Wildcats offense moves forward from lackluster opener
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky is quickly looking ahead after the Wildcats’ offense left coach Mark Stoops with few reasons for reflection.
Short fields provided by three fumble recoveries played the biggest role in last week’s 24-17 season-opening victory at Southern Miss that was otherwise lackluster. The Wildcats were outgained 364-254 by the Conference USA Golden Eagles and mustered just 78 yards rushing one season after producing a pair of 1,000-yard runners.
Stoops took heart in the Wildcats winning despite those struggles, but stressed the importance of putting those first-game mistakes behind them.
”We know there’s lot of work to do,” Stoops said Monday. ”It’s a lot better going back to work after a victory, so we’re excited and going to get back to work, fundamentally get better and get some things cleaned up.”
The ground game is a good starting point after running the wildcat formation 10 times with little results. Sophomore running back Benny Snell – who thrived in that scheme while rushing for a freshman-record 1,091 yards last fall – had just 67 yards on 20 carries and fumbled at Southern Miss’ 3 on Kentucky’s second possession.
Stoops chalked up the ground game’s struggles to multiple factors, such as running backs being too ”amped up” and impatient trying to make something happen. An offensive line that replaced two starters before another went down with injury last month also lost center Bunchy Stallings for a stretch with a leg injury. But even at full strength, that unit appeared out of sync.
And while senior quarterback Stephen Johnson was Kentucky’s bright spot by rushing for a touchdown and passing for another with great field position, he missed on deep throws that went for big plays last year. Kentucky failed to convert 10 third-down chances as a result and was thankful for a defense that recovered three fumbles.
Stoops remained optimistic and suggested that a week of practice can address those issues.
”There are some things in there that are easily fixed,” Stoops said.
Despite Kentucky’s shaky play at times, it came away with some things to feel good about.
Johnson completed 11 of 20 passes for 176 yards without an interception and was sacked just once. Tight end C.J. Conrad came up with three receptions for 97 yards, including a 23-yard TD and a 59-yard completion.
Kentucky’s hope is that familiar territory helps smooth things out as it faces neighboring Eastern Kentucky in Saturday’s home opener. The FCS Colonels racked up 345 yards in a 31-17 loss at Western Kentucky and come in looking for an upset in their second straight game against an FBS opponent.
As if that isn’t enough to remind Kentucky not to look past the FCS Colonels, there’s the 34-27 victory over EKU two years ago that required overtime. Right now, the Wildcats’ goals are putting last week behind them and reclaiming the offensive execution they’re capable of.
”We’ll get everybody rolling at the right time,” Stoops said. ”You never know when that’s going to be.”
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org