John Clay: Stoops' rebuilding project will take time

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 1, 2013 

  • SATURDAY

    Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

    When: Noon

    Records: UK 0-1; Miami (Ohio) 0-1

    TV: FS South

John Calipari said there is no such thing as a magic wand.

You thought Mark Stoops arrived from Florida State bearing pixie dust he could sprinkle on Kentucky's football players to make them bigger, stronger, faster?

You thought a new coach could change the dominated into the dominators?

That's not how this works. That's not how the real world works, especially the real world of college football. Overnight successes are scarce. Transformations take time, lots and lots of time.

That Western Kentucky handled Kentucky 35-26 Saturday night in Nashville was no shock. (Yeah for me, I finally got a prediction right.) At Western Kentucky's spring game, the Toppers appeared comfortable with new coach Bobby Petrino's scheme. Petrino appeared to possess weapons of which he could make good use.

The way WKU pounded UK's perceived strength, the defensive line, was disturbing. Western set the tone by rushing for 81 yards in the first quarter.

There were few other bombshells concerning Kentucky's performance, however. The new coaching staff had serious questions about the outside linebackers. Confirmed. The coaching staff had concerns about the secondary. Confirmed.

You knew if a quarterback had truly shined in fall camp, the coaching staff would have named a starter.

And from the UK point of view, this was a bad series from the start. Playing another in-state foe (outside of U of L) four years in a row, especially one trying to establish its FBS credentials, was never a good idea.

It's difficult for any school to dominate another school four straight years. A series usually decreases, not increases, the gap between combatants.

In 2010, when the series started, Kentucky beat Western 63-28. In 2011, the Cats survived 14-3. In 2012, Western pulled off a 32-31 overtime upset in Lexington. This year, the Hilltoppers were clearly the better team. Tables have turned.

Stoops is playing the hand he inherited. Poor decisions, program neglect and bad luck under previous staffs had more to do with what happened at LP Field on Saturday.

Let's reverse field for a second, however. Though another tough year is already knocking on the door, there are reasons for hope.

Kentucky didn't quit. The Cats trailed 21-10 and 35-17 and their tents didn't fold.

Stoops was wrongly booed for kicking a field goal to make the score 35-20 with 9:52 remaining, yet if Joe Mansour hadn't pulled an extra point into the left upright, the Cats would have been down by just one score with 1:47 and three timeouts remaining, leaving Stoops to look like a savant.

Surely with today's rapid advances in medical science and technology, we are a short time away from coaches being able to take the talents of two different quarterbacks — Jalen Whitlow's running and Maxwell Smith's throwing — into one superior quarterback.

Until then, the guess here is offensive coordinator Neal Brown will say, "Let's play two" until one or the other makes an undeniable surge.

And while the sum of the parts struggled, there were individual reasons for optimism. Raymond Sanders ran for 98 yards. Whitlow boasted runs of 19 and 50 yards. True freshman Ryan Timmons went 33 yards on a reverse (before fumbling). Demarco Robinson caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. Javess Blue caught three passes.

Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot need to toughen the defensive front. They need more production out of pre-season All-SEC choice Bud Dupree, credited with all of three tackles. (True freshman Jason Hatcher had the same number.) Stoops and Brown have to figure out what happened on an embarrassing five false start penalties.

All that will take all kinds of work, all kinds of recruiting, and all kinds of time.

Calipari was right.

Magic wands really are a myth.


SATURDAY

Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

When: Noon

Records: UK 0-1; Miami (Ohio) 0-1

TV: FS South

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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