LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was elated that his team opened the season with a 59-14 win over UT-Martin, but he knows facing Ohio University — a team that has been to five straight bowl games — this Saturday will be a much bigger challenge.
“Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He’s building a very consistent program there at Ohio. Very well coached, fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball. They’re a team that’s not going to beat themselves. They’re just good and sound,” said Stoops.
Ohio opened the season with a 17-14 win over Kent State when Josiah Yazdani hit a 44-yard field goal as time expired.
“They return a tremendous amount of experience on defense, a bunch of guys that played very well a year ago. So they’re a good football team. A real challenge. I was very impressed with their quarterback. I believe that was his first start. He just was very poised, very good quarterback. He can run it and throw it,” Stoops said of Derrius Vick, who completed 18 of 24 passes to eight receivers for 262 yards and two scores.
“We’ll have our hands full this week. The good thing is that I felt like, as I said after the game, it was a good game. Our team needed it. Our fans needed it. The whole deal just to go out and play well. Good news is there’s a lot of areas I think we’ll improve on.”
Yet Stoops knows there’s no way his team — which lost to Western Kentucky last year — can take a win for granted.
“You have heard me say it before. My team, myself, we definitely can’t take anybody for granted. We’re at that stage where we need to play well no matter who we’re playing. This is a good football team, so…,” Stoops said.
He said Solich has made changes to the offense since last season as most good coaches do.
“You don’t stick around that long unless you don’t adapt, always be willing to grow and try some different things. But you still see the fundamental principles of him,” Stoops said. “That’s tough, well coached football. That’s why he’s been around a long time and been successful.
“That game a year ago, the bowl game against East Carolina, East Carolina is a good football team. That was a great game with Ohio and ECU. We’ll have our hands full. It ultimately comes down to us, what we’re going to do. We need to improve. That’s why I say no matter who we’re playing, we’re really not worried about the opponent. We’re really worried about ourselves and getting better.
“But that’s what’s fun about it. That’s what’s encouraging, that I know we will get better. Guys will go back to work. We’ll look at this film. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad. That’s what’s enjoyable about it.”
Kentucky had a bevvy of first-time players contribute in the win last week, but Stoops does not expect there to be any problem convincing them most games are not that easy.
“If there’s anything, there’s one area I got to get them to continue to let it loose and play with that great energy like last week,” he said Monday. “But, yeah, that won’t be a problem. It won’t be a pleasant film session today, I can promise you that.
“I like the way the schedule sets up. I think it’s good. We have a lot of young guys that we need to teach how to play football.”
He plans to emphasize consistency and playing faster defensively this week.
“There’s things we need to play quicker and trigger faster. We are somewhat inexperienced at linebacker and we’ve got to develop that quickly to get to where we want to be,” he said.
Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles threw for threw for 377 yards and one score in his first start for Kentucky and Stoops admitted because of the score that offensive coordinator Neal Brown did not really “let him open it up” most of the game.
“You don’t want to be disrespectful at that point. That’s the only thing that hurt us a little bit. You wanted to let him go out there, and that was the plan. We wanted to get Patrick a couple series in the second half, then go with Reese (Phillips). Patrick needs the experience, too. He needed to go play. So we just got to continue to get better,” Stoops said.
“Then, again, defensively it doesn’t help us when we’re trying to back off the ones and some important twos, and you’re scoring either quickly or going three-and-out quickly, only once or twice, then we get a fumble recovery, so you’re right back on the field.
“Statistically it’s not always going to be pretty. But I hope we’re in that situation. I hope we’re up a whole bunch and the defense has to be up there, we score quickly. But statistically it’s not always going to look pretty, I promise you that. I think the longest drive (for UK) was three minutes. That’s an awful lot of possessions. Don’t look for great statistics defensively.”