Calling Kentucky’s performance on the football field against Georgia uninspired is generous. The Wildcats flat out looked like they lacked the will to compete against the Dawgs.
Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference, Mark Stoops was asked if he thought his team believed they could win Saturday.
"No I don’t think we did. I don’t lie to you and I am not going to lie to the players. I didn’t see that belief", he said in a surprising answer.
Time is running out for the Kentucky football team to right the course and a difficult road game against Vanderbilt does not make matters any easier, nor does a host of other issues that Stoops spoke about.
The Quarterback Situation
Patrick Towles inaccuracy and shaky decision making reared their heads again in Athens. All season long, Stoops has defended Towles and today was no different.
"Patrick will be fine. One thing about him is he has been resilient and he has had some good games and some bad games", said Stoops.
Stoops also pointed out that the blame for the offense’s poor performance does not solely rest on the junior’s shoulders.
"We need to play better around him. Certainly offensively, when you put on that film, and you look at the play of the other 10 guys and it was not up to par as well", Stoops said on the subject.
With all that said, Stoops did confirm that the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win on Saturday will be the one who will the most in game action. Stoops indicated that he is comfortable going with backup quarterback Drew Barker, mainly due to how he handled his shoulder injury last week.
"He has handled it very well. He has worked hard. He is comfortable at practice. He is still learning and growing just like the whole team."
On what Barker brings to the table as a quarterback, Stoops did not hesitate to say it is his decision making.
"Quick decisions. We all know that is important. One thing you see from him that you really like is that he is decisive in what he is doing."
This past Saturday, Vanderbilt’s defense almost carried them to an upset win over the Florida Gators. Variety is the key to Vandy’s success as a defensive unit.
"They are multiple in what they do. As far as fronts and alignments and things like that there is a lot of carry over in what we do. There is three down there is four down. They mix it up quite a bit in different packages with droppers and different things. There is a variety of things that they do", said Stoops.
Stoops also complimented their passion and athleticism.
"They are athletic. I’m impressed with some of their outside backers in particular. Very good looking guys that are long and athletic and play extremely hard. They are good and they are back to where they were a couple years ago when you see this Vandy team that was capable of winning a whole heck of a lot of games. Coach Mason has done a great job. You can see the passion and energy on their team and in their defense in particular. No matter what their record is they are out there playing extremely hard."
Division Within the Team
Last week, Patrick Towles and Josh Forrest confirmed that the team had a players-only meeting that revealed half the roster was not on the same page as the other. Stoops acknowledged that while the team is frustrated it is not falling apart at the seams.
"I absolutely don’t think there is one bit of a divide. If you asked every 110 people in our locker room if everyone is on the exact same page, I wouldn’t expect them to be. There are 110 guys in there, they have different opinions. There are no problems, whatsoever. Zero. Are there frustrations? I hope so. I hope some guys are frustrated. That doesn’t mean you are starting to point fingers."
Stoops also pointed out there is no tension between him and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. In fact, Stoops said he understands the difficulty Dawson is going through based on his own time as a coordinator.
"I definitely feel like we are on the same page. There are difficulties in every situation as you know. It is tough at times to do the very best you can to put your players in a position to win. That gets difficult. It gets difficult as an offensive play caller in understanding when to be aggressive and when to back off. When things aren’t going well, it is tough. On all sides. I’ve been there as a defensive coordinator, calling plays when things weren’t going well. And other times when you could call just about anything and things would go well. It is very difficult on offense as well when nothing is working. You may get good positive yards on first down. Get a five-yard run on first down against some of these teams, that is a darn good play. But when you can’t finish it on second and third down it is frustrating."
All throughout the 2015 campaign Kentucky’s offensive line play, especially in the passing game, has been inconsistent. In Stoops’ opinion, Saturday was the worst game the unit played all season and his frustration with them was obvious.
"That was our worst game this past week, offensive line wise. I thought we got handled up front. I said it postgame and I second guessed myself on going for it on fourth and two and after watch the film it is frustrating because we had it. I get tired of hearing, ‘we had it, we could have done that’, but we flat-out got whopped on one block or it is creased. That pisses you off."
For Stoops, the only remedy to poor line play on either side of the ball is size, depth and experience dealing with physical play.
"You need to continue to have those big bodies. A guy like George (Asafo-Adjei) helps, but George has been out for a couple of weeks as well. The more big bodies you have the more physical you can be day to day in practice on both sides of the ball. When you are two deep across the board on the D line and O line you can bang heads every day and you fundamentally get better. That is where we have stayed the course on our practices and all that but as you get deeper and get more physically mature you can endure that."
Stoops confirmed that the talented George Asafo-Adjei is cleared to play, but his status is still up in the air.
"George should be back. He is cleared to go out there today. We will see how he feels."