Cats Attacking Long To-Do List during Bye

Don’t call this an off week for Kentucky football. It’s nothing close to a break.

The Wildcats are going to work on their bye.

“I think it’s a big emphasis on us getting a lot of areas, taking a look and see what we did good, what we did bad, how to get it corrected, whether they’re fundamentals, scheme,” Mark Stoops said. “Any areas we need to improve, we’ve got to do that. The things we’re doing well we’ve got to continue to emphasize that and build off the things we’re doing good and get ahead on Mississippi State.”

Coming off three wins in four games – a stretch that includes two Southeastern Conference victories – UK has plenty of good to build on.

Defensively, the Cats are playing their best football, and it’s not close.

Two-and-a-half games in, opponents were doing basically whatever they wanted against UK in lighting up the scoreboard for 124 points. Since halftime of the New Mexico State game, the Cats have given up just 64 points over three-and-a-half games. Thirty-four of those points were scored by Alabama – a team averaging nearly 45 points per game – and another 14 came on defensive touchdowns.

On offense, UK’s ground game has come alive to the tune of more than 230 yards per game over the last four, while the passing game falls under the category of areas needing improvement. UK has managed no more than 135 passing yards over its last three games, culminating in a 49-yard performance in a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Stephen Johnson II, replacing the still-injured Drew Barker, has added a new dimension to the offense with his running ability, but completed just 10-of-24 passes.

“You always have to come back and you can’t let it sit around,” Johnson said. “You really just can’t sit on that one game. You have to move on. You have to progress in practice to get better.”

The good news is Johnson has plenty of time to do exactly that.

“That’s great about a bye week and what we’re doing,” Eddie Gran said. “You can work on fundamentals. You can work on technique. Stephen, our passing game, with our receivers, our protection and everybody that’s involved in that working on concepts, working on our reads. Seeing the defense, giving him more stuff and more stuff so he continues to get comfortable and gets better. So it’s a great time for this to be happening.”

The bye week also is giving Johnson’s sore wrist a chance to heal. The same is true at UK’s outside linebacker spot, where Josh Allen and Denzil Ware are banged up and Kobie Walker and De’Niro Laster are out.

“It will be nice on the backend of the week for our players to heal up, because normally you’re going to go out there on Saturday and get very much bumped and bruised,” Stoops said. “So, they won’t have to worry about that on Saturday. They’ll have a complete day off. That alone mentally and physically hopefully will recharge us a little bit.”

With some players resting and less urgency to prepare for an opponent, redshirt Cats and others further down the depth chart have an opportunity to see more quality reps. 

“We worked with several today, even with the ones and twos, even if they’re redshirting just to work some guys,” Stoops said. “Also we’ll do more of that (Wednesday). We’ll cut it loose and maybe give them some scrimmage time or maybe some team reps.”

But of course, this is not spring ball. Though it’s still 10 days away, the Cats have a big game against Mississippi State to get ready for. 

“We will start with them,” Stoops said. “We’ll focus a lot on us and fundamentally and scheme-wise things that we have not executed very well. We’ll do a lot, maybe a little bit more good against good. So we’ll go against our offense. … So, it will be a combination.”

The idea is to put UK in the best possible position to play well both on Saturday and through the entire second half of the season.

“I’ve said we didn’t get off to the start that we wanted to, but we can only affect where we go from here,” Stoops said. “What are we going to do this week to get ourselves better to put ourselves in a position to win some games down the stretch? It starts with a week from Saturday.”