UK Football

UK-Florida notes: Kentucky's defense miserly against Gators, but it still has room to improve

UK'S  11-J.D. Harmon celebrated his interception with Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Chris Westry (21)  as the University of Kentucky played the University of Florida at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 19, 2015. This is third quarter action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
UK'S 11-J.D. Harmon celebrated his interception with Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Chris Westry (21) as the University of Kentucky played the University of Florida at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, September 19, 2015. This is third quarter action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Florida's offense came into the game averaging 46 points and nearly 490 yards.

Kentucky's defense held the Gators to just 14 points and 245 yards of offense in the Cats' 14-9 loss on Saturday, but it wasn't enough.

"I was pleased with the defensive effort," Coach Mark Stoops said of his defense, which got several key stops, including an interception in the end zone for J.D. Harmon, his second of the season.

"The guys played hard; they prepared the right way. ... Thought we had a good plan; guys played hard and put ourselves in position to win the game."

But there are plenty of things to work on, the coach said, like communication breakdowns.

"That miscommunication on the third down that set up the fourth and short, that will bother me," Stoops said. "We got to get some things switched or fixed up. But I was proud."

As it did in the South Carolina game the week before, Kentucky's defense was able to use a bend and not break mentality, holding the Gators scoreless in the second half and allowing just 80 yards after the break.

Those are the kinds of things that the defense will build on as it faces Missouri, which struggled against Connecticut on Saturday, managing to eke out the win 9-6 over Connecticut.

"It's one loss," said defensive tackle C.J. Johnson, who had six tackles, including one blocked field goal. "We can't get down upon ourselves. We battled; they battled. They just got the best of us at the end of the game. We're going to do what we do. No setbacks. Just come back and keep fighting."

Jason Hatcher, who missed the first game serving a suspension, agreed that the defense is still a good group and showed several times that it has every reason to be upbeat.

"I still believe we're a very confident team, just sometimes confident people bump their head and have to learn from it," he said. "I think that's what the biggest thing is going to be: learning how to continue through adversity."

Offensive assessment

Kentucky's head coach was asked to assess his quarterback's play after three games that have seen Patrick Towles with some serious ups and downs.

On Saturday, the junior completed just eight of his 24 pass attempts for 126 yards. He was sacked six times after being brought down just four times combined in the first two games.

"Patrick's done some very good things," Stoops said of the junior. "I'm not going to sit here and throw him under the bus. We need to play better all around him. There were some drops out there. There were some protection issues. There's enough blame to go around.

"It's not all Patrick by any means, just like the wins aren't. He's doing some good things."

More than anything, Stoops was frustrated that UK was never able to get things going enough to give its fans an opportunity to be in the game.

"We had great support," he said. "I thank the fans again. It was a great environment leading up to the game and the Cat Walk and seeing the stadium filled was incredible; and we need to play better to get them into it."

He also tossed in a request near the end of his meeting with the media: "We'll have another great opportunity right here next week and I want everybody to keep the faith and come on back and support this team."

A full recruiting room

It was a festive environment Saturday evening on the Commonwealth Stadium field, where most of the University of Kentucky's football commitments gathered before the Wildcats' game against Florida.

Former UK quarterback Tim Couch hobnobbed with some of the recruits and had a lengthy conversation with Craig Yeast, the father of class of 2017 commitment Russ Yeast and Couch's favorite target from their college days in Lexington.

Russ Yeast stood nearby without the aid of crutches — he had to leave his high school game Friday night with a leg injury and did not play in the second half.

The Wildcats' other three early commitments for 2017 — quarterback Mac Jones, running back Michael Warren and defensive end James Hudson — also were in attendance.

Another class of 2017 recruit, Lafayette offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, was the biggest uncommitted prospect at Saturday's game. Wills, ranked No. 13 overall in the junior class by Rivals.com, also attended the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Stoops watched Wills and Landon Young — one of the Cats' top commitments in the class of 2016 — in their high school game Friday night.

The vast majority of UK's class of 2016 commitments were on the field before the game Saturday. Henry Clay defensive back Davonte Robinson, who is scheduled to take an official visit to Notre Dame later this fall, was at Commonwealth Stadium for the second time this season. McCracken County standout Zy'Aire Hughes had his own game to play Saturday night.

Special tributes

Soon to be Hall of Famer Art Still was recognized on Saturday during the game

The unanimous First Team All-American was the 1977 Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Lombardi Award. A four-year starter, Still finished his career with 327 tackles, and he holds the school record for tackles for loss in a season with 22, which he set in 1977.

■ UK Hall of Famer Steve Meilinger, who passed away on Monday after an illness, was honored with a moment of silence before the game.

■ Racing legend Penny Chenery, who owned and bred 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, was honored on the field in the first half. The champion's checkered silks have become a mainstay in the Kentucky uniform and are represented in the pattern in the end zones at Commonwealth Stadium.

■ Kentucky's game Saturday against Missouri at Commonwealth Stadium has been set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff and will be televised on the SEC Network.

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