Cats Working to Face Adversity Head on
Derrick Baity isn’t burying his head in the sand.
With Kentucky off to a 0-2 start that has kicked up a dust storm of negativity among a fan base hopeful for a breakout 2016 season, the sophomore cornerback understands the frustration of the program’s supporters.
So he’s addressing it directly.
"If I could, I would apologize to the whole BBN," Baity said.
But of course, improved play is what those fans want more than an apology, sincere as it may be.
From Baity and his fellow defensive backs, they want to see the kind of dynamic play of which they showed glimpses a season ago. The kind of play head coach Mark Stoops expected in the preseason when he consistently sung the praises of the young but talented group.
“He’s definitely going to be hard on us because I feel like we’re embarrassing him just as players too,” Baity said. “We should hold ourselves accountable because of our performances.”
Stoops surely appreciates Baity and his teammates taking responsibility, but he also ultimately understands the ultimate success or failure of his team is on him. That’s why he’s taking a more hands-on approach in coaching UK’s defense this week leading up to matchup with New Mexico State on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Commonwealth Stadium.
“The question was asked and I think you’re asking the same thing, will you take a more active role,” Stops said, “and the answer to that is yes, I will take a more active role. As far as the structure of our staff, that has not changed. Coach (D.J.) Eliot is the defensive coordinator. I’m assisting him but I’m much more involved this week and I will be until we get things turned.”
Stoops is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football, having first excelled coaching defensive backs at Wyoming and Miami before engineering impressive defensive turnarounds as coordinator at Arizona and Florida State.
“Well, as a head coach he’s got a lot of duties, but he’s always been involved in the defense,” Eliot said. “Now we’re together on a lot of things. He’s helping us and he’s doing everything he can as another coach on the defensive staff, which is really good. Anytime you can get a coach like Coach Stoops to coach with your players and be involved in the game plan, it’s a good thing.”
Naturally, that starts in the defensive backfield. In spite of the summer hype, UK has given up nearly 600 passing yards, including 320 yards and four touchdowns to Florida’s Luke Del Rio, making his second college start. Stoops has followed through on his statement Monday he would be spending plenty of time with the DBs.
“He wasn’t lenient on us at all during camp or anything, but he wants to see where the confusion is because we had a couple busted coverages,” Baity said. “He’s putting us in more game-like situations where we got to respond quickly, and if he gets on us he gets on us. That’s part of the game. He’s definitely being more hands-on with us.”
Elsewhere on defense, there is plenty of room for improvement as well heading into a matchup with an Aggie team that put up 32 points in a win over rival New Mexico last week.
“I think that our emphasis has been that we gotta execute and we’ve gotta play fundamentally sound, so we’ve spent more time on that,” Eliot said. “We’ve harped on it and we’ve addressed it with the players, and I think these last couple days of practice we’ve seen improvements in that. We’ve got to take that into Saturday.”
It’s a simpler approach, and one the offense is mirroring.
Head coach of the offense/co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran – following through on a top-down directive from Stoops – has done a thorough evaluation of UK’s playbook this week. The idea is to slim it down to the point where the Wildcats can execute everything they run to a T.
“It’s not necessarily going and trying to run 100 plays,” Gran said. “That’s not going to do anything if you can only have 25 that are detailed. If we have 50, 50 need to be detailed. If we have 75, then 75 need to be detailed.”
In all phases, UK is treating this week with a sense of urgency. Considering the preciousness of each of the Cats’ remaining 10 opportunities to play this season, they should.
“This is going to be a big week,” quarterback Drew Barker said. “We gotta go out there and get a win. If we play our game like we know we can and limit turnovers and sustain drives and be great on third down, I think we’ll have a great chance of winning.”
Winning, no doubt, is important. Just as important, Stoops knows, is the way UK plays.
“We have to play with that passion and that energy that our fans want to see,” Stoops said. “We saw that. We saw us come out (against Southern Miss), but we need to do that for 60 minutes. We will do that. We played very good football the last time we were here for a half and we are going to do that for 60 minutes. That I guarantee: that this team will play hard and fundamental football. I believe in these players and I hope the fans do as well.”