We media members didn’t get to see Kentucky football’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, but Mark Stoops did and what the head coach saw left him underwhelmed.
“It was just an OK scrimmage,” said Stoops after his team played some nearly real football, including blocking and tackling, at Kroger Field.
Having talked to Stoops, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, defense coordinator Matt House and a few of the players, some takeaways from what apparently went on Saturday at Kroger Field.
1. Yikes, those turnovers
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Gran reported that right off the bat his offense put together a terrific 10-to-12-play drive in which it overcame a penalty and went right down the field to the defense’s 1-yard line only to go — oops.
“We were our own worst enemy,” Gran said. “Put the ball on the ground.”
That would be a fumble. A lost fumble. No one identified the guilty party or volunteered much in the way of specifics, but for a team that finished 107th in turnover margin last season, that isn’t the way you want to start your first scrimmage.
Not for the offense, anyway, which was tied for 123rd out of 128 teams last season in lost fumbles with 16. (Louisville was 128th with 22.) Three of those fumbles were returned by the opponent for touchdowns.
Despite that, Kentucky managed to win seven football games and reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010. That’s pushing your luck, however, something Stoops and Gran both would not like to chance it again.
2. The run defense is a work in progress
If ranking 107th nationally in turnover margin last season was not good, the Cats were even worse against the run, ranking 110th out of 128 teams. UK allowed 228.2 rushing yards per game, its highest number since the 1994 defense allowed 272.2. That 1994 team went 1-10.
Stoops and House began preseason camp identifying run defense as an area that much improve, but Saturday was the first chance to judge that in a live circumstance.
“I think we were stout up front,” Stoops said. “I think our run defense was better, in general. They did rip off a couple. But in general I think we were more solid.”
That wasn’t good enough for House.
“The offense did a great job, hit a couple of runs to start the scrimmage,” House said. “We responded, which was good to see, and got a goal-line stop. But we put ourselves in a bad situation to start the scrimmage.”
Follow-up questions coaxed the defensive coordinator into identifying some positives in the scrimmage, but not enough.
“Any time they pop a long run, I’m not happy,” House said. “That’s the bottom line.”
3. Lynn Bowden is starting to show his talent
Kentucky’s most heralded true freshman wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until last Friday, has only had a week of practice, doesn’t know the offense, but is already finding ways to earn praise.
“I thought he was one of the guys who showed up and made some plays,” said Gran afterward.
I thought he was one of the guys who showed up and made some plays.
UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran on Lynn Bowden
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Youngstown native caught at least four passes (according to Gran), converted some third-down plays (according to quarterback Drew Barker) and even blocked well (according to quarterback Stephen Johnson).
“Lynn is really coming on,” Stoops said. “He’s just a good football player. It’s hard to force-feed them, there’s so much learning involved. He just got here. The other day he had a really good practice. He showed up today with a couple of nice catches.”
Stoops said the speedy freshman is working as a punt returner and a kickoff returner, which is a chance to afford him early touches before he masters the playbook, but it could be that the five-star prospect, ranked 60th by Scout for the Class of 2017, could be a factor on offense right away.
“I love his attitude,” Stoops said. “The kid comes in and he’s what I expected in that he’s a great kid, he’s a competitor, he doesn’t want anything handed to him, he wants to earn his way.”