UK coaches inject enthusiasm into team during first bye-week practice

By: Jake Most - UK Athletic Media Relations
By: Jake Most - UK Athletic Media Relations

LEXINGTON,Ky. - Mark Stoops gave his players an extra day off, adding Monday to the usual Sunday away from practice, following the team's loss to Alabama last Saturday.

Coming off a tough result - with a game against the top-ranked, two-time defending national champions concluding a brutal stretch of four straight games with top-20 opponents - conventional wisdom would dictate the Wildcats were chomping at the bit to get back on the field.

Yet, Kentucky has an open date on Saturday, meaning 12 days will pass before UK faces its next opponent on Thursday, Oct. 24 at Mississippi State. Faced with the prospect of a long and relatively uneventful buildup to the next game, the full practice week got under way on Tuesday, and the afternoon workout started a little slower than the coaches had expected.

Stoops and his staff took matters into their own hands, and injected some energy into the team themselves upon sensing the practice's sluggish start.

"Just an OK practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we were a little bit down here emotionally; physically, still beat up a little bit. Emotionally, maybe down a little bit. So just an average day. I thought we got ahead and started working a little bit on Mississippi State. That was good, get some looks for the coaches, get the players getting a little bit of an early start on Mississippi State, but I think we've still got a little work to do physically and emotionally getting back, getting our energy level back up again.

"Yesterday we came in and watched the tape, and we didn't practice. Today is the first practice out and they're not used to two days off. It just took a little while to get going. The energy wasn't what I would like it to be. We will gear that up as we get going here."

Having to provide energy to their younger players posed a challenge for the coaches, but the UK staff took the obstacle in its stride. After all, UK coaches "attack every day" with the same enthusiasm.

"We just tried to motivate them, try to create the energy out there for them," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Coaching college football can be hard in a lot of ways, but you just keep plugging and just keep coming to work every day. You take the same approach that the players do, that you've got to get better every day as well. You just wake up in the morning and go to work, take it on with the right attitude."

"With ankles I hate to say that because things change with ankles," Stoops said. "People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator on that."

Stoops did confirm that while he will only give status updates on Jalen Whitlow's left ankle once every three or four days, the team will go into Mississippi State preparations as if the quarterback will be unavailable, at least for the time being.

"Not much different," Stoops said of Whitlow's status after confirming he thought the sophomore would be out for a few weeks on his weekly radio show Monday. "(With) those types of injuries we will know things about every three days or so. I'll give you a little bit update on it.

"I hate to say that because things change with ankles. People respond differently. I'll give you a little nugget every three or four days on that because that's what I think will be an indicator."

The injury news was a little better on the defensive side of the ball as junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree returned to practice on Tuesday. While the Preseason All-SEC selection isn't quite back to full-strength, his coordinator was encouraged by the progress of returning to the practice field.

"Bud got some reps, did some things," Eliot said. "He's moving around ... It's good to see him out there at practice, moving around. It's nice to have him out there."

In lieu of an unconventional schedule considering UK's next game is on a Thursday with 12 days between games instead of the traditional six on a normal week - or the typical bye week's 13 - Stoops laid out how his team will approach preparations for a trip to Mississippi State.

"We have to get back and be ready to go. That's our job this week. It's kind of in between a full off week and not. As you know, we play on Thursday so it's a little different than a complete bye week. We will be out here practicing this weekend."

And despite completing the toughest four-game stretch in school history Stoops isn't letting his team think they'll have any easier time next Thursday against another strong Southeastern Conference opponent.

"You watch this league and you go see Mississippi State, there's no drop off there," Stoops said. "That's a big, long, physical, good football team, and they are chomping at the bit to get a win too. For us we just have to worry about ourselves."


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