Stoops: UK can go to bowl

Published 12:48 am Monday, July 18, 2016

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Mark Stoops believes Kentucky is ready to go bowling this postseason.

It won’t take a dramatic improvement for the Wildcats, who are coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons after succumbing to late-season swoons. Stoops arrived at Southeastern Conference media days Wednesday believing the program is positioned to end a bowl drought stretching back to 2010.

“We’re doing the things necessary to take the next step,” the fourth-year Kentucky coach said. “I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not going to sit up here and boast (about) a team if we’re not quite ready. We’ve done the work. We have the pieces in place. We will take the next step.

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“I’ve been proud of the progression we’ve done. Certainly you want more wins along the line, but I know we’ve done the right things and we have a great plan in place to continue to push this program, and the players are doing the things necessary to take it to the next step.”

That must include sustaining success through the 12-game grind. The Wildcats dropped six straight games to end the 2014 season and six of seven down the stretch last year.

That came after wins over South Carolina and Missouri and near-misses against Florida and Auburn highlighted a promising start.

Stoops enters his fourth year with Drew Barker taking over at quarterback and a switch to a pro-style system under assistant head coach Eddie Grant and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw.

Stoops said bumps along the road are to be expected when taking over a program. Kentucky has six straight losing seasons and just four SEC victories over the past four years.

Running back Jojo Kemp, who teams with Stanley “Boom” Williams in the backfield, said the Wildcats are tired of just being close to making the postseason.

“Guys don’t want that same feeling guys have had before, going 5-7, going 5-7, being so close and not being able to finish,” Kemp said. “Guys have taken it upon themselves, when coaches have given us breaks, to go home and come back early. Just come and be at the facilities, doing things that coaches didn’t ask them to do.

“Guys really don’t want that same feeling. Going 5-7 and being so close and getting over that hump.”