Stoops Confident Improvement Will Come

To say Mark Stoops takes seriously his role as Kentucky football head coach would be an understatement.

“This is not a job,” Stoops said. “This is my life.”

That’s why words like “disappointed,” “not acceptable” and “frustration” come up so often when he describes his feelings about UK’s loss at Florida over the weekend, as well as the feelings of the fans who have so long supported the program.

“We need to play better and we will,” Stoops said. “It starts with simplifying some things and getting our guys to play with that passion and energy that we need to play with.”

Eddie Gran – UK’s head coach of the offense and co-offensive coordinator – was the first to mention simplification in the wake of a 45-7 loss at Florida. Stoops reinforced the notion at his weekly press conference on Monday.

“It will obviously change the game plan,” Stoops said. “It will be simplified. And with that, you don’t want players — a couple, the several breakdowns that we’ve had this year in the secondary were unacceptable. And you can’t have that. You can’t give up some things that we’re doing.”

It’s no coincidence that Stoops mentioned the secondary individually. UK’s defensive backs were the subject of much preseason hype – including by Stoops – but have yielded nearly 600 yards through the air in two games, including 320 to the Gators’ Luke Del Rio.

Stoops – who came through the college coaching ranks as an ace DBs coach – will be addressing that.

“I am disappointed,” Stoops said. “But that’s that fine line. You try to talk nice about it but they listened to it. And if you don’t do the work, it isn’t worth anything. They’re good kids, they mean well, they just don’t understand yet, and they’re sophomores. And I’ll be in their meeting today. Their football IQ’s gonna go up.”

The secondary, however, is not the only issue. Drew Barker struggled in The Swamp, completing only two passes and being sacked four times behind an offensive line that didn’t cope well enough with a physical Gator front. On defense, UK’s front had trouble once again stopping the power run game and Florida converted 14-of-20 third downs.

The coaching staff will approach this week of practice leading up to Saturday’s 4 p.m. matchup with New Mexico State accordingly.

“it’s our job to put them in position to be successful and that’s where we get back and change things up and go to work and fundamentally get better and get our football IQ up better,” Stoops said. “And again, you can’t beat anybody until you stop beating yourself and that’s a big message for us today and the way we go about practice.”

By focusing on fundamentals and in-game intelligence, the Cats will address the issues they’ve had with assignments and physical mistakes. The other thing they’ll be working toward is playing with the right kind of spirit.

We need to play with that passion and energy that our fans want to see,” Stoops said. “We saw that. We need to be able to do it for 60 minutes and we will do that. We played very good football the last time we were here for a half and we’re going to do that for 60 minutes.”

Of course, mentioning 60 minutes is a reference to a season-opening defeat in which UK played a superb first half before stalling after halftime in a loss to Southern Miss. Combined with the Florida defeat, that’s led to fan frustration Stoops has directly addressed. 

He did so once again on Monday.

“That I guarantee: That this team will play hard and will play fundamental football,” Stoops said. “I believe in these players and I hope the fans do as well. It’s a long season and we will get better in certain phases. There’s no doubt about that.”