CRAWFORD | Stoops hopes UK players are ready to back up bold (and bowl) predictions
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — University of Kentucky football players have not been shy about predicting good things for this season. That’s fair. Hope springs eternal in the preseason, and it’s time for UK to make a move.
But don’t expect Mark Stoops to join in any chest thumping. Stoops is from the Rich Brooks school in this regard.
Told at his weekly news conference Monday that sophomore defensive lineman Matt Elam Tweeted that the Wildcats will go 12-0, Stoops said, “I didn’t even know he said that. He needs to lose a few pounds, so I will get him after practice today.”
Stoops has nothing against his team talking about lofty goals. In fact, he encourages it. Quarterback Patrick Towles said earlier that he thinks the Wildcats have the talent to win the SEC East. But if his players are going to do the talking, he wants them to back it up, and that’s a daily challenge.
When the Wildcats looked bad in a Saturday morning scrimmage on Aug. 23, Stoops had them back on the field that night for a do-over. He wants their minds on the process, not on predictions.
But if writing those preseason checks motivates them to cash in with victories, that’ll work, too.
“I’m not going to fall into that trap that some of our players have and I have let them,” Stoops said. “If they want to talk about a bowl game and all that then fine, but we’ve got one game next week, can’t win two. We’ve got to take care of business one week at a time, one day at a time. And as I told them, ‘If that’s what motivates you then put your money where your mouth is. And if things get tough later down the road then let’s be tough and consistent and go to work every day to get better.’ I think that’s where I want to see the improvement. This summer I think we’ve been more consistent. I talked to you guys just about every practice and if it didn’t go well then I told you but for the most part things were improved that way, we were more consistent, we had a tougher mentality, so I’d like to see that throughout the year.”
The infrastructure around the program is improving. UK will open against Louisiana Lafayette on Saturday in a renovated Commonwealth Stadium. Construction is under way on a new training center.
The signs are all around the program, and Stoops said it’s important to play well because “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”
But the things that will really matter this season will be the things that hurt the Wildcats last season — their ability to stop the run, to get off the field on third down, to get the hard yards to keep the offense moving.
“It comes down to getting more stops,” Stoops said. “We need to be better across the board, really. You could go into statistics and all those things but it comes down to playing good as a team. We have to be good in all phases. Offensively, I think we will control the ball a little bit better, move the ball better. I think defensively we’ll be better. We certainly need to be better on third downs, you limit some opportunities, you limit some plays if you can get off the field. We need to improve in a lot of areas, run defense is one of them. But I anticipate that we will be improved.”
With a new offensive coordinator, Stoops looked to make only subtle changes, but one of those he referred to above. In Neal Brown’s high-risk attack, the Wildcats too many times sent a tired defense back out onto the field too quickly. What Stoops, a defensive-minded coach, wants to see is an offense that is still potent, can still score on big plays, but which also has the ability eat up possession, to be more of a complement to his defense.
Shannon Dawson, former coordinator at West Virginia, figures to blend a creative run game with the spread passing attack perhaps just a little better to suite the Wildcats’ defensive needs and the SEC’s defensive demands.
“There is nothing totally, dramatically different,” Stoops said of his team’s offense. “I think you’ll see a lot of sets that you’re used to seeing, I think you’ll see some plays that you’re used to seeing, and you’ll see some news things. But we aren’t reinventing the wheel, Coach Dawson has a good handle and fix on some of the things he likes to do, in comparison, but it will be similar. That is what I said right from the beginning, that’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Coach Dawson, but they all come out of the same tree. I mean there are different nuances with each of these coordinators or guys that branch off, it’s just how we evolve every day and every year, so I don’t think it will be too dramatically different.”
But the whole, Stoops is hoping, will be dramatically improved.
NOTES: Sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Meadows and senior defensive lineman C.J. Johnson have been suspended for the first two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. . . . Junior linebacker Jason Hatcher was suspended for the first two games before preseason camp. . . . The season's first depth chart shows three true freshmen (cornerback Chris Westry, right tackle George Asafo-Adjel and tight end C.J. Conrad) as starters, with eight true freshmen on the two-deep and 10 redshirt freshmen. . . . Stoops left open the possibility that back-up quarterback Drew Barker could see some snaps in the opener, saying, "I'd like to (get him in) early, when the game's on the line. But we'll see about that." . . .
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