By LARRY VAUGHT
I really don’t think Mark Stoops was meaning to criticize his players — or his own recruiting. Yet it’s easy to interpret what he said Monday when asked if quarterback Terry Wilson is making good decisions running the offense as meaning exactly that.
Stoops started by admitting there were times Wilson made the wrong decision about whether to hand the ball off or keep it himself in Saturday’s 24-7 loss at Tennessee.
“He’s not been perfect on all his reads, even on where to go with the football, but he’s doing some good things. It’s not all on him. Again, that’s one of those games where it is aggravating to everybody because when we had guys open the protection wasn’t there. When we had protection, we didn’t get guys open or complete it,” Stoops said.
As he has all year, Stoops said UK must play well around Wilson for him to be his best. Again, that makes perfect sense.
“We need to be very precise. The complete game changers, we don’t have a lot of them on offense. We’ve gotta make sure that we execute and we’re very efficient in what we do,” Stoops said.
Key phrase here is “don’t have a lot of them (complete game changers) on offense.”
One game changer is sophomore receiver Lynn Bowden. Since 2000 the only UK players with at least 55 receptions, 566 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns through 10 games in a season are Bowden, Derek Abney (2001), Keenan Burton (2006) and Randall Cobb (2010).
But there is not another game changer at receiver. We thought C.J. Conrad would be. Coming into the year, he had 50 career catches for 697 yards and nine scores. Despite having just 16 catches for four scores last year, he was projected as one of the nation’s top tight ends and potential high NFL draft pick.
“I guarantee you he will have a lot more catches this year,” tight ends coach Vince Marrow said before the season started. “I can guarantee you that. Put that down.”
Marrow was right. He has 23 catches for 187 yards and two scores this year. But a lot more was expected and he’s not been targeted often to be a game changer.
Kentucky running back Benny Snell has gone over 1,000 yards rushing for the third straight season. Lately, though, he has not been ripping off big plays as he’s having to break tackles at the line to gain 2, 3 or 4 yards.
So who do you blame for not having more playmakers? I don’t remember a recruiting class where Stoops said there were no playmakers or game changers. Maybe it’s just bad execution and you can decide whether that is on players, coaches or both.
“There’s a lot of plays there that we’re leaving on the field. It’s not just all the O-line, there’s a couple where a tackle gets beat and you’ve got guys open. Then the next time, guys aren’t open and there’s good protection. Now there’s good protection and there’s drops. We had more drops in the game (at Tennessee) than we’ve had all year. We had five drops,” Stoops said.
“What does that do to an offense? How does that help you? Those are hard things to overcome. When we stay on track, we’re pretty good. When we get behind the chains, that’s not where we want to be and that’s the same for a lot of people unless you’ve just got some freak that’s going to go up and make an unbelievable play.”
And apparently from what Stoops said there is no “freak” that will make plays for Kentucky.