Mark Stoops has been a bit testy this week, and with good reason.
On the one hand, his Kentucky football team laid an egg last Saturday in Knoxville. They basically failed to show up at Neyland Stadium on the way to a 24-7 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers, who had lost four of their previous five SEC games. Stoops is not happy about that.
On the other hand, UK is 7-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC. With its conference slate completed, the Cats have recorded the school’s first winning league record since 1977. In the wake of back-to-back losses, it’s a fact fans have apparently forgotten. Stoops is not happy about that, either.
At Stoops’ weekly press luncheon on Monday, the first question the head coach received dealt with the team’s struggles on offense. Had the staff thought about changing the scheme?
“No,” replied Stoops, “that wouldn’t be a very good idea.”
Indeed, the idea of tossing your entire offensive attack — the one you taught during spring drills and training camp; the one you have practiced 11 straight weeks (10 games and a bye week) — out the window with two games remaining would make any coach testy.
“That would be panic mode,” Stoops said.
Despite being ranked 113th in the nation in total offense, don’t expect Kentucky to make a major offensive overhaul before Middle Tennessee comes to Kroger Field on Saturday. Nor should it. It’s a little late in the season for that.
Besides, as Stoops pointed out in his media meeting and again on his radio show Monday night, this is the same scheme that has brought the Cats within one victory of the team’s first eight-win regular season since 1984. It’s the same scheme that two weeks ago put UK one victory away from winning the SEC East for the first time since the league split into divisions in 1992.
“We did a lot of good things to win seven games,” Stoops said Monday. “We plan on trying to get the eighth and ninth. I appreciate all the good things that (the offense) did to get us in that position.”
UK’s offense doesn’t need to try new things it doesn’t know. It needs to do what it does know better. Fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. The Cats need to block better. They need to run better. They need to throw better. They need to catch better. And they need to cut out the costly mistakes.
Its third series Saturday at Neyland, Kentucky drove from its own 25 to a first down at the Tennessee 28-yard line when quarterback Terry Wilson dropped a shotgun snap. Just dropped it. The sophomore fell on the ball for an 8-yard loss. Three snaps later, freshman Chance Poore missed a 51-yard field goal wide right.
“We just can’t do that,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran of the fumble.
What Kentucky could do early that it’s not doing now is successfully running the football. The first five games, UK averaged 254.2 rushing yards per game. The last five, UK has averaged 120.4 yards per game. In four of those last five, it failed to reach the 100-yard rushing mark.
Why the drop-off? Defenses are no doubt concentrating on UK’s run game and the Cats have not thrown the ball well enough to force them to respect the pass. These are SEC defenses we are talking about over the last five games. They feature names you will hear called during the next NFL Draft.
That’s not an excuse. That’s just a fact. And against that type of competition, offensive struggles and all, this UK team has won more games than any team since 1977. If I were Mark Stoops, I’d feel a little underappreciated, too.
Maybe that changes the next two weeks against a pair of non-conference opponents. Maybe it won’t. Here’s something that won’t change: The trouble with UK’s offense — and the head coach’s mood — isn’t the scheme, it’s the execution.