Most changes will be subtle: changes in routine, changes in attitude, changes in rotation.
But no matter what alterations are made, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops is hopeful that it will lead to a big change in the product fans see on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
“We played very good football the last time we were here for a half and we’re going to do that for 60 minutes,” Stoops said after Kentucky returned from a 45-7 drubbing at Florida winless going into its game against New Mexico State.
“That I guarantee: That this team will play hard and will play fundamental football,” Stoops continued. “I believe in these players and I hope the fans do as well.”
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But belief in the team and that it can do better going forward doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes coming, including a simplified game plan, something UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran also said Saturday in Gainesville.
You can’t have guys that are unsure, that aren’t playing on the edge.
Stoops believes the uncertainty, especially on defense, has led to a breakdown on the field. He talked about sitting in player meeting rooms this week and working to make sure the “football IQ” improves around the team.
“You can’t have guys that are unsure, that aren’t playing on the edge,” he said. “That’s where it’s not OK. That’s where our fans, I’m sure, have some frustration and I do, too. I’ve said our players mean well and they’ve worked hard. None of that is a lie.”
As for the routine, the coaches and players watch the game film on the trip back to Lexington, then it’s graded on Sundays and coaches move on to the next opponent.
That will be changed slightly this week after the bad loss at Florida.
“We had to spend some extra time analyzing ourselves,” Stoops said. “That’s for sure. So yes, yesterday was different in that you had to go through the film several times and go through the first two games to make sure we’re doing things — that we’re putting our players in a position to be successful.”
Statistically, Kentucky looks every bit an 0-2 team, averaging just 21 points a game (No. 106 in nation) and is No. 121 in total offense averaging an anemic 279 yards per game.
There are just three teams in the country worse in points allowed per game (44.5). The Cats are in the bottom 10 in total defense (542 yards per game given up) and 118th in rushing defense and 106th in passing defense.
Stoops said he’s tired of talking about inexperience. UK has to get production out of the players available, Stoops said.
“You’ve got guys, you’ve got to be able to put them in position,” Stoops said. “We have who we have and we have some inexperience and we’ve got to get them to play better, especially on the defensive end.”
But the coaches can’t be the only ones who are taking that long look in the mirror either, Stoops said. The players will spend some time this week learning about handling adversity better.
“I could talk till we’re blue in the face about handling adversity and responding, and we didn’t for whatever reason,” Stoops said. “That we will get fixed and I think what it looks like is it starts with today with us going out and practicing and going back and fundamentally working and getting our football IQ higher.”
Other news and notes
It doesn’t sound like Jordan Jones will be running any extra wind sprints or training on the “encouragement stairs” this week for some postgame comments he made on Saturday.
Jones, who had nine tackles in the loss at Florida, said: “Sometimes when we’re down, a lot of people on our team seem to quit and think it’s over. … As a whole team we need to work on fighting back and not giving up and realizing the game’s not really over until it’s over.”
Stoops said while he didn’t love Jones’ use of the word “quit,” he understood his intent.
“I’d rather have guys respond the way he does,” Stoops said. “I think that’s a beautiful quote for you guys, but I don’t think he means it that way. I think he means it that we need to respond. … I don’t think we respond the way that he responds. So I’m good with him.”
▪ Game time for the Sept. 24 game at Commonwealth Stadium between South Carolina and Kentucky has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network, the league office announced Monday.
Depth chart notes
Linebacker Jordan Bonner made his first appearance on the Kentucky depth chart Monday, listed as second string behind Josh Allen at an outside linebacker spot.
Bonner, who arrived in August because he was set back academically by an offseason stabbing incident, has been making strides, but also apparently was questionable at the start of the season for other reasons.
“We won an (NCAA) appeal on him, so he wasn’t cleared to play until right before Game 1,” Stoops said. “So he’s working his way into it now.”
▪ Sihiem King remained the top name on kickoff returns even though running back Benny Snell was the returner against Florida. “We just wanted to try Benny in there,” Stoops said. “I’m sure Sihiem will get another chance as well but we wanted to see Benny run it.”
▪ Expect to see more of cornerback Jordan Griffin in the secondary rotation in coming games but likely not Henry Clay’s Davonte Robinson, with Stoops saying the plan for now is to redshirt Robinson if they can.
▪ Left tackle Cole Mosier, who injured his ankle in the second quarter at Florida, was still listed atop the depth chart at that spot, but he sounds like a question mark. As for George Asafo-Adjei, who didn’t make the trip to Gainesville because of his ankle injury: “I feel pretty confident that George will be back (this week).”
▪ Jabari Greenwood, previously listed behind Jeff Badet at one wide receiver position, was moved to the No. 3 spot behind Dorian Baker and Tavin Richardson. … At that other wide-out spot now, it’s Badet followed by Kayaune Ross or Blake Bone.
New Mexico State at Kentucky
When: 4 p.m.
TV: SEC Network alternate channel