There likely is plenty of blame to go around for the defensive mistakes that Mark Stoops called “inexcusable” on Monday.
But the Kentucky coach took a healthy helping of the blame and put it squarely on himself.
“That can’t happen,” Stoops said of two Florida touchdowns on Saturday night where uncovered wide receivers had easy scores in the 28-27 defeat at Kroger Field.
“There’s no excuse for it,” he continued. “That starts with me … I can’t believe it happened, but it did and I take responsibility for that.”
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It not only happened twice on Saturday against the Gators, but also in 2015 on a similar play at Vanderbilt.
Stoops, who has been a defensive backs coach for more than 30 years, said in all that time this situation has only happened to him at Kentucky. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable to him.
“That’s on me,” he said. “That shouldn’t ever happen again.”
Without going into detail about who is responsible for what parts of seeing the bigger personnel picture for Kentucky on those plays, Stoops said from now on he will have two people responsible for watching the perimeter of the field.
“If we’re not in position, somebody better be hitting me over the head that I need to call a timeout,” he said. “I try to manage the game as best I can. We work hard at it and that cannot happen. And it’s a shame because it can’t happen period. Point blank.
“We’ve put things in there, but it is a shame because the players and the team played exceptionally good football for a big portion of that game. That’s the good news. That’s how far this team has come.”
Both touchdowns on uncovered receivers came out of timeouts, adding to the frustration. On the first one, a 45-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland, Stoops said he was caught looking at a formation change by the Gators.
“We have plenty of people that can watch and look for things,” he said. “That shouldn’t happen, and it did.”
The second similar mistake gave the Gators the 28-27 lead with 43 seconds to go when quarterback Luke Del Rio found Freddie Swain for a 5-yard score. That one was a substitution mistake where UK was trying to get different cornerbacks in situationally.
“The communication, there’s a lot of things that go on,” he said. “It’s very loud down there, and we can’t try to sub at that point. We tried to switch personnel and the two corners got confused on who was coming out and who wasn’t and again, that can’t happen, and again, that’s on me. I cannot let that happen.”
There will be other measures taken to make sure those mistakes don’t happen again, the coach continued, as UK prepares for Eastern Michigan at Kroger Field on Saturday.
Normally things like piped-in crowd noise are reserved for the offense when it’s getting ready to go on the road to a hostile environment, but it sounds like the defense will be getting its share of auditory blasts coming up, too.
“It’s total chaos out there for those players,” Stoops said. “They’re changing personnel. They’re shifting. They’re motioning, creating new sets. There’s a lot of things for those players to be dialed into and sometimes we were very good at it and sometimes we weren’t. It’s an urgency to communicate. We’ll continue to get better.”
After a week of fewer issues with snaps, Kentucky had the familiar problem return again against the Gators.
UK will continue to work all options, Stoops said, adding that they will give a longer look this week to backup Drake Jackson, a redshirt freshman from Woodford County, at center.
Kentucky’s coach pointed to condensation playing a role in making the ball slippery.
“As I said after the game, it was very hot,” Stoops said, adding that center Bunchy Stallings was “very sweaty.
“There’s times I think where his grip is an issue. We’ve gotta continue to look at all options … We’ve gotta continue to tweak that and try to be as perfect as we can be.”
News and notes
Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones, who suffered an undisclosed shoulder injury against Eastern Kentucky, is still not back on the depth chart for the Eastern Michigan game.
At weakside linebacker, UK still lists Eli Brown as the starter followed by Jamar “Boogie” Watson as his backup.
▪ Cornerback Derrick Baity, who left the Florida game after suffering a head injury, tweeted at 1:46 a.m. on Sunday: “I’m OK” with not much context. The junior remains on the latest depth chart, but Stoops didn’t offer any new information on the health of two key defensive playmakers.
“No update at this point,” he said.
▪ Kentucky’s game against Missouri on Oct. 7 will be played at 7:30 p.m. and be shown on the SEC Network, the league office announced on Monday. The Cats will have their bye week after the Missouri game before going back on the road to play at Mississippi State on Oct. 21.
Eastern Michigan at Kentucky
4 p.m. Saturday (SEC)