LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops doesn’t label games in terms of importance, but Saturday’s contest against Arkansas could set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Every game's important to us, and I don't mean any disrespect by that answer," he said earlier this week. “It's just we, as coaches, I don't care who we're playing, what we're doing, the way we lead up to a game, the way we prepare, all that is really most important to me. The results are the results. We all want to win, but things happen in games that you can't predict. That's why everybody loves watching it.”
Coming off a bye week, Stoops and his squad will look to end a three-game losing streak going into the second half of the season. The Wildcats (2-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) lost to South Carolina 28-7 in their last outing and Stoops and the Wildcats are eager to get a win.
“I think just common sense the way we haven't played very good and the way we have had some losses, yeah, it's important to me,” he said. “It's the next game, it's at home, it's a conference game, so it's important.”
The two teams haven’t played each other since Arkansas rolled to a 49-7 victory in 2012 and it will mark the first time Stoops has faced the Razorbacks in his tenure as coach of the Wildcats.
“We've never played Arkansas, so this will be the first time and so there is no familiarity,” Stoops said. “But it is what it is. We do that all the time. We play teams that we're not familiar with and maybe haven't played, whether it's out of conference or any of that, but it is new. It's new. We don't know their personnel as much and don't know them.”
The Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) are still in a rebuilding mode but showed signs of making strides in a 31-27 loss to Texas A&M nearly two weeks ago. Like Kentucky, Arkansas is coming off a bye week.
“We focused on ourselves and why we played as well as we played (against Texas A&M) and yet having to clean up some self-inflicting mistakes if we're going to continue to push this program and this team further (ahead) — that was our focus last week,” Arkansas coach Chad Morris said.
“They played good on both sides,” Stoops added. “I think you all know what type of team Texas A&M is. And Arkansas had every opportunity to win that game. So you know they are putting it together. I have great respect for Coach (Chad) Morris, he's a heck of a coach. There's no doubt they're doing the right things on both sides of the ball. … They have some very good coaches that are working very hard and they're very close to putting it all together.
“That was evident watching the Texas A&M game. And they had a chance to have the week off and regroup and kind of put a plan together as well. So you know it's going to be a great challenge.”
Although the Wildcats are in a drought, Morris has been impressed with the Wildcats this season.
“They’re better than what their record says,” Morris said. “They lost to Florida really by one. Florida scored eight (points) at the end to make it an eight-point game. They played them all the way to the wire. We know how talented they are and what they are doing this year. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got make sure we’re continuing to improve and play our best. … It comes back to how well we play.”
It’s not certain if Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith will be at full speed, but Morris said his team is focused on stopping Wildcats’ all-purpose performer Lynn Bowden., whom Morris said is “impressive to watch.”
‘We’re anticipating Lynn Bowden being all over the field, whether it be at quarterback, running back, wide receiver — he’s electric,” Morris said. “He’s definitely a difference-maker and one of the top players in this conference.”