UK Football

Kentucky's Stoops on play calling: 'I need to be more forceful in my communication'

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops shook hands with running back Boom Williams while a play of his was under review in the first quarter of Cats' game at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops shook hands with running back Boom Williams while a play of his was under review in the first quarter of Cats' game at Mississippi State on Saturday. Lexington Herald-Leader

There are many moments that Kentucky would like to have back from the 42-16 loss to Mississippi State last week.

But probably none more than the minutes leading up to halftime, when the Cats trailed a mere 14-10 and had a chance to go into the locker room down a point or perhaps with a lead.

"There's a lot of things, there's a lot of blame, starts with me," Coach Mark Stoops said Monday, looking back at the Mississippi State defeat as Kentucky prepares to host Tennessee on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. "We'll get it corrected and move on."

One sequence that didn't sit well with Stoops after the game and he continued to dissect Monday was the UK drive that started with 5:54 left in the first half.

The Cats were moving the ball, situated at the Mississippi State 31-yard line. Kentucky's Patrick Towles had three straight incomplete passes. It's clear now that Stoops was hoping they would run the ball and run the clock down.

Instead, there was a near penalty, a missed field goal and a five-play, 69-yard scoring drive for State.

If Stoops could do it all again, he would have demanded that once UK got the first down after the third-and-3 that the offense milk the clock via the run game. "Get some tough yards, at least guarantee a field goal and shorten the half, you know, so you get out of there 14-13 at the worst," he said. "It didn't work out that way."

But why? Instead of run plays, it was three straight incompletions.

After the loss, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said the play calling could have been better.

"Instead of handing it, we threw the screen that was attached to it and it got knocked down," he said of the attempt to Blake Bone. "So then it was third-and-10. Then we tried to get the first down and didn't get it. I was trying to get the clock moving on second down and we should've just handed the ball off and we didn't."

Dawson said the sequence was "100 percent on me."

Stoops took his share of the blame.

"I need to be more forceful in my communication," especially when it meant giving the ball back to quarterback Dak Prescott, who led two long Mississippi State scoring drives in the final three minutes that gave the Bulldogs a 28-13 halftime advantage.

"You can't give a Heisman trophy candidate too many opportunities," Stoops said. "You have to be smart."

Shakeups in secondary?

Kentucky safety Darius West probably will miss the Tennessee game and perhaps a couple more after spraining his ankle in Starkville.

West saw his first significant game action Saturday and was in for much of the second half with fellow redshirt freshman safety Mike Edwards.

West's injury and Edwards' improved play led to some changes on the UK depth chart Monday, including Marcus McWilson being listed at his regular safety spot, but with Blake McClain at the backup spot.

The starter at the other safety spot is now listed as senior A.J. Stamps or Edwards, who had a career-best seven tackles Saturday.

Another starter, cornerback Cody Quinn, also has an "or" next to his top spot with the senior or true freshman Derrick Baity.

When asked about the changes in the secondary, Stoops said: "At some point when you invest thousands and thousands of reps in maybe somebody who's not making plays, maybe you've got to move on to the next guy and invest thousands of reps in him and see if he can make at least 50 percent. So, that's really across the board: it's about production."

It wasn't just about Quinn's spot, either, Stoops said.

"You're never going to be entitled to anything just because you've been around or anything like that," he said. "You've got to earn your job every week, and that's just the way it is."

Injury updates

Junior linebacker/defensive end Jason Hatcher, who was nursing an ankle injury and didn't play against the Bulldogs, is expected to practice this week.

■ The Cats' top wide receiver, Garrett Johnson, suffered what Stoops called a "shoulder strain" Saturday but is expected to practice this week.

■ Senior left tackle Jordan Swindle and cornerback Kendall Randolph, who both had undisclosed injuries at Mississippi State, should be fine and are expected to play this week.

Georgia game time set

Kentucky will have its first game before dark on Nov. 7 against Georgia, with the Southeastern Conference announcing that the Cats and Bulldogs will kick off at noon that day.

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