Coaches were plenty pleased with the defense after Kentucky’s season-opening victory at Southern Miss last week, especially the Cats’ ground control.
But there were some problems in the air that UK will have to get cleaned up quickly before Eastern Kentucky comes to Kroger Field on Saturday.
“There’s some pass plays that we have to do a better job and we will,” Coach Mark Stoops said shortly after UK topped the Golden Eagles last week. “There were some balls that hung up there that we’ve gotta work on and get better at playing the football and come down with our share.
“They hit some big plays on those. You take those plays out, I think we really played solid defense.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Against Southern Miss, the UK defense gave up seven passing plays of 20 yards or more, including three that went for 30-plus yards. Two, including a 42-yard touchdown, went for 40 or more yards.
In his various media availabilities this week, Stoops outlined what went wrong: One was a botched assignment.
The long scoring catch was a miscommunication about what alignment the secondary was in.
“A guy out of position, there’s no excuse for that,” he said.
And the other irritating one for the coach was what he called “a poor play on the ball” by the defender.
“We have to intercept that ball, let alone defend it and knock it down and not let them catch it,” Stoops said.
The Cats (1-0) will see how fast they caught on to what Stoops and defensive coaches want them to do when the Colonels (0-1) come to town.
In its loss last week at Western Kentucky, EKU had 17 passing plays of at least 10 yards and amassed 320 yards through the air behind quarterback Tim Boyle. The Connecticut transfer threw it 48 times (completing 60.4 percent) and had two touchdowns.
“This quarterback does a good job,” UK defensive coordinator Matt House said. “He gets rid of the ball on time. He’s got good receivers to throw to, so they’ll certainly present a challenge.”
House wants to see the UK defensive backs ready to go up “and just becoming the receiver and taking the ball out of the air.”
‘We were really hoping for a night game’
If you happen to run into Mike and Lois Conrad in the early morning hours before Kentucky plays Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, you might want to offer them a cup of coffee.
“We will get into Lexington somewhere around 5 a.m.,” said Mike, the father of Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad.
Mike and Lois also are the parents of another college football player: Austin, who plays for Ohio University. The Bobcats play at Purdue on Friday night at 8.
The proud parents of two college football players — and a former college softball player at Coastal Carolina, Mackenzie — have spent months formulating a plan so that at least one of them is at each game this fall.
“We’re not going to miss any,” Mike said. “If one of them’s in uniform, one of us will be at the game.”
So last weekend, Lois made the trip to Southern Miss while Mike went to Ohio’s 59-0 win over Hampton where Austin made his debut at defensive end with a team-high tying six tackles.
Initially recruited as a tight end, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound redshirt freshman moved to defensive end a week before the opener and had just three days of practice at his new spot.
On Friday night, the Conrads will be in West Lafayette, Ind., for that late game and then head toward Lexington for a noon home opener for their older son.
“We were really hoping for a night game,” Mike confessed. “If there was ever a time we were hoping for a night game this was it. So we’ll get a couple hours of sleep and we’ll roll over there.”
This is one of many weekends with complicated travel plans. So complicated in fact, that Mike has created a schematic with games and dates and other key details.
“We’ve got a big spreadsheet with hotels booked and airfares booked and rental cars done from here all the way to Florida and back around,” he said. “We’re really pretty lucky. There are six conflicts out of 12. It could’ve been way worse than that.”
The “luck” comes in the form of the Mid-American Conference playing several league games on weeknights in November.
“That helps, but it makes for really long weeks,” Conrad said. It will mean a trip to Lexington on Nov. 4 for Ole Miss, followed by a trip to Athens, Ohio, for Toledo at the Bobcats on Nov. 8, then turning around three days later for UK at Vanderbilt.
It’s a complicated, but fun mess.
Of the six conflicting Saturdays, the Conrads split those games up as judiciously as possible.
“She’s got some favorites,” Mike said of his wife, Lois. “We both really loved South Carolina two years ago and that was one of them that she grabbed right away. I was kind of disappointed in that.
“We both picked one. She wanted that one and I wanted to make sure I was (versus) Florida at home. That was our ‘for sure ones,’ then we worked around the other ones, too.”
Discipline for Kentucky’s Jordan Jones will be handled internally by the team, a UK football spokesman said after short video clips emerged of the linebacker exchanging words with Southern Miss fans at the game last week.
In one of the videos on Twitter, a six-second clip shows Jones walking around behind the bench with UK football staffer Dan Berezowitz while the crowd yells toward the junior from Youngstown, Ohio. Jones then appears to spit in the direction of the crowd.
A second, longer clip shows Jones gesturing toward the Southern Miss fans and then later picking up a garbage can and showing it to the crowd that is yelling at him.
Jones, who has declined all interview requests since December, led Kentucky in tackles last season with 109, including 15.5 for loss and four quarterback sacks. He finished third in the Southeastern Conference in tackles last season.
Eager to get a carry in his first two games in a UK uniform, running back Benny Snell never imagined he’d be the one preaching patience to some of his younger teammates waiting for their chance.
But the sophomore is.
“It’s just all about being patient, your time’s gonna come,” Snell said he’s told fellow running back Bryant Koback and wide receiver Lynn Bowden, who seemed to express displeasure at his lack of targets in the opener. “It’s all about waiting your turn.”
Snell, who went on to break six freshman records after not having a touch in the first two games last season, said this of Bowden: “He’s a great player and a lot of people don’t see that yet, but they’re going to see that in the future. I’ve been talking to him a little bit. He’s going to stay patient. He’s going to shine.”
Bowden was late to camp, which set him back a bit, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said, and the lack of plays last week (55) meant limited touches for all involved.
2017 UK football schedule
Home games in capital letters. Times are p.m.
Sept. 2: UK 24, Southern Miss 17
Sept. 9: EASTERN KENTUCKY, Noon (SEC)
Sept. 16: At South Carolina, 7:30 (SEC)
Sept. 23: FLORIDA
Sept. 30: EASTERN MICHIGAN
Oct. 7: MISSOURI
Oct. 21: At Mississippi St.
Oct. 28: TENNESSEE
Nov. 4: OLE MISS
Nov. 11: At Vanderbilt
Nov. 18: At Georgia
Nov. 25: LOUISVILLE