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September 2, 2013

Stoops: 'We will move forward as a program'

Mark Stoops could tell you it was a bump in the road, that last Saturday's loss to Western Kentucky was just a detour on Kentucky football's road to respectability.

He's not going to do that.

The first-year Kentucky coach, still stinging from a 35-26 loss in his head coaching debut, painted a picture at his Monday news conference of a program facing a long -- and anticipated -- uphill climb.

"That's not the worst thing that's going to happen to us all year," Stoops said. "There's going to be bad things happen. You have to overcome them and you have to deal with them."

The Wildcats gave up 487 yards of total offense to the Hilltoppers last Saturday at LP Field. They managed 419 yards of their own, but were all but buried by midway through the fourth quarter.

That performance will spark some changes, the most notable at quarterback, where Maxwell Smith will start Saturday against Miami (Ohio) after completing 8 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in relief of starter Jalen Whitlow against WKU.

But there are changes coming outside the depth chart. Stoops said he's "looking deep into what we're doing defensively" and trying "to put our players in a position to be successful on all sides of the ball."

He's also working to retool the psyche of a team accustomed to losing.

"When bad things happen, we need to handle it better emotionally," Stoops said. "I talked about before, I thought we were excited and then a few bad things happen and all of the sudden, everybody's worried about all kind of things. Just settle in; it's a long game. That's where I thought we could have handled things better."

So the message is to move forward.

"That was one of the biggest things as soon as we got in the locker room after the game," wide receiver Demarco Robinson said Monday. "We just got to move ahead. Western played a good game, they beat us. We got to worry about Miami of Ohio now."

The RedHawks lost their season opener to Marshall 52-14 and give Kentucky on paper its best chance for a win between now and November. With games looming against Louisville, Florida, at South Carolina, Alabama and at Mississippi State, the Cats can ill afford a loss this week.

And both Stoops and his players the significance of the game for his team's confidence.

"It's important, I feel like, to go get a win and correct our mistakes from last week so we can get ready for the next game," linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I feel like it would be a huge, huge victory for us."

Stoops doesn't deny that. He understands the WKU game was critical, too.

"And I understand the momentum that we had, and have, and I understand it's a quick trip," Stoops said. "And people are going to jump off that bandwagon quick."

Stoops, however, is riding it out.

He knew rebuilding was a big project. The outcome of the WKU game wasn't going to change that.

"I know exactly what we're in," Stoops said. "I knew what I was getting into, and I know what I'm into. We're not gonna flinch. We're gonna do the best thing we can to move forward and win games."

If that means tweaking the defense, so be it. If it means altering the offense, that's fair game. But Stoops is aware there will be no quick fixes.

"There's no easy formula, no easy switch, there's no magical scheme on either side of the ball that we can do overnight," Stoops said. "We've got to get back to work and handle it with the right attitude and embrace it and get better."

He's confident the Cats will.

But it will take time. He's not sugarcoating that.

"I'm looking at everything we're doing," Stoops said. "That doesn't mean we're going to be knee-jerk around here. We understand, and I've said that over and over again: We accept where we're at. We will get better. We will move forward as a program, I promise you that."

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