Kentucky’s performance last Saturday in the season opener against UT-Martin may not have pleased the Wildcats’ head coach as much as some may have expected.
Despite the 59-14 outcome and a number of highlight-reel plays from his team, Mark Stoops said film review of the win showed that UK still has a lot of work to do.
“Defensively, I felt like there were really some things I was disappointed in, to be honest with you,” Stoops said during Monday’s weekly press luncheon at Wildcat Den. “… It won’t be a pleasant film session today, I can promise you that.”
“Our depth is an issue,” Stoops said flatly. Kentucky held the Skyhawks in check for most of the afternoon, carrying a 52-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but when the Cats went to their bench, it exposed some issues that concern the staff. Namely, whether enough quality depth has been developed to hold up in during the rigors of a long season in the SEC.
UT-Martin had gained a modest 231 yards yards in three quarters against the UK starters and a top backups in the rotation, but the Skyhawks carved up the reserves in the fourth quarter for 167 yards and two scores.
“There was some good, don’t get me wrong,” Stoops said. “There were some good things. But there were some things in the run game, some of our fits, just not striking people, being as violent as we need to be. So there’s a lot of areas to improve, and we will.
Like I say, there was some good. Anytime you go eight, nine possessions with 150 yards and zero points, you’ll take it… After that, I was very discouraged. We need to get some depth and we need some guys to step up and compete. To give up two touchdowns and a bunch of yards the last four possessions is something that we can’t do and we won’t do.”
Film revealed the starters were not flawless, either. Stoops said starting defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, a pair of potential All-SEC players, were not as effective as he would like. They combined for nine tackles, but had no plays behind the line of scrimmage and were often out of position against the Skyhawks’ zone-read running scheme.
“I saw a couple instances when they were trying to do too much, and that’s bound to happen when you have guys that want to be playmakers and they want to do is what they can do, make big plays,” Stoops said. “But you have to do that within the scheme.
“I think (they were) amped up and wanting to do well. They’re very unselfish players. You have to be to play defensive line. I think that’s not going to be an issue. I think they just wanted to do some good things, and fundamentally got a little bit irresponsible.”
Stoops noted that linebacker is another area that needs to improve. Khalid Henderson matched safety A.J. Stamps with a team-high eight tackles against UT-Martin and returned a fumble 89 yards for a touchdown. Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan each had six tackles in their first career starts, but also experienced some of the ups and downs that come along with being new to their roles.
Flannigan’s “wheels are turning a little bit,” Stoops said of the junior college transfer making the adjustment to the next level.
The UK boss would like to see that unit play more aggressively.
“We need to play quicker and trigger faster,” he said. “We are somewhat inexperienced at linebacker, and we’ve got to develop that quickly to get to where we want to be.”