While Mark Stoops typically speaks to the media a few times per week during the season – once on Monday afternoon for a weekly press conference and another post-practice session on Thursday evening – the Kentucky head coach usually uses his weekly call-in radio show on Monday evenings to kick back and relax a bit.
During the hour-long show, Stoops usually opens up about his team’s performance from the previous week, previews Kentucky’s upcoming opponent, and answers questions via phone and social media from the Big Blue Nation.
In a shortened bye week appearance with Darren Headrick, Stoops discussed the team’s disappointing offensive effort, how things can improve, and broke down the solid defensive performance, among other topics.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Defense is good, offense is (very) bad
After watching film from Kentucky’s loss to Georgia, Stoops was impressed with his team’s defensive effort, but stressed that the offense simply isn’t doing enough to win games right now.
“Watching the film, you saw so many good things on the defensive side of the ball. We gave up a couple drives, but that’s some of the fewest points Georgia has scored in a lot of years,” Stoops said. “We played really solid and hard, but offensively we’re unable to create explosive plays. We have to continue to do that. As opposed to a week earlier, the run game gave us some physical runs, we got some explosive runs to move the chains. We’ve got to be able to create some explosive plays down the field.
“Give Georgia credit, they’re hard to do that against. They either cover you up, create pressure, or both, and that’s where we fell short. I thought we put together a few good drives, but we’ve got to put the ball in the end zone. We can’t settle for three. And turning it over late in the game when we had a good drive going, that’s been an achilles heel as well, turning the ball over in inopportune times.”
Joey Gatewood was “okay”
How did Joey Gatewood look in his first start at Kentucky? Just “okay,” showing off both good and bad.
“He did okay, he did some good things,” Stoops said. “He’ll get better with opportunities and with reps. There were times when he looked very good, and there were times when he needs to sit in there, go through his progressions, and get the ball down the field.”
Where does the offense go from here?
It’s obvious the Kentucky offense has to do more to move the football and put points on the board, but how? Stoops says there are issues across the board and pointing fingers at any single thing is “senseless.”
There’s room for improvement everywhere.
“A lot of things that go into it,” he said. “Executing across the board, whether it’s getting protection, whether it’s the quarterback going through his reads, stepping up in the pocket when they’re uncomfortable and there are guys around him. There are times we’re escaping when you don’t have to, there’s times we can step up in the pocket and deliver it, a couple drops that have stalled drives.
“All of the above, there are a lot of things we can do better. It’s senseless to point fingers at any one person or certain thing. There are several things we need to improve on to create explosive plays.”
As for the receivers, the Kentucky coaching staff plans to get more creative in hopes of getting players open.
“A big thing is creating different looks and stacks, bunches, motions,” he said. “We had some success in the short intermediate passing game [against Georgia]. We created some space and some third down conversions. But there are down the field plays that we need to create. We need to work on getting guys free, then hitting some shots down field.”
No injury updates
Looking for updates on Terry Wilson, Quinton Bohanna, and the other injured Wildcats? You won’t find them yet, as the team did not practice on Monday.
As things ramp up later in the week, updates will be provided.
“There’s really no updates because we didn’t practice today,” Stoops said. “They needed a day to heal up. We were not on the practice field, so we’ll know more later in the week.”
Chris Rodriguez continues to be a bright spot
While the offense as a whole is a mess, Chris Rodriguez continues to look the part of Kentucky’s long-term star running back option, rushing for 108 yards against a Georgia defense that holds opponents to just 65 rushing yards per game
“No doubt [he’s a physical runner],” Stoops said. “Chris has been that way, he was extremely physical and gave us an opportunity to move the football, have our chances. We were physical in the run game, he ran very hard, got some good yards against one of the best defenses in the country, if not the best.”
The defense can do more
As disappointing the offense has been, Stoops is pleased with his defense’s recent effort, especially this past week against Georgia.
Still, though, there’s work to be done for the unit to reach its full potential.
“There’s still more in there for us, to be honest,” Stoops said. “We could play better, really. I appreciated the energy they played with this past week, we needed it. They created some turnovers, had an opportunity to get one or two more. They’re playing with great energy, they’re focused, really played much harder this past week. They execute better.
“There are still a few things we could tidy up, but overall, giving up 14 to a really good Georgia team, that’s not a bad effort defensively.”
Younger players will get more opportunities
With the veteran skill players not making a strong enough impact on the offensive side of the ball, Stoops will look to some of the young playmakers to step up moving forward.
Some of those individuals? Izayah Cummings, Bryce Oliver and Michael Drennen.
“Definitely going to continue to work with Izayah [Cummings]. He can make tough, competitive catches, he’s getting better. We’ll see if he can give us a spark,” Stoops said. “Same with Bryce [Oliver], he’s getting healthier and healthier each week, getting better, running faster. This off week can help him get back closer to where he was in camp before the injury.
“We need to take a good look at some of these guys. A guy like Michael Drennen who has some speed and some juice, he can make you miss. He would be a guy we need to continue to look at.”
Josh Ali is a great leader for the offense
The lone bright spot at the wide receiver position this year? Senior standout Josh Ali, who leads the team in receiving by a significant margin.
“Josh, first and foremost, he’s been a really good leader,” Stoops said. “At times, he’s felt he could do better, he’s owned it. He wants to do better for his team, he’s really worked hard. He plays hard, works hard to get open, and we’re trying to get the ball in his hands. Overall, he’s done a really good job for us.”
Replacing Lynn Bowden Jr. has been a challenge
Kentucky’s offense may have been one-dimensional last season, but they still managed to be explosive with Lynn Bowden in the backfield.
As expected, replacing that production has been an issue for the Wildcats.
“A year ago, as one-dimensional as we were, we averaged something like 35 points per game down the stretch,” Stoops said. “Part of that is who we’re playing, part of that is on us. You have to look at a guy like Lynn, he was dynamic and a fierce competitor. He made yards when they weren’t there, that’s part of it. Losing Lynn, he was one of the most dynamic players we’ve ever had here at the University of Kentucky.”
Chris Oats’ presence was “inspirational”
For the first time since his medical emergency earlier this year, Chris Oats returned to Kroger Field and watched Kentucky play with his team, an “inspirational” moment for those within the program.
“Yeah, it was a really big boost. It was great to see Chris,” Stoops said. “Our players have been hearing about him, but they were unsure what it was like. For them to see him, it was very inspirational and motivational to us. It was really good for us. We’re going to continue to say prayers, be with and support his family.
“We still have great confidence that he’s going to walk back into that locker room one day.”