Taking care of the football is so important to Kentucky’s coaches that they showed a large graphic to illustrate the point on the first day of fall camp.
It noted that UK had just 15 turnovers last season. That was 13 better than the Cats’ 28 the year before and seven better than their 22 the year before that.
“It gave us a chance last year to win a lot of games,” offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said of the few miscues that had UK among the top 30 nationally last season for taking care of the ball.
The lasting message for UK’s offense was: try to get that number even lower this season and good things will happen.
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The Cats are going to have to go turnover-free in a few games for that math to work at the end. After UK coughed it up four times in the first half of the season opener — two fumbles and two interceptions — the team is on pace to commit 48 turnovers in the regular season.
“This year our goal was to be in the top 10” in taking care of the ball, co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said on Tuesday. “That was not a good start to be in the top 10.”
As the Cats get set to go to Florida on Saturday night, they sit tied for second-most turnovers in the country out of game one with four.
Keeping that number low is imperative. It means so much to Gran and Hinshaw that they start every practice with a period that’s primary focus is ball security.
“I hope to God we get that fixed; we have to,” Gran said of the mistakes, which Central Michigan turned into 20 points. “Can’t go anywhere and turn the ball over like that and expect to win.”
The good news for the Cats is one bad game does not a season make. UK turned it over four times in one game last season against Tennessee, but only 11 times in the other 12 games.
“It was like it got contagious,” Gran said of that Tennessee game, which still ended in a UK victory like Saturday’s game against the Chippewas, who were third in the nation in takeaways a season ago with 31 (15 forced fumbles and 16 interceptions).
Whatever turnover bug Kentucky had in the first game, which included five fumbles — only two of which were lost — and two interceptions along with another near-pick for Gunnar Hoak, the Cats coaches hope it gets cured quickly.
Maybe it was a jitter bug?
That’s one theory as Kentucky breaks in a brand new quarterback.
“I’m not going to lie, I had nerves,” sophomore QB Terry Wilson said. “But that’s out of the way. … Gotta learn from it, gotta own it.”
Wilson was responsible in some part for three of the four errors. On a fake handoff to Lynn Bowden, the quarterback went to run and had the ball slip out of his arms.
Then Wilson was picked off in the end zone trying to lead receiver Tavin Richardson to the corner for a touchdown throw.
“Tavin kind of got tripped up on that and may have had a chance to go get it,” Coach Mark Stoops said on his radio show this week.
On the second interception just before the half, Wilson tried to float one up to Bowden, but it landed in the arms of a Chips defender.
When Wilson went back to watch and assess the damage, he saw “stupid mistakes.
“Things like that are going to happen in the first game, but after watching it, I’m glad I watched it,” Wilson said. “I’m glad I watched all the bad plays and corrected it. On to this week and just excited to prep hard and get ready to go.”
These aren’t unusual problems for new quarterbacks in new systems, Stoops said.
“You remember Stephen (Johnson) a couple years ago and how much more comfortable he got game by game,” the head coach said. “Terry will also learn that, when to step up and get some yards or when to step up, buy some time and convert down the field. That just comes from playing the game and his receivers, tight ends and running backs getting used to him as well.”
On another lost fumble, Bowden got spun around after catching a short pass near the line of scrimmage and lost the ball in a crowd of tacklers.
“We’ll emphasize (ball security) again, but we’re not going to panic about it,” Stoops said previewing the game against Florida, who had 17 takeaways last year and forced three turnovers in its opener over Charleston Southern last week. “We have to get it under control.”
Kentucky at No. 25 Florida
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network