UK Athletics

'All Hands on Deck' as UK Begins Vandy Prep

His team mired in a four-game losing streak, Mark Stoops isn't mincing words.

At his weekly press conference on Monday, Stoops admitted Kentucky didn't meet his expectations for effort in a loss at Georgia over the weekend.

"I felt like that throughout this year and the times you guys hear me talk about opponents and what we're going up against and what we're going to do, one thing I always applaud and talk about with other teams when I see it, and with our own team, is playing with that great passion, energy, desire and fundamentally trying to get better with everything that we do," Stoops said. "That was not the case this past week."

Also, Stoops confirmed Patrick Towles and Drew Barker will compete for the right to start at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

"Whoever gives us the best chance to go into Vandy and win will take the first snaps," Stoops said. "And if both guys are - if we feel confident in both guys, or if one's struggling, we'll go to the other."

He even candidly answered when a reporter asked whether his team believed it could win at Georgia.

"I think that's a fair question and I don't think that was the case last Saturday, that we did go into that game believing we could win," Stoops said. "No. I don't think we did. And I don't lie to you and I ain't gonna lie to the players. I didn't see that belief."

Considering his honesty on all those counts, that should tell you it was more than simple coach speak when he outlined his expectations for this upcoming week.

"I anticipate a great week of preparation this week and all hands on deck to go play a great game at Vanderbilt and try to get our fifth victory of the year," Stoops said.

UK will try to move toward that victory as a team beginning on Monday. The Cats will gather for a meeting to kick off the week.

"I anticipate that we'll have a good meeting today and we'll have good practices and we'll move forward," Stoops said. "With that being said, we're very excited about the challenge of going into Vanderbilt and getting a victory. As I said a week ago, the only time you can move on as a program and make the bad feeling of losses go away is by going and getting a victory."

A victory, of course, would bring UK to within one more win of bowl eligibility. Though Stoops himself hasn't mentioned reaching a bowl as a goal, some of his players have. He intended to bring that up at the aforementioned meeting.

"You know I've never said those words out of my mouth, but I know I've read some quotes and had some things told to me that it was bowl game or bust or whatever they were saying," Stoops said. "Well, I'm going to ask them about that today. I'm going to ask them to get up and say what they believe, and if that's important to them then they better start with a one-week season this week."

That one-week season will culminate in Saturday's 4 p.m. matchup with the Commodores (3-6, 1-4 Southeastern Conference). Vanderbilt has scored more than 16 points just once this season, but has been competitive in each of its last four SEC games on the strength of a defense that ranks in the top 20 nationally, allowing 316.1 yards and 17.4 points per game.

"They're good and they're back to where they were a couple years ago when you saw a Vandy team that was capable of winning a whole heck of a lot of games," Stoops said. "I think Coach (Derek) Mason's done a great job. You can see the passion and the energy in their team, and on their defense in particular. No matter what their record is, they're out there playing extremely hard."

Stoops expects the same of his team.

"We need to get back to playing with that great passion and energy that we all want and that we all will be proud of that when our team plays that way," Stoops said. "We just haven't been consistent enough in that area and we haven't been consistent in a lot of areas."