CRAWFORD | Can Stoops press the reset button for UK before facing Louisville?
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says his team is energized and rested after its first week off in eight weeks, and says he expects a good effort as the Wildcats look to end a five-game losing streak and capture a bowl berth at rival Louisville on Saturday.
Monday, November 24th 2014, 3:42 pm EST by
Monday, November 24th 2014, 8:11 pm EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — How bad did the University of Kentucky football team need a week off?
In the month of November, only one team in the Football Bowl Subdivision — Eastern Michigan — gave up more than the 44.3 points per game than UK allowed. The competition was good, certainly. But the defense was not.
The Wildcats have lost five straight games by an average of 18.6 points. They are 14-point underdogs to No. 24 Louisville in Saturday's noon meeting at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, where U of L has lost just twice in 28 games under current coach Bobby Petrino who, incidentally, is 9-0 in his career in Senior Day games.
Seems like a good time to regroup. UK coach Mark Stoops is hoping he was able to press the reset button on a few bad habits, while infusing some enthusiasm back into his team with a bowl bid still on the line at Louisville — the site of UK's last road win, in 2010, 21 road games ago.
“We're excited and rested and ready to get to this challenge,” Stoops said. “. . . I think the whole staff and everybody's excited about it. We talked about it after the last game. It's a beautiful thing, as we have this opportunity in front of us to get the sixth victory against a big rival. A lot of people would believe in this state that it's the most important game of the year.”
UK's biggest problem over the past month has been defense. Yes, it has played some really good teams. But its tackling has seemed to atrophy over the course of the season, and injuries left holes for opponents to exploit.
UK gave up five yards a carry in November and 225 yards per game. Only 18 teams in America gave up more yardage in November
For Stoops, a defensive coach, this has been particularly frustrating. So one of the things he did during the bye week was take his team back to basics.
“It was just good to get out,” Stoops said of the team's off week. “After a couple of days rest, get out and do some good, competitive work. Get back to some fundamentals. Do some things that we do through camp where we go good against good, do some one-on-ones. We do some half-lines where we just technique-wise need to et better sometimes through the season. You get so enamored with the Xs and Os and assignments that you drift from some of the basics. We obviously try not to. We constantly have individual (drills) in certain things. But it was good to spend more time with that last week.”
After a disappointing showing on both sides of the ball at Tennessee, the question this week will be whether the time off and the prospect of a bowl berth will have the Wildcats any more ready when they face Louisville, which has run for nearly 200 yards per game in November.
“I think they do a very good job,” Stoops said of U of L. “I don't think it's any secret that Coach Petrino does a nice job of setting up his run game and scheming the run game, not so much just like some teams just are going to line up and pound you with certain run games. They scheme their run game really well. They have some really good boots and play-actions off everything, and they keep you off balance. I think that is the key to any good play-caller is keeping you off balance.”
UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown's challenge will be to keep U of L's defense off-balance himself. The good news for UK is that U of L has struggled more against the pass than the run, and sophomore QB Patrick Towles has shown that, when he gets into a rhythm, he can move his team and put points on the board. The problem has been that he hasn't been able to find much rhythm in the second half of the season.
“They play very hard,” Stoops said of Louisville's defense. “I think if you look at Coach (Todd) Grantham (Louisville's defensive coordinator) and what they've done defensively, I think in certain ways may be simplified maybe. Their guys are playing very hard.”
Beyond that, Stoops seems to have no interest in fanning the rivalry flames. He only has time to worry about his team, and trying to shore it up to be ready for an emotional game.
“We're trying to create it to be a bigger and better rivalry,” Stoops said. “I think that comes from us having to play better football and winning more games and putting ourselves into a position where we can get this game on a more national scale. But it's important. It's important to people in this state. It's important to our fans and our players and coaches. So, you know, I think it's just like most of these games. It's important to a lot of people, and you feel that, and you want to go play well.”
Stoops has pressed the reset button on his team's five-game losing streak. Now he gets to see if it can respond.
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