As Coach Stoops loves to say, “It’s been a process” creating this podcast but nonetheless, →
Football Season Coverage
As Coach Stoops loves to say, “It’s been a process” creating this podcast but nonetheless, an absolute blast. I would like to apologize in advance because at times, it isn’t the best quality, but it improves later in the podcast and will continue to improve in the future. It’s what I call a “learning experience” (like when it begins and Matt says I’m shaking, because I was, and still am).
We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making it. If you have any future suggestions, send them my way.
On iTunes search “Kentucky Sports Radio” and hit “Subscribe,” and it should then appear on your phone or computer.
UPDATE: You can also listen to it by clicking here.
There are several minor details that go into gameday operations that may seem simple, but in reality requires repetitive rehearsal. Here are a few:
Locker room clock management
The Cat Walk starts approximately two hours prior to kick-off. What happens between stadium arrival and the first play of the game is a precise procedure. In a prior post, I described the Hotel Abyss and misery of waiting around until game time. As for stadium arrival, the clock starts the minute the bus stops. Minutes are managed. For example, players don’t go onto the field to warm-up at their own leisure. Specific groups depart the locker room at certain times. The culmination is when the entire team is gathered before returning to the locker room. This also works in reverse. Captains go onto the field for the coin toss, then the main body exits to smoke and loud bangs. May seem simple, but prior to the first game, the team will go through this entire process. Coaches want to ensure gameday provides zero surprises. Below is an example itinerary. It’s been decades, so it’s probably not close to reality. However it may give you a better understanding:
5:00 – Taping (wrists/ankles)
5:20 – Specialist on field
5:25 – Offensive skill players out
5:30 – DB’s and LB’s
5:40 – OL and DL
5:45 – Team stretch
6:00 – Position work
6:20 – Team
6:30 – Punt team
6:35 – Return to locker room
6:52 – Captains out
6:55 – Team out
7:00 – Kick-off
Play call charts
Offense and defensive coordinators require specific data to be collected on each play. This may include the play call, opponents pre-snap look, result, and individual personnel involved. Charts are revised and modified to provide the most efficient amount of information for future decision making. This process is rehearsed and revised throughout camp and will get ramped up in final team or scrimmage situations.
Players practice, but so do coaches. Throughout situational and unscripted scrimmage situations, decisions that factor just when timeouts are called or not called are also rehearsed. And, the next factor is the support or athletic training staff’s role during stops in play. You’ll notice that during a time-out, towels and water are sprinted onto the field to hydrate players during that brief down time. All that is practiced.
Just like pregame, every halftime minute is accounted for. Normally, the first time allotment is for the coaches to gather for a quick after action review to discuss second half adjustments. Players hydrate, use the bathroom, etc. Then, position groups briefly meet before the coordinators install adjustments or reinforce game-modifications. See, the entire team is rarely together in both pregame and halftime. The locker room is divided into offensive and defensive segments. The final moments prior to going back onto the field belongs to the head coach as the whole team gathers. During this time is when the “motivation” speech occurs. Re-entering the field is also on a strict time schedule. There are multiple managers that track the clock and provide time hacks to coaches to ensure processes are met. When the team goes back onto the field, proper stretching and warmup exercises are in place. All this will be practiced believe it or not.
On-field clock management
Offensive pace just doesn’t occur on game day. From Shannon Dawson’s mind to Patrick Towles’ signal, there is zero time to waste from play call to snap. This is practiced throughout camp. Same is executed on the defensive side. DJ Eliot to Josh Forrest communication must be instant and without confusion. Areas that aren’t commonly discussed but continually practiced are during two minute offense scenarios. The quarterback must understand when the play clock starts, when time is stopped, and other specifics that can decide the difference in a late touchdown or failing drive. For example, when the offense gains a first down, the play clock is started upon placement and movement of the chains. The game clock stops following a player going out of bounds. But, do you know the clock process differences for offensive and defensive penalties? Many varying factors that have to become second nature for quarterbacks and linebackers.
Factor in the ridiculous NCAA 20-hour rule, as you can imagine, practice time must be managed down to the second. A team can efficiently prepare for any circumstance and yet face unique situations that presents player uncertainty. So now, I hope you understand why experience is critical for primary decision makers (quarterbacks and linebackers) and why wasted practice time is so detrimental to program growth.
Breaking schedule news! According to fbschedules.com, Kentucky will host the Chattanooga Mocs on November 17, 2018, the first ever meeting between the two schools. The news was confirmed in Chattanooga’s media guide.
The Mocs are in the Southern Conference in the FCS, and last season, advanced to the playoffs before losing to New Hampshire in the quarterfinals. Next season, they’ll travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. So far, we know two of UK’s 2018 non-conference games: Chattanooga on November 17 and Louisville on November 24.
2018 feels light years away. What will UK football look like three years from now?
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©August 27th, 2015 @ 9:00am
Good morning, everyone. Pardon the delay, there was a bit of a mixup in the KSR offices this morning over who was supposed to do the wakeup post, so we’re off to a late start. It may be early here, but I bet these two Cats fans at Windsor Castle are already enjoying their high tea, or maybe even a Pimms Cup to start the afternoon right. Cheerio, old chaps.
Here’s what you have to look forward to today in the wide world of Kentucky sports…
We’ll hear from Stoops and the defense this evening
There was no media opportunity yesterday so the team could focus on their first day of classes, which probably has most of you itching for a football fix. Mark Stoops, DJ Eliot, and select defensive players will address the media this evening after practice, and hopefully, we’ll hear some good news about Ryan Flannigan, who has been battling a minor injury all camp. The linebacking corps is thin as it is, and Flannigan is a major leader on the defensive side on the ball. Simply put: we need him back and we need him to stay healthy.
Did you see the SEC Network picked UK to go 8-4 last night?
If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. While I admire their optimism, I don’t feel quite as confident about UK’s chances at South Carolina and Mississippi State, the latter in particular. Nothing good happens in Starkville.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the real star of UK Football preview show was Patrick Towles’ hair:
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) August 27, 2015
Just let your soulllll glo. Just let it shine through.
Sacha Killeya-Jones is coming to Big Blue Madness
Add UK’s latest commit to the guest list, which includes Harry Giles, Miles Bridges, and Rawle Alkins. No offense to those four, but the real question remains, if Drake and Serena Williams are dating, does that mean she’ll come to Madness too?
Kobi Simmons will be on campus this weekend
Simmons was once John Calipari’s number one priority at point guard for 2016, though it’s unclear if that’s still the case since Cal’s offered several other guards in the class. Regardless, he’s coming to UK this weekend for an official visit, and his father, Desmond Stephens, told the Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts his son is down to UK, Georgia, Ohio State and UNLV with a decision coming next month. Both Simmons and his father admit they’re UK fans, and Stephens says the family talks to Cal and Kenny Payne “every day.” That, along with these quotes, make me feel pretty good about UK’s chances:
“I rooted for Kentucky, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I grew up watching Kenny Walker, Dicky Beal … I go way, way back. My friends and I have a rule – we can never change our favorite teams in life.
“And I really like Cal – I’ve been liking Cal since Memphis. And Kenny Payne, he’s the best of the best when it comes to teaching and knowledge. You gotta love it.”
Enjoy your visit, Kobi.
The seats in the new suites at Commonwealth Stadium sure look nice
Even if they have the new, crooked K.
Happy birthday to Mitch Barnhart
UK’s athletic director is celebrating his 56th trip around the sun today, although with that hair, he doesn’t look a day over 40. Live it up, Mitch. Two chocolate milks this morning!
Who will win the #KSRCandyBracket?
First was cereal, now is candy. It’s chocolate vs. sugar. Who will reign supreme? Tune in to KSR in about an hour to find out.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©August 26th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
Back at the beginning of the month, I put together a list of seven questions and predictions for the football team heading into fall camp. Now that camp is officially over and game preparation has begun, let’s look over that list to see what I got right, what I got wrong, and what we still don’t know.
1. How long will the “Quarterback Race” continue?
Prediction: Not long
Result: Not long
Eleven days into camp, Mark Stoops announced that Patrick Towles is the team’s starting quarterback, putting an end to the battle that had been going on since the spring. Towles asserted himself as the leader of the team immediately, saying on “The Paul Finebaum Show” that he believes Kentucky can make it to the SEC Championship. Bold words, but would you want anything less from your starting QB?
2. Who will step up and be the leader of the defense?
Prediction: Melvin Lewis
This question will resolve itself over the season, but Stoops and DJ Eliot have praised several players for their leadership, including Lewis, Josh Forrest, Farrington Huguenin, and AJ Stamps. (The only comments we’ve heard about Ryan Flannigan have pertained to his injury.) While there may not be one overall leader of the defense yet, each unit seems to have its own chief(s): Lewis/Huguenin on the defensive line, Forrest/Flannigan at linebacker, and Stamps in the secondary.
Eliot says Stamps in particular has become a vocal leader, calling out to young corners like Westry and Baity to make sure they’re in the right coverages. Similarly, fellow senior Josh Forrest, who started his career at UK as a wide receiver, has started coaching younger players on the field, a sign he’s come full circle in his transition to linebacker.
3. Will C.J. Johnson top his “poop” comment from last year?
Result: Maybe not, but this comment on Media Day was still pretty good:
4. How many practices until we get an Angry Stoops?
Prediction: Hopefully more than one, but no more than three
Boy, was I off. Stoops seemed pretty happy with his team for two weeks until a piss poor outing last Friday afternoon. Stoops was furious with his group’s effort, and when they didn’t respond in the scrimmage the next day, he made them all come back Saturday night for unscheduled practice. We’ve covered that ad nauseam, but one thing Stoops has been harping on all offseason and preseason is players holding themselves and each other accountable for their performance on and off the field. That clearly didn’t happen last Friday and Saturday, and a message was sent. So far, it looks like it was received.
5. Which wide receiver will stand out the most?
Prediction: Garrett Johnson
Result: Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker
I was half right. Both Johnson and Baker have turned heads in camp for their consistency, with Shannon Dawson singling them out as guys who make plays “every day,” not just when the lights are on. Juice has also assumed a leadership role, doing push-ups with any receiver that drops a pass and watching film on his own late at night. That’s pretty impressive coming from a sophomore.
At 6’3″, 208 lbs., Baker earned the nickname “American Pharoah from his teammates for his size and athleticism. After offseason knee surgery, he’s really turned it on these past few weeks, becoming one of UK’s best outside threats. Jeff Badet has also made some big plays, but has had his reps limited due to a minor injury.
6. Will the new guys take over at corner or will the veterans stand up?
Prediction: New guys will take over, but not by the first game
Result: One new guy has already taken over
After a week and a half of practice, true freshman Chris Westry was running with the ones on defense. Fellow freshman Derrick Baity has also impressed, and could be on his way to taking over the other cornerback spot from Cody Quinn. Earlier this week, Stoops said he wouldn’t hesitate to play both freshman together when they’re ready, but for now, Quinn is holding on to his spot.
Stoops also said that Fred Tiller, whom Westry jumped on the depth chart, isn’t pouting and has stepped his game up at practice, but the influx of young talent has some players, like junior corner Jaleel Hytchye, looking elsewhere. After he moved further down the depth chart, it was announced Hytchye will transfer.
7. Will Patrick Towles cut his hair?
Prediction: He’ll cut it, or Freddie Maggard will do it for him.
Result: Nope. Long hair don’t care.
Watch out for Freddie and those clippers, Patrick.
Verdict: I got two predictions right and four wrong, with one still hanging in the balance. That calls for a few laps around the KSR Compound. Be back soon.
We aren’t the only ones optimistic about this Kentucky football season.
On the SEC Network’s team preview for the Cats, the best and brightest in the biz believe UK is bowl bound with an 8-win season, upsetting Miss. State AND South Carolina on the road.
I don’t think they’re crazy, do you?
With ten days to go until the opening kickoff in the New Commonwealth Stadium, here’s the ten things I want to see this Fall. I think they can accomplish all of them.
1. A Road Win
The Cats haven’t won on the road since opening the 2010 season with a win over Louisville. That’s a LONG time. A win at Vandy is inevitable, but the Cats have a puncher’s chance at Miss. State and South Carolina depending on a variety of circumstances (injuries, game time etc.)
2. At Least Three Commonwealth Stadium Sellouts
You’d have to go back to 2010 once again to find the last time Commonwealth was sold out (that came against Georgia). Florida, Auburn and Louisville should fill every seat, but if the Cats are winning games, Mizzou and Tennessee also have some potential.
3. A Return Touchdown
Once a program filled with return phonemes like Randall Cobb and Derek Abney, the Cats haven’t taken one to the house since 2011. I don’t think that will be a problem this year with two of the fastest guys on the team returning kicks, Jeff Badet and Sihiem “Sci-Fi” King. The punt return duties will be up to either T.V. Williams, Ryan Timmons and Juice, all with big-play abilities.
4. 35 Points a Game
I originally thought that might seem like a lofty expectation, until I realized they were close last year with 29.2 a game. The offense is exponentially better and the playmakers are a year older, making it easy to foresee huge numbers this Fall.
5. A Healthy Quarterback
It’s happened too many times in years past. This team is Patrick Towles’ and his offensive line must play their part by keeping him on his feet.
6. More Plays Like THIS
7. End that Awful Streak
Many of the people reading this have never seen Florida fall to Kentucky. It’s been 28 long years. If anything is going to get the fan base energized, it’s ending this atrocious losing streak.
8. Win Multiple Close Games
If they knew how to finish games last year, they would have easily made a bowl game, winning either at Florida or at Louisville. The immaturity definitely played a part. Having the confidence to make big plays in big situations is the difference between an “OK” team and a “Good” bowl bound team. They may only get one, but it’d be great to see another one for a big time upset.
9. Beat Louisville
Neither team has won five consecutive Governor’s Cups. Louisville has won four in a row. It’s time to shut their fans and prove that Petrino is not the Cats’ Kryptonite.
10. A Bowl Game
There are many different ways to show improvement, but the only thing that will convince many fans is postseason play. They can’t afford to lose momentum, the additional practice time, or the highly coveted 2016 recruiting class. Besides, I need a good excuse to make a road trip for New Year’s.
The latest update from UK Athletics shows improvements in the press box side of the stadium. One of the large blue banners is finished, it looks like the glass has been installed on the bottom floor, AND (drum roll please) CHAIR BACKS!
10 more days…
By Nick Roush on ©August 26th, 2015 @ 7:00pm
Since the football team is off for the first day of school, I’d like to draw your attention to the NFL’s newest resident crazy person, Russell Wilson. The league is full of ’em, but this is a different kind of crazy.
It started simply, and it had nothing to do with anything on the football field. During a speech at church, Russell disclosed an epiphany he received one afternoon with his beautiful girlfriend, Ciara.
“I’ll never forget: She was on tour, she was traveling, and I was looking at her in the mirror. I was sitting in the dressing room, and she was getting ready to go, about 15 minutes before she went on stage. And she was sitting there, and God spoke to me and said, ‘I need you to lead her.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Right now?'”
Even though Ciara is a certified smoke-show, I understand Wilson’s choice to be abstinent. There are plenty of people who do the same because of their religion or lifestyle choice. I’m sure it isn’t an easy decision, ESPECIALLY with someone as beautiful as Ciara, but nonetheless, good for you Russell.
It wasn’t his first conversation with God. Wilson is one of the greatest young QBs in the game, but he’s probably best remembered for a fatal mistake that cost his Seahawks back-to-back Super Bowls. His interception at the goal line will be one of the most talked about NFL plays ever (why didn’t they just hand it to Lynch? WHY??!?!?), but Russell doesn’t see it as a disappointment.
“The play happens, and they pick the ball off. And I take three steps,” Wilson said (via NESN.com). “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you … I want to see how you respond. But most importantly, I want them to see how you respond.'”
I don’t care if that was what actually happened, but are you really gonna blame a career-defining mistake on The Lord Almighty? Fans love a guy that goes to church, but he’s starting to take things a little too far. In a Rolling Stone cover story, he took things too far.
In the game prior to that dismal play in Super Bowl XLIX, Russell took a nasty hit from Clay Matthews, likely causing a concussion. There is no greater danger in the game of football than concussions. CTE isn’t a myth. The progressive disease that develops from multiple hits to the head is the primary reason Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide.
How did Russell treat the concussion in time for the Super Bowl? He drank plenty of “Recovery Water,” a product he personally invests in.
“I banged my head during the Packers game in the playoffs, and the next day I was fine,” Wilson said. “It was the water.”
He admits in the Rolling Stone story that there is no scientific evidence to support his theory, but also claims it helped a teammate get over a knee injury. I think that hit to the head might have something to do with his reasoning.
I’m pretty sure this is where Russell discovered his “Recovery Water.”
Russell is a nice guy and the face of a franchise that I enjoy, but since that final interception he’s had one of the weirdest offseason I can ever remember. Hopefully it won’t hurt him when he takes the field this Fall, but Geez Louise, he’s gotta cut this stuff out.
You know who won’t be picking Wilson in a fantasy football draft tonight? THIS guy.
By Drew Franklin on ©August 26th, 2015 @ 2:42pm
We recorded our first KSR UK Football podcast last night and several of you are anxious to get your hands and ears on it. I’ve received many tweets, e-mails and snaps about the first episode over the last 24 hours, so I’ll use this space to tell you a little about it.
First of all, it’s a weekly podcast that will go up each Tuesday during college football season. We will spend about 30-40 minutes recapping UK’s previous game, then another 30 or so looking ahead to the coming Saturday. Every episode will feature a panel of Nick Roush, Jared Lorenzen and Freddie Maggard, plus either Mrs. Tyler or me as a fourth, sometimes both if we’re feeling crazy. Matt hopped on last night’s inaugural taping but it is the only one he will be a part of this season.
Now, where to get it? Assuming Roush recorded it correctly and the file is somewhere on his computer, it will go live as soon as possible, hopefully tonight. It will be uploaded to iTunes in the old Kentucky Sports Radio podcast section; not “KSR Show” — that’s the morning show. If for someone reason we can’t access the old account (it’s been four years), we’ll create a new one. Either way, it’ll be on iTunes.
So in short, the podcast will be up soon and it will be on iTunes, somewhere. We will link to it here on the website as soon as it is ready.
We really enjoyed recording the first one last night and hope you all enjoy it as well.
[UPDATE from Roush]
To Update the Update, luckily everything was recorded and properly saved. I was hoping to have it up tonight by 7:00, but we talked for so long that it’s going to take a little longer. It should be ready for your ears tomorrow night at the very latest.
[UPDATE 2 from Drew]
I have very little confidence in Roush’s ability to get this on the internet.
Cross your fingers, everybody.
[UPDATE 3 from Tyler]
You got this, Nick.
By Freddie Maggard on ©August 26th, 2015 @ 12:30pm
Is this blasphemy? Could Kentucky actually increase its sack total after losing Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith to the NFL?
My humble opinion, yes.
In actuality, UK finished ninth in the SEC with 27 total sacks. That’s nine out of 14 teams. There are more spots to move up than down.
Here are six reasons that support that theory:
Blitz will come from more diverse positions on the football field.
Offenses will have to account for all eleven defenders and not focus on just two. During September, DJ Eliot will be required to dial up timely and creative blitz packages. With a year of experience, development, and High Performance work, returning players are just better than they were last year.
Cornerback play will be improved.
CB play has been worrisome. Worry has been upgraded to concern. As of the time this post was sent to the KSR editor staff, true freshman Chris Westry has supplanted Fred Tiller on the depth chart. I can see in the foreseeable future that Derrick Baity could possibly be his CB running mate. As of now, senior Cody Quinn is maintaining his starting role. Regardless of who starts the game, the position is deeper and lackadaisical play will lead to bench time. Competition is the best tool in the coach’s tool bag.
Due to initial linebacker depth issues, UK will play more Nickel and Dime coverages.
This means that an additional defensive back will be on the field. Do the math, with additional defenders, the likelihood of better coverage will take place which increases sack likelihood. Even looking further into these two schemes, two of the Wildcat’s best blitzers are Blake McClain and Kendall Randolph. Both have exceled at the Nickel/Dime position.
Advent of the Slash.
This topic has been overly discussed, but UK will feature several OLB/DE or hybrid players. With the ability to rotate in fresh pass rushers, the Cats will put continual pressure on opposing offensive lines. In addition, more defensive players simultaneously on the field are skilled in influencing opposing quarterbacks.
Increased level of DT play.
Regie Meant is one of if not the most improved defensive player on the team. CJ Johnson plays the same position and is the unit’s designated, and best inside pass rusher. Add in Courtney Miggins and Adrian Middleton and all of a sudden Kentucky has a sufficient number of 3 Technique players. In addition to the defensive tackles, Nose-guards Melvin Lewis and Matt Elam will demand double teams. By occupying two offensive linemen, outside rushers will be freed up for one on one situations.
Kentucky’s safety corps is as good as I’ve seen in Lexington.
Factor in All SEC safety AJ Stamps, Marcus McWilson, Darius West, Mike Edwards, and if need be true freshman Marcus Walker and I’d put the five-some up against any two deep safety group in UK history. Enhanced safety play will decrease the number of open receivers and allow more opportunities for sacks.
This post is in no means disrespecting or taking away from all that Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith contributed to the Kentucky football program. The pair will have long and successful NFL careers. But in eastern Kentucky terms, UK has more “Hoss Cats” on defense than in years past. UK doesn’t have an elite individual pass rusher like Dupree or Smith. But Smith and Dupree did not have this level of a supporting cast either.
Za’Darius Smith was featured on last night’s episode of The Agent on the Esquire Network. In case you haven’t heard, the show centers around four sports agents, one being Jeff Guerriero, who represents Smith.
Last night’s episode took Smith back to his hometown to talk about his upbringing and dreams of one day playing basketball, not football.
His mother told the show, “Well golly I should’ve let that boy play football a long time ago!”
It sure would be nice to have Big Z to help out with the pass rush this season.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©August 25th, 2015 @ 11:00pm
Since the dawn of time, Kentucky football has followed a pretty consistent script: convincing yourself you have a shot in the preseason, getting high on a sliver of success (“FIRST DOWN KENTUCKY!”), and, with a sad shake of your head because you knew it was coming, enduring beatdown after beatdown until, bloodied and panting, you crawl under the table until basketball.
There are exceptions, of course. Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, the thrill of scratching plays in the dirt with Hal Mumme and Tim Couch, and the blissful 2007 season with Rich Brooks that had us dreaming of a different life, one where upsets became the norm and “College Gameday” was com-ing to our cit-taaay. However, the cruel “Rise” of the Joker era plummeted the program back to the cellar, where we resumed our old habits and occasionally looked up through the glass ceiling at our SEC counterparts.
I can only speak as a fan, but I think it’s safe to say that the players have lived under this ceiling as well. For too long, Kentucky football has been haunted by a “losing mentality.” You can almost feel the moment coming, a sick sixth sense. With the first big hit from an SEC linebacker goes the sugar high of the cupcake season. Whereas most would get up and shake it off, the old Kentucky football taught us that it’s okay to roll over. The beating’s going to come anyways, right? Why fight it.
Although Kentucky made considerable strides last season, that mentality still pops up occasionally, most notably last Saturday afternoon.
“If you don’t play with a chip on your shoulder, we’ll have no chance”
Stoops has been candid about how dire things were when he took over: poor talent, poor fundamentals, mediocre facilities, and an impossible schedule. In two years, he’s done an excellent job resolving three of those issues, and there’s not much he can do about the fourth; however, I’d argue the biggest challenge he’s facing right now is getting rid of the losing mentality around the program. After listening to his comments on the show yesterday, I believe that’s the entire reason he called the practice on Saturday night.
“I was clearly frustrated after the scrimmage. More than anything, it was about what I felt on that field,” Stoops said on KSR. “The bottom line is, I’m looking for an attitude, I’m looking for an effort. This game is played with a giant chip on your shoulder. And if you don’t play with a chip on your shoulder, we’ll have no chance. When we do, when we play with that toughness, when we play with that attitude, when we play with that chip on your shoulder, we’ll have a chance to beat anybody.”
Last year at SEC Media Days, Bud Dupree acknowledged the team’s confidence problems, which have built up over years of struggle.
“We have enough talent to win games. Now, the big key behind it is, do we believe we have enough talent to win games?,” Dupree said before the beginning of last season. “Even though the coach is telling me I can do it, if I don’t believe in my mind I can do it, it’s not going to happen.”
A 5-1 start showed the team believed, but a 0-6 finish (with three blowouts) revealed there’s still a long way to go.
“We truly are getting started, but you know what? It’s time to go.”
Sometimes it’s easier to roll over and play dead than push past your comfort zone, especially if the former is a habit. With the talent gap narrowed, Stoops’ next obstacle is the space between the ears. He said as much yesterday, noting that even though his team was worn out physically from a scrimmage earlier that day, he wanted to push them to see how they would respond mentally.
“Once you challenge them to that point, it could have went one of two ways,” Stoops said. “I was very happy with the way our team responded, and I felt like they needed that challenge. Quite frankly, if I had done that and challenged them to that brink earlier, I’m not sure they would have handled it the right way.”
When the going gets tough, whether it be in the dog days of camp or in the middle of the SEC schedule, Stoops is pushing his players to go. Even if it means playing football in the dark when you could be partying with your friends on the first weekend of school.
“We truly are getting started, but you know what? It’s time to go. It’s no longer acceptable for us to accept the mediocrity and below. We need to step it up and push ourselves and compete at a higher level.”
Finally fielding a product you can be proud of
Leaving a perennial powerhouse like Florida State for Kentucky must have been quite the culture shock, so you can’t blame Mark Stoops for not wanting to shout his 7-17 record from the rooftops. He knows the dangers of false expectations, especially with a vulnerable fan base like Kentucky’s. When asked about the excitement in the fan base, Stoops had a very telling response.
“You know, I’ve always danced around that question since I’ve been here for this reason: I want to put a good product on the field. So, if I’m calling for people to drive hours and hours and spend the money and deal with all the crowds and how long it takes people to get here, to come from the Eastern part of the state or the Western part of the state…”
“I take pride in the product we put on the field,” he repeated. “Quite honestly, it hasn’t been good enough for me either, but this year, I feel like we have a good chance to have a very good football team.”
Hopefully one that will use the lessons learned on a dark August night to push through.
Before he was an elite defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops transformed college football secondary’s into some of the best to ever play college football (see: 2001 Miami Hurricanes). Unfortunately, it’s probably been the weakest link of the defense the past two seasons. With fresh new faces and added experience, Stoops’ secondary will take a step forward in year three.
The strongest spots are the two safeties. A.J. Stamps is one of the best in the SEC at free safety. Marcus McWilson is best remembered for his dropped interception late in the Louisville game, but the Junior is ready to move forward after finally finding his comfort zone during the middle of last season after consistently being critiqued by Stoops. The best meter for McWilson’s improved play: he’s still starting over Darius West. West and Edwards were both forced to redshirt during the freshmen seasons, but have received nothing but praise from the coaching staff for their quick reactions, hard hits and football IQ. The safeties might be the Cats’ deepest position, but freshman Marcus Walker can be game-ready if needed.
The greatest conundrum on the entire team is at cornerback, so much so that I wrote 1,000 words on how the position will play out with so many fresh faces. Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn, and JD Harmon are still battling for playing time, but the position will ultimately be up to the progression of the true freshmen. Derrick Baity has stood out alongside Chris Westry, but don’t be surprised to see the physical Will Jackson or the speedy Kei Beckham at some point.
The Cats ranked 44th in passing yards per game last season, allowing opponents to throw for 215 yards a game. In most passing statistical categories they remained in the middle of the road, but still not up to Mark Stoops’ standards.
Last year’s starting cornerbacks Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn return, even though they only combined for 2 interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
The most efficient position was at safety. Stamps and McWilson were 1st and 2nd on the team in interceptions (4 and 3), and were satisfactory in run support. Stamps was fifth on the team in tackles with 56, one shy of Za’Darius Smith.
Junior Blake McClain has done an exceptional job at the nickel position, starting since his first game as a true freshmen. Kendall Randolph has always been high on Stoops’ list as Blake’s backup, but will be leaned on more this year at cornerback, and in the nickel and dime roles
#11 A.J. Stamps- Superstar Stamps is a no-brainer after breaking out at free safety during his first season. Not only was he making crazy plays like the one above, he wasn’t afraid to hit somebody. There probably isn’t a position more important in the secondary than the centerfielder of the defense, and it’s a luxury for that person to be your leader and best player.
#21 Chris Westry- Nobody has been hyped more during fall camp than true freshman Chris Westry. The impressive Florida freshman is not only standing 6’4″ tall (with muscles to support the tall frame), he’s arguably the fastest guy on the team alongside Jeff Badet and Boom Williams. The closest thing we’ve ever seen to a play like this at UK is Trevard Lindley, and even Lindley wasn’t as big, nor as fast. Westry is a Day 1 starter. It will be interesting to see how well he can handle himself on an island against the best wide receivers in the SEC.
#5 Kendall Randolph- I expect don’t expect anyone to take a bigger step forward this Fall than the versatile sophomore. He’s been able to learn the nickel position under the wings of Blake McClain. He has the athleticism and physical mentality to play anywhere on the field, and that’s where Stoops will play him – nickel, dime, cornerback, anywhere they need him. Not only does he have the physical attributes, he has the intangibles to be an excellent playmaker in big-game situations.
Last week SBNation posted their rankings of the 128 teams in FBS and they were the first ones to somewhat give Kentucky a good outlook on the season. So we got to show them some love and link it on KSR. SBNation places the Cats as a team on the rise with a top 40 finish as the goal. 7-5 would probably make that goal a reality.
Here’s where UK ranked amongst their opponents:
@ 5. Georgia
@ 23. Mississippi State
@ 42. South Carolina
@ 94. Vanderbilt
Syracuse.com had the Cats placed 66th while USA Today disrespected the team with a ranking of 77. I think 50th to begin the year with room to move up into that next tier as a young team matures seems pretty sound. Mississippi State at 23 seems kind of absurd though. What do you think of SBNation’s rankings?