Kentucky has won 3 straight, looks to become bowl eligible
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky once again enters November needing just one game to ensure its season continues into December.
The third time could be the charm for the Wildcats, who for third year in a row are attempting to become bowl eligible. This team is playing its best football of the season entering the stretch and the Wildcats believe they might finally clinch their first bowl bid since 2010.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops won't let his players get ahead of themselves and start talking about first-place and No. 10 Florida in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division. Right now, the Wildcats (5-3, 4-2 SEC) enter Saturday night's game against Georgia (4-4, 2-4) looking to extend their three-game winning streak and reach the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility.
''There will be no talk about that,'' Stoops said Monday when asked Kentucky's divisional prospects. ''We need to control what we can control, and that's playing Georgia well. ... We're in no position to look ahead against anybody.
''We're going to do the same things we've been doing and we're going to try to do them better this week. And that's the great thing: I believe we have much better football in us.''
Kentucky certainly had room for improvement after starting 0-2 following a 45-7 shellacking at Florida on Sept. 10. The embarrassing contest was the middle of a three-game opening stretch in which the Wildcats yielded at least 500 yards a game. Stephen Johnson was also called into action at quarterback following a back injury to Drew Barker.
The Wildcats, who have appear to have turned the tables, outgained Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Missouri and average 568 yards the past two weeks alone. That included 582 in Saturday's 35-21 win at Missouri that earned Kentucky's fourth SEC victory for the first time since 2006 and first 4-2 mark in league play since 1993.
A strong running game led by junior Boom Williams (821 yards, three touchdowns) and freshman Benny Snell (661 yards, eight TDs) has helped relieve some of the burden on Johnson. The duo combined for 374 yards rushing and three touchdowns at Mizzou, and Kentucky has averaged 299 yards per game on the ground during its winning streak.
That output speaks volumes about the protection they're getting up front.
''When you come together, you have some depth, you see some results,'' Stoops said of the offensive line. ''They're smart, good football players and they're only gonna get better. That's the beautiful thing.''
While the Wildcats remain a work in progress on both sides of the ball, they're finally learning how to finish games.
Just when Kentucky seemed headed for a loss that would have made the path to six wins tougher, the Wildcats rallied to beat Mississippi State 40-38 on Austin MacGinnis' 51-yard field goal as time expired. They never trailed in Saturday's follow-up at Mizzou and enter a stretch determined to close better than they have recently.
Kentucky's second-half schedule hasn't changed much from the past two years, when it went a combined 1-11 over the final six games and finished 5-7 both times. The Wildcats just seem better prepared this time around, even eager to attack it.
''There are so many things that have changed,'' Stoops said of the Wildcats' mindset. ''It starts with a lot of things, but (it's) their commitment level, the way they practice, their belief system and discipline. There are a lot of things that we're doing better that makes all the difference in the world.''
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