Kentucky’s embarrassing 20-10 loss at Missouri forced the Wildcats to face the music. In the days since the disaster, the practice fields at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility have looked, felt and sounded different.
“We’re taking everything more serious. No more playing. No more joking around. This is serious business. We gotta stay focused at all times,” said nose guard Marquan McCall.
“It’s been a lot faster than the weeks before,” shared offensive guard Luke Fortner. “You kind of get lulled into a routine. I think we saw the issue with that and so we’re breaking that routine, doing some things differently, being explosive, running around the field a little faster than we usually do. It’s been a really good couple days of practice.”
There was one big, obvious problem before the Missouri game: the team simply wasn’t fired up to play football. That will not be a problem this Saturday against Georgia.
“I don’t think you have to do much to get em up. I think our guys are — they’re ready. It’s not just aggravating for people watching off the field. It’s aggravating for the guys on it,” said defensive coordinator Brad White.
This week’s challenge will be one of the most difficult of the season. The fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs bring one of the best defenses in all of college football to Kroger Field. If you thought Larry Rountree was a physical runner, wait until you see Zamir White. The powerful running back averages 4.2 yards per carry running behind a physical offensive line.
“It’s going to start with the run game. They’re going to try to be real physical at the offensive line, try to move you off the point. Their running backs are as talented a group as we’ve seen and they can go three, four, five deep. They’re really strong. The wide receivers have a lot of talent. No. 10 (Kearis Jackson) can flat roll in the slot and No. 1 (George Pickens) is a good, big-bodied wide receiver with great body control, strong hands. No. 7 (Jermaine Burton) is really coming along as a freshman and the quarterback (Stetson Bennett IV) is doing a nice job. He understands where to go with the football. He understands how to manage the game,” White continued.
“They get explosive when they have the opportunity, but it starts up front. They want to run that football and we’ve gotta try to limit that. When they do throw the ball downfield we’ve gotta try to affect the QB so he doesn’t have all day to throw to some of those guys on their deeper routes.”
Kentucky’s defense needs to put pressure on Bennett to force turnovers. In Georgia’s only loss of the season they gave the ball to Alabama three times. In the Wildcats’ only two victories of the season, Kentucky has a +8 turnover margin.
“We don’t expect to put all the pressure on the offense, so we really want to make the offense’s job easier,” said cornerback Cedrick Dort. “We’re just trying to be more consistent out there, more focused, making sure we’re more dialed-in. This is another critical SEC East game. Hopefully this game will get us going.”
Kentucky could get absolutely nothing going against Missouri, stalling all early-season momentum. Even though UK’s defense struggled to get stops by allowing Missouri to convert 10-of-20 third downs, White loved the fight from his team.
“We did not play our best football, by any means. Again, we obviously struggled there on third down, but what I was proud of, as the game went along they never backed down. I’m going to be honest, I’ve never been a part of a 21-play drive that went for almost nine minutes and results in no points. That’s all the credit to them. It has nothing to do with play-call. It was everything to do with rising up in the moment, gutting it out,” said White.
The changes in practice should make sure the Wildcats bring that fight on the first snap of Saturday’s game against Georgia.