• 34°

Cats can boost bowl resume with win over South Carolina in finale

Mark Stoops knows what it will take to reach the postseason for a fifth straight season and defeating South Carolina Saturday would boost Kentucky’s resume.

Despite a losing record, the Wildcats (3-6) can earn a possible bowl bid with four victories. For that to happen, Kentucky can’t afford a third consecutive loss to end the regular season.

“There are going to be a lot of teams playing in bowl games with three or four wins,” Stoops said earlier this week. “We need to win this game, that is for sure. But I will address (a possible bowl game) next week and it will really be the temperature of our football team. I don’t want to go in there half-hearted. I want to go in with an all-in mentality and ready to play and compete.”

In their previous home game on Nov. 14, the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt, but have since lost two straight games, including a 34-10 setback at Florida last week. Kentucky opened the two-game road trip with a 63-3 loss to top-ranked Alabama to open the November portion of the schedule.

In the finale, the Wildcats will honor 18 seniors, including offensive linemen Drake Jackson, Luke Fortner, Landon Young, along with quarterback Terry Wilson, AJ Rose, Justin Rigg, defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna and kicker Max Duffy.

“It is important for our seniors to go out the right way,” Stoops said. “Our motivation is different each and every week, but certainly that is a part of it. You certainly want to end the right way. Each and every year you can go back and look at what it is – a play here and a play there and a game here and a game there. Sometimes it can totally change the outlook of a season.”

He also praised the effort of Wilson who made a successful return from a season-ending knee injury this season.

“He is a young man that helped us win 10 games; there is no taking that away from him,” Stoops said. “ I am talking about him and him being our starting quarterback as a sophomore. I think he is a guy that laid it all out on the line for his team each and every week. None of us are perfect and that is a hard position to play. He came back from a very serious injury and he gave it everything he had. I greatly appreciate that.

“There are frustrations at times at every one of our positions and at quarterback, you have a bulls-eye on you. All eyes are on the quarterback each and every down and I think he has handled that very well and I appreciate that from him.”

Even though the regular season was shortened and parred down to a 10-game Southeastern Conference schedule, Stoops said the rugged schedule and battling a pandemic has “taken on many of the programs in the SEC.”

“It is difficult,” Stoops said. “Anybody that was crying for more conference games better take a hard look at what happened this year to the league. It is important to go out with a win and as I also mention all year, each week we hit the reset button and it is extremely important to try to go 1-0 that week. It is a big game for many reasons.”

Stoops likes the way his team has battled through adversity under the circumstances.

“Some people deal with it better than others,” he said, “But I still love each and every one of them. They have really fought, and I think it does say a lot about us because it’s really easy to look around the country. It’s really easy to just say I give, I submit, I quit and look for a rock to hide under but no one’s doing that here and we aren’t going to do that. I appreciate that.

“I respect our players and it says a lot about them. We are playing hard. We need to coach better and we need to execute better at moments. But I do love this team.”

Gametracker: South Carolina at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

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