Stoops wants ‘sense or urgency’ from Cats

Published 3:45 pm Friday, August 31, 2018

LEXINGTON (KT) — Central Michigan isn’t your average opening-game opponent and Mark Stoops wants to make sure his team is aware of the task at hand in Saturday’s opener against the Chippewas at Kroger Field.

“They have to have this sense of urgency and the importance to prepare and play that way,” Stoops said. “I totally expect that.”

The Chippewas finished 8-5 last season, losing to Wyoming in the Idaho Potato Bowl, but have been known to pull an upset or two against teams in the Power-5 conferences. Central Michigan defeated Kansas in Lawrence last season and created a headline buzz when it stunned Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

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“They are winning a bunch of games in the MAC and those are good teams,” Stoops said. “We have been watching them and heck, you watch them and just their crossovers and who they played last year. You watch them on film and they are good well-coached teams. They have beaten two power-five (teams) in the past two or three years. So, it is not a big deal to them.

“They are a good football team that is well coached. That is probably what stands out to me as you watch them and you watch a lot of the MAC, they do a very good job of not beating themselves and sticking to what they do and they play it well.”

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego admitted his team won’t be intimidated in the season-opener for both teams.

“I think we stress our blue-collar work ethic,” Bonamego said earlier this week. “We have a lot of pride in this program. We’re not going to take a backseat to anybody. Once we kick the ball off, it’s our 11 against their 11. At that point in time it doesn’t matter what your operating budget is, how big your weight room is, or how many stars (a player) had when (he was) recruited. It’s about 11 guys playing hard from start to finish and who makes the fewest mistakes, and who executes the best. We’ll never be counted out of any game. If we play our best, our best is good enough to beat anyone.”

Kentucky went 7-6 a year ago and broke even in the Southeastern Conference for the second-straight season. The Wildcats return most of its offensive and defensive playmakers from last year’s squad, including running back Benny Snell.

Junior college transfer Terry Wilson, named Kentucky’s starting signal caller earlier this week, is looking forward to playing alongside Snell.

“Benny is a horse,” Wilson said. “I look forward to being back there with him, making big plays and I feel like we’ll do a lot of big things.”

The biggest makeover for Kentucky this season will be in the pocket, where Wilson will make his debut against the Chippewas.

“He’s a dynamic guy, but we haven’t seen him full go because he hasn’t been live (in practice) since he’s been here,” Stoops said. “I’m kind of interested to see how that gear goes in myself, and see what he can kick that thing up to and how fast he can run when he gets in the open field because he’s definitely an explosive guy.”

Wilson is also anxious to make his debut and doesn’t view himself as a one-dimensional player.

“I can run the ball and I look forward to throwing the ball down the field and making big plays all the way around,” he said.

Bonamego isn’t sure what to expect from Kentucky’s signal caller but is well-aware of Snell’s collegiate career.

“When you get to him you’ve got to get him on the ground,” he said. “He has good balance, he’s a determined runner, and he has speed. He doesn’t want to go down. It’s important to get bodies on him.”

On the flip side, Stoops and his defense will face a challenge in stopping Central Michigan running back Jonathan Ward, who rushed for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He hauled in 48 catches for 470 yards.

“He’s a big-time player, he really is … very, very good football player (and) he’s dynamic” Stoops said. “He will play football for a long time. He has great vision, great patience, he’s strong, he’s explosive. He’s a very good football player.”

Kentucky has won nine in against teams from the Mid-American Conference and seeks to keep the streak alive Saturday.

Gametracker: Central Michigan at Kentucky, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPNU, 98.1 FM WBUL, Lexington.