John Clay

John Clay: Dark clouds and silver linings of UK football season

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops in the second half of the game against Louisville.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops in the second half of the game against Louisville.

Dark clouds and silver linings concerning this just-completed Kentucky football season:

Dark cloud: After the 38-24 loss to Louisville on Saturday, head coach Mark Stoops did deem the season a “setback.” Being so close to bowl eligibility for a second straight season and falling short, especially after leading Louisville 21-0 in the first quarter, has to hurt.

Silver lining: Though UK lost five of its last six games, the 5-7 overall record in 2015 was at least the same as the 2014 team. The Cats didn’t lose ground in that regard.

Dark cloud: Kentucky needed to be a more disciplined team on the field, off the field and on the sideline this season. Latest example, after Stoops’ speeches to his team to keep their emotions in check Saturday, after linebacker Josh Forrest returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown he fired the football into the stands which brought an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Silver lining: In his post-game press conference Saturday, Stoops promised that his off-season program “will kick it up serious notches” to get to the next level. The coach promised that his team will become tougher over the off-season. It can be assumed mental toughness will also be a goal.

Dark cloud: Patrick Towles announced Sunday his intention to transfer. The former Highlands star started 22 straight games before losing his job to Drew Barker two weeks before the season ended.

Silver lining: There is no doubt now who Kentucky’s quarterback will be in 2016. The offense belongs to the sophomore-to-be Barker.

Dark cloud: UK’s offensive line had its struggles, especially against more athletic defensive fronts. Kentucky ranks 91st nationally in sacks allowed.

Silver lining: Despite missing all of two games (Eastern Kentucky and Vanderbilt) and most of two others (Tennessee and Louisville), Boom Williams rushed for 855 yards, averaging 85.5 yards per game this season.

Dark cloud: In his first season as coordinator at UK, Shannon Dawson’s offense ranked 90th nationally in total offense and 96th in scoring offense.

Silver lining: Dawson said many times during the season that the first season in a new offense is always a struggle.

61 and 90UK’s NCAA rankings in total defense and total offense

Dark cloud: The Cats failed to muster much of a pass rush, ranking 105th nationally in team sacks.

Silver lining: Kentucky has a promising young secondary with Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Darius West and others. All earned valuable experience this season.

Dark cloud: Blame it on youth. Blame it on inconsistent throws. Blame it on bad luck. No matter the excuse, Kentucky needs to find a way to cut down its dropped passes next fall.

Silver lining: Only Joey Herrick graduates from this year’s receiving corp. Jeff Badet, Dorian Baker, Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Ryan Timmons, Charles Walker and C.J. Conrad, along with others, will be back in 2016. Hopefully, experience helps.

Dark cloud: Kentucky’s special teams were a liability, especially the second half of the year. The punting game is an obvious example. UK is 108th in net punting, 89th in covering punts and 73rd in punt returns.

Silver lining: After Stoops spread special team duties among his staff this season, you have to believe the head coach would consider a different approach in 2016.

Dark cloud: Kentucky failed to make headway in an SEC East that was once again down in 2016. The Cats missed chances to knock off Florida and Auburn. Meanwhile, in Gainesville, first-year coach Jim McElwain guided the Gators to the division title. In Knoxville, Butch Jones is building a budding powerhouse.

Silver lining: Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina are all searching for a new head coach. Vanderbilt has slipped back to being Vanderbilt.

Dark cloud: You have to wonder what the second consecutive feeble finish will do to season ticket sales for next season. Build it and they will come only lasts so long – even less these days.

Silver lining: Kudos to Mitch Barnhart, Russ Pear and all those who made the launch of the “new” Commonwealth Stadium a success. Most all the upgrades were deemed definite improvements.