UK Football

What will Mark Stoops’ call for simplification look like Saturday?

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wants to make things less complicated for his players so they can react quickly and aggressively on the field.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wants to make things less complicated for his players so they can react quickly and aggressively on the field. AP

Kentucky’s offense might run the same 10 plays over and over again on Saturday.

If the Cats coordinators go back through practice footage and only find 10 plays the team ran efficiently and effectively, then those are the 10 they will go with against New Mexico State.

The decision to downsize comes as part of Coach Mark Stoops’ call for simplification on both sides of the ball after Kentucky started its season 0-2, including being outscored 72-7 in the last six quarters.

So to offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, that could mean a stripped-down version of the offense.

“If we’re out there and we just ran 29 plays in team right there and we weren’t very detailed on 10 of them, then I’m going to cut those 10 and move on to the next,” he explained Tuesday after a long practice. “If we have 19 plays that are good, then we’ll play those 19 plays.”

What’s the point of running a play if it’s not run correctly?

So maybe some of the fancier-looking motions will be pulled or maybe a more complicated blocking scheme will get put on the shelf.

Kentucky also has gone back to the basics: tackling, blocking, throwing, catching, stance this week in an effort to make sure all of the little things are done properly.

That’s been the theme on defense as well.

Among the myriad problems on that side of the ball is players not being able to carry out what’s being called.

UK’s players haven’t been able to “make the right checks, make the right adjustments, get in the right spots,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “That’s been one of our problems, I think more than we anticipated.”

UK coaches took for granted that a nearly new front seven would be able to handle the larger load.

“Those guys last year could handle a lot of calls, they could adjust, they could get lined up, they could communicate, they could be in the right spots,” Eliot said.

“And what we’re finding with this group is they can’t, so we’re trying to limit some of those communications, some of those checks, maybe some of those calls to get these guys where they can line up and play fast.”

And defensively if UK wants to improve its depth — something that seems increasingly necessary with the defense on the field for an average of nearly 90 plays a game — it has to dumb down what it does.

Building depth means having a “scheme simple enough to where you can play more people and that they can go in and execute what you’re asking them to do and bring some guys along,” Stoops said.

Less thinking, more playing.

It’s a simple premise that UK is putting in place this week against the Aggies. Time will tell if it helps.

“We know we play good people that can make plays, and we have to make ’em do that,” Stoops continued. “And that’s part of just executing and being fundamentally sound, and that’ll help guys play harder and more aggressive and play with that sense of urgency that we’re all looking for.”

A more active role?

It took almost a complete practice-week cycle for Kentucky’s head coach to confirm what most fans expected: That Stoops “will be more active with play calling,” as he said Thursday night.

After the 0-2 start to the season, Stoops was asked Monday if he planned to become more involved in fixing the Cats’ woeful defense, ranked No. 123 in the nation in total defense giving up an average of 542 yards per game. His only reply was: “Yes.”

He clarified later in the week that the structure of UK’s staff had not changed, adding that Eliot was still the defensive coordinator.

“I’m assisting him but I’m much more involved this week and I will be until we get things turned,” Stoops said.

For his part, Eliot seemed happy to have the help. “He’s doing everything he can as another coach on the defensive staff, which is really good. Anytime you can get a coach like Coach Stoops to coach with your players and be involved in the game plan, it’s a good thing.”

No Rose parade, but a running QB

Against one of the country’s most porous run defenses (No. 118 nationally allowing 253 yards a game on the ground), New Mexico State will be without one of its top weapons in star running back Larry Rose.

The Third Team All-American and Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season will continue to sit out after offseason sports hernia surgery, Coach Doug Martin confirmed Thursday.

While Rose has been on the mend, much of the Aggies’ running success has come thanks to quarterback Tyler Rogers, who is averaging 42 yards a game. He’s had an average of 12 attempts per game and has scored once.

“His running ability has really helped us,” Martin said of the senior, who has passed for 411 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games (completing 38 of 76 passes). “It’s helped our running game stay alive.”

Rogers will take his share of shots downfield, too, against UK’s man coverage the same way he did in the upset over New Mexico.

A versatile quarterback who is comfortable tucking and running is always a worry for defensive coordinators.

“Well, they got some guys that can get down the field and they’ve got a running quarterback,” Stoops said. “Anytime they have the dimension where they’ve got the cue run game, you know those are aggravating yards at times because again you’re accounting for 12 guys essentially.”

A day for heroes

It will be the annual Heroes’ Day at Commonwealth Stadium where all active, reserve and veteran members of the armed forces along with police, firefighters and first responders receive complimentary tickets to the game with a valid service ID.

Stoops took it one step further this week, inviting many members in the Lexington community to spend time at practice.

“It’s a real honor to have heroes like that here, and with the police and firefighters and everybody we’ve had this week,” he said. “It’s been really good for our players to see them and just to invite people out to watch some practice. It’s been a nice week.”

Among the tentative plans for the day are a football-field sized American flag for the national anthem, which will be presented by the UK Air Force ROTC and UK Army ROTC, recognition of personnel throughout the game and military VIPs in attendance.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

UK scores, schedule

(Home games in capital letters)

Sept. 3: SOUTHERN MISS (L, 44-35)

Sept. 10: At Florida (L, 45-7)

Sept. 17: NEW MEXICO STATE, 4

Sept. 24: SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:30

Oct. 1: At Alabama

Oct. 8: VANDERBILT

Oct. 22: MISSISSIPPI STATE

Oct. 29: At Missouri

Nov. 5: GEORGIA

Nov. 12: At Tennessee

Nov. 19: AUSTIN PEAY

Nov. 26: At Louisville

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