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Live blog: Football vs. Ohio

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Live Blog Football vs. Ohio
 

The weather threw a curveball at Kentucky football on Thursday, with a storm pushing practice back and eventually forcing it to move inside to the Nutter Field House.

The Wildcats managed to adjust and turn in a good practice.

"Guys seem to be locked in," Mark Stoops said. "We had a little weather delay and got a little chance to watch some more film and get prepared before we went out to practice. But everything went well. Getting ready to gear up here and have a good game."

If this week is any indication, that's likely to happen on Saturday.

There were of course areas for improvement in UK's season-opening win over UT Martin, but the energy Stoops was looking for was there. He sees no reason to think the Wildcats won't duplicate that effort.

"I hope we have the same eagerness to go out there and play and the same enthusiasm," Stoops said. "I expect that we will. They've had a great week of practice. I just don't want any letdown mentally."

Speaking for the final time before UK takes on Ohio, Stoops gave an update on wide receiver Javess Blue and running back Braylon Heard, both of whom sustained ankle injuries against UT Martin. Blue has not practiced this week, while Heard remains questionable.

"More than likely will not play," Stoops said about Heard's status. "He tried to get out there and run around a little bit, so we'll see. I mean, maybe he'll heal up. I'm not trying to hold anything. It's just the way I feel right now and the way he looks. It's questionable."

UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Neal Brown knows Kentucky football.

He grew up a UK fan and followed the program even as he moved up the collegiate coaching ranks as a bright young offensive mind at stops across the country.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown is well aware of the Wildcats' history with their opponent this weekend.

"I very much know what happened the last time they rolled in here to town, so we'll be ready to roll," Brown said.

That last time was in 2004, when the Bobcats came into Commonwealth Stadium and posted a 28-16 victory. UK (1-0) is in a very different place now than it was 10 years ago during Rich Brooks' second season, but the lesson learned on that day still holds true.

Accordingly, UK is intently focused on Ohio heading into a matchup at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, not that Mark Stoops needed a past game as a reminder.

"My team, myself, we definitely can't take anybody for granted," Stoops said. "We're at that stage where we need to play well no matter who we're playing."

If they don't, the Bobcats are likely to take advantage.

Ohio (1-0) opened the season with a 17-14 victory over Kent State, needing a last-second field goal to overcome the Golden Flashes. The Bobcats, however, had a 437-295 edge in total yardage and held Kent State to a paltry 31 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio. ... They're a team that's not going to beat themselves. They're just good and sound."

On defense, the Bobcats return eight starters from last year's team, a group that carried Ohio to a fifth straight bowl berth.

"They're not going to do a whole lot (unusual)," Brown said. "They will blitz their linebackers, but they play base defense, mix up their coverages. They tackle really well; their guys aren't out of position very often at all. I thought they played really, really well last Saturday night."

The same was true of UK's offense in its opener.

The Wildcats piled up 656 total yards - fourth most in school history - behind first-time starting quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles completed passes to nine different receivers in spite of throwing just 29 times and exiting before the start of the fourth quarter.

"It's just a testament to Coach Brown and his offense," Towles said. "There could be a play where five guys are open and the stat only shows the one guy who I threw it to."

The offensive improvement Stoops and Brown talked about all offseason was on display against UT Martin, but it's not clear exactly how much better UK has gotten just yet. Ohio's athletic defense will be another measuring stick.

"I think a lot more of the story will be told this week," Brown said. "See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe. But there were some moments -- we threw the ball and caught the ball. That didn't happen one time last year."

The UK defense was good too, pitching a shutout deep into the third quarter behind a strong starting group. In practice this week, the Cats have gone to work building depth. The second team, however, isn't alone in pursuing improvement.

Seniors Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are the cornerstones of the group styling itself the "Bad Boys," but the pair combined for just nine tackles against UT Martin, with none coming behind the line of scrimmage.

"I saw a couple instances when they were trying to do too much, and that's bound to happen when you have guys that want to be playmakers and they want to do is what they can do, make big plays," Stoops said. "But you have to do that within the scheme. Nothing earth shattering or anything like that. Nothing we can't get corrected. Simple little things that we'll get fixed."

Dupree and Smith will need to be on their game Saturday against Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick. The first-time starter was a terror against Kent State with both his arm and his legs, throwing for two touchdowns and 262 yards and running for 35 more.

"We have to execute the defense within the plan for athletic quarterbacks, but you don't have to do anything different," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You just have to be aware of what your responsibility is and aware that is a threat within the game."

Execution, in other words, will be the name of the game.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

UK going to work on building defensive depth

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Following an otherwise strong performance, UK came out of its season opener with a clear area for defensive improvement.

This week in practice ahead of a Saturday matchup with Ohio, the Wildcats have gone to work.

"Did some good things," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're just concentrating on getting better fundamentally. So we have to get some depth, gotta establish some players at all positions for our backups. That's our emphasis."

Against UT Martin, UK pitched a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Afterward, the Cats allowed nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-14 victory. The UK backups, in other words, have some work to do to catch up to the starters.

Based on the way the first team played on Saturday, that won't be easy.

UK's starters handcuffed the Skyhawks to the tune of 164 yards through their first nine drives. Safety A.J. Stamps made plays all over the field, tying for the team lead with eight tackles on top of a one-handed interception that was No. 3 on SportsCenter's Saturday night Top 10.

"I really haven't seen it on SportsCenter yet, but I saw a couple videos," Stamps.

Incredibly, it wasn't even his personal top play, according to his coach.

"Well the best play that he probably made went unnoticed, but it was on a screen when he defeated a block, then the guy grabbed him from behind, then somebody else tried to block him and he got after it and he tackled him for a loss," Eliot said. "And they called holding on the play as well."

The blown-up screen and interception, together, show why Stamps is a perfect fit at his safety position. He played cornerback in junior college and has the athleticism to play on the outside, but also the physicality needed to play his current spot.

"We like to recruit safeties that could play corner," Eliot said. "That's what we saw in A.J. We saw a guy that was athletic enough to be a corner. He was a corner in junior college, but yet we knew he was big enough and strong enough and physical enough to be a safety as well."

It doesn't much matter to Stamps where he plays.

"As long as I'm on the field," Stamps said.

He doesn't have much to worry about there.

UK carrying confidence into Ohio prep

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Solid Tuesday practices are no guarantee. With game day four days away, the urgency isn't always there.

Kentucky had no such issues this week, and that had something to do with the way the Wildcats played in a season-opening win on Saturday in Neal Brown's estimation.

"We had good work today," UK's offensive coordinator said. "A lot of good energy for a Tuesday. I think we're building some confidence after going out and playing well on Saturday, which we needed."

That's particularly true on offense, where UK gained 656 total yards, fourth most in school history, and scored 59 points against UT Martin. For a coach who grew accustomed to leading some of the nation's best offenses at Texas Tech and Troy, that was a welcome development.

"We threw the ball and caught the ball; that didn't happen one time last year," Brown said. "We threw the ball, we caught it, we were able to get it to them in a position so that they could run after the catch. Those things were positives."

A season ago, Patrick Towles was on the sideline as the Wildcats went through growing pains in the first year in Brown's system. On Saturday, he made his first start to the tune of 377 yards passing and another 30 on the ground, benefiting from the new dimension added by the 6-foot-5 Blake Bone and his fellow freshman wide receivers.

"It's super nice," Towles said. "It takes a lot of stress off me. Every ball I have doesn't have to be perfect. Coach (Tommy) Mainord always talks about, 'Hey, just get it in our zip code.' Blake really put that on display Saturday."

Bone's most impressive play came on a go route down the left sideline. Even though the defender shadowing him was flagged for pass interference, Bone jumped and made the play for a 36-yard gain.

Towles was able to make the throw because he had time. Relying on the protection of reigning Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week Jon Toth and his fellow linemen, the redshirt sophomore was not sacked on Saturday

"I'm extremely comfortable with those guys to not worry about it," Towles said. "Takes a lot for a quarterback not to have to worry about the rush. I take three steps back there and I'm not paying attention to what they're doing because I trust them to take care of it."

Instead of worrying about pass rushers, Towles is focused on working with Brown to fine tune his game after a solid debut.

"I think fundamentally there were some things he did," Brown said. "He was a little late on some throws that he got away with in that game that he won't moving forward. So getting the ball out on time. There's, like I said, a couple fundamental (things) - a little bit of some wasted movement in the pocket. We'll get those things corrected. But all in all, I was really excited about how he went out and performed."

That goes for the offense as a whole as well.

Throughout the offseason, Brown said that UK would be improved. It's clear now that was true, but the jury is still out on exactly how much. The Cats' next opponent, Ohio, will reveal a bit more.

"I think it's still to be determined, to be honest with you," Brown said. "I think UT Martin is a good football team, but we went out and performed like we needed to perform. I think a lot more of the story will be told this week. See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe."

UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face Ohio on Saturday after a 59-14 season-opening win over UT Martin. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops kicked off his weekly in-season press conference on Monday as he often does, reflecting on UK's previous game.

He began by singing a tune similar to the one he sang following a dominant win over UT Martin on Saturday, praising his team's effort and attitude as a "good first step" in a long season.

That's when the perfectionist in Stoops came out.

"There's also a lot to improve on," Stoops said. "There's a lot of things we can do better that we will do better."

If you were concerned about the Wildcats resting on their laurels after a 59-14 victory, fear not.

"It won't be a pleasant film session today, I can promise you that," Stoops said, laughing.

However, the positives that had Stoops fired up 48 hours ago remain from the blowout win.

He still likes the way Patrick Towles operated the offense in his first start and the play-making ability A.J. Stamps brings to the safety position. The energy the Wildcats brought in the way they started the game, that's a great sign too.

The difference now is that Stoops knows how much his team has to work on before UK takes the field on Saturday against Ohio, which is a positive in and of itself.

On offense, a lot of that work to be done is in the ground game.

"There were some good things," Stoops said. "But there were some things in the run game, some of our fits, just not striking people, being as violent as we need to be. So there's a lot of areas to improve, and we will."

Defensively, Stoops' primary focus will be on sustaining energy.

Through nine drives on Saturday, UK had allowed just 164 yards on 39 plays, pitching a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Over UT Martin's final four drives, the Skyhawks rolled up nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think part of that is guys were enthused and they were anxious to play," Stoops said. "That first game, everybody was jacked up. It's been a long offseason. That's the good thing. I want good energy. But then we have to maintain it. We have to come out of the locker room the second half and be a consistent football team."

Some of that can be pinned on UK's offense too, considering all but two of the Cats' nine scoring drives lasted less than three minutes. That's a good problem to have.

"Statistically it's not always going to be pretty," Stoops said. "But I hope we're in that situation. I hope we're up a whole bunch and the defense has to be up there, we score quickly."

Stoops, however, isn't giving the defense a pass, especially not to the backups who gave up the bulk of the yardage and all of the points on Saturday.

"We need to get some depth and we need some guys to step up and compete," Stoops said. "To give up two touchdowns and a bunch of yards the last four possessions is something that we can't do and we won't do."

UK needs to improve right away because Stoops says Ohio represents a significant step up in competition.

"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio."

Ohio needed a field goal as time expired to finish off a 17-14 victory over Kent State over the weekend, but the Bobcats outgained their opponent 437-295. Ohio had four fumbles in the game, but Stoops knows better than to expect those mistakes to repeat themselves.

"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."

Based on both the things they did well against UT Martin and the things they didn't, the Cats are well positioned to do just that.

"The good thing is that I felt like, as I said after the game, it was a good game," Stoops said. "Our team needed it. Our fans needed it. The whole deal just to go out and play well. Good news is there's a lot of areas I think we'll improve on."

Injury, depth chart notes

  • Senior Darrian Miller returns to his regular role as UK's starter at left tackle following a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules. With his return, Jordan Swindle moves back to right tackle with Kyle Meadows backing him up after starting last week at the position.
  • Wide receiver Rashad Cunningham is also back after a one-game suspension. He is listed as a third stringer at one wide receiver position behind Javess Blue and Dorian Baker.
  • This week's depth chart has changed to reflect UK's regular switches between playing three and four down linemen. Bud Dupree and Jason Hatcher are the starters at the two defensive end/linebacker spots.
  • Khalid Henderson is now listed as the lone starter at weak-side linebacker. Last week, he and Ryan Flannigan were listed jointly. However, the competition between the two continues and both are expected to play this weekend.
  • After tweaking his ankle on the second of his two long touchdowns, Braylon Heard is in recovery mode. Stoops reported the Nebraska transfer is "still a little sore" and "a question mark" for Saturday.
  • Alexander Montgomery continues to rehab following knee surgery, but is now running and cutting as works to return, while fellow wide receiver Jeff Badet has an appointment Thursday to evaluate an eye injury. Neither is expected to play this weekend.


Video: Stoops' Ohio week press conference

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UK football depth chart -- Week 2

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Offense

Tight end
85 Steven Borden, 6-3, 246, Sr-1L
80 Ronnie Shields, 6-5, 254, Sr-3L

Left tackle

77 Darrian Miller, 6-5, 292, Sr-3L
68 Nick Haynes, 6-5, 319, Fr-RS

Left guard
75 Zach West, 6-4, 318, Jr-2L
74 Cole Mosier, 6-6, 348, Fr-RS

Center
72 Jon Toth, 6-5, 301, So-1L
57 Zach Myers, 6-3, 287, So-Sq

Right guard
69 Ramsey Meyers, 6-5, 300, Fr-RS
64 Max Godby, 6-4, 298, Sr-1L

Right tackle
70 Jordan Swindle, 6-7, 306, Jr-2L
73 Kyle Meadows, 6-5, 294, Fr-RS

Wide receiver
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
6 Blake Bone, 6-5, 198, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L
82 T.V. Williams, 5-10, 160, Fr-HS

Wide receiver
8 Javess Blue, 6-0, 191, Sr-1L
2 Dorian Baker, 6-3, 197, Fr-HS
81 Rashad Cunningham, 6-4, 225, Jr-1L

Wide receiver
87 Joey Herrick, 6-1, 197, Jr-1L
19 Garrett Johnson, 5-11, 176, Fr-HS

Quarterback
14 Patrick Towles, 6-5, 238, So-1L
12 Reese Phillips, 6-2, 218, Fr-RS or 7 Drew Barker, 6-3, 216, Fr-HS

Fullback

39 D.J. Warren, 6-0, 251, Sr-3L
10 Jeff Witthuhn, 6-3, 246, So-Sq

Running back
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr
3 Jojo Kemp, 5-10, 194, So-1L

Special teams

Long snapper
59 Kelly Mason, 6-3, 223, Jr-2L

Holder
13 Jared Leet, 6-3, 196, Jr-2L

Kicker
99 Austin MacGinnis, 5-10, 168, Fr-RS

Punter
9 Landon Foster, 6-1, 198, Jr-2L

Kickoff returner

18 Stanley "Boom" Williams, 5-9, 200, Fr-HS
5 Braylon Heard, 5-11, 189, Jr-Tr

Punt returner
9 Demarco Robinson, 5-10, 158, Sr-3L
1 Ryan Timmons, 5-10, 195, So-1L

Defense

Defensive end
94 Za'Darius Smith, 6-6, 263, Sr-1L
91 Farrington Huguenin, 6-4, 275, Jr-2L

Defensive tackle
90 Melvin Lewis, 6-4, 320, Jr-JC
69 Matt Elam, 6-7, 375, Fr-HS

Defensive tackle

50 Mike Douglas, 6-4, 288, Sr-3L
67 Cory "C.J." Johnson, 6-3, 299, Jr-JC or 96 Regie Meant, 6-4, 286, Fr-RS

Defensive end/Linebacker
6 Jason Hatcher, 6-3, 242, So-1L
47 Jabari Johnson, 6-1, 276, Jr-1L

Defensive end/Linebacker
2 Alvin "Bud" Dupree, 6-4, 264, Sr-3L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Middle linebacker
45 Josh Forrest, 6-3, 236, Jr-2L
41 TraVaughn Paschal, 6-4, 257, Sr-2L

Weak-side linebacker
22 Khalid Henderson, 6-1, 228, Jr-2L
33 Ryan Flannigan, 6-2, 225, Jr-JC

Nickelback
24 Blake McClain, 5-11, 194, So-1L
29 Kendall Randolph, 6-0, 168, Fr-HS

Cornerback
3 Fred Tiller, 6-0, 170, Jr-2L
11 J.D. Harmon, 6-2, 201, So-1L

Safety
5 Ashely Lowery, 6-1, 220, Sr-3L
15 Marcus McWilson, 6-0, 210, So-1L

Safety
1 A.J. Stamps, 6-0, 199, Jr-JC
28 Eric Dixon, 5-11, 193, Sr-3L

Cornerback
16 Cody Quinn, 5-10, 172, Jr-2L
21 Nate Willis, 6-0, 168, Sr-1L

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