TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Kentucky is headed back to Lexington in one piece. That in itself is a success after Saturday’s brawl with Alabama, especially considering what awaits the Wildcats.
Coach Mark Stoops’ squad showed signs of improvement on defense and Kentucky’s effort was never in question despite the 34-6 tally in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Regardless of whatever the score was going to be against Alabama, a loss was expected.
It’s what’s next that’s crucial for Kentucky.
A pair of home dates separated by an off week could get the Wildcats above .500 for the first time this season. Or, a season already skating on thin ice could take take a plunge.
Home against Vanderbilt on Saturday, and then a week off before hosting Mississippi State. The teams are a combined 4-5 and Kentucky gets them in the confines of Commonwealth Stadium.
Mississippi State poses a more daunting threat — the Bulldogs have won seven straight against the Wildcats — but Stoops and staff will have an extra week to prepare for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, travel to BYU the same weekend Kentucky is off.
The two-game stretch will be a teeter totter with success or disappointment waiting on either side. It might stay level if the Wildcats go 1-1 but any hope of the elusive 6-6 depends on two victories.
“I’m worried about the next one, honestly,” Stoops said after Saturday’s game. “That’s what I just told them: It will be a late trip. We’ll get home late tonight, and they have to do their part to get treatment and to get rest tomorrow so we can get back working and have a great Monday.”
The Wildcats fell to the Crimson Tide, but that was expected. More importantly for Kentucky’s sake, the team comes home healthy with opportunities ahead.
“Obviously the Southern Miss loss didn’t hold us back from beating South Carolina and New Mexico State, and we can’t do that with this either,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones said Saturday. “And it is the No. 1 team in the country. We got a chance to see where we stand.”
That chance comes again in the next two games.