LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Coach Mark Stoops doesn’t want Kentucky to waste any time when the 23rd-ranked Wildcats open the season Saturday at No. 8 Auburn.
“It's the opener,” Stoops said earlier this week. “We're on the road and it's an early kickoff, so starting fast is key. You've got to come out swinging and come out fast, so we will talk about it and prepare for that as best we can.”
Stoops and the Wildcats wrapped up preparations for their contest against the Tigers, which was uncertain until nearly a month ago because of the ongoing pandemic.
“The players have been working for a long time and we're excited about this opportunity to get going and get the season started,” Stoops said.
Stoops admitted the current climate has been an adjustment from past protocol but added the opener is “always a bit different” because of the uncertainty following fall workouts.
“You're always a little more anxious,” he said. “You know what you have on your football team. However, you've got to go out there and prove it. You've got to go out there and do it. And you've watched football. You've seen some things and some miscues early on. It happens. And when you're playing such a quality opponent on the road, there's no room for error. And so we have to be ready to go and play a very good football game to have an opportunity to win.”
Kentucky returns a bulk of its starters on both sides of the ball, including an offensive line that produced one of the most potent running games in the nation last season.
“To be able to do that in this league says a lot,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “The fact that they are one of the best rushing teams in all of college football in this league, you know that’s really what jumps out to you.”
A challenge for Kentucky will be containing Auburn quarterback Bo Nix and an offense guided by former Arkansas coach Chad Morris. Morris is in his first season with the Tigers, presenting a mystery for Stoops and the defensive coaches.
“I think specifically you have to look at the passing game and what Chad's going to bring,” Stoops said. “We're looking heavy at what Chad had done, both at SMU and at Arkansas and the pass game. I think they're very similar. (It) could be different. What we're looking at is, is the pass game with Chad possibly changing some things up in that area.”
Malzahn has been equally impressed with Kentucky’s defense.
“They make you earn it -- you look at the big plays last year — there’s not a lot of big explosive pass plays over top,” Malzahn said. “They do a great job of keeping everything in front of them. They know their answers; when they get hurt on something, they’ll adjust really quick. You can tell they’ve been in this system a long time.”
The contest also will be Eddie Gran’s return to Auburn, where he served as offensive coordinator from 1999-2008.
“I spent 10 years there, and they were years as good as you can have - being in the SEC, raising my family there,” he said. “ It was a great 10 years. You stay somewhere 10 years and it’s an absolute blessing in this league.”
The opener will be the latest Kentucky has opened the season since 1941 and marks the first time the Wildcats begin the season ranked since 1978.
GAMETRACKER: Kentucky at Auburn, Saturday, noon. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.