In his head, Mark Stoops has a long list of things that have to be fixed.
“There’s many things we’ve got to get cleaned up,” the Kentucky coach said Monday as his team prepared for a road trip to South Carolina, which also has a 2-0 record. “We’ve got to get a lot better in a lot of areas.”
At the top of that list he rattled off Monday are some issues on the offensive line, including penalties and bad snaps.
Specifically there were two snaps in Saturday’s win over Eastern Kentucky that stopped drives, he said.
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“We will continue to work on that,” Stoops said, noting that it was something that centers Bunchy Stallings and Nick Haynes are trying to fix. They “are very conscientious young men. They work extremely hard; they take pride in their craft. I know they’ll work on that and get that fixed.”
The snap is one of those things that it’s hard to pinpoint in practice as a problem, Stoops said.
“You don’t think it’s an issue,” he said of UK, which still is working to replace graduated center Jon Toth. “Then you get out there, all the situations are different.”
Haynes, who primarily has played guard, does some nice things at center, but has a tendency to sail it high and right in some situations, offensive line coach John Schlarman said after the EKU game.
“Really, that’s what happened both times,” Schlarman said. “He’s got to get that fixed and he will.”
Kentucky has had to do more shuffling than it would like because of injuries. First the Cats lost Toth and guard Ramsey Meyers to graduation, then starting left tackle Cole Mosier injured his knee in preseason camp.
So a short-handed group that was anything but last season is working through some kinks.
“I thought they played better,” Schlarman said of the line this past game. “Did they make the amount of improvement you want? That’s probably not the case. I know they battled.
“I had guys who were battling through some pain and were able to go back in there and win the game in the fourth quarter. That was good to see.”
UK is trying to build some depth on the offensive line, not just rely on moving players to other spots, which has led to some growing pains.
“You’ve got to be on point with your technique there,” Schlarman said, especially in pass protection. “Two out of three times I think we gave up a sack and that was on us. We’ve got to clean that up.”
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is ready for UK to settle into a starting five and get some continuity from there. So far the Cats have rotated seven players.
“We’ve got to find our best five and then from the rotation, we’ll play our best seven or eight,” he said. “We’ve got to find our best five first. Fast.”
It’s a process, Stoops said. “We didn’t have nine players that we trusted at the beginning of the year last year,” he said. “By the end of the year we did.”
While there was little change on UK’s new depth chart released for the South Carolina game, there was some shuffling on the offensive line, including redshirt freshman Luke Fortner moving to left guard behind Logan Stenberg.
True freshman Naasir Watkins was added as backup to Landon Young at left tackle.
News and notes
Two of Kentucky’s most important players, linebacker Jordan Jones and running back Benny Snell, have lingering injuries from the Eastern Kentucky game.
For Snell, it was bruised ribs and for Jones, an undisclosed shoulder injury that required ice and a light sling on his left arm after the win.
“He has a little issue with his shoulder,” Stoops said of the Cats’ leading returning tackler from last season, who has 13 tackles this season. “We’ll see how it goes throughout the week. He’s not ruled out at this point.”
Snell, who had an ice bag on his ribs after the game, said he would be fine.
Stoops added of the sophomore running back: “There will be some pain there. We’ll see how it goes. I have no idea how it’ll go this week. I think Jordan’s is similar. There’s a pain-tolerance issue that we’ll see how it goes and whether he can handle it or not.”
▪ Kentucky has 14 players from the state of Florida and two coaches. While the state cleans up from Hurricane Irma, Stoops said they have been touching base with those involved as much as possible.
“To the best of our knowledge everybody has been safe,” Stoops said of relatives and family in Florida.
▪ There had been some questions about whether true freshman running back Bryant Koback and offensive lineman Naasir Watkins would play this season or redshirt. It sounds more likely that they will play.
“We’re still contemplating it; we’ll see,” Stoops said. “Chances are that both will need to play.”
▪ Kickoff time for the Florida game at Kentucky on Sept. 23 hasn’t exactly been set, but fans can now at least start making tentative plans. The league office announced Monday that the game will be played at either 7 or 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2, ESPNU or the SEC Network.
Kentucky at South Carolina
7:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC)