Intense practices motivate Kentucky's football team

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 9, 2013 

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, during UK fan day on Friday August 9, 2013 in Lexingtton, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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It took one loss to for Kentucky's coaches to realize they needed to take the "cheer" out of cheerleader and just focus on the leader part.

The coaches spent a lot of time this summer and in fall camp concerned about the fragile psyche of a team that went 2-10 and played in front of mostly empty stadiums on Saturdays.

"I was probably worried a little bit too much about confidence going into that opener and should've coached them harder, so that's my fault," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said this weekend. "The mistake I made early in camp was putting their confidence over the discipline we wanted to play with. ... We really corrected it. We coached those guys hard all week."

And Kentucky's players responded with a convincing 41-7 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.

Seeing his team respond in such a positive way, including racking up 675 yards of total offense against a struggling RedHawks team, means Kentucky's players can expect more of the same.

"We're going to continue to coach them hard," Brown promised despite a grueling upcoming stretch where Kentucky will play four teams ranked in the nation's top 18 over the next five weeks, starting with No. 7 Louisville on Saturday.

"We're not going to give. Even if we don't have the success that we want to have, we're not going to give. There's expectations that we have, how we're going to play. We're going to hold those to the strictest of standards," Brown said.

For their part, the players seemed to welcome the change.

Senior Jonathan George said they responded to the intensity of their coaches with intensity of their own.

"They pushed us," said the running back, who caught a 48-yard touchdown pass in the Miami game and ran for 27 yards on six carries. "I feel like the players responded well to that toughness from the coaches. I feel like it was a major up because now we realized that our margin of error is not that big and we have to come out every week and be focused, just be focused and be ready to play."

On Monday, the senior added this caveat that he might regret slightly by Friday.

"Obviously it showed great improvements from the first week, so hopefully they will continue to go even harder on us in practice," he said, noting the Cats' 11 penalties for 117 yards on Saturday as a good place to start.

Meeting with the media on Monday to preview the game against Louisville (2-0), George's head coach nearly guaranteed practices will get more and more challenging going forward.

"They thought last week was tough; we'll be more tough this week," Coach Mark Stoops said, noting that it's often easier to get players' attention after a win.

He hoped any talk of "overconfidence" after the loss to Western Kentucky is gone now.

"That's just silly to me because we have such a long way to go," he said. "But that's where we're at. You have to educate them on everything, and that's your job to stay on them. Just again, just have them improve and understand the accountability that comes with it and the discipline that comes with it."

A challenge issued

The 54,846 at Commonwealth Stadium last Saturday was the largest announced crowd since the 2011 season, but UK's head coach would like to see that number rise.

"I would expect us to have a full house," Stoops said of the Louisville game. "I would anticipate there will be no tickets by the end of the week. Our fans have not disappointed us yet. So, sure, I'll throw out a challenge to get them there. We need them there.

"And then it's our job to go deliver and play well. I think you'll see us prepared to play a great game this week, and you're going to see a team that's excited about this opportunity."

The smallest home crowd to see a UK game against Louisville was 59,162 in 1994. Six of the past seven against the Cardinals at Commonwealth Stadium had 70,000-plus fans, the lone exception being UK's most recent home game against U of L in 2011, which had 68,170 in attendance.

Quick hits

Kevin Mitchell, the lone senior starter on Kentucky's offensive line, was named Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week by the league office.

The Cats' right guard graded out at 90 percent and had nine knockdown blocks in UK's win over Miami. He did not allow a sack or have a penalty.

■ There was little change on the newest UK depth chart, released on Monday. Wide receiver Demarco Robinson was still listed as a first-team wide receiver as well as punt and kickoff return man despite the ankle injury that sidelined him almost the entire Miami game.

When asked if he thought Robinson would be back this week, Stoops said: "I'm not sure yet. I really don't know."

Cornerback Cody Quinn, who has had his own set of ankle issues, was promoted to No. 2 on the Cats' depth chart, moving ahead of Eric Simmons.

Stoops said Quinn likely will be back versus the Cardinals.

"I think Cody will be back full speed this week, which will help," he said. "He was ready to go last week in an emergency situation. He was ready to go if we needed him."

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

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