Things could have gone better during the University of Kentucky’s first fall scrimmage at Kroger Field. But they could been worse, too.
“The scrimmage I think was just OK,” head coach Mark Stoops said Saturday afternoon. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Stoops was pleased, mostly, with how the offense looked, but he chastised the defense for its lack of strength. Inexperience isn’t an excuse for mistakes, Stoops said, but he expects those to happen and to use them as teachable moments.
“The strength of our team needs to be the strength, and today I just didn’t feel like we were up to the challenge defensively, and that’s disappointing,” Stoops said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of time left to get some things rectified.”
The secondary — where the bulk of UK’s inexperience exists defensively — accounted for some good plays Saturday but didn’t show a “want to” as a unit.
“We didn’t bring it,” senior safety Jordan Griffin said. “We didn’t have that want to, we didn’t have that edge behind us that we’re used to. We just thought we could come in and just go through the motions and do what we’ve done in the past. But the past is the past. We’ve got a new year, a new defense and we’ve just gotta bring it.”
Griffin likened having their mistakes and lack of energy called out by the coaches during and after the scrimmage to a scolding from an angry parent.
“It’s kind of one of those things where, you know, if you get in trouble with your parents and they’re just disappointed,” Griffin said. “It hurts worse when they’re disappointed in you and that’s kind of how I felt today. We let our coaches down.”
Coaches have talked about being more balanced on offense in 2019. Whether the Cats ultimately lean on their run game once again or toss it around more is far from being known, but a consistent thread in the preseason has been involving the tight ends more in the passing game.
Griffin and his teammates in the secondary had their hands full with them Saturday.
“I think they did a good job incorporating the tight ends,” Griffin said with a grin.
Justin Rigg, the projected starter at tight end, said he caught three or four passes in the scrimmage. Overall the offense took care of the ball well but had trouble when it got behind the chains.
Taking more advantage of Rigg, along with fellow big-bodied threats Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates, could be a solution to keeping the offense out of tough spots.
“We did hit them through the middle there,” Stoops said. “They’re big target and really make good adjustments to the ball. I think we need to continue to build on that. That’s good for Terry to have that comfort zone with some targets like that, to be able to throw to some guys and throw ’em open a little bit. Just off the cuff here, they’re a couple of guys that stood out out there today.”
Sophomore linebacker Josh Paschal on Wednesday completed his final round of treatment for a melanoma doctors found on his right foot last year. He’s fighting to get on the field; Stoops said he had to force him out of practice on Tuesday, prior to his final treatment, after Paschal showed signs of exhaustion.
“He argued with me for about five minutes and I said, ‘No, no, get in and hit the showers,’” Stoops said with a laugh.
Paschal got “a little sick” again during Friday’s practice, Stoops said, but was able to play in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“He wants to play,” Stoops said. “As you know, he’s missed a lot, so the live reps today was important to him. I’d have to go get a pitch count to see how many snaps he played, but he looked good when he was out there.”
▪ Cornerback Brandin Echols, a junior college transfer with two years of eligibility, has had an aggravated hamstring over the last month or two, Stoops said. That’s slowed his involvement with the team.
▪ Running back Kavosiey Smoke, a redshirt freshman, was held out of Saturday’s scrimmage after getting “banged up” in practice on Friday, but Stoops said it’s nothing major and he should be available Monday. Chris Rodriguez, another redshirt freshman at running back, got “banged up” halfway through the scrimmage but Stoops doesn’t think it will be long-lasting.