All season long, coach Mark Stoops had never gotten the vibe that his team felt defeated before the game ever started — until Saturday.
In his press conference Monday, Stoops admitted that for the first time, he felt his players lacked the belief that it could upset UGA in Athens, Ga. He didn’t get the sense that they thought it was possible to head back to Lexington, Ky., with a signature, staple win.
“I think that’s a fair question and I don’t think that was the case last Saturday, that we did go into the game believing we could win,” he said. “No, I don’t think we did. I don’t lie to you and I ain’t gonna lie to the players. I didn’t see that belief.”
Kentucky’ recent struggles — four straight losses to only two conference wins — have fans and alums alike wondering where the state of the program currently stands and whether Kentucky can rebound from such struggles.
To them, Stoops has a message.
“I can’t control where they jump ship or not. That’s up to them. Everybody has a choice and I certainly understand that,” he said. “Frustration is a word you’ve heard me use quite a bit. I’d be lying if we said there wasn’t some frustration. You’re always looking at ways to get better and eliminate mistakes and get your players to play at the highest level that they can. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s what we’re going to do as an organization.”
Asked if he thought Kentucky would find a way to regain some confidence and believe it could beat Vanderbilt this weekend, Stoops replied with “they better,” before he elaborated more.
Two more wins will propel the Wildcats into a bowl game. With Vanderbilt, Charlotte and Louisville on the horizon, it’s certainly still possible that the Wildcats could win two of those three games and make a bowl. And while Stoops felt the disconnect this past weekend, it’s not something he’s felt through the course of the season.
The effort is there, the problem for now is the results are not.
“I very clearly understand what we need to do,” Stoops said. “There’s no panic button. Not happy — not happy with some things and some of the results, but absolutely not panicked one second.”