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Reviewing Year 2 and Previewing the Future of the Football Cats

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In some ways Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium epitomized the 2014 Kentucky Football Season. The game started out with such promise, as Kentucky not only took the early lead, but was dominating the proceedings in all three facets of the game. The defense was holding UL’s offense stagnant, the offense was moving the ball and the special teams was controlling field position. It was like the early part of the UK Football season, when things seemed almost too good to be true…two SEC wins at home and a road game in the Swamp that not only nearly broke a national-record streak, but also could have put UK in the lead in the SEC East. UK fans would have been forgiven if at the end of the First Quarter, they dreamed of not only a UL win, but a Bobby Petrino squash, with the Cards limping to a massive defeat and the Cats dancing to a Bowl game. It felt like a new era was once again upon us.

But, as with the regular season as a whole, reality crashed down soon after. The Cards showcased themselves to be the better team and while UK did not give up, they were playing as the decided underdog throughout the rest of the game. Just as in the regular season, when UK played with #1 Mississippi State, scored consistently against Georgia and put forth a strong defensive effort at Missouri, the Cats made plays and had stretches where Louisville was completely beatable. But then there were other stretches, where UK looked overwhelmed (as in the Tennessee/LSU games and on Defense vs Georgia), unable to stop the UL Wide Receivers and with an offense that was unable to even get minimal yardage. Just as the season could have swung with one play (the 4th Down at Florida, the onside kick vs Mississippi State), the Louisville game gave UK its painful individual plays (I will think about the Marcus McWilson drop for a long time), but in the end the result was the same….a loss to our rival and another year without a Bowl.

So how do we grade this season as a whole? Overall, I do believe that this was a positive season for UK Football and Mark Stoops. Going into the year, I thought UK would win 5 games and they were the exact five that they won. The schedule was the “hard” one of the two-year rotation (I prefer the “toss-up” games in Commonwealth next year when UT/UL/Florida/Missouri are in Lexington and Georgia/Miss State/South Carolina are on the road) and Kentucky handled itself well. They got the one underdog win (versus South Carolina), had a legitimate shot to pull off two upsets over ranked teams (Miss State and Louisville), were competitive in another (Missouri) and had three clunkers (LSU/Tennessee/Georgia on defense). I firmly believe if UK had simply made it a game in Knoxville, we would all have positive vibes on the year, but that performance against the Vols stung a bit. Still, the offense was improved, the defense handled itself well for the most part and we saw young guys get better. The season was by no means perfect…the Air Raid really wasn’t as “Air Raidy” as we had hoped, the Secondary was exposed big time in the second half of the season and the Offensive Line is still a major concern in the years to come. But, I believed the trajectory for Mark Stoops at UK was this….survive year one and recruit…get better in year two and recruit…bowl game in year three. This season was still a step in that direction and followed the plan, thusI do consider it a success.

So now what is next? Going into the Offseason, I think there are Four Major Questions that Have to Be Answered Before Next Season:

1. Who is the New Offensive Coordinator?

This one is the most immediate, possibly the most telling and almost certainly the most important. I liked Neal Brown and still think he did a good job here. He took over an offense with no playmakers and made it respectable and through recruiting and development, ready to potentially make a leap forward next year. Now there will be a clean start (which might not be a bad thing from a fan perspective) and the question is who Mark Stoops is going to get to replace him. Will he go with another “Air Raid” guy to continue the offensive system that has been in place? Or does he go in a different direction all together and put in a system with which he is more comfortable. I have heard four names associated with the job at this point:

Lincoln Riley: ECU Offensive Coordinator

Chris Hatcher: Murray St Head Coach

Eddie Gran: Cincinnati Offensive Coordinator

Tim Beck: Former Nebraska Offensive Coordinator

The first three guys are clearly “Air Raid” guys and all will run systems similar to Neal Brown. Riley is the hottest name and from my perspective, would be the best get. He can light up the scoreboard and fans will love his offense. Hatcher is a UK guy who is very intelligent and has a bright future. He is very young and could step in and not miss a beat. I know less about Gran, just heard his name this afternoon for the first time, but know he worked with Stoops at Florida State. And Beck is a Youngstown guy who hired Vince Marrow at Nebraska, but also runs a different type of offense. We shall see who he picks, but more importantly is this question….is Stoops an Air-Raid guy or not? We will know for sure when this hire is made and the offense (and recruiting) will derive from whatever is that decision.

2. Can Year Three Recruiting Stay Strong?

Stoops has been golden in recruiting and there is no reason to suspect it won’t continue. He has a great base of a class already in place and has some elite guys waiting to make their final decisions. His goal is just to finalize everyone and then hope to bring in the final pieces and maybe one superstar (Damien Harris). The one worry is that some of the lack of competitive games might have an impact on the final part of this class (and maybe more importantly) the development of the 2016 class. I am not particularly worried as Stoops has sold others with less than what he has now, but it will be important to keep the momentum going. If he gets a Top 30 class (which looks likely still), it will be a tremendous accomplishment and can finally give the depth this program needs to begin its upward march.

3. Is Patrick Towles the Guy Going Forward?

This would not have even seemed to be a debate a few weeks ago, but Towles struggled in three of the last four games and may have had his worst performance of the year versus Louisville. I still think Patrick has NFL potential and has everything you could possibly want from a Quarterback (big arm, mobility, large stature)…but his decision-making has to get better in the offseason. As the year went on, he got “happy feet” and rarely went through his progressions without first taking off and scrambling. Part of that was due to the so-so Offensive Line play, but part was also just an unwillingness to stay put in the pocket and make the right decisions. Patrick can make all the throws but he has to get better on the short timing routes that are the key to Air Raid success. If not, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker are waiting to try and make this a competition. Again, the decision as to the offensive philosophy will play a key role in who the Quarterback will be, but I believe that a competition, whether truly completely “open” or not, will exist in Spring practice.

4. Can the Players Individually Get Better?

This seems like a simple question but it is extremely important. The level of athleticism in the Freshman/Sophomore classes at UK is tremendous and unparalleled in the last decade. But now these guys have to get bigger/stronger/faster and most importantly, better. The young receivers have to learn to run and finish routes, the Offensive Lineman have to get bigger, the Defensive backs have to be good enough to get on the field. Stoops has brought int he talent, now they have to become good enough to play and excel. We see flashes of brilliance from many but there hasn’t been a complete package of a year from any of the Stoops young recruits (with the possible exception of Boom Williams). This is the most important offseason of the Stoops era.

I believe Mark Stoops and this program are headed in the right direction. I think Kentucky has made great strides and has upped the talent level/facilities/coaching to where it needs to compete. But next season will be the most important of the Stoops era. If the Cats improve, make a Bowl Game, and rise farther, the sky could be the limit. If they don’t improve, or worse digress, don’t go to a Bowl Game and waste the favorable home schedule and the opening of the renovated Commonwealth, then one starts to get worried. Recruiting, fan interest and player belief hinges on what happens next season. I think they will get it done, but this offseason will be huge in making it happen.

Article written by Matt Jones

19 Comments for Reviewing Year 2 and Previewing the Future of the Football Cats



  1. Casper
    10:43 pm November 30, 2014 Permalink

    nice info update, Matt.



  2. dudewheresmygillispie
    10:54 pm November 30, 2014 Permalink

    Towels is not the guy. He proved not to have the mental edge to do the job and isn’t long term solution. Barker needs to step in and win the job. I sure hope Barker is prepared and hasn’t wasted this Fall. The OC hire will say a lot and is critical for the long term success.



  3. wildcat502
    11:00 pm November 30, 2014 Permalink

    Sept. 5 Ragin’ Cajuns Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns – Home – WIN
    Sept. 12 Gamecocks at South Carolina Gamecocks – Away – TOSS
    Sept. 19 Gators Florida Gators – Home – TOSS
    Sept. 26 Tigers Missouri Tigers – Home – WIN
    Oct. 3 Colonels Eastern Kentucky Colonels – Home – WIN
    Oct. 10 — Open Date — —
    Oct. 15 Tigers Auburn Tigers – Home – LOSS
    Oct. 24 Bulldogs at Mississippi State Bulldogs – Away – LOSS
    Oct. 31 Volunteers Tennessee Volunteers – Home TOSS
    Nov. 7 Bulldogs at Georgia Bulldogs – Away LOSS
    Nov. 14 Commodores at Vanderbilt Commodores – Away WIN
    Nov. 21 49ers Charlotte 49ers- Home WIN
    Nov. 28 Cardinals Louisville Cardinals- Home WIN
    Dec. 5 SEC SEC Championship Game
    Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA TBA —

    I can see 6 wins, 3 losses and 3 toss games. So we can go anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3. I can see us beating Florida at home and Mississippi State loses a lot of players, so beating them is a possibility. So I`ll say we`ll go 8-4 next season.



    • 3 fan
      11:20 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

      Couple questions:
      How can you say that Missouri is a win? They are playing in the SEC championship this week and beat the life out of us a couple weeks ago.
      South Carolina on the road? Toss?

      I see 5 wins again. Cajuns, EKU, Vandy, Charlotte and I’m calling Florida. Toss up being Looserville, and Tennessee. Losses being USC on road, Missouri at home, Auburn at home, MSU on road, Georgia on road



  4. maconvolfan
    11:31 pm November 30, 2014 Permalink

    Chris Hatcher is from Macon. His brother is the coach of the local Catholic high school. Also, Eddie Gran coached at UT under Kiffin. So, yeah.



  5. Billy Mays Here
    12:34 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    I pray that we get an OC with a pair of stones who will make us an aggressive offense that forces defenses to defend US — not us reacting to what the defense wants to do. Lincoln Riley would be a homerun. A pipe dream, as he would never leave his dad, is Baylor’s Kendal Briles. KB is one of the best recruiters there is, too.

    I like Hatcher as he would also be a solid choice. Eddie Gran would be a bad move, but Tim Beck would be absolutely horrible for UK and the fan base. Wow. I’m speechless after reading this. If Beck is the new guy, it will be solely based on him now needing a job and cronyism from his Youngstown connection; and not what is best for the team, current personnel, and the university. I can’t support that. It really takes the optimism I held for UK’s future and crushes it.



  6. Katya
    2:08 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    Taking somebody from FCS and throwing them into the SEC? No thank you. Give me ECU’s guy.



    • Time Expired
      9:27 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

      I agree with you ECU has been a load for anyone they play with this guy calling the plays.



  7. cats42301
    3:20 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    I don’t when Patrick anointed himself with the nickname Patty_Ice but he has made a joke of that! He was anything but ice, fumbling under pressure (early season), not throwing the ball away instead of taking a huge sack (all season), zeroing in on one receiver and missing WIDE open WR’s on other parts of the field, dancing around in the pocket doing the Highlands 2 step or whatever you want to call what most call happy feet. Commentators on SEC network who were big on him going in to the Florida game, later refusing to use the nickname because it was so absurd. In my view he did not progress one iota this season, and when you think about it he is really just finishing up his junior year. No wonder the staff went with Whitlow and dead arm Smith at QB last year and had Towles RS. He looks the part of an SEC QB but so far that is about all. Sorry but if your coach can call you out like Stoops did, I believe I can as well. It’s just a fact that Towles is not the man. I hope Barker can live up to the hype! He definitely deserves his shot if #14 doesn’t improve.



  8. cats42301
    4:37 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    As a long standing UK football fan I have to look at this and laugh; Wouldn’t it be GREAT if UK had the same “problems” that the poor ol Nebraska Cornhuskers are having? Having to fire your head coach after 7 seasons where the head coach had at least 9 WINS EVERY season, because he didn’t get you to a BCS bowl, bad out of conference record and only winning half of your bowl games over that same span. If Stoops does that in the next 7 years we would name the stadium after him, put up a statue of him outside the west end of the stadium and probably give him a lifetime contract and make him the highest paid coach in college football. But when you’re Bo Pellini and Nebraska all you get is FIRED! And they say we expect too much in basketball. It’s all relative.



  9. RealCatsFan
    7:14 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    I was driving home from the game listening to Matt’s postgame show, and it was mentioned that one of the OC candidate’s was actually at the game Saturday with a UK credentials pass for the sidelines. I can’t remember who they said that was, but one would think that they would have the outside edge for the OC position if they already had them there at the game before Neal had even announced he was leaving. Can anyone who was listening recall who that was?

    I also wonder if Towles knew that Brown was leaving, and if that had any effect on his game.



  10. dandycat
    7:45 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    What about Kurt Roper out of UF? Wasn’t he the QB coach when Woodson was here? He runs a spread offense and would probably have some nice recruiting ties?



  11. etstit2
    7:49 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    We redshirted every offensive and defensive lineman (except Elam), and also redshirted every freshman linebacker. On top of that, we redshirted 2 sophomore WRs and a freshman WR (snodgrass). Most or all of these guys could have contributed this year, or at least competed and added depth at their position, but for the better of the program, they were redshirted. A redshirt year for these guys is huge. When the guys are resting/preparing for a game week, those guys can hit the weight room and put extra work in. That helps those big guys on the line develop their bodies that much faster.

    Please have a little patience folks. I think we will see a HUGE jump from this year to next. I agree with matt- this offseason will be huge on the recruiting/player development front. I have no reason to believe this staff wont have the players putting in the work and recruiting.

    GO CATS



  12. msnthrop
    8:19 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    The Nebraska coach is interesting, the 4 stars already committed to UN are from Colorado so maybe they wouldn’t want to go as far as KY, but there are several 4 and 5 star recruits considering Nebraska, maybe some of them are connected to this coach and could be persuaded to come to the bluegrass. UN also has a couple of 3 stars committed from Georgia, maybe they could be flipped? Whoever it is I think they should be chosen primarily for their recruiting prowess, without players who are good it doesn’t matter what the system is…



  13. cats paw
    9:21 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    Hiring a coach because of his recruiting ability is the WORSE thing possible this program could do. They need to hire a coach that can coach and the players will follow. Joker was hired for his great recruiting ability! Michigan and Florida have pretty darn good recruits…..it’s the coaching people!
    A good coach can win with 3 star recruits. For UK to ever get multiple 4 and 5 stars they need to build a 100,000 seat arena. These kids that visit Tenn or Alabama arenas and then come here laugh at us. Just like the kids that come to our basketball program, the star kids want to be seen and feel like the big dudes on campus.



    • Time Expired
      9:36 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

      Cats you say some of the dumbest things I ever heard. Why do you bother coming on here since you are not a UK fan.



  14. Time Expired
    9:34 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    Towles has played his way into a backup position. If Barker is no better than Towles then UK has no quarterback. Towles had horrible games the last five of the season, no field vision, horrible judgement when he had plenty of time to throw, and just was not a real leader. I really had hopes for him early but he regressed so badly that no way is he SEC caliber.



    • b-dub
      10:04 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

      That is exactly why we need a coach and not just a recruiter.
      I don’t even know who our QB coach is, but apparently he hasn’t been effective with Towles, and allowed him to completely lose confidence in himself. I don’t think Neal Brown was half as bad as he appeared, because Towles was just not reading the defense correctly and getting happy feet and tucking and running way too often. The coaches have to be able to coach up the players to achieve their potential or we will never progress. Talent alone definitely isn’t going to win in the SEC. We have to have players that become playmakers at this level and coaches that can put them into position to make those plays.



  15. G_Money
    10:03 am December 1, 2014 Permalink

    I really can’t understand what’s gone down with Towles. Like other posters above, he showed so much potential and flashes of brilliance early in the season, but these last few games, he looked like a middle school QB wanna be. Much of being a winner breaks down to “heart” because at this level, there isn’t really a ton of difference in talent. I think he doesn’t have the heart that is needed to be as good as he could be. Very unfortunate. Now comes Barker’s turn.