Mark Stoops met with the media for the first time since Kentucky’s overtime loss at Texas A&M. The film review gave him many reasons to be optimistic, even though it wasn’t enough to win at Kyle Field.
“I really was very encouraged by so many things in that game,” Stoops said. “I really appreciate our players’ preparation, their work ethic, their fight and their desire to get that game won. Obviously disappointed we didn’t come up with a few more plays. We’ll work on that, but I love their effort. It’s a good time for the bye week to get out here and continue to build on the things we’re doing and work on the areas we need improvement.”
While some players like Drake Jackson will use the bye week to get healthy, others will use it as an opportunity to get more playing time and improve on the positives from a 5-1 start.
1. The Good and the Bad from Terry Wilson
Through six games we’ve seen Terry Wilson at his best, like his gutsy performance at Florida. Last weekend we saw him at his worst. He has completed 67 percent of his passes and accrued six total touchdowns, while mitigating turnovers since the season-opener.
“He’s managed the game well. In this last game well all know, and he knows, there’s things he could’ve done better and that was addressed. But he’s coachable, he’ll learn from that and he will get better from that alone and the experience. I think just managing the game, putting us in a situation to win each and every game has been one of his strengths.”
There is still plenty of room for Wilson to grow. His confidence seemed to wane in College Station. Stoops wants him to get more comfortable with his offensive weapons.
“Obviously in the passing game and vision, just the timing of things needs to improve, and the confidence in the people around him needs to improve as well.”
2. Penalty Problems
Through the first four and a half games, the Cats kept their cool as others committed penalties. In the last six quarters, UK has been flagged too often. Against Texas A&M and South Carolina, Kentucky committed 19 penalties for 167 yards.
“The situation affected us at times and that can’t happen if you wanna win consistently. We have to address that and part of it is the aggressive fouls that sometimes are gonna happen. But the pre-snap penalties of that nature we can’t have.”
The pre-snap penalties are unacceptable, but he doesn’t mind it if the flags are the result of aggressive play.
“Some of the best teams I’ve been on were highly penalized because of the aggressive nature of the team. I’m not saying I want that, obviously you can’t have some of that, but we’ll continue to work through it.”
On the other end, it’s obvious to see how often Josh Allen is held, only for the officials to keep the flags in their pockets. He can share his concerns with the SEC, but cannot share them publicly.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss what they tell me or I will be fined,” he said.
3. Welcome to the SEC, Chris Oats
Oats was spectacular in his first start. The true freshman had four tackles, 1.5 for loss and a sack during the first half, but he did have a few freshmen moments.
“Chris is one of those guys, he’s got a great attitude,” said Stoops. “He came off and he was telling one of the coaches, ‘That is a little more physical than I thought,’ and he’s a big physical guy. We said, ‘Welcome.’
4. Searching for Wide Receivers
Production from the wide receivers has been sporadic. Some of that falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, some on the coaches, but it’s also the wide receivers’ responsibility to get open. This week he’s looking for playmakers to emerge. One of those might be Ahmad Wagner.
“He is a guy that’s intriguing, that could step up as well,” Stoops said. “He is a guy that you think about because we’ve been working with him and as we go good-against-good, he has that great size and he can go up over people at times and create that play that we’re looking for.
“If you look at Texas A&M going into that game, Clemson was in the same situation we were. They just went up two different times and just simply went up over them and made great individual plays. Otherwise they had the same problem with three-and-outs, and we know how good they are offensively. We do got to look for options.”
Zy’Aire Hughes is another player that could see more opportunities. His speed turned into a spectacular touchdown against Murray State. Hughes’ speed could be used to help create more home run plays in the second half of the season.
5. Incredible Defense
Mark Stoops could not be more proud of his defense after their performance in College Station. The best part? There’s room to grow.
“I was really impressed. Coming out of there I thought our guys played exceptionally well. After watching the film I was very encouraged. It was arguably one of the better games since I’ve been here, the way we played defensively. And there’s still things we can do to get better.”
The difference with this defense is experience. They’re seeing the ball well and anticipating the action before it happens. Stoops is noticing it on the practice field and in the film room.
“They reiterate the messages sometimes before I get to it, which is a good thing.”