Stoops won't sugarcoat Alabama challenge

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 11, 2013 

Mark Stoops walked with his players as the Cats took on South Carolina. Playing Alabama will be a "very tough task," Stoops said.

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Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops prides himself on being a straight-forward, honest guy.

He doesn't sugarcoat things for his players or for the media.

The first-year head coach admitted UK is in for a huge challenge against top-ranked, defending national champion Alabama.

The only team that's been able to score in bunches against the Crimson Tide this season was Texas A&M and its nimble Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

So does this mean Alabama might be susceptible against a running quarterback, like say UK's Jalen Whitlow?

"No," Stoops said matter-of-factly. "They have no weakness in their defense. They don't have any weakness on their team, as you can imagine with the No. 1 team in the country."

UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown seemed to take a page from his head coach's honesty book when he was asked similar questions.

When asked if any of the Crimson Tide's defenders really stood out to him, Brown said:

"Yeah, about 11 of them. ... They're just deep," Brown continued. "They're really big up front. I think they've done a good job with their front four recruiting big, physical guys. And they play gap control. They do as good a job as anybody in the country of getting their hands on the O-line and really controlling the line of scrimmage."

So how does Kentucky game plan against an Alabama team that has zero weaknesses, as Stoops has said this week?

"It's just about us and our execution," Stoops said. "We're gonna go out there to compete and play. It's about putting one good play out there and then another. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We can control the things we can control, and we can execute better than we have been. And that's what we're working on."

Alabama is quite comparable in defensive numbers this season to Florida, which held UK to a season-low 173 total yards (including just 48 on the ground), 12 first downs and just seven points.

Getting creative

In the loss at South Carolina, Kentucky added a few new wrinkles offensively, including several more throws to the tight end as well as direct snaps to the running back with quarterback Jalen Whitlow out wide as a receiver.

When asked if those were Gamecocks-exclusive additions, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said they were permanent fixtures for the rest of the season.

"We just needed to add it," Brown said. "I'd kind of been depending on Jalen to do that and I felt like our running backs are better between the tackles. You know we were one of the best third-down teams in the country last year at Texas Tech ... and we used the Wildcat effectively and I felt like we just needed to bring that."

Stoops liked the new looks the Wildcat package gives UK's offense.

"Just gave us a little bit of versatility on some short yardage situations, and any time you get the direct snap, it just gives you numbers every now and then and it can give some confusion to a defense," he said.

Alabama connections

Perhaps no one on Kentucky's staff understands Alabama more than cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley, who was a graduate assistant on the Crimson Tide staff in 2010 and 2011, when Alabama won two bowl games and a national championship.

But Ansley said he wasn't sure how much his experience a few years ago can help with UK game planning now.

However, Ansley did see a lot of similarities between Saban and UK head coach Mark Stoops.

"They're both great defensive minds," Ansley said. "They're both defensive back guys, so there's a lot of similarities. ... As far as working hard and holding everybody accountable, they're both similar in that way."

 UK tight ends coach Vince Marrow played for Saban at Toledo and Marrow's son, Mike, was recruited by Saban to play for Alabama.

 Alabama defensive line coach Chris Rumph is the uncle of UK senior defender Donte Rumph. ... UK receiver Daryl Collins initially committed to play for Alabama before coming to Kentucky. ... Whitlow, a Prattville native, played with Tide defensive back Nick Perry. Kicker Austin MacGinnis also attended Prattville. Several other UK players are from Alabama: running back Jonathan George, safety Eric Dixon, receiver Rashad Cunningham, defensive end Za'Darius Smith.

Wearing pink

Several members of the University of Kentucky football team will be wearing pink gloves and sweatbands in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month when UK takes on No. 1 Alabama on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. UK's helmets will also display a pink ribbon.

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