LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The last time 13th-ranked Kentucky played on the road, the Wildcats ended a 31-game losing streak to Florida in Gainesville, jumpstarting the Wildcats’ best start in the Southeastern Conference since 1977.
Kentucky (5-0, 3-0) has won five games to open the season for the first time in more than a decade. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said the 27-16 win at The Swamp on Sept. 8 prepared the Wildcats for Saturday’s contest at Texas A&M but added it will be a “new situation” and a “new week.”
“How are we going to handle that? I expect our team to have a really good focus … and that’s been the attitude of this team,” Stoops said earlier this week. “They’re always learning and growing and they’re not satisfied with what we’ve done and we’ve got to continue to stay hungry but stay hungry in that preparation. It felt like we missed it a day or two last week (before South Carolina). That’s a missed opportunity and we can’t do that. I think they understand that and they’ll be back, focused, and ready to go.”
For the first time in 65 years, Kentucky will take on Texas A&M in their first visit to College Station in more than six decades. The last time the Wildcats visited the campus they yanked out a 10-7 victory. The previous season, the Aggies edged Kentucky 7-6 at Lexington in 1953.
The Aggies (3-2, 1-1) are coming off a 24-17 victory over Arkansas and are still adjusting to first-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s style. Texas A&M’s losses were to No. 3 Clemson (28-26) and top-ranked Alabama (45-23). The Aggies have dropped six straight games to teams ranked in the Top 25.
Fisher’s squad averages 511 yards per game, one of just three conference schools that have produced more than 500 yards offensively through the first five games. Running back Trayveon Williams has rushed for 582 yards, second behind league leader Benny Snell of Kentucky with 639 yards to go along with eight touchdowns. Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond is a dual threat and led the team in rushing in the losses to Alabama and Clemson.
“He (Fisher) has a lot of offense,” Stoops said of his former boss. “He can be very multiple and go a lot of different directions.”
Kentucky’s offense also ranks among the conference leaders. Behind Snell, the Wildcats are 10th nationally and tops in the SEC in rushing with an average of 259.2 yards per game.
“Those guys have been in a lot of games, in a lot of battles, and they know how to play and know their assignments,” Fisher said. “They don’t make mistakes and play to each other. They’re sound all the way across the board and they don’t beat themselves. They take care of the ball, run it and play to each other — the offense and the defense.”
Kentucky’s defense is third nationally in scoring defense (12.6 ppg) and 12th in total defense (288.8 ypg). The Wildcats have picked off six passes with a secondary stocked with experienced defensive backs.
“(I’m) really pleased with the secondary,” Stoops said. “(They are) really doing some good things, really stepped up to the challenge. They’re holding each other accountable and competing at a high level. I thought the corners really played well again. The safeties did as well, all of them across the board. They are doing some good things, playing really hard, competing.”
Darius West has been a force in Kentucky’s backfield and leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups. West is tied for third with Kash Daniel on the team with 16 tackles.
“He definitely has a strong mentality and he has a great passion and desire to win,” Stoops said of West. “I think he will be the first to tell you that there are things that he’s focusing on to continue to play better. He’s got some opportunity to make some interceptions there in that game (last week) that he’ll make. But, he’s doing good. I’m proud of him and pleased for him and the way he’s playing.”
Daniel, who was ejecting for targeting in last week’s win over the Gamecocks, will sit out the first half this weekend. Chris Oats, who has appeared in all five games as a backup, will start in place of Daniel. Stoops admitted he may have to do more “coaching up” with Oats, but added it won’t be easy to simulate the atmosphere.
“How you can get them prepared for Kyle Field?” Stoops asked. “Good luck with me simulating that.”
As for Stoops, he’s not worried about the emotions of coaching against his mentor.
“I expect to see a well-coached, tough, hard-nosed football team and that’s Jimbo,” he said. “Jimbo’s very detailed but he’s tough and hard-nosed and his teams usually reflect that.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.