Three quick things from Mark Stoops’ regular Monday press conference after Saturday’s 45-7 loss at Florida and before this Saturday’s 4 p.m. game with New Mexico State:
After offensive coordinator Eddie Gran remarked post-game Saturday that he was going to go back and look to see if he’s giving his players too much to do, Stoops touched on a similar theme Monday. In his opening comments, he voiced an intention to “simplify things.”
Part of that is focusing on fundamentals. When your team has been outscored 72-7 over the last six quarters -- 27-0 in second half of the opening-game loss to Southern Miss; 45-7 on Saturday -- coaches often feel the need to get back to basics. Blocking. Tackling. Knowing your assignments. You have to get the simple stuff right first.
But, as stated Saturday, you wonder if this staff hasn’t tried too hard to bridge the talent gap through scheming. Are the schemes too complicated? Can the inexperienced players on defense handle the multiple alignments and responsibilities? From a layman’s view, you’d have to say no. We’re just two games into the season, however. It will be interesting to see what changes will be made Saturday.
2. Stop the run first -- or at least hold your own
There’s an old coaching axiom that if a defense can’t stop or at least hold its own against the run, it can’t stop much of anything. After giving up 296 rushing yard to Southern Miss in the opener, Kentucky allowed 244 yards on the ground Saturday in the Swamp. Six of its last eight games, dating back to last year, the Cats have allowed 200-or-more yards rushing.
Stoops said Monday he agrees with the axiom. That will be an emphasis this week. UK lined up in more four-down linemen sets on Saturday and Stoops said he thought the defense did some good things in those sets.
New Mexico State, coached by former UK quarterback Doug Martin, has a running quarterback in Tyler Rogers, who has rushed for 84 yards and thrown for 411 yards in the Aggies’ first two games. And we know that Kentucky has had problems with running quarterbacks in the past.
3. Maybe Southern Miss and Florida are just really good
After two weekends of NCAA statistics, Kentucky is 123rd out of 128 teams in total defense, allowing 542 yards per game. The Cats are 118th nationally in rushing defense, giving up 253 yards per game. UK is 113th nationally in pass efficiency defense, with a rating of 159.59.
On the flip side, Southern Miss improved to 2-0 with a 56-0 win over FCS opponent Savannah State. The Golden Eagles are now 11-5 over the past two seasons. Shannon Dawson’s offense rushed for 369 yards on Saturday. Quarterback Nick Mullens completed 16 of 29 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Florida is also 2-0, of course. The defending SEC East champs have won eight of their last nine conference games and are 12-4 over the past two years. The Gators are currently No. 2 nationally in total defense, giving up just 168 yards per game.
Even if those two are pretty good football teams, Stoops said Monday he knows his team is better than it has shown its last 90 minutes on the field. “We can play better and we will play better,” he said.
Kentucky rushing yards allowed last 20 games
New Mexico State at Kentucky
When: Saturday, Sept. 17
Where: Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington
Kickoff: 4 p.m.
TV: SEC Network alternate channel with Taylor Zarzour, Jordan Rodgers and Kevin Weidl
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel