Kentucky Set To Play Four Straight Ranked Opponents
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky coach Mark Stoops didn't have long to savor his first win as a head coach before preparing his team for one of the toughest stretches of the season.
Saturday's visiting by in-state rival No. 7 Louisville begins a four-game segment including contests against No. 18 Florida, a road game at No. 13 South Carolina followed by a visit from top-ranked Alabama.
Kentucky has many challenges with a schedule featuring eight bowl teams from last season.
Having a bye week after playing the Cardinals breaks up the gauntlet a bit. Kentucky running back Jonathan George also believes playing the school's biggest rival, which also happens to be a top-10 program, is a good way to begin.
The Wildcats are feeling better about themselves after Saturday's 41-7 drubbing of Miami (Ohio).
"Not saying I don't realize that the schedule is not going to get any easier from here on out, but we're just moving week by week and going week by week," George said Monday. "Right now, we're just going to focus on Louisville and focus on preparing for those guys because they do have a good ball team."
Kentucky has plenty to focus on preparing for the Cardinals (2-0), so the three following games don't serve as distractions. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate and the junior has lived up to the praise through two games.
Bridgewater has 752 yards passing, nine touchdowns, one interception, a 76.7% completion rate and 228.1 quarterback rating in blowouts victories over Ohio and Eastern Kentucky.
"He's so fast and so patient," Stoops said of Bridgewater. "He doesn't hurry anything. He plays fast without being in a hurry, if that makes sense. He's very cool, and he's got a very live arm and he can make any throw. You could just see the confidence in him the more he's played."
Stoops said the Wildcats must play a complete game to hang with Louisville. Fortunately for the coach, his players showed they could put big plays together against Miami.
Kentucky produced 675 yards - albeit against a weak Miami team - the third-highest in school history and the most since 1998 when Hal Mumme was head coach, Mike Leach was offensive coordinator and current OC Neal Brown was a freshman wide receiver.
The Wildcats put up the numbers using the quarterback tandem of Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow, who shared time about as evenly as possible against the RedHawks. On a first-quarter drive, the two swapped out on four consecutive plays.
Kentucky also had several big plays, including an 88-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Javess Blue. Smith also connected on 56- and 48-yard TD passes to Jeff Badet and George, respectively.
The Wildcats weren't perfect, committing a handful of special teams gaffes, including a muffed punt that Miami recovered inside the 10 and returned for its only score.
Stoops said the Wildcats have to continue doing good things while avoiding mistakes against a Louisville team that racked up four turnovers in a 44-7 rout of EKU.
"They're a top-10 team for a reason, and we'll need to play good on all three sides to win these games," the coach said. "To beat quality teams, you have to play good in all areas. Yeah, I think that's what it will take.
"I think execution, and part of our offense is that. Execute, execute, and then get a big play. And the same thing defensively, we need to be much better than we were in week 1, for instance, at the basics."
Executing those fundamentals against a top rival like Louisville - not to mention, defending national champion Alabama on Oct. 12 - is a different task than Miami. But Stoops said he isn't approaching it differently.
"Obviously, any win is important," Stoops said. "Last week's win was important. This is our next game, and that's always our approach. It's boring, but it is. ... We're going to approach it the exact same way we approach any other game."