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Cats focus on improving offensive front

LEXINGTON (KT) — Mark Stoops knows his team has some “work to do” when the Wildcats return to Southeastern Conference play against Missouri on Saturday, the last of three straight home games.

The main point of emphasis for Kentucky (4-1, 1-1 ) following a closer-than-expected 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan last week will be shoring up an offensive line that surrendered five sacks to the Eagles’ defensive line. The top priority will be protecting quarterback Stephen Johnson and playing more physical in the trenches.

“We were not physical in the run game (last week),” Stoops said “Protection was an issue, Stephen threw the ball well when he had time. I thought the receivers made some good catches at times, There were other times when we need to be sharper, more crisp in our route running and getting open for Stephen.”

Stoops said the Wildcats “have shown signs” of developing a physical running game, but are still searching for the right chemistry on the offensive line.

“We need to have that attitude that we talked about and the physical mentality,” he said. “We have to find the right mix there with the offensive line. With Drake (Jackson) playing significant snaps (last week), that gave us eight men in the rotation. I hope to use all eight this week.

Overall, Stoops was pleased with Kentucky’s defense and special teams play last weekend, but wasn’t happy with his team’s inability to rise above the competition.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say all last week I wasn’t addressing playing at a high level coming off the emotional loss (to Florida). … The fact of the matter is that our players were crushed by that loss. It as a tough one to shake, but you have to (shake it). Win or lose, you have to get back to work (each) Monday and get prepared for the next opponent.”

Although Kentucky’s four victories have been by a combined margin of 32 points, Stoops said the close calls take a toll, but added he’s not overly concerned.

“You drive your car to run it empty and then refuel it, right?,” Stoops said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to run it empty this week, and then we’ll refuel it.”

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Stoops offers condolences

Prior to his weekly press conference Monday, Stoops offered his condolences to those involved in a deadly shooting during a concert in Las Vegas Sunday night that left more than 50 dead and more than 500 wounded.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the folks in Las Vegas with that terrible tragedy,” the Kentucky coach said.

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Paschal honored

Kentucky freshman outside linebacker Josh Paschal was named SEC special teams player of the week Monday. Paschal blocked a punt that resulted in the game-winning score last week against Eastern Michigan

The block by Paschal led to Benny Snell’s 12-yard touchdown run and also had a quarterback hurry on third down prior to the blocked punt.

“He’s done a lot of things,” Stoops said. “He’s done a lot. The long and short of it is he’s played defensive end, he’s played Sam and Jack linebacker, he’s played interior defensive line at times too as a three-technique. That’s the versatility that’s honestly very rare.”

Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis was named the league’s top special teams player following the Wildcats’ win over South Carolina earlier this year