By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Mark Stoops has already moved past Florida. The next step is getting his players focused on the first road game of the season.
“That’s a big focus this week,” Stoops said Monday. “I talk about each situation every week and moving on to Mississippi State, we don’t have much time to dwell on (the loss). Next man up, the next battle, the next punch and time to get another opportunity against a quality team on the road.”
Coming off a disappointing 29-21 loss to No. 9 Florida, the Wildcats shift their attention to Saturday’s encounter at Mississippi State, the first of two consecutive road encounters to end the first full month of the season.
“We’ll have a different challenge this week going on the road and it’s the first time this week we will take this team on the road,” Stoops said. “There’s not a whole heck of a lot of time to feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to pick yourself back up, get back at it and get ready for your next opponent.”
Much like Kentucky, the Bulldogs face a similar scenario following a 31-24 loss to Kansas State last week. Mississippi State won its first two games before the loss to the Wildcats last weekend at Davis Wade Stadium.
Looking back, Stoops still was disappointed with the outcome against the Gators, but liked the way his team competed, especially during the first three quarters.
“I was pleased with so many aspects of it and the good things that we did,” Stoops said. “There were a lot of positives that came from this past game. There are so many plays and we played an awful lot of those plays vert good and you never know what plays are going to decide the outcome of a football game. There are four, five or six in that game that if any one of them go our way, you win. There is a lot of good to take from that and a lot of bad as well.”
Stoops downplayed critics of his team’s play-calling and game management against the Gators, not to mention a missed field goal down the stretch.
“People are entitled to their opinions,” he said. “If they didn’t have any opinions, I would be worried. You are about a half yard from saying it worked to perfection. We were also about six inches short on a third-down play in that game. … Time was an issue because we were a little thin in the secondary. Killing the clock was important because of the way Florida had been moving the ball in the second half.
“Every yard was important. We had time, all of our timeouts and plenty of time (to score). Time wasn’t an issue for us. It was going to be for them. You are a half-yard from people talking about it being a thing of beauty but it didn’t, so it’s not. We had an unbelievable chance to win the game.”
Overall, Stoops liked the way transfer quarterback Sawyer Smith performed in his first start in place of Terry Wilson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a win over Eastern Michigan nearly two weeks ago. Smith had a fumble on a snap and threw three interceptions, one of which was a desperation heave on the final play of the game.
“Obviously the ball security with Sawyer is a big deal. He’s got to protect the ball, early on putting the ball down, that led to the score. He can’t do that. The interceptions, the one when we’re in the red zone, was a critical mistake, as well. It’s a big swing right there. We’re going in, they get it all the way down in the red zone. It was a big, big one. Then there was a miscommunication on the other one. We need to work that out. But Sawyer did some really good things. There’s a lot to build on.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.