Stoops looks to the UK football team's future but isn't writing off the present

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 18, 2013 

  • Kentucky at Georgia

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday

    Records: Kentucky 2-8 (0-6 SEC); Georgia 6-4 (4-3)

    TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU

Mark Stoops' weekly news conference had a bit of a forward spin on Monday.

The Kentucky coach, mired in a 2-8 first season with a team that hasn't won a Southeastern Conference game in 14 straight tries, seemed optimistic about the program's future.

He discussed that future in its various phases, including recruiting progress for the 2014 class and beyond.

But Stoops was quick to note that he thinks Kentucky can make plenty of improvement with its current roster in the final two games, starting Saturday at Georgia.

"I want to win now," he said when asked how many recruiting classes it might take to turn UK's fortunes around. "I want to win this week. I think we're putting together a good football team. I love their attitude, and I love their work ethic."

Stoops said Kentucky's struggles on the field this season, which include losing six of its last seven games, haven't hurt recruiting efforts for the 2015 class.

"I feel very good about it, really," he said. "A lot of good things are happening that way. I feel good about the recruiting. I feel great about the leadership of the '14 class. I feel like hopefully there's some good news here in the next couple weeks that will give us some momentum for '15 and beyond."

Have these first eight games helped Stoops pick out the places where Kentucky needs the most help?

"The short answer is we need help in all areas," Stoops said. "I think we're going to continue to do that and recruit extremely hard.

"I feel very good about the way things are going in '14 and off to a good start in '15. Makes me very optimistic about the future."

The coach again mentioned finding playmakers on the offensive end, saying he was pleased to see seven or eight explosive plays against Vanderbilt and that he'd like to see that number continue to rise.

"If we can get some more playmakers, that would help in that area," he said. "We need to continue to get bigger across the board."

The Cats need to keep working to get players at each level of the defense, Stoops said.

"We really need help up front, at linebacker and in the secondary," he said. "You need a lot of guys. We talked about that last week with the versatility of this league. You've got to be big and physical at times. You've got to be able to cover at times. You've got to be very multiple."

The offensive wish list includes offensive linemen and tight ends, a position where four of UK's top five players on the depth chart are seniors.

And while Stoops hopes change will come against Georgia and Tennessee at the end of this season, he also thinks the development of this year's freshman class and that unsigned 2014 class, rated eighth in the nation by Rivals, will have a dramatic impact.

"I think you know the '14 class is going to be a very good class," he told the media. "It's going to be a great class. And I anticipate those guys having a good impact on our program."

As they grow and develop and the Cats mix in a few more junior college players, Stoops said, he sees a brighter future.

'I love where I'm at'

The team that Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops left a year ago is undefeated and appears to have a legitimate shot to play for a national championship.

His current team has lost six of its last seven games and has no chance at post-season play.

So, does the former Florida State defensive coordinator regret his change of location given those circumstances?

"I love where I'm at," the first-time head coach said Monday. "I tell our players that. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, and that's the truth because I think it's a great challenge, and I'm very optimistic about the future."

More than any regrets, Stoops said he has a real fondness for the Seminoles players and coaches and that he's excited to have been a part of their success.

"I'm very proud of being a part, just a cog in the wheel down there to help them get to that point," he said. "I hope they continue to win. I'm sure they will. Very proud of being a part of that and helping them get to that point."

Injury, depth chart updates

Stoops said Kentucky is "banged up" heading into Saturday's game at Georgia.

Cornerback Nate Willis (sprained knee) and linebacker TraVaughn Paschal (sprained abdominal muscle) are both doubtful and did not play at Vandy. Neither is listed on the Cats' depth chart.

Stoops did say that UK expects that wide receiver Ryan Timmons (ankle) will be able to play more after participating in just a handful of plays last week. Offensive linemen Darrian Miller and Kevin Mitchell also should be able to play.

The Kentucky depth chart also was updated to reflect the one-half suspension for Eric Dixon, the Cats' third-leading tackler, who was thrown out of the game for targeting. Glenn Faulkner is listed as the starter.

■ Other minor depth chart updates include Tyler Brause moving to No. 2 at middle linebacker behind Avery Williamson with Miles Simpson moving to the "Will" linebacker spot to back up Khalid Henderson with Paschal out.

Big Blue Crush this week

Kentucky's annual quest to crush Tennessee in blood donations is going on this week. Donors will receiver a long-sleeved Big Blue Crush T-shirt and a coupon for a McDonald's McCafé beverage, according to a news release from the Kentucky Blood Center.

The yearly battle, which is tied 12-12-1, helps ensure sufficient blood supply for patients through the Thanksgiving holiday and into December.


Kentucky at Georgia

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Records: Kentucky 2-8 (0-6 SEC); Georgia 6-4 (4-3)

TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU

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

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