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Cats confident they can bounce back

LEXINGTON (KT) — Mark Stoops isn’t worried about how his team will respond after a dismal 45-7 blowout loss at Mississippi State last weekend and has every reason to believe Kentucky will fare better against Tennessee Saturday.

“I think we have good leaders,” Stoops said during his weekly press conference Monday. “I have no reason to believe we won’t respond and bounce back.”

The Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) will take on struggling Tennessee in the first of two straight home games Saturday at Kroger Field. The Volunteers (3-4, 0-4) have yet to win a conference game and are coming off a 45-7 loss at Alabama.

In addition to preparing for Tennessee, Stoops’ first priority is getting the Wildcats regrouped and focused on the final five games of the season, starting with the Volunteers. Stoops compared his team’s response to an 0-2 start a year ago as a big reason for his optimism in moving forward.

“Every team is different,” he said. “We certainly handled adversity very well as a football team last year — much worse adversity than this. And they responded the right way.

“Hopefully we’ll have the same character within this group. I have no reason to believe that we won’t, but I believe it will. Adversity kind of reveals a man to himself. We’ll see how we respond.”

Although the Wildcats got manhandled against the Bulldogs last week, Stoops doesn’t see a sense of urgency, other than what transpires on a weekly basis in the locker room and on the practice field.

“There’s no reason for them to panic and call a team meeting on a Sunday or do all that,” he said. “Everybody knows what to do. They’ve been educated and they’re a good group. They’re tight. We’ve just got to address some things like you always do. Win or lose, you’re always trying to improve and get some mistakes corrected. We’ll do that.”

To say the least, Stoops was disappointed in his team’s performance at Mississippi State, which was a surprise, considering the Wildcats were coming off a bye week refreshed and regrouped.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we all could be better,” he said. “You don’t always see that. It doesn’t make it OK. It’s not all right. The fact of the matter is there’s very few teams in this country that can go out and play very, very good football 12 weeks in a row. The good teams, even when they don’t play well, they still win. They find a way to win.”

Stoops took the blame for the team’s second setback and is looking ahead following Monday’s film session.

“We all accept the responsibility,” Stoops said. “We’re going to move on after today. We’ll have a team meeting and watch the film. We need to make competitive plays. We’re not making enough competitive plays right now.”

The competitive plays, Stoops said, involves more than just getting the 50-50 balls

“Sometimes they’re not even 50-50, sometimes you have an advantage and we’re not making plays and that’s not OK,” Stoops said. “In the secondary, we’re making very few competitive plays. When we’re in one-on-one situations, to my count in that game, we lost all 10. From 10 one-on-one situations, we lost every one of them, so that’s not acceptable. Same thing with our offensive guys they’ve got to go up and make competitive plays.”

Just like every week, following a win or a loss, Stoops is anxious to get back to work and the overall challenge of preparing for the Volunteers.

“I can’t wait to (meet with the team) and get on to our preparation with Tennessee,” he said.

Championship reunion: Kentucky will honor its championship bowl teams from 2006-2008 Saturday. Former coach Rich Brooks and former players will have a reunion dinner Friday night and will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game against the Volunteers.

Former standouts Randall Cobb, Jacob Tamme and Wesley Woodyard are among the former players who are expected to attend.

Game time set: Kentucky’s game against Ole Miss on Nov. 4 will be played at 4 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.