LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - For Kentucky's players, the hardest thing to hit the ground in the loss to Mississippi State on Saturday may have been their egos.
After Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon ran 252 yards in the Bulldogs' 31-24 win over Kentucky, the Wildcats got their worst hit of the night in the form of a reality check.
"The loss brought us back down to earth," said receiver Randall Cobb.
Many players agreed that they were on a high after consecutive wins at Auburn and against Louisiana-Monroe.
Coach Rich Brooks agreed, saying overconfidence caused his team to lose focus. Now he has to find a way to pick the Wildcats back up before things unravel.
"A week ago people thought we could win out," Brooks said. "Now they don't think we can even win another game."
Saturday's game against Eastern Kentucky (5-3) is now more important than ever if the Wildcats hope to salvage their preseason hope of reaching a fourth straight bowl game.
"The loss was a shock to reality," said defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin. "Now winning is the only way to stop a snowballing effect. This is a bigger game than Mississippi State because it'll show what our team is made of."
Most of the pressure to regain Kentucky's confidence rests on the shoulders of true freshman quarterback Morgan Newton. Against Mississippi State, Newton took the reins of the offense and delivered clutch plays. Still, he made several costly mistakes including a goalline interception that prevented the Wildcats from tying the game.
His team has confidence in his ability to turn things around against the Colonels.
"He has a lot of respect from his team," Cobb said. "He's coming along great. It just takes time for a young quarterback."
Cobb himself faced a similar situation when he took the reins at quarterback for a number of games last season as a freshman.
"I knew then I had to make more big plays than mistakes," Cobb said. "I think (Newton) knows that now."
Brooks also credited his young quarterback for his poise and passing and said the mistakes he made didn't necessarily contribute to the outcome. Newton, like the rest of his teammates, will have to forget the loss and move on, Brooks said.
"It's a hard thing to go every week and put what happened good or bad behind you and focus on the task at hand," Brooks said.
Against the Colonels, Kentucky (4-4) will likely be without running back Derrick Locke (knee), who leads the SEC in kickoff returns and is fifth in the conference in rushing. Cornerback Trevard Lindley is also doubtful for the game with an ankle injury. Newton, Cobb and running back John Conner all also have minor injuries that will limit them in practice this week, but are expected to be fit against an Eastern Kentucky team looking to cause further havoc on the Wildcats' season, Brooks said.
"I think Eastern Kentucky is definitely dangerous," Brooks said. "They're looking forward to coming into Commonwealth Stadium and making their year maybe making their decade. We need to be more focused and ready for that."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Full Rich Brooks News Conference