It wasn’t the first scrimmage Mark Stoops expected to see from a veteran Kentucky team that returns 16 regular starters and tons of other experienced players.
“I felt like it was a bit flat,” the Cats’ coach said after the closed scrimmage at Kroger Field on Saturday morning. “Felt like it was just average across the board,” he continued. “I didn’t really see exceptional play from either side. I just felt like it was good enough to be average today.”
Without naming names, Stoops noted sloppy, pre-snap penalties that stalled drives, drops by wide receivers and at least two fumbles by young running backs late in the scrimmage.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but that’s why we’re here,” the coach said. “We’re in the middle of camp. I expect this group to bounce back. Get a little bit of rest this weekend and get back at it next week because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Defense had its issues, too, mostly in the energy department.
“Just the energy and the great passion and energy to get to the football,” Stoops said. “I felt like today was one of those days when one side or the other had success, it was because the other side wasn’t playing good. And I’m really not interested in seeing that.”
The day wasn’t just frustrating for the head coach, but for the players, too.
Middle linebacker Kash Daniel called the scrimmage performance “average at best.”
While there were “spurts” for each side, it could’ve been much better.
“Overall it was average, and if we want to get where we need to be then today was unacceptable,” said Daniel, one of just two starters that are new for the Cats’ defense.
“We know how you play, we know what you’re about and we know our standard and that wasn’t our standard. We need to pick this stuff up and move forward.”
There were a few built-in excuses, including the absence of star running back Benny Snell, who has a calf injury that has limited him recently.
“A minor strain of his calf,” Stoops said.
Backup A.J. Rose was in Cleveland for a funeral and missed the first scrimmage.
Senior running back Sihiem King “did a good job,” the head coach said. “He had some really good runs at time, but just the overall depth and the attitude, I was a little disappointed.”
This wasn’t some attempt to fire up the team for the second scrimmage next weekend. This isn’t calculated disappointment.
“I’m just not pleased,” Stoops said. “I feel like there’s a lot more with us. It’s a long training camp, but I expect more coming out for the first scrimmage.”
Key competition updates
The scrimmage was lackluster and that seemed to be Stoops’ perspective on the Cats’ quarterbacks competing for the starting spot.
Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, who are up for the starting spot, have been “inconsistent” this first week of camp, their coach said.
Neither player nor the offensive coaches were available after the scrimmage. No stats were provided.
The inconsistencies don’t all fall on the sophomore quarterbacks, though.
“They’ve been inconsistent,” Stoops said. “But I think you could say that about a lot of guys. I don’t feel like anybody has stepped up on the offense to make a spectacular play.
“Wide receivers, again, I just feel like we’re very average there right now. We have nobody stepping up and making great individual plays for them. But I think the quarterbacks are a part of that as well. I think they’ve been inconsistent.”
▪ Kentucky tried to work out the players vying to replace long-time kicker Austin MacGinnis more than usual while in the stadium on Saturday, but no starter has been named in the competition between senior walk-on Miles Butler and true freshman Chance Poore.
Special teams coordinator Dean Hood also mentioned that punter Grant McKinniss was in the mix for that spot earlier this week.
“We kicked a lot of kicks today for them being in the stadium, and with the whole group we kicked a few during the scrimmage and then extra points, backed them up, kicked more of them and got a lot of kicks in,” Stoops said. “We’ll see how that goes. I felt like those guys were inconsistent today as well.”
If the head coach was going to march a kicker on the field this weekend, it sounds like Butler would have the edge.
“At this point, Miles is a guy that I know he’s been around here, he’s kicked in some games, filled in for us,” Stoops said of Butler. “If I had to play today, Miles would be out there, but Chance has showed a strong leg, so we’ll see where it goes.”
Other news and notes
Kentucky’s coach didn’t offer any updates on the health issues of defensive lineman Josh Paschal nor offensive line coach John Schlarman. Paschal was diagnosed recently with a malignant melanoma on the bottom of his foot. Schlarman’s illness has not been disclosed.
“At this time I’m not at liberty to talk about that,” Stoops said. “I’ll give you an update when the time is right with those guys.”
▪ Both scrimmages last preseason cost the Cats starters on offense with an ankle injury ending wide out Dorian Baker’s season and a knee injury prematurely ending senior left tackle Cole Mosier’s UK career.
It sounds like Kentucky was able to avoid anything like that on Saturday. Stoops reported that Cedric Dort rolled an ankle in the scrimmage, but the coach didn’t disclose the severity of the injury. The sophomore cornerback played in nine games last season with six tackles, many coming on special teams.