When the media met with Mark Stoops after today’s practice, he was not the same fiery, energetic head coach we heard this morning on Kentucky Sports Radio. He said today’s practice was good, but I don’t think he felt very good about it.
First, he said “good” five times in the first 40 seconds. That’s too many good’s to be true. When further pressed for details on who performed well, he couldn’t come up with a name, “No, not really.” He said, “I just felt like it was a better practice…What you’d expect.”
His voice was stern, and sometimes monotone. He was stiff, his face red and his jaw clinched. This wasn’t the same jovial Mark Stoops we witnessed frequently in the early weeks of camp.
I can understand why the team he’s hesitant to say the Cats flat out didn’t cut it today. This weekend’s night practice was universally praised, and his defense has been dealt a bad hand with important injuries.
I can also understand why his team has been dragging their feet: they’re ready to play the game. Two-and-a-half weeks of hitting each other is transforming into monotony. “You gotta hate the other guy, and it’s hard to hate your brother on the team,” said redshirt freshman linebacker Nico Firios.
Stoops liked the energy he saw over the weekend, but it’s difficult to replicate the gameday atmosphere without creating a unique atmosphere, like the one in the dark on Saturday night. “You can get that in practice, but really when you’re playing a different team is when you really get that energy and excitement,” Firios said. “I’ve missed the energy.”
Hopefully that will all change when Stoops begins ULL install on Wednesday. Even if they aren’t hitting a guy on another team, they’ll be hitting somebody wearing a ULL guy’s jersey.
The dog days of Fall Camp are nearing closure. Even though they might not be ending perfectly, they’ve taken great strides. If there’s anything they’ve learned, it’s this:
“They understand very clearly what’s acceptable and what’s not. You only have so many learning opportunities, you either get them corrected, get them rectified, or things will stay the same. We’ll see. I certainly think we learned something from Saturday morning and from Saturday night. Hopefully we’ll carry that through the rest of the season because I can promise you there’s going to be some other times this year when we’re beat down, we’re beat up, and we have to dig down and go play some football.”
It’s been a rough patch, but there’s no reason to be discouraged. The coaches should be, that’s why they the get paid the big bucks.
If you don’t believe me, pay attention to his body language in the video below.
Josh Forrest was “sick as a dog” over the last few days, but luckily he was good to go today. His absence was felt schematically, but maybe more importantly in his role as a team leader. Ryan Flannigan was also back today, wearing a red “no contact” jersey to prevent any further setbacks to his dinged up shoulder.
Special Teams Will Be Infinitely Improved
To end on a positive note, we are going to see some amazing things from the Special Teams unit this year. Where the Cats have built depth, the redshirt freshmen will use the opportunity to show the coaches what they’re made of.
Mike Edwards and Darius West have been great, but the veterans in front of them have too much game experience. Stoops already agrees, because they do the little stuff in film that catches your attention and makes a difference on gameday.
Nico Firios may not yet be the tactician that’s needed to start at middle linebacker, but he has the head busting mentality to WOW on Special Teams. All the physical evidence I needed today was the cut on forehead (and his overt constant semi-angry mentality).
Oh, and that Sihiem King kid (to make it easy, you can just call him Sci-Fi), he’s going to be a phenom in the return game. Stoops hasn’t solidified the spots, but you better believe Sci-Fi is going to drop some jaws.