John Clay: What we've learned about UK football in 3 games

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 15, 2013 


    Florida at Kentucky

    When: Saturday, Sept. 28

    Time: TBA

We are three games into the Mark Stoops Era.

That's a big enough sample size for early observations, don't you think?

Kentucky lost a game (Western Kentucky) it was favored to win, won a game (Miami) it was favored to win, and lost a game (Louisville) it was favored to lose.

For the next few weeks, it will have plenty of chances to win games it will be favored to lose — lose by large amounts.

Anyway, after watching Stoops Troops for three games, a few things have caught my attention.

No. 1: Mark Stoops is a football coach. This is a good thing, maybe the best thing. He's not a promoter or an orator. He's a coach. And coaches are always thinking one thing: How can we get better?

To that end, Stoops is a tweaker. He's willing to try new things. He moved Bud Dupree from linebacker to defensive end. He moved TraVaughn Paschal from defensive end to linebacker. He's played two quarterbacks, sometimes on the same series.

Against Louisville on Saturday, Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot scrapped their base 4-3 alignment and went with three linemen and four linebackers. Not only that, they played true freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher at linebacker just because they believe Hatcher is one of their best 11 players and wanted to get him on the field.

It worked, too. Or at least it worked for a half. Louisville appeared confused and off balance until Charlie Strong could get his troops into the locker room to remind them — loudly — that they were the better team.

No. 2: Young people are America's hope. Kentucky's too. Did you notice that of Kentucky's 17 caught passes on Saturday, 14 were by newcomers? Did you notice that UK's leading rusher, Jojo Kemp, was a true freshman? Did you notice that Paschal, who had barely played before this season, was tied for the second-most tackles on Saturday?

No. 3: There is one major difference between Hal Mumme's Air Raid and Neal Brown's Air Raid. Mumme inherited Tim Couch at quarterback. Brown did not.

After using the dual-quarterback system the first three games, it may be time for Brown to go with the dual-threat quarterback, the one who won the job in fall camp. True, Smith's injury may force this move anyway, but I'd go with Jalen Whitlow.

No. 4: While I believe Kentucky fans are encouraged about what Stoops has done so far and where the program might be headed, they are not excited enough to open up their wallets.

The opening week crowd of 54,846 was a disappointment considering UK drew that for the Blue-White Game. (The again, the Blue-White Game was free.) Saturday's crowd of 65,445 was the smallest for a Louisville game since the pre-expansion days of Commonwealth Stadium, which added approximately 10,000 more seats in 1998.

The fans aren't buying those seats, which appears to be a carryover from last year's attendance nose dive that hit rock bottom when less than 20,000 actual fans showed up to watch the Cats lose to Vanderbilt by 40 points.

That's a deep hole Kentucky has yet to dig itself out of and made me think of Yogi Berra, whom a Cleveland Indians' beat writer Jim Ingraham of the News-Herald recently referenced when writing about the Indians poor attendance.

Said Yogi, "If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them."

Who can blame UK football fans? Their hopes have been raised before. Charlie Bradshaw. John Ray. Fran Curci. Bill Curry. Hal Mumme. Guy Morriss. Rich Brooks. Joker Phillips. They've seen this before.

In this case, a new coach hasn't translated into new ticket-buyers.

My guess is UK fans are rooting for Stoops to succeed, right from the comfort of their own living rooms in front of their 60-inch big-screen, high-definition televisions.

They'll have to see it to buy it.

John Clay: 859-231-3226.E-mail: Blog: @johnclayiv.

Next Game

Florida at Kentucky

When: Saturday, Sept. 28

Time: TBA

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