CRAWFORD | After trip to the Florida woodshed, Kentucky's Stoops - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | After trip to the Florida woodshed, Kentucky's Stoops vows to simplify

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AP photo. AP photo.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two days after his team labored through a 45-7 beatdown at Florida, University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops sat down with reporters, and the third sentence he spoke pretty well summed up his problem with the program at the moment.

“I had thought we had moved past that,” Stoops said, and he’s not the only one.

Stoops, and the Kentucky fan base, and many of us who have watched the program grow around him either by higher-profile recruiting classes or by facilities additions and improvements, thought that the days of being taken to the woodshed by all but the most elite of programs had largely faded away.

Yet here was Stoops, tens of millions of new facilities all around him, looking at those same log-hewn walls.

There’s only so much a guy can say when he’s in Year No. 4 and the defense is in the bottom 10 nationally in several key statistics -- and he’s the defensive guru.

When you have to acknowledge that your team isn’t playing with enough passion and energy, that it isn’t playing good fundamental football, that it needs to learn to play a full 60 minutes, it’s not a good thing. At this point, those should be the things you can take for granted, not the things you go back to work on six weeks after the start of practice.

You can get by with that in your first year, and maybe your second. By your third, it sounds hollow, and in your fourth, the culture you have is the one you’ve created. If players aren’t going for 60 minutes, if they aren’t playing with the proper fundamentals, that can’t be laid at the feet of anyone else.

Stoops, to his credit, doesn't try to do that, anyway. He never has.

What Stoops did instead on Monday is to argue that his team knows the proper way to play -- and it demonstrated that in the first half of its first game of the season -- and that any deviations from that can be fixed quickly.

We’ll see.

“We fundamentally need to go back and get better,” Stoops said. “We cannot beat anybody until we stop beating ourselves. Those are things that we will get cleaned up today. The first one is just to make sure that we play fundamentally better football and we have to simplify things on both sides of the ball to make sure that we execute.”

After the game, I wrote about it as a “worst-case scenario” start for Kentucky. The reason is that the quarterback position is so important, if Drew Barker became injured, or lost confidence, it could be a major drag on what should be an otherwise effective offense. It’s fair to say that after Barker completed more interceptions (3) than passes to his own team (2) at Florida, he’s not exactly flying high.

“I was surprised that he didn’t respond much better,” Stoops said. “He did get hit on the first play and he can play better and will. He knows that. We need to play better around him and give him some protection and get open. It’s everybody. But he can take his part as well. He’s a resilient guy. . . . He has no choice but to go out there and play.”

I’m not sure what is going to be simplified. Some defensive schemes. Kentucky’s defense against the run has to be shored up. The secondary had a bad game against Florida but does have some talent.

There’s just no way around it -- running back Boom Williams has to become more of the offense. I write about it every week. Have now since the start of last season, it seems.

“When we were spread out and handed Boom the ball, we were getting some decent yards there,” Stoops said of Saturday’s loss. “Then we’d get a negative yardage play or some movement up front on a certain play and we’d be back behind the chains and not pick up third downs. Just running the ball, I thought our offensive line did a good job and Boom ran pretty well at times. … You can always second-guess yourself. We were moving the ball well at times and then we try a double-move and got intercepted on an unbelievable play by an All-American, and those are the chances we take. In hindsight, you would say, ‘Man, let’s just stay with it and keep on grinding it out there a little bit.’ We’re moving it and get a couple of first downs and running the ball and try a double-move and guy makes an unbelievable play and that crushes you in a game like that.”

The other problem is that you can’t be crushed. Opponents haven’t been crushed when Kentucky got big leads on them. Southern Miss wasn’t. Louisville wasn’t.

Sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones doesn’t get crushed. He tries to be the crusher. After Kentucky’s loss Saturday, he said to reporters: “Sometimes when we’re down, a lot of people on our team just tend to quit and think it’s over, and I don’t think it’s over until it’s actually over. I think as a whole team we all need to work on fighting back and not giving up and realizing the game’s not over until it’s actually over.”

Those are harsh words. If guys are quitting in Week 2, it’s not a good indicator of what might be to come.

“I don’t know exactly what his intent was, but Jordan backs it up,” Stoops said Monday when asked about Jones’ comments. “I wouldn’t use the word quit . . . That is a beautiful quote for you guys, but I don’t think he means it that way, I think he means it like we need to respond.”

Stoops is dealing with young players, more on defense than offense, and they’re difficult to win with, especially if things aren’t going well.

“It is really difficult, but you don’t care and neither do our fans. I get it,” Stoops said. “We have to put them in a position where they can do it. That is where it is not all lost and where it is all gone. We will get better and these guys do need experience. They are seeing things for the first time and it stinks. I would like to use another word but I better not.”

At this point, he can say whatever he wants, he knows as well as anyone the only thing that matters is what the team does. From that standpoint, there’s always hope. UK has tried the start-fast way of doing things and has faltered the last two seasons. This year, maybe it can do things the only way around.

But after this start, and because of this start, it won’t be easy.

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