Slow starts have plagued Kentucky’s two SEC road losses. The problem has also reared its ugly head after bye weeks in the Mark Stoops era. After the first of two 2019 bye weeks and the Cats’ third straight loss, Kentucky’s head coach challenged his leaders to rise to the occasion.
“Coach touched again on routine and commitment,” Landon Young said. “Are we just going through a routine or are we coming out here and committing ourself to the sport?
“He really put a challenge on the older guys and even some of the other guys on the team to come out here, be a leader, start speaking up. Everybody can be an action leader and go out here and work hard, but who can be a vocal leader, step up and start getting energy instead of the coaches trying to initiate it the whole time.”
On the SEC teleconference Stoops said he saw the players respond right away at Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s not hard getting the team focused. I noticed it this week coming back off a couple days off. They were very focused and energized.” he said. “Our team has a lot of pride. They take pride in doing things right and being prepared.”
In the practices before the the road trips, Young could not see a significant difference in the way his teammates prepared. Even though it did not show during the week, it quickly manifested after turnovers immediately put the Cats in a hole.
“We had good weeks of practice. I wouldn’t say we had the most energy. I wouldn’t say it was any different than the week before Florida, it’s just things happened in the game. We had adversity and we just didn’t turn it around and fix it. We just let adversity keep kicking us in the butt,” Young said.
For previous teams, slow starts have been somewhat of a theme after bye weeks. Under Stoops is 3-3 after a bye and 2-4 ATS. Most recently, UK won a sloppy 14-7 slugfest against Vanderbilt and was blown away 45-7 at Mississippi State. While most fans are concerned about who will play quarterback after UK’s 2019 bye, Young wants his group to set the tone early.
“That’s where guys like me, Stenberg and Drake, we’ve been around the program a long time. Of course the big guys up front, we lead the team no matter what,” Young said. “It’s really on us to start off, get our position group fired up, get them full of energy and guys can start feeding off of that.”
Trends aside, if the loss at South Carolina doesn’t get this team fired up to play Saturday, what will?
“That South Carolina game is the worst I’ve been a part of. I didn’t do a very good job. You can’t look back. You’ve gotta look forward,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.
“If they love the game, they’ll be ready to go on Saturday night. They’re embarrassed, I was embarrassed, but it’s time to move forward.”