Florida vs. Alabama
Kentucky’s first two road games were at two of the most difficult places to play in the country. Against Florida, they looked like deer staring down headlights. That wasn’t the case against Alabama.
“We were in the right position. Guys were executing for the most part,” Stoops said. “We need to get things fixed and play with greater urgency, but overall, guys were in the right position, straining to make plays. We weren’t just blowing assignments because bad things were happening. They got lined up and made them beat us. We didn’t beat ourselves.”
They didn’t take advantage of every opportunity, but Stoops was encouraged by what he saw on Saturday.
“Night and Day” Difference in the Defense
Early in the season, the defense’s inexperience reared its ugly head. The coaching staff had to find out what the players were capable of and how to put in them in the best position to succeed. Now it’s starting to show. “We’re growing and we’re getting better.”
There are two clear reasons why it’s worked: they’re executing and not beating themselves. A third reason is the increased physicality at the line of scrimmage.
“This game is about being physical and that’s where — I thought our approach was right. Play the game the right way, go out and line up and do what we can do and play the best we can.” Stoops said the postgame compliments from Alabama, “is a testament to what we are trying to do as we try to move forward.”
New Kids on the Block
Sorry for the boy band reference, but this trio is making moves up the depth chart.
Bunchy Stallings was moved to an “OR” at right guard this week. Stallings and Logan Stenberg were inserted int the rotation seamlessly, despite the position’s difficulties.
“Inside it takes some experience because there’s a lot of things that happen very quickly inside those tackles. That experience really helps you, but they’re both big and strong guys. Put that with Toth and you’re getting a really nice rotation in there.”
Eli Brown only had five tackles on the season, but left Tuscaloosa with eight. “He’s not like a fish out of water so much. He’s learning how to play within the system. He’s always had great talent, he can run, but he needs to get more physical.”
Correcting Johnson’s Fumbles
Ball security has been an issue for UK’s quarterbacks all season. They need to find the right balance for Stephen Johnson. “He’s gotta feel comfortable, he’s gotta execute and feel loose, but he’s gotta be smart as well.”
When Mark Stoops said early in the press conference it would be “more of the same” during this week’s prep, it raised an eyebrow or two. Later he clarified that “more of the same” meant relentless ball security drills.
“We could not have coached it anymore than we did a week ago and it’s gonna be the same way this week,” Stoops said.
If you thought those fumbles against Bama were critical, it’s exponentially more important against Vanderbilt. Kentucky is last in the league at -7 in turnover margin, where Vandy is near the top at +3.
Jordan Jones is “Wired Differently”
Before the season started, I was warned about Jones: “He’s a psychopath.” Mark Stoops has a more gentle way to describe the SEC’s second-leading tackler: “He’s wired differently.”
It’s great on the field, but it can be difficult for the coaching staff. If he needs to be admonished, you can’t run him. He’ll run on the treadmill for an hour and not stop talking. It’s forced Stoops to get creative.
“You know he’s from my high school so I’m allowed to fight him. I need some help, but don’t worry. We’ll lock him in a room and I’ll hold my own against him.”
Stoops seemed to be joking but I believe that’s just how conflict resolution works in Youngstown.
Mike Edwards was Saturday’s MVP
The sophomore safety led the team in tackles with 12. Stoops praised Edwards’ play after the game, but after watching film he wanted to double down.
“He really did some very good things. He has very good instincts and plays very hard. He’s playing at a high level right now and I’m very pleased with the way he’s playing.”