By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Stoops said on the SEC coaches teleconference today that he likes the way his team has responded in practice after last week’s 27-24 loss to Georgia as it prepares to play at Tennessee — where UK has not won since 1984 — on Saturday.
“We’re onto our preparation and total focus on Tennessee. It will be a real challenge going and playing on the road against a quality football team that’s extremely well coached and extremely talented,” Stoops said. “You can see even through some adversity and injuries, they have plenty of great talent on that team and again, they put a lot of stress on you on both sides of the ball and special teams. We’ll have our hands full, but we are excited about our prep and excited about the opportunity here this weekend.”
Tennessee has had a rash of injuries this season and coach Butch Jones said Wednesday it will be a game-time decision on whether running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Cameron Sutton. They both are also dynamic playmakers in the return game for the Vols.
“Everything is about field position,” Jones said. “I think if you look around the country, part of being a good return team is that you have to have a dynamic returner. Our goal is we want one first down for the offense. …
“It can change the complexion, it can change the outcome in a hurry. We’ll be very, very selective in terms of their involvement on special teams. We just want to make sure they’re healthy and ready to contribute. Both of those individuals have had a very good week of preparation.”
Sutton broke his ankle Sept. 17 and had surgery. Kamara injured his knee Oct. 15 against Alabama.
Stoops knows Jones and the Vols obviously have been frustrated by the injuries and having top running back Jalen Hurd quite the team two games ago for personal reasons.
“There’s a constant there in that they have good schemes and they put a lot of stress on you on all sides. You have to be very disciplined. They make you make plays in space and they have guys that can hurt you,” Stoops said. “With them, and like most of us, the byes can’t come, they always seem to come at the right time.
“And for them to mentally and physically heal up and kind of hit the reset button, they certainly look like they were fresh and ready to come out last week. I’m sure they are prepared to have a strong finish. So, we’ll have our hands full.”
The injuries have forced Jones to play more players and develop depth.
“This is the most competitive conference in the nation and when you are fighting this attrition that we are, it takes a toll on your team,” Jones said Wednesday during the SEC teleconference. “It’s all about your role players. The bottom of the roster, people understanding their role. A lot goes into that.
“You win the week by your preparation. We have had much adversity this year … But it is what it is. Your team is only as good as its role players.”