A week off from the grind of playing in the Southeastern Conference means a chance to make some adjustments, some big and some small.
“I don’t mean to beat on a dead horse, but we are going to build on the good things we are doing and continue to do those and try to work on the areas we are falling short,” Coach Mark Stoops said as UK started practicing again on Tuesday during its bye week.
No. 18 Kentucky has done plenty of positives during its first six weeks of the season, but its first loss of the season at Texas A&M on Saturday also showed where the Cats have to improve, especially on offense.
Some of the offensive adjustments might include looking at personnel like adding speed (Stoops mentioned Zy’Aire Hughes as an option) and size (Ahmad Wagner came up as did Tavin Richardson, whom Stoops would like to see get more involved).
“There is some opportunity this week to look at some ways to create some plays and looking at our options,” said Stoops, whose team is the worst passing offense in the Southeastern Conference and among the worst nationally, averaging 145.5 yards a game with six touchdowns and five interceptions.
Some of that offensive building also has to include focusing on finer points of the game, tight end C.J. Conrad said.
“When you’re playing week by week in the SEC and you have so many scouting reports and so many guys you have to worry about, sometimes you get away from the details,” the senior said.
Conrad pointed to things like pad levels being too high and first steps not being fast enough.
“Stuff like that that means the world, that most people don’t really see,” Conrad said. “But it makes a big difference in us winning and losing our blocks.”
His own pad level was an issue at Texas A&M. When Conrad is responsible for cutting off a defender in the gap, if he doesn’t stay low, he gets pushed back into the gap itself.
“That makes those running lanes not very big for Benny (Snell),” Conrad said. “I feel like that happened on Saturday. The running lanes for Benny have been pretty big and Saturday they weren’t big enough and that was because we were getting pushed a little bit. That boils down to technique.”
Those types of things are easily correctable and will be because of UK’s leadership, said Conrad, whose Cats next will face Vanderbilt at Kroger Field on Oct. 20.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who have played a lot of football here,” he said. “We know we can’t let one loss turn into two. As leaders, it’s our job to get the team back to even and have a great week of practice, work on some small things and make sure we have the right attitude.”
‘Sometimes it doesn’t work’
Even though he’s been focused on Kentucky, Mark Stoops has been reaching out to his brother Mike, who was fired as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma on Monday afternoon after the Sooners’ first loss of the season to Texas.
Stoops said he’s talked to his older brother almost every day.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Mark Stoops said. “I really feel for Mike and what he’s going through, but Mike’s a very good football coach. He’s won a lot of championships, and sometimes it doesn’t work. He’s a big man with broad shoulders, and Mike takes things like a man. He’s disappointed, but he’ll be just fine.”
Center Drake Jackson did not practice on Tuesday with the team after suffering a groin strain in the Texas A&M game last week, with Stoops saying the offensive lineman will be out for a “few days.
“Hopefully he’ll be back next week,” the coach said. “Not sure how long, but should be just a few days.”
▪ It’s going to be a bit longer for fellow offensive lineman Naasir Watkins. The redshirt freshman, who has been working at left tackle with E.J. Price, suffered a knee injury against South Carolina. Watkins will not be available for the Oct. 20 Vanderbilt game, Stoops said.
Vanderbilt at No. 18 Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20 (SEC Network)