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2014 spring game pump-up video

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SECNetwork_FacebookTwitter_UTMartin.jpg The SEC Network, it's coming.

You've known about the launch of the new network, which will cover America's best sports conference in unprecedented fashion, for months now, but it became just a little more real on Thursday.

The SEC Network announced its television schedule for the first three weeks of the 2014 football season and Kentucky will be featured twice. The Wildcats will play two of their first three games on the SEC Network, hosting Tennessee-Martin for their season opener on Aug. 30 at noon ET and traveling to face Florida on Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET for both teams' SEC opener.

This is significant because the SEC Network will be the only place fans will be able to watch these two games, other than in person. So far, cable and satellite providers AT&T U-Verse, DISH, Google Fiber and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network. If your provider has not yet signed on, visit GetSECNetwork.com to demand the SEC Network.

UK isn't the only SEC school that will play early-season games on the SEC Network. In fact, the SEC Network will air a home game for each of the league's 14 schools within the first four weeks of the season.

"The fact that the SEC Network will originate a game from every stadium in the conference in the first four weeks of the 2014 season is testament to the depth of coverage fans can expect from the network," said Mike Slive, SEC commissioner. "In just the first month of the season, fans that get the network will enjoy all the passion and pageantry of SEC football from 14 of the greatest venues in the world of sports. This is what the SEC Network is all about."

The SEC Network -- which launches on Aug. 14 -- will carry its first football games on the season's first night, with Texas A&M and South Carolina and Vanderbilt and Temple playing a doubleheader. In total, six games will air on the SEC Network in each of the season's first two weeks and three more in both weeks three and four.

"The network will have a terrific line-up of games over the first four weeks. The schedule includes quality and depth from across the conference," said Justin Connolly, ESPN senior vice president, college networks. "The full breadth of teams and stadiums showcased in the first month alone speaks volumes on the type of programming sports fans should expect on the SEC Network."

The complete SEC Network schedule for the first four weeks of the season can be found below. Kickoff times and television information for the remainder of SEC games will be announced later.

 2014 SEC College Football Schedule (subject to change):

Date

Time (ET)

Game

Thu, Aug. 28

6 p.m.

Texas A&M at South Carolina

 

9:15 p.m.

Temple at Vanderbilt

Sat, Aug. 30

Noon

Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky

 

4 p.m.

Arkansas at Auburn

 

7:30 p.m.

Southern Mississippi at Mississippi State

Sun, Aug. 31

7 p.m.

Utah State at Tennessee

Sat, Sept. 6

Noon

Florida Atlantic at Alabama

 

Noon

Arkansas State at Tennessee

 

4 p.m.

Eastern Michigan at Florida

 

4 p.m.

Nicholls State at Arkansas

 

7:30 p.m.

Sam Houston State at LSU

 

7:30 p.m.

Lamar at Texas A&M

Sat, Sept. 13

Noon

UCF at Missouri

 

4 p.m.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Ole Miss

 

7:30 p.m.

Kentucky at Florida

Sat, Sept. 20

Noon

Troy at Georgia

 

4 p.m.

TBD

 

7:30 p.m.

TBD


It was dubbed "Big Blue Weekend," and a big weekend it was for the Big Blue Nation.

In the span of 44 hours, UK baseball hosted Ole Miss, the UK softball team hosted Tennessee in addition to the annual Blue-White spring football game.

Fourty-four hours, seven games and 46,883 total fans. On a beautiful weekend in the bluegrass, Commonwealth Stadium, John Cropp Stadium and Cliff Hagan Stadium were the places to be.

The spring game attendance was 35,117. It was the second-largest crowd in program history behind last season's, when over 50,000 watched UK's annual spring scrimmage. As No. 9 softball took on No. 8 Tennessee in a top-10 matchup, 4,664 fans filled John Cropp Stadium, the largest crowd for a three-game series in program history.

Big Blue Nation did not disappoint this weekend and came out in droves to support their team as only they could.

After the baseball and softball teams opened the weekend on Friday night, the party hit its peak on Saturday with a jam-packed day.

Head football coach Mark Stoops got things started when he threw out the first pitch at the baseball game in front of 2,474 fans. Each of the baseball team's three games drew at least 2,200 fans.

As the football team arrived at Commonwealth Stadium, players and coaches were greeted by fans, forming the Catwalk into the stadium. The energy and sheer numbers from the Big Blue Nation for Saturday's Catwalk were like those seen on Saturdays in the fall, not in the spring.

"Great turnout today," assistant coach Neal Brown said. "Our Catwalk was tremendous. It was like an in-season Catwalk today. They were lined--it was backed up and then the crowd in the game was terrific. That shows people, that shows recruits that people are serious about football here and we are very thankful. I want to make sure that I thank the fans."


The parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium were a sea of blue hours before kickoff. Food on the grill, music blaring and footballs flying through the air made it seem like a typical fall Saturday. All that was missing was a chill in the air and some color in the leaves.

Once inside the stadium, 35,117 fans watched as the Blue team beat the White squad, 38-14. Not only was it the second-largest spring game crowd in UK history, but it was the 12th-best crowd in the country this spring and seventh in the SEC.

UK is one of just 16 schools to draw 30,000 fans or more this spring.


As the football game was winding down, the softball team's second game of its series with Tennessee was beginning, with another big crowd on hand.

The second-largest crowd in program history, 1,858 saw the Wildcats beat their SEC rivals, 5-2, to even the three-game series. The sold-out crowd came a day before the Big Blue Nation packed in 1,685 Sunday on Senior Day for a second consecutive sellout.

"The fan base was incredible this weekend and especially today on Senior Day for them to come pack this place was awesome," softball head coach Rachel Lawson said. "Saturday the fan support really helped push us over the edge. I love the Big Blue Nation and everything they do for our athletic department."


While Big Blue Weekend officially is complete, there is still plenty of action left in the 2014 season for UK's spring sports at home.

The baseball team hosts Auburn on Senior Weekend May 9-11, while the men's tennis team is expected to host the NCAA Regionals, May 9-10.

The following weekend, the SEC Track and Field Championships come to Lexington May 15-18. Should the softball team host the NCAA Regional for the second consecutive season, that will be held at John Cropp Stadium May 15-18.

UK held its annual Blue/White Spring Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) UK held its annual Blue/White Spring Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Kentucky fans listened all spring to the talk about how their team had improved since the Wildcats last took the field in November.

They heard from Mark Stoops about the way an extended winter in UK's High Performance program had made the Cats bigger, stronger and faster. They hoped that the seven newcomers who enrolled in January would add some much-needed depth and talent. They expected a full year in a new system would do the veterans some good.

During the Blue/White Spring Game, fans got to see their team back up the talk.

"You feel much better," Stoops said, reflecting on his team's progress over the past year. "You know, I really tried not to ever, you know, throw everybody under the bus, including myself and the team, but we just weren't very good. We're better. We're still not where we need to be but we're better. We're at that point where you can really start to feel that improvement."

The 35,117 fans in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium -- UK's second-largest crowd ever for a spring game -- and those watching at home felt it too.

A year ago, the record-setting crowd was there to celebrate where everyone believed UK could go in the future more than anything else. On Saturday, those fans were able to celebrate what the Cats are starting to become.

"We know what to do," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We're more talented. We're not where we need to be. We need more talent. I think that's obvious. I would like for our White team to be more competitive at times. I thought they were earlier in the game."

UK's need for more depth was evidenced by the final score, a 38-14 Blue team victory. Comprised almost entirely by first teamers, Blue outscored White 31-7 after an even first quarter. All told, the Blue team rolled up 437 yards of offense and held White to 165.

"We are by no means a finished product, but I felt like we've improved, certainly from the fall," Stoops said. "This spring we are getting better. Got a long way to go. But overall, I was very happy with the team's energy. They have been solid all spring, really."

Unwilling to show some of the wrinkles installed this spring, the Cats kept it relatively "vanilla" on both sides of the ball. Stoops may have avoided emptying his bag of tricks, but UK's progress was on display anyway.

"I think we have improved mentality-wise," Bud Dupree said. "We have the same team except a couple guys, so we have to have the same mentality to want to, to want to get better, to want to do it and the want to produce."

UK was particularly productive in the ground game, with top running backs Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp, Josh Clemons and Mikel Horton combining for 308 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Kemp, a sophomore, led the way with 11 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns to go with two catches for 41 yards. The highlight -- and arguably the highlight of the scrimmage -- was his 48-yard burst down the sideline, the last 10 yards of which he spent high-stepping into the end zone.

"It's just me out there having fun, celebrating, keeping the fans interested," Kemp said. "In the regular season, I'm not going to be doing that. You'll probably see me on the sideline because we don't want that to be called back."

Kemp will be wise to be more measured in his celebrations because he and his fellow runners figure to have more such opportunities in 2014. UK will of course throw the ball in Brown's Air Raid attack, but the Cats would be unwise to neglect running the football stable of backs as deep and diverse as this one

"We gotta have something to hang our hat on," Brown said. "I think right now we're pretty good at running the ball and our play-action's pretty good. We hit a couple big play-action plays today."

Throwing those play-action passes were quarterbacks Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker.

Towles started -- which, as Stoops said Friday, meant "he earned the right to go out there with the first group" -- and displayed the improvement his coaches have raved about all spring. With fleeter feet and a quicker release, Towles looked the part of a Southeastern Conference quarterback in leading the Blue team to a touchdown in the game's first drive.

"As you saw today, I'm a totally different player than I was last year," Towles said. "I mean, it's night and day. I'm excited about where we're at as a team, I'm excited about where we're at as an offense and I'm excited about where we're going."

Towles completed 11 of 15 passes for 126 yards, his most impressive work coming on the final drive of the first half. Starting on his own 19 with just 53 seconds on the clock, Towles completed 6 of 7 passes for 54 yards to set Austin MacGinnis up for a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

"That was big," Brown said. "That's things we gotta do. ... He threw them on the sidelines. He understood that the ball had to be on the sideline. He got it outside. He didn't miss it inside. Those are key things, without question."

Towles' lone major mistake came just minutes prior, when he fired a screen pass too close to Za'Darius Smith. The 6-foot-6 defensive end snared it in midair and returned it 13 yards before Towles wrapped him up. With the quarterbacks wearing black jerseys protecting them from contact, the play was blown dead even though Smith kept his feet and sprinted for what he thought was a touchdown.

"I didn't even feel him," said Smith, who added a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. "I just was thinking about the end zone, the ball going into the end zone."

On the next play, Blue's offense finished the job. Phillips hit Steven Borden for a 17-yard score, one of two passing touchdowns for the redshirt freshman, in a 7-of-11, 74-yard performance representative of the kind of consistency that makes him a factor in this quarterback race.

"He makes a lot of good decisions," Brown said. "He does not make big negative plays. He's not gonna do things that hurt you, that put you in bad situations."

Barker, a true freshman who attended his high-school prom mere weeks ago, is still working on eliminating some of those mistakes. He had his moments on Saturday -- most notably a 30-yard touchdown strike that hit Demarco Robinson in stride and closed out the scoring -- but it wasn't his best day of the spring.

"I had definitely struggled all day and I felt like I got a monkey off my back (with the touchdown pass)," said Barker, who completed 7 of 19 passes for 74 yards. "It was good but, like I said, but I would like to have done better."

Spring game aside, Barker is still very much a contender. And as Stoops has reiterated all spring, UK will be better at quarterback regardless who wins the job.

"I think when we have everybody healthy, all the quarterbacks will look better," Stoops said. "So there's no decision yet. I'm proud of the effort Pat has done and I really like the other two, as well. I think the other two are great quarterbacks and certainly had some great days this spring. So we'll see."

Stoops would put no timetable on a decision, saying only that he and Brown will meet in the coming week to determine how they will move forward.

"We are going to go back and look at this tape and we'll look at the spring in its entirety and look at all the drives and everything we've been through and we'll sit down next week and see where we are at as a staff," Stoops said.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown

Patrick Towles


Reese Phillips


Drew Barker



Video: Stoops' spring game press conference

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Video: Blue/White Spring Game highlights

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Live blog: Blue/White Spring Game 2014

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Stoops on final practice before spring game


For months now, the Kentucky Wildcats have worked toward the Blue/White Spring Game.

It's been since November that the Cats have taken the field in front of a crowd, first dedicating themselves to UK's High Performance program and most recently toiling through a month of spring practice.

But with barely 24 hours to go before fans pack Commonwealth Stadium, the Cats weren't about to let a Friday practice go to waste.

"I think the guys are excited," Mark Stoops said. "It gets a little long towards the end of spring here at the end of our fourth week. But I was very pleased with the work we got done. I think we made progress even again today. It was good."

UK moved its final practice before the spring game indoors due to rain, working without pads. Stoops reported it was an efficient day, particularly in the passing game.

"Starting to make the routine plays look routine," Stoops said.

It's Stoops' belief that the progress UK has made since the end of the 2013 season will be on display on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The thousands of fans expected to fill Commonwealth -- which will have a reduced capacity of approximately 42,500 due to ongoing construction -- certainly deserve a show.

"Appreciate the support," Stoops said. "I think the 40-some thousand that come out there this year are going to have more fun than they did last year when we hit 50. We'll be better. There will be more to cheer for. We look forward to it, appreciate the support. It's so helpful in so many ways, so we're going to have a good time."

Injuries have piled up as the spring has gone on, creating some stress for Stoops ahead of the spring game. But with Ryan Timmons, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Joey Herrick all expected to participate, UK will be "all right" at wide receiver -- the position hit hardest -- according to offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

The Cats will play this year's spring game with a very similar format to the one held last April. The game will pit first stringers vs. the rest of the team "for the most part," with a handful of players able to change sides if need be. The game is expected to feature 12-minute quarters.

"The first half will be normal outside of just shortened a little bit," Stoops said. "So we'll get after it the first half. The second half, if we're getting enough plays we may run the clock a little bit in the fourth quarter. But for the most part, it's gonna be a normal game outside of the live kicking situations."

There will be no returns on punts, no rush on field goals and no kickoffs. Quarterbacks will be protected from contact.

Speaking of the signal callers, a year ago Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles all were on the field for the spring game's first play. The move was both a show of the coaching staff's sense of humor an evidence of just how even the quarterback battle was.

This year, only one quarterback will be on the field to open the game. By no means is that quarterback guaranteed to start come August, but Stoops admitted the significance of the spring game starter should not be dismissed.

"I think it gives you a little indication," Stoops said. "I mean, sure. I'd be lying if I said (otherwise). Last year it really was a toss-up. This year, I think we're starting to narrow it down. We'll put the person out there with the first group that we think has earned the right to go out there with the first group tomorrow. I think it's very close still -- it's very close -- but we'll see."

Close as the battle still may be, improved quarterback play has been a consistent theme this spring. That, however, isn't the biggest reason for encouragement. The culture surrounding the program, as Stoops has always wanted, continues to change.

"I love the leadership," Stoops said. "I like the energy of our team. I think we're learning how to work, learning how to go about our business, and fundamentally we're improving. Because we're getting the leadership, we're getting the guys challenging guys, we're getting out there with a purpose and getting some work done."

Brown after Friday practice


Video: Marrow mic'd up at spring practice

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