UK-Miami notes: Cats respond well to coaches' last-minute defensive adjustment

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2013 

Kentucky's coaches didn't quite believe what they were seeing.

They watched Miami during pre-game warm-ups at Commonwealth Stadium, and everything the RedHawks were practicing looked nothing like what the Cats had been preparing for all week.

"I thought for sure they were bluffing," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They weren't running the offense that we had practiced all week, they weren't running the offense that they ran last week and they weren't running an offense that they ran all last year."

Instead Miami was running a double-slot option.

Fortunately for Kentucky, that was something head coach Mark Stoops and Eliot were prepared to go up against thanks to their time at Florida State. They recently had to go against it in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last season against Georgia Tech.

"It's nothing revolutionary; it's just what we're keying, what we're doing in some of our checks off of alignment," Stoops explained of the defensive alterations. "We stayed pretty basic. We worked on a lot of things. ... With the offense they were running, we had to stay pretty basic and be disciplined with what we were doing."

So before the first snap, Eliot was telling his defense to forget nearly everything it worked on last week and focus on a few key things. He told them to watch for a specific formation.

"We made a quick adjustment right before the game," Eliot said. "I'm so proud of the players. They adapted so quickly, and they didn't fret. They didn't get nervous. They just went out there and executed what we asked them to do."

Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson said it impressed him how quickly his defensive-minded coaches were able to change the plan.

"That speaks a lot, just the attention to detail and guys paying attention on the sideline," said Williamson, who had six tackles and one quarterback hurry for Kentucky.

The Cats held Miami (Ohio) to 122 yards of offense, an average of just 2.1 yards a play. Kentucky, one of the worst in the nation in third-down defense last season, allowed the RedHawks to convert just one of 16.

Stoops said he couldn't recall a game where his staff made such important adjustments out of warm-ups.

"Not to that extent," he said. "I mean, obviously you're always looking at things, getting a tip for things they're stressing, different alignments, things like that. But nothing that drastic."

Special teams issues

After UK's special teams played well against Western Kentucky last weekend, Stoops probably thought that unit was the least of his worries.

But that group showed it has a few issues of its own in the win over Miami.

After starting punt returner Demarco Robinson went down with an ankle injury on the opening kickoff, his backups showed their inexperience, including Daryl Collins fumbling a punt return right into the arms of a RedHawks player who scored their lone touchdown of the game from 6 yards out.

"They've got to come on and they've got to get better," special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said. "We have to have better ball security there. We've got to. We've got to be smarter on the field about where we're fielding the ball. And I've got to do a better job of coaching that. We'll coach that better and we'll get it fixed."

There were other gaffes that included fielding punts kicked within 10 yards of the end zone, and letting one go past that maybe the returner shouldn't have.

"We got our feet wet tonight with a couple of young guys, and they'll be better," Peveto said. "They'll come on and work at it. And I'll be better. I'll coach them better."

Stoops laughed a little and said a resounding "yes" when asked if he was concerned about the punt return situation, especially if Robinson's ankle injury is nagging.

"I make light of it, but that's very aggravating," he said. "It's not very good. We need to get that cleared up. There are some simple rules that are applied that most people in college football know, that you don't back up behind the 10 and catch it, secure the football on a punt safe. We made some plays that we're not very proud of."

Stoops also was concerned with UK's 11 penalties for 117 yards.

But the head coach said he was happy to have some teaching points this week.

"It's always good when you can win a game and be not happy about a lot of situations," he said. "So there's plenty to improve. ... I thought we were very sloppy. I don't like the penalties, the ball security."

Packing the house

Kentucky's announced attendance of 54,846 was larger than any crowd at Commonwealth Stadium last season and its largest opener crowd since 2010.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he understood why some might not have been excited to come watch after the loss to Western Kentucky, but he hoped they might reconsider this next week.

"Hopefully we'll fill this place up next Saturday," he said. "We gave them a little excitement. I don't blame them for being a little frustrated last week; I was, too. But it was fun. I think people are having a good time out in the parking lot."

Quick hitters

■ After seemingly losing the center battle early in fall camp, redshirt freshman Jon Toth was a surprise to start at center ahead of Zach Myers, who has been struggling with injury.

"This week we made that move, I want to say after Wednesday or Thursday, just went with him," Stoops explained of Toth. "We know we're going to go through some growing pains with him. But we wanted to give the young guy a chance, let him get out there and see what he could do."

Stoops said the move was in part due to injury, but didn't elaborate.

■ Two previously injured cornerbacks, Nate Willis and Cody Quinn, were able to play on Saturday. Linebacker Kory Brown was on the UK sideline.

■ TraVaughn Paschal, who had been moved from defensive end to linebacker, responded well, finishing with seven tackles, including one for a loss. End Alvin "Bud" Dupree had seven tackles.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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