to North Carolina and Wyoming defeated Missouri on opening weekend.
Like many, Stoops was stunned by the Volunteers’ loss to Georgia State, a program that hasn’t even played a decade in the collegiate ranks and one founded by former Kentucky coach Bill Curry.
“I was watching it unfold and, you know, it can happen to any of us, so I’m not going to sit up here and throw any stones, that’s for sure,” he said. “You heard me say it, you get an opportunity to be humbled every seven days sitting up here. So I’m not going to get out in front of my skis.”
Overall, Stoops added that experience matters and liked the way his team handled the opener against the Rockets. He sensed a feeling of urgency well before kickoff last week and said it showed throughout the contest.
“I liked the way they were going about their business,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we were perfect. And I also noticed it last week, come maybe Wednesday, Thursday, I started noticing, thinking about it, because our guys don’t want to let their teammates down. They don’t want to let their coaches down. And some guys that maybe hadn’t played very much start getting a little tight and a little bit wide-eyed. And not because they’re scared, it’s just because they don’t want to let people down.
“That’s what I talked about is that’s why you have a team. And there’s strengths and weaknesses and there’s going to be one group or one side of the ball pick the other one up at times and I was proud of our team for doing that.”
Stoops hopes the Wildcats can get off to a better start this week and build the second-half performance against the Rockets. Kentucky’s defense allowed 174 yards on Toledo’s first three drives but surrendered just 173 yards during the Rockets’ final 12 drives.
“I would like to get off to a faster start,” Stoops said. “I think Toledo had a lot to do with that, they did some good things. We did not execute very clean early in the game and they moved it a little bit and converted on some third downs and those are some things that we have to work on (and) we have to get better at.
“As the game went on our players really settled in and did some good things, and we talk about that often. Players need to understand that early in the season because as they go through the year you have circumstances where you see that things change.”
Game tracker: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network (alternate), UK Sports Radio Network.
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.