By Rick Bozich
and Eric Crawford

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Kentucky football team was just a few stops away from making a bowl appearance last season, if you look back to its 44-40 loss to rival Louisville. But its defense in the second half of the season was not bowl worthy.

The Wildcats gave up 43.8 points per game over their final six games last season, and an average of 471.2 yards of offense. That’s particularly galling for head coach Mark Stoops, a longtime defensive coach who came to UK having been coordinator of one of the nation’s best defensive units at Florida State.

As a first-time head coach, Stoops says a lot of his head-coaching duties have taken him away from being as hands-on with the defense as he’d like. But now entering his third season, he plans to change that. In the spring, he was far active with his defensive backs, a group that will need to make progress in a hurry this fall.

“I really want to be more involved,” Stoops said. “I need to be more involved. The first two years, I think there’s distractions that come with it. That’s why it’s just hard to handle one side or the other. . . . That’s why we’ve got great coordinators on both sides of the ball. I’m very proud of the work they’ve done, and I’m anxious to get back in there and get more involved. . . . 

“I’m excited to get in there and give as much as I can, and hopefully year three you settle in and you find your rhythm as far as when you get pulled out of the room and those things,” Stoops continued. “You have your obligations as a head coach that I’m more comfortable with at this point in time. But I am excited to get back into the room.”

HELLO O-H-I-O:  Stoops and his assistant coaches have thundered across the border and pounded the state of Ohio for recruits from the moment they took over the UK program.
The results are evident on the Kentucky depth chart. Looking at the players listed as starters in the UK media guide, five of the 24 projected starters will be Ohio products.
The only other state with five guys in the Kentucky lineup is Florida. Four former Kentucky high school players are listed as starters.
The other states represented in the projected starting lineup are Georgia (three), South Carolina (two), Texas (two), California (one), Missouri (one) and Indiana (one).
The five Ohio guys are receiver Dorian Baker; tight end C.J. Conrad; safety Marcus McWilson; offensive tackle Kyle Meadows and cornerback Cody Quinn.
“Every year I’ve been here the recruits have gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” said Jordan Swindle, a starting offensive tackle from Florida. “Our talent level is definitely on the rise.

Several names won’t be among the Wildcats who begin practice this week. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Nick Richardson is no longer with the program, according to Stoops, while signees Therrell Gosier and Javon Provitt did not qualify academically.
COUNTING  CALORIES: Matt Elam was the signature player in Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class, a silo-sized defensive lineman from John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Several recruiting services gave Elam five stars. He picked Kentucky over Alabama and Notre Dame. It was a happening.
But as a freshman, Elam’s contributions were minimal. He delivered 10 tackles in a dozen games. He did not have any sacks or tackles for a loss. Elam opens camp listed as the back-up to senior Melvin Lewis at nose guard.
Elam understands that he needs to get better – and lighter.
A year ago, Elam packed 390 pounds on his 6-foot-7 body.  By the end of last season, Elam was down to 378. He opens camp at 360 – with a goal of playing at 345-to-350 in September.
“I’ve got more energy,” Elam said.
There were few secrets in his formula. Just the usual stuff most trainers and dieticians preach. He’s still counting calories, with Lewis watching what Elam eats the training table.
“I’ve given up a lot of my favorite foods,” Elam said. “A lot of sweets, a lot of snacks. I don’t eat late any more. And I had to give up all sodas, which is kind of hard for me but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
BOOM BABY: Kentucky has not had a running back rumble for 1,000 yards since Rafael Little did it in 2007.
In fact, UK has produced four 1,000-yard backs in the last 20 seasons (Little, 2005 and 2007); Artose Pinner (2002) and Moe Williams (1995).
Stanley “Boom” Williams is convinced he can run for 1,000 yards this season. Williams averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a freshman, finishing with 486 yards and five touchdowns. Three of those scoring runs were 50 yards or longer.
“Yeah, I definitely am (capable of rolling for 1,000 yards),” Williams said. “Coming up to this level, obviously it’s challenging playing in the SEC, one of the toughest conferences.
“But I definitely believe in myself and I definitely believe I have the ability to be one of those top backs in the SEC. “
Williams understands that he is likely to share the position with Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton. No problem.
“We all bring something different to the table,” Williams said. “You can put me in many different positions to get me the ball. That’s something (offensive coordinator Shannon) Dawson is putting in. I’ll be a lot of different positions trying to get the ball in different ways.”
RENOVATIONS A RUSH-JOB FOR OPENING NIGHT: Change has been a frequent theme for UK football media days over the years, but never has it been more physically tangible than this season, with Commonwealth Stadium in the late stages of a $120 million renovation.

Whether that renovation will be finished by the time the Wildcats open the season against Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.

“I’ve never been part of a building project that didn’t go right down to the wire,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said.

But don’t expect the deadline sweating to dampen enthusiasm for the project. Barnhart said that UK athletics waited patiently while the university took care of higher-priority projects, “But then our time came, and you’re seeing it being finished now, and it’s an exciting time.”

The stadium will feature new blue chair-back bleachers, and an expanded suite area. There will be new loge boxes, a new press box and improved concourses throughout.

Barnhart said the new seating capacity will be around 61,000, with just under 40,000 season-tickets having been sold.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.