Mark Stoops has brought optimism to Kentucky football, but he wants to make sure it remains a cautious optimism.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said.
That’d be easy to do, of course. With a win at Mississippi State on Saturday, the Wildcats (5-1, 2-1 SEC) would become bowl eligible. It also could set the Wildcats up for a shot at least a nine-win season.
Having won five of six games, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Kentucky still has a shot at another five wins before December. But that’s precisely the kind of talk Stoops doesn’t want to hear from his players, either.
“Our players know enough by now to know it’s a one-week season,” said Stoops, whose team’s only setback was a 28-27 loss to Florida in the final seconds because of a defensive breakdown. “Let’s just take care of business and do the best we can this week and not look ahead.
“If you look ahead, you are going to get knocked down real quick.”
The Wildcats did have a bye week last week to appreciate what they’ve accomplished so far and perhaps consider what’s in front of them.
Stoops said the main value in having the time off was the chance to rest and get a little healthier.
“There were probably a couple of starters who wouldn’t have been able to play if we had a game last week,” said Stoops. “We were worn down and beat up.”
Last season’s game between the Wildcats and Bulldogs (4-2, 1-2 SEC) was a 40-38 shootout that feature five lead changes and was decided by a 51-yard field goal by UK’s Austin MacGinnis on the final play of the contest.
MacGinnis, who is now in his senior season, became UK’s career scoring leader in a 40-34 win over Missouri two weeks ago.
Kentucky is led on offense by quarterback Stephen Johnson, who has thrown for nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Mississippi State has won each of its three previous home games, including a stunning 37-7 romp against LSU last month. In three of its wins, the Bulldogs surrendered a total of 17 points.
Stoops is concerned about the dual threat ability of Nick Fitzgerald. The MSU quarterback has passed for 1,024 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed for nearly 500 yards and another seven touchdowns.
“Finding ways to win and putting yourself in position to win the game is the bottom line. I think this team has done that very well.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Idaho at Missouri, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, SEC Network
Tennessee at Alabama, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS
Kentucky at Mississippi State, Saturday 3 p.m. CT, SEC Network
LSU at Mississippi, Saturday 6:15 p.m. CT, ESPN
Auburn at Arkansas, Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT, SEC Network
1. Alabama (7-0, 4-0): Last Week: W, Arkansas, 41-9. The Impact – Damien Harris scored on 75 yard run on first play and Tide opened up 24-0 halftime lead to make short work of Razorbacks.
2. Georgia (7-0, 4-0): Last Week: W, Missouri, 53-28. The Impact – Kirby Smart has used lessons learned at Alabama to make No. 3 Bulldogs a national power again. Bulldogs are second only to Alabama in total offense (454.3 ypg), scoring offense (37.57 ppg), rushing offense (282.86) and scoring defense (12.6 ppg).
- LSU (5-2, 2-1): Last Week: W, Auburn, 27-23. The Impact – Don’t look now, but Ed Orgeron’s players have learned how to win close games, beating Florida and Auburn by combined five points.
- Auburn (5-2, 3-1): Last Week: L, at LSU, 27-23. The Impact – After Tigers surrendered last 20 points to LSU, including two field goals in final 2:36, Gus Malzahn is again feeling heat. LSU also scored TD in final 32 seconds of half.
- Texas A&M (5-2, 3-1): Last Week: W, at Florida, 19-17. The Impact – Daniel LaCamera made four field goals (46. 43. 25. 32), three in final 12 minutes of game as Aggies bounced back from loss to Crimson Tide.
- Kentucky (5-1, 2-1): Last Week: Idle. The Impact –. Wildcats have exceeded expectations with five wins by midseason, and have won 12 of last 16 regular season games under Mark Stoops.
- South Carolina (5-2, 3-2): Last Week: W, Tennessee, 15-9. The Impact – Gamecocks secure another win with late goal-line stand and Will Muschamp improved to 6-0 vs. Tennessee. South Carolina also has won twice while being held to 17 or fewer points. Kicker Parker White made three FGs after making just 4 of 11 entering game.
- Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2): Last Week: W, BYU, 35-10. The Impact – Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs picked up fourth win with Nick Fitzgerald accounting for four touchdowns – two passing, two rushing. He had two more passes intercepted in end zone.
- Florida (3-3, 3-2): Last Week: L, Texas A&M, 19-17. The Impact – Injury ravaged Gators, who have lost last two games by combined three points, have two weeks to get ready for “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” with Georgia.
- Mississippi (3-3, 1-2): Last Week: W, Vanderbilt, 57-35. The Impact – Shea Patterson threw for 351 yards and four TDs and Rebels scored 57 points as they ended three-game losing streak and picked up SEC win.
- Arkansas (2-4, 0-3): Last Week: L, at Alabama, 41-9. The Impact – The good news? Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks gave up fewer points than they did against South Carolina (48), but they’ve still allowed 131 points in three conference games.
- Tennessee (3-3, 0-3): Last Week: L, at South Carolina, 15-9. The Impact – After gaining 100 yards rushing on 14 attempts against Gamecocks, Vols mustered only 20 more yards on 25 more carries.
- Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4): Last Week: L, at Mississippi, 57-35. The Impact – After 3-0 start, Commodores have lost four straight SEC games by combined 199-73. Derek Mason’s staff has a week to make changes before again trying to get a win in conference..
- Missouri (1-5, 0-4): Last Week: L, at Georgia, 53-28. The Impact – Tied with Georgia, Tigers surrendered 26 straight points and have given up 210 points in five-game skid.
Predicted winners in Bold Caps
Idaho at MISSOURI
Tennessee at ALABAMA
Kentucky at MISSISSIPPI STATE
LSU at Mississippi
AUBURN at Arkansas
LAST WEEK: 5-1
Note: Each week during the college football season, I’ll be updating how things are unfolding in the Big Ten by Wednesday, the SEC by Thursday and ACC by Friday. I covered teams in each of the conferences during my 41 years as a sports journalist and I’m not ready to give it up in retirement.