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Stoops says Cats must become more disciplined going into SEC opener at South Carolina

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By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops knows his team will have to take a big leap forward in the Southeastern Conference opener Saturday at South Carolina.

Although the Wildcats are 2-0, the competition level will get tougher against the Gamecocks, who have won their first two encounters, including last week’s conference-opening 31-13 win over Missouri.

Mark Stoops and the Wildcats open the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule Saturday at South Carolina. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Columbia, S.C. (Keith Taylor/Kentucky Today)

“Nobody’s gonna make us apologize for being 2-0,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “We know there’s work to be done. Those players know that. They’re consciousness, they care, so there’s absolutely no reason to hit the panic button, but you have to have some urgency.

“We have to get some things cleaned up, and that’s just the little things. That’s discipline. We have to just be more disciplined and we have to be more consistent. There’s things we have to get cleaned up cause the margin to error starts to shrink as you get into conference play.”

Among the top concerns are snaps on offense and penalties that stall potential drives on first down, putting the Wildcats behind the count on first down. Adjustments at center has been an early issue for Stoops and his staff following the graduation of veteran Jon Toth.

“The sky is not falling, but we have to get those things cleaned up,” Stoops said. “The snaps, we will continue to work on that. We’ll get those corrected. Nick (Haynes) and Bunchy (Stallings) are very conscientious young men. They work extremely hard, they take pride in their craft. I know they’ll work on that and get that fixed. We’ve got to get the penalties fixed, and we’ve got to be just a little more disciplined in certain areas.”

Across the board, Stoops said the Wildcats needs to be more consistent and become more disciplined, especially when it comes to the small details.

“I think the big word is just ‘discipline,’” Stoops said. “We have to be disciplined in all aspects of it and we have to execute. Our guys care. They wanna be better, they know they can be better and we’re gonna work hard to do it. I’m encouraged by that.”

Kentucky was successful in its first road encounter, a 24-17 victory at Southern Mississippi nearly two weeks ago. Stoops said the experience of playing on the road, combined with getting a victory, will be beneficial at South Carolina.

“I think it helps, I really do,” Stoops said. “I think it helps. This will be quite different. But I think it does help us, just the routine and some of those guys who hadn’t been through it before.”

Hurting: Stoops expects running back Benny Snell, who suffered bruised ribs in the first half against Eastern Kentucky last weekend, to play against the Gamecocks, but is more concerned about defensive standout Jordan Jones, who “has a little issue with his shoulder.”

“We’ll see how it goes throughout the week,” Stoops said. “He’s not ruled out at this point.”

Defending Barker: Stoops defending his decision to play backup quarterback Drew Barker for a couple of series last week against the Colonels. Barker completed one of two passes for five yards, but was sacked twice on a pair of third-and-long plays.

“I’m very happy that we inserted him into the game in the situation that we did under some pressure,” the Kentucky coach said. “You have to get those quality reps. And again, his play, I have to defend him just like I defend Stephen (Johnson). It’s a lot of people around him. You don’t need to go in there and get a penalty on a screen pass and get a holding play, a holding penalty on the first one.”

Stoops also said Kentucky’s offensive line contributed to Barker’s issues while in the pocket. Stoops said “protection issues” were an issue.

“Give him some options on third down,” Stoops said.”There’s not many quarterbacks that are very affective on third and long when you’re not getting great, great protection.”

Game time set: Kentucky’s game against Florida on Sept. 23 at Kroger Field will be at either 7 or 7:30 p.m. and televised on ESPN2, ESPNU or the SEC Network.

Gametracker: Kentucky at South Carolina, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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