Sidelines with John Clay

E-mailbag: Mark Stoops and Kentucky football’s loss to Southern Miss

Kentucky defensive back J.D. Harmon intercepts a Southern Miss pass during last Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Kentucky defensive back J.D. Harmon intercepts a Southern Miss pass during last Saturday’s game at Commonwealth Stadium. Lexington Herald-Leader

Reaction to Kentucky’s 44-35 loss to Southern Miss last Saturday has brought more than a few e-mails. Some samples:

Jack writes:

“Just heard Stoops-scoring to often and too fast- keeping defense on field.So that is the problem. That is just what I have felt the past 50 years. Scoring too often.”

David writes:

“UK runs the Air Raid offense, which can score in a hurry, but when struggling leaves a lot of time on the clock for other teams to come back. There are more plays for everyone, higher scores and it is very exciting for the fans, but exhausting for the defense. Given UKs proximity to the Ohio Valley recruits and some old time football UK may be better off in an offense similar to Michigan, Michigan St and Wisconsin (Alabama, LSU and Stanford,too). Shorten the game, keep it close, don’t exhaust the defense and hope for a couple big series or plays at the end to get a win. There are still lots of unrecruited tight ends and fullbacks out there. Harbaugh can’t take them all.”

From IC:

“I appreciate your insights and writing acumen John. As a fan who’s watched UK football since the John Ray days, two things remain consistent: (1) we are told every year to be patient (2) our teams are always young. I contend that Kentucky football fans are analogous to Charlie Brown. Every year Lucy pulls the ball away from Charlie Brown just as he getting ready to kick it and she always talks him in to trying again with the encouragement that things will be different this time. We (Kentucky fans) have had the ball pulled away again. Continued best wishes and thanks for your great articles.”

From Bob:

“It’s back!! I wrote and gave you this last year but this past Saturday proves my point; it’s called “cat napping” defined as : those times when for no discernible reason the University of Kentucky football team lowers its intensity as to allow its opponents the opportunity to win.

Mark Stoops is a good man and he is doing everything in a positive manner to try and get his players to overcome, believe and finish but the media and fans need to understand the difference between of what makes a truly great player/team and what showed up on Saturday, it is the consistent intensity of a performance that will not be denied. The current phrase for this is called “dialed in”. The university and the athletic department has provided all of the physical facilities to accomplish the task at hand. The staff appears reasonable competent. The media and fans must supply the missing element, either give us your best the entire game or we are going to in a simply phrase make you reflect upon yourself in such a manner that the intensity of that reflection will either drive you off the flied upon which you truly did not belong or cause you to fine within yourself the drive necessary never to lower your intensity again for fear of feeling the scorn.

Now John, I sent this to you before but if you do not think this works I ask you to check out Dabo Swinney as he and his players got tired of hearing about “Clemsoning”

You want Mark Stoops and his players to change their level of intensity then make the phrase “cat napping” the most hated question they face.

You no longer see or hear about Clemsoning because the coach and players got so tired of it they drove themselves away from it.

Question: Coach Stoops there is a new phrase being used by Kentucky fans to describe what happens when the team lowers its intensity level and loses games it’s called cat napping. How are you and the players responding to what the fans call cat napping?

Question to a player: You seem to lower your intensity in the 3rd quarter, for whatever reason this appears to be a pattern that some fans are calling cat napping. How are you and your teammates going to respond?

Now John you put this in their gut, you make it where they get sick about it and the coaches get sick of it, they will either rally around each other and raise their level of intensity or fall apart and if they fall apart they did not need to out there in the first place.”

Richard writes:

“Your article on Ky’s defense was enlightening. There is no change in Stoops ability since coming to Ky. The change is football players. I seriously doubt that any player on the front 7 for us could start on ANYsec team. Not the case for our defensive backs. It was evident in the first half that they could run on us. The adjustment they made at halftime was run MORE. Also , with couple of exceptions, there are serious doubts about the offensive line. We just don’t have Enough Sec caliber players, bottom line. Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne, Lombardi, etc couldn’t win in Sec with our caliber of players. No disrespect, just a fact..”

Bob writes:

“You must not have gotten the memo indicating the NCAA (as well as the NFL and NBA) has ‘outlawed’ defense on the athletic field .. at least where they possess the ability to legislate against it ..!! That is what I really like about baseball .. if the umpire decides he wants to jade the strike zone .. the catcher ‘accidentally’ misses a ninety MPH fastball and the ump is instantly brought right back into reality .. everyone knows and understands self-policing .. and accepts this ..!! Well .. the umpire might not .. but that is the point ..!!

Football and basketball are currently sharing some similarity .. and that is the subtle .. and some not so subtle .. rule changes ..!! To the casual fan these go unnoticed .. to someone who has been around the game for a good while .. they do not miss them ..!! The rule changes are having a profound affect on both sports ..!! In basketball .. there simply are no rules any longer .. and I say that not so tongue-in-cheek ..!! I was around in the days when the offense took a ‘set shot’ .. and was actually allowed to shoot the ball unmolested .. albeit for all of fifteen feet from the basket .. but unmolested nonetheless ..!! These days .. the offense plows their way hell-bent to the rim .. and it will be a cold day in H... before you see a foul against the offense for ‘charging’ or any other infraction .. and this is by design ..!! Moving violations in basketball (??) .. they no longer exist ..!! All this adds up to ever higher scores and TV and the universities are laughing all the way to the bank .. as the fans eat it up and will pay anything asked of them to to watch it ..!! I have a friend who is an OVC football official and he concurs with my conclusion ..!!

Back to football .. re: last nights game or most other games ..!! Rules change number one .. several years ago the NCAA instituted an offensive lineman can literally ‘hold’ .. secure the jersey or other apparel of the defensive man they are ‘blocking’ .. dramatically affecting .. in the long term .. to the offensives ability to run (or pass) the football adding subsequent touchdowns/field goals .. points .. to the scoreboard ..!! The game used to be played with any blocker not having the ability to extend his arms outside his shoulder width or he would be called for holding ..!! The TV color man last evening actually tried to explain the rule stating that the offensive player can hold (grasp) the defense until the defensive man tries to create ‘separation’ from the offensive lineman whereby the offensive blocker must release the defender ..!! Now there is an oxymoron for you .. every defensive lineman on every play is trying to create separation .. and the rule applies to preventing him from doing just that .. until he actually does it ..!! Someone smarter than I will have to explain this because if the color announcer is correct .. the rule makes no sense but I comprehend its intent ..!! As I understand the rule .. it applies to a limited area in and near the line of scrimmage .. but the rule prevents/intends to prevent a defensive lineman from leaving that area .. theoretically one could be held of the duration of the entire play .. or at least until the ball carrier is past him .. and that is what the rule seems to intend .. subtle change .. but mightily affecting the score and often the outcome ..!! Rule number two .. and I believe this affects even more the outcome of a game .. is the granting to the offensive QB the right to intentionally ground the football ..!! Again .. someone who is less than a student of the game for a long time will not comprehend what the loss of yardage on any given down actually means to field position in a game .. and that is a very major factor over the course of an entire game .. the QB simply throws the football into the proverbial grandstands and .. ho hum .. no harm .. except to the defense ..!! A defense who actually covers receivers and pins a QB in his back field for a loss .. often substantial yardage .. should be rewarded for successfully executing its job ... and they are not when a QB can throw the football thirty yards from the nearest moving body and it be called an incomplete pass when everyone in the stands and fifty states saw the play for what it is .. intentional grounding ..!! When the QB ‘drills’ with the football the defensive player about to tackle him for a substantial loss .. as was the case last night .. it should be ruled a fumble .. not intentional grounding .. this too penalizes the defense .. a penalty applied to the offensive team is better than losing the football ..!! The QB simply did not have the presence of mind to throw the ball far out of bounds ..!!

My point is this .. the rule changes .. perhaps not ‘rule’ changes as much as how the game is called .. are intended to and do penalize good defensive play .. often resulting in scores over the course of a game ..!! The game has become all about high game scores .. many games these days have combined scores of fifty .. sixty .. seventy and more points .. and that is the reason for these changes .. it is about the long-term and giving the TV fan what they want .. and are willing to pay for ..!! I guess .. perhaps .. the game is passing me by .. no one cares any longer about a ten to seven or a six nothing two field goal win and a great defensive game .. or a one nothing two hit complete game shutout .. where the fans understand the game and its nuances .. and has an appreciation for more than cooking hot dogs and drinking a keg of beer out of their SUV all day game day ..!! Who said dinosaur’s were extinct ..??

One more thing .. not related to your article ..!! There was a ‘horse-collaring’ penalty called last night ..!! Now I understand a desire to make the game safer .. but football it is in fact .. a violent game .. and everyone understands that and the potential consequences .. going into the game ..!! I am aware there are rules that limit how/where one can be tackled and blocked .. and this of course is in the interest of reducing injuries ..!! What I do not understand is why the NCAA in their (in)finite wisdom .. has not .. apparent to me anyway .. commissioned or made design changes in equipment that would aid in preventing some of the injuries ..!?!?!?! Example .. much is/has been done regarding tackling/blocking in the knee area .. yet .. many players are wearing football pants that end well above the knee .. often shorter than Bermuda shorts .. with absolutely no knee protection of any kid or description ..!?!?! There seems to be no rules regarding thigh or any other type pads regarding materials or size or even having to employ them .. and QB’s sport the slimmest of .. almost no .. shoulder pads ..!! I understand .. having played the game .. why this is .. but I am not sure why the governing body seems to have made no effort at all regarding equipment mandated .. or at least the very least suggested ..!?!?! Seems to me they are paying lip service only to the injuries .. perhaps appeasing the public and athletes .. for as long as they can get by with it ..!?!?! The recent film ‘Concussion’ .. perhaps may motivate them to do more .. or should it be said .. force them to do more ..!?!?”

Tom writes:

“What’s the chance we got beat by the best team in the country?

If so, there is always the possibility we can go undefeated the rest of the season and meet them again in the playoffs.

Yea. That’s it.

We need to pay the $12,000,000, fire both of them. consider ourselves lucky and get on with trying to establish a football program the fans aren’t ashamed of.

$12,000,000 is cheap considering where the football program will be in two years.

Where will the ticket sales be in two years?

Where will the recruiting be?

What chance would we have getting any half decent coach with what will be left?

Yea, pay the $12,000,000 as soon as the papers can be drawn up. And make sure Barnhart is gone with him.”

Eugene writes:

“For the last couple of football seasons I’ve been trying to understand why the quality of Kentucky football is so underwhelming. It’s not the money; the University has sunk millions into the stadium, practice facilities and the locker room. It’s not the fan base. Year after year they feel that this might be “the year”, they turn out only to be disappointed as the season goes on (this year it’s even worse) and, eventually, give it up and wait for basketball to begin.

Can it be the coaches technical ability? I doubt it. They are an experienced lot (well paid) and, I’m sure know their X’s and O’s. They’re professional coaches. I don’t think one is worse than the other but they are very tradition-bound, especially the Head Coach.

The only thing left is the quality of the players and, the history of the program. Kentucky’s football history is dismal. No really high quality player wants to come to UK. If they’re really talented they get offers from other teams that are better than ours and take one of the offers. I have come to the sad conclusion that, under the current circumstances, our players are generally of less quality and therefore, we’re doomed. Being part of the SEC we will continue mediocre to terrible and continue to have awful seasons. Of course, there is occasionally a really good player who emerges but they are few and far in-between. Look at the NFL. There are a few (very few) UK players who make the grade there. It points out our standing.

The team is in the same situation as perennially poor people. Poverty begets poverty and it usually takes some outside force to change the circumstances. I don’t see any of those on the horizons. I imagine we’d do fairly well football-wise if we played in a mid-major conference. That’s where we belong. I understand that’s not in the cards as the SEC money is just too important to the school’s financial situation.

One cannot change history and the historical memory that UK provides. For anyone interested in college football UK is a perennial bottom feeder. What we need is an “outlier”, someone who does not see the building of a program in the traditional way; someone who sees recruiting in a different way. There must be guys with non-traditional football minds who can be hired probably a lot cheaper than our current head coach. After Coach Stoops is gone (He will be this year or next) the AD has to switch philosophies and take a chance on someone who will, in turn, take a chance.

I’m not a football person and I don’t have all the answers, however, anyone with any life experience can see the difference between success and failure. We need someone who does not see “getting into a bowl game – any bowl game” as a goal. Other schools rise from the ashes. We can as well – but not under the current circumstances.

I am now in my 66th year of being a “died in the wool” UK fan. I care about the University. Let’s try something different!

I love your blog for all sorts of reasons. I hope you’ll keep doing it and that the regulars don’t desert.

Best wishes and a big GO CATS.”

Steve writes:

“Stoops is supposed to be a defensive guru. If he hasn’t put his stamp on the program by year 4 he`s not going to. Not even close.”

Blue writes:

“Suggestions for Barnhart: Hurry up with a contract extension for head coach and fire some more assistants as scapegoats. Build a new stadium....this one may be empty soon or maybe a new one would help with winning?”

Bottom 20 defenses in college football







Northern Illinois










San Jose St





Notre Dame





New Mexico St















Fla Atlantic










Arkansas St










North Texas





Colorado St





Ole Miss










Washington St





Texas St















Bowling Green




Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader