UK faces tall hurdle in tackling Tide

Published 8:05 am Friday, November 10, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Kentucky will face a big challenge in the team’s final home game of the season Saturday at Kroger Field.

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The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) will take on No. 8 Alabama, which has won seven in a row over Kentucky since a stunning 40-34 in overtime during the 1997 season. Kickoff is set for noon on the SEC Network.

Despite Alabama’s stature as one of the premier teams in the nation, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops hasn’t changed his approach in terms of preparation.

“We play in a lot of big games,” Stoops said. “Playing in this league you have to get ready for big games, big names, big programs. I don’t think that they need to be distracted in any way, they need to stick to the things we’ve been really focusing on and that is our focus, taking care of business day by day and even playing that way.”

Stoops and the Wildcats snapped a three-game losing streak with a 24-3 win at Mississippi State last week, a victory that enabled Kentucky to become bowl eligible for the eighth straight season.

“I didn’t deny that we needed a victory,” Stoops said of his team’s performance in Starkville last week. “We just needed to play well. Our players have been working hard and practicing hard.

“Eventually, you want to see those results in the win column. I’ve been preaching and preaching to them to be single-minded in their focus — really focused on what they have to do in the particular moment. It is much the same for us (the coaching staff).”

Stoops has been pleased with Kentucky’s improvement coming off an open date on Oct. 28 and likes the way the team has focused on staying in the moment.

“I think we have been playing smarter the past couple weeks, we’ve needed to,” he said. “We talked about this past week disciplined execution, you saw that at times.

“We can improve, whether we are playing Alabama or anybody, it is truly about us and that’s the only thing we can control, is how we practice, how we prepare and make sure we have a good plan and put our players in position to be successful and then we have to go play.”

Alabama has dominated the series and owns a 38-2-1 advantage against the Wildcats. In the last meeting in 2020, the Crimson Tide rolled to a 63-3 win on their way to the national championship. Stoops said things haven’t changed in Tuscaloosa during the past three seasons.

“You know what you’re getting when you play Bama.” the Kentucky coach said. “You have to put a few extra pads under their shoulder pads and buckle them up because it it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be physical. They are going to keep on coming at you and we have to be able to match that.”