This promises to be a busy week for the Kentucky football and men’s basketball teams.
The football team takes on Charlotte this Saturday in yet another attempt to end their losing streak. Meanwhile, tonight in Chicago, John Calipari’s 2nd-ranked team will face the Duke Blue Devils in an early season showdown that has the potential to be a thriller.
Both John Calipari and Mark Stoops met with the media yesterday to discuss that and more.
Drew’s Time to Shine
By now it’s no secret that a large portion of the Kentucky football fan base is fed up with Patrick Towles’ play. Yesterday during his noon press conference, Coach Mark Stoops confirmed that Towles has been relieved of his duties as starting quarterback for the Charlotte game in favor of highly touted redshirt freshman Drew Barker.
"Drew is going to start this game", said Stoops.
The reasoning for the switch is very simple according to Stoops.
"He has done some good things and earned the right and he is going to get the start this week."
Indeed Barker has done good things in the limited number of snaps he has taken this year. In his first series against Vanderbilt, Barker led the offense down the field for a touchdown. However, he also threw a costly pick-six near the end of the 2nd quarter.
Despite the ups and downs of his play thus far, Stoops is impressed with the growth of his young quarterback over the course of the season.
"I feel good about him right now because of the work he’s put in throughout the year. I know he didn’t get as many game reps as we would like, but he’s gotten quite a few practice reps and he’s been getting more and more confident and more and more comfortable. I definitely feel like he’s at a point right now in which I’m excited to see him play."
For fans hoping that the change at quarterback will be permanent Stoops said that he’s not sure if Barker will start the rest of the season.
Missed Chances in Music City
Just as they have in every game of the losing streak, Kentucky had plenty of chances to win the game against the Commodores.
In the 1st half, the Kentucky offense had the ball twice within the 10-yard line and failed to punch the ball in. One possession ended in an interception due to an underthrown ball from Patrick Towles. Before that was a series that drove many fans watching at home nuts.
Inside the 5-yard line, Kentucky ran four consecutive plays and failed to score on all of them, including a mind-boggling pass that even Coach Stoops saw little logic in.
"We lost yards on the first play and that was frustrating, and I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but I was frustrated throwing the ball on second down."
Stoops said that in hindsight he would have told Shannon Dawson to do things differently.
"On fourth down we were so close we went with the sneak and it didn’t work. That is what I saw, we didn’t get the movement. But if we had run the same play that we ran on third down, if we run that four plays in a row we definitely score."
A Message from Stoops to the Fans
For the first time in his career as a head coach Mark Stoops is facing heat from a frustrated fan base. During the press conference, he had this to say to the Big Blue Nation.
"Well, I completely understand the frustration of the fans. I want them passionate. I want them to care. I want them to show up and support this team. The tickets are bought and we need them in the stands. I have said it over and over again, I want to deliver. I wanted to win that game last week just to give people more hope and inspiration and get them here and cheer for these kids. Our players played their tails off. That was good to see and I know that the Big Blue Nation loves that and loves it when we play with great passion and energy. They did that and we are going to do that again this week."
Stoops also noted that the team understands the importance of the next two games and also how making a bowl game is so important to the fan base.
"We have two games left and it starts this week with Charlotte and I promise you the team will come out inspired and ready to play. I completely understand their frustrations. I also am not going to let our team and our coaching staff – we understand where we are going, what we are doing and where we are headed. I know a lot of the good things we have done too. I know it’s been a long time since we have been to a bowl game and all those things, so we know what we are in for but we are going to hunker down and get back to work and get better."
That Team from Durham
Tonight’s game against Duke is one that Kentucky fans need little reason to work themselves up for.
Coach Cal joked during his Monday afternoon press conference that the history between the two programs may go over his player’s heads.
"You know what’s crazy? The history that these guys know is like two years. You’re going to ask them, ‘Hey, do you remember (Christian) Laettner?’ ‘Who’s he?’ Those guys don’t know. They don’t know any of that stuff. If we had played them a year ago they would know, but we didn’t", Calipari said.
All joking aside the Blue Devils present a tremendous challenge for the young Cats, especially on the defensive end where the Blue Devils length will be an issue.
"They’re going to start 6-9, 6-9, 7 foot, and two 6-5 guards. That sounds like our team a year ago. They are big and long."
After watching the film, Calipari said that Coach K is adapting his defensive strategy to take advantage of said length.
"He is mixing up their defense like I’ve never seen. They’re running a 1-3-1, 2-3, 1-2-2, 1-2-2 press, and sometimes they fake and sometimes they come.
Calipari said that Duke’s physicality will be an issue.
"This is a grit game, a grinding game. They do a great job of wedging on rebounds. When they shoot the ball, they will wedge you all the way under to the cheerleaders. So if you’re not ready to fight they’re going to get offensive rebounds."
Regardless of the challenge, Coach Cal said he is ready for this game and to see how his team will perform.
"I’m excited to coach this game. I don’t know if we can win the game; I just love the challenge to see where we are right now. That’s what I want them to feel. We’ve been together a month and a half and it’s a brand new team. Here’s what I would say: They listen to everything I say, so we’re going to find out if I have been saying the right stuff."