UK Football

UK football spring game all about good impressions

UK head football coach Mark Stoops  at practice  on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
UK head football coach Mark Stoops at practice on Wednesday March 27, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

An old dandruff shampoo commercial alleged "you never get a second chance to make a first impression."

That isn't exactly the case in college football, but the Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium is the players' final chance to make a lasting impression on the coaches going into the summer.

"Coaches are watching and it's a day you can show your talents, so you have to bring your 'A' game and treat it like a game," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "I know I'll be on my 'A' game tomorrow."

It won't just be the coaches watching. As of late Friday afternoon, UK officials were reporting that as many as 60,000 free tickets have been distributed for the 7 p.m. start on Saturday. The record for a Kentucky spring game is 20,325 in 1987.

Last season's 4,500 at UK was a Southeastern Conference low.

There was a buzz at the practice fields on Friday, the day before the spring game. New coach Mark Stoops said the players are feeling the love.

"I think they're excited," he said. "I've commented on it before, but I think they feel the excitement and the support that they have and they want to go out there and do well."

When asked what he'd like to see under the lights at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night, he responded with what most of those potential 60,000 fans also probably would say.

"I want to see just good football, on either side," he said. "I just want to see good competition, good effort, good execution and make good plays. I don't want one side or the other to be successful because the other side is not playing right or busting plays and playing inept. So I just want to see good ball."

In the 14 practices leading up to the spring game, coaches have stressed that the two previous closed scrimmages and the spring game are "moving days."

"It's a chance to move up or down," junior-college transfer Steven Borden said. "There's definitely pressure. You get a limited number of chances to impress your coaches and you want to take them and make the best out of it."

There definitely have been discussions about impressions (both first and lasting) with the three sophomore quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow, all vying for the chance to start this fall.

"It is a last impression, and that's the way I approached it with them," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "It's a last impression as a coaching staff, but it's your first impression for the fans."

Although no depth chart has been released, Stoops said it will be clear from the game-day format which players are running on the first team. That applies to all positions except quarterback. A coin toss will decide which quarterbacks play with which unit, coaches said this week.

Smith said making a good impression will be key for the quarterbacks.

"You can't go out there and throw five picks," he said. "Coach is not going to like that when you're in front of a big crowd. Are you going to crumble like that? Yeah, it's a big-time game. I'm sure we all know that. Everybody on this team knows that."

'Crazy' numbers

As of late Friday afternoon, Kentucky reported it had distributed 49,000 tickets. Not included in that figure was an additional 11,000 tickets given out to area elementary and middle school students as part of an incentive-based education program.

If just 50,000 of that total show up, it would more than double Kentucky's record for a spring game.

The potential numbers had Williamson shaking his head.

"It's amazing. It's crazy," the senior said. "Makes me wish I could've been redshirted so I could've spent another year after this."

For some perspective in the Southeastern Conference, only national champion Alabama (78,526) had more than 46,000 fans for its spring game last year. Other top SEC numbers included Arkansas with 45,250, Auburn with 43,427, Florida with 38,100 and Tennessee with 35,421.

Already this season, Georgia set a spring game attendance record with 45,113.

Game-day format

In his first official spring game as a head coach, Stoops toyed with several plans for how the game would go and how the players would be divvied up on each team. On Friday, he settled on the No. 1 offense and the No. 2 defense playing together in white jerseys and the No. 1 defense and the No. 2 offense in blue.

It will be a true game format, with no situational stoppages. The only part that will not be in game format will come on special teams.

"We've had a few injuries here and there with some of our kickers and things," Stoops said. "We're not going to do any kickoffs or kickoff returns. We're just going to put the ball down and start. The punting, we'll just punt it, fair catch it, turn around and go the other way."

UK special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said the injuries weren't serious, just a case of some "really sore legs right now" and said coaches are trying to be smart with the kickers.

More on special teams

Fans won't get a first-hand look at the Kentucky special teams unit, but Peveto offered a little bit of insight into how the spring has gone for that group.

Three guys have been splitting time at return spots: Demarco Robinson, DeMarcus Sweat and Daryl Collins.

"Demarco could be really good and Collins has shown some signs that he can be a really good return guy, and Sweat, if they all keep working at it," Peveto said.

He seemed especially high on Robinson, who returned 18 punts for 117 yards (including a 27-yard return) last season. "I think Demarco has a chance to be really special, I really do."

One of the nation's top kickers will arrive on campus this summer in Austin MacGinnis, but he's not a guarantee to replace longtime starter Craig McIntosh.

Peveto said senior Joe Mansour hasn't missed a field goal all spring.

"He's got a strong leg; he gets the ball up," Peveto said of Mansour. "He's mechanically very good; I've been very impressed with him. And then (punter) Landon Foster has really been our second-team guy. He's kicked very well, too. ... I've been very impressed with what I've seen from the guys who are here now."

Game-day basics

■ Parking lots open to the public at 8 a.m., and parking is free. Spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Stadium gates will open at 6 p.m. Several parking structures near the stadium are available should lots fill up.

■ For fans attending the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a shuttle to and from the track will run starting at 11:30 a.m. The shuttle is $1 each way and will do pick-ups and drop-offs on the far east side of the Red Lot near Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

■ The Cat Walk is at 5:15 p.m. outside Gate 1.

Blue-White Game

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Where: Commonwealth Stadium

Tickets: Free. Available at the will-call booth (Gate 4) and at a ticket tent between Gates 10 and 11 starting at 4 p.m.

TV: Tape-delay only (7 p.m. Sunday on CWKYT-27.2)

Radio: Live on WLAP-AM 630

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