CRAWFORD | For Stoops and UK, time to move forward with young ta - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | For Stoops and UK, time to move forward with young talent

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops unveiled a two-deep depth chart that features 14 true or redshirt freshmen before his first pregame news conference of the 2014 season and there was no small amount of murmuring.

There shouldn't be.

It's time. Stoops now has piled up two recruiting classes with rankings heretofore unseen at UK. Those players are still young, inexperienced, green, pick your adjective. They're also going to play, and learn. Everybody talks about the talent Stoops has recruited, and the future. For a lot of these young players, the future starts now.

Four true freshmen at wide receiver. Four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line. Matt Elam, a 6-7, 375 of him, on the defensive front. "Boom" Williams, a 5-9 200-pound burner, listed at No. 1 kickoff returner.

"I think they just need to go through it," Stoops said Monday. "We put them in pressure situations all through camp.  We've just got to throw them out there and see what they can do. I expect them to go out and play well."

Facing UT-Martin in their opener at Commonwealth Stadium is an ideal opportunity for that. Playing host to Ohio at home a week later is a chance to build on the lessons learned in their opener.

For once, the schedule sets up nicely for UK. A trip to Florida in the third game isn't ideal, but the young players will get an up-close look at the SEC.

They'll come home to a pivotal game, against Vanderbilt in Lexington. Win that, and the SEC losing streak will be over, and the stage will be set for the rest of the season. Lose it, and it could be an uphill climb, with South Carolina visiting.

Stoops says he's looking forward to opening the season at home. UK hasn't done that since 2007, which not coincidentally, also is the last time it opened a season with back-to-back wins. Stoops said the start of this season will be a key.

"Just playing at home in the opener is exciting to me," Stoops said. "I know our fans are ready to go. We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support.  We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans.  I think it's real important, I do. I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well."

Stoops knows he'll see emotion out of his young players. And he's likely resigned to a certain number of mistakes. But if they can get some confidence and experience in these first two games, and hang in there through some of the tougher SEC battles, they could be coming into their own at season's end, when two rivals await, both on the road. The Wildcats should be competitive with Tennessee, and get a bye week to prepare for Louisville, which will be coming off a game at Notre Dame.

But in the early games? Stoops said he's eager to see how some of his talented newcomers will react to the emotion and speed of the game.

"That's part of the unknown that I say we'll see and how you respond from year to year," he said. "Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that.

"That's why you have to get out there and play.  There's no substitution for experience.  You got to get them out there, get them on the field, and get them playing.  We tried to put them in as many game-like situations as we could.  We try to prepare them the best we can with all different situations.  Had a good camp.  Put them through a lot of tests.  We'll see how they go play."

Stoops is right. It's time to get the talent onto the field. The Wildcats should be able to handle business in their first two games. And the experience these players get through the season could give UK a much different look heading into their final two games.

"We've improved," Stoops said. "Our football team has worked hard.  We'll see where we're at. I know we're going to play better. It will be good to see these young guys get out there and play."

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