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Mark Stoops “very disappointed” with Kentucky’s play

Mark Stoops didn’t see much he liked at South Carolina Saturday night. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A rocky ride got a little bumpier for Kentucky following a 24-7 loss to South Carolina Saturday night.

Still trying to find themselves after losing veteran quarterback Terry Wilson for the season in a 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan on Sept. 7, the Wildcats are still struggling to score and the issues continue to mount. Kentucky scored 97 points in its first three games but have tallied just 20 points and two touchdowns in the past two contests.

“I’m very disappointed in the game and the way we played,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “… their backs were against the wall and came in here and played a very good game — very tough, very physical and beat us in all areas.”

The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) avoided a shutout when Chris Rodriguez scored Kentucky’s lone touchdown on a 2-yard run with 2:32 remaining. Rodriguez led Kentucky’s rushers with 65 yards.

Although far from perfect themselves, the Gamecocks ended a five-game losing streak to the Cats, which have never beaten South Carolina three consecutive times at Willams-Brice Stadium.

In four of those past five contests against South Carolina, Kentucky averaged 184 yards rushing and wore down South Carolina’s defense. The Wildcats didn’t get close to that number Saturday night, with just 115 yards rushing compared to the Gamecocks’ 247 yards on the ground.

The takeaway is that Kentucky won’t play two straight games on the road again this season. They even get a week off to regroup following a brutal nine-quarter stretch that has the Wildcats scrambling for answers to get back on track.

“We’ve got to keep our spirits high,” Kentucky junior Lynn Bowden said. “I don’t think frustration is a word (to use). We just need to come together. They had a good game plan and they’re a good team. We’ve just got to execute better.”

Kentucky’s offense wasn’t that great in a 28-13 loss to Mississippi State last week and things continued to spiral in the first quarter against the Gamecocks. The Wildcats managed just 37 yards and one first down in the opening frame.

Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith, who was bruised and battered following the loss to the Bulldogs, wasn’t up to par and threw for just 90 yards, with only 27 of those coming in the first half. Smith spent most of the week getting healthy enough to play instead of getting more much-needed repetitions.

“It was a tough day offensively, and Sawyer is giving us everything he can,” Stoops said. “He’s banged up, that’s the bottom line. We don’t need to make excuses and there are no excuses. We need to do a better job and we’ve got to get some guys healthy.”

To open the second half, the struggles continued for Smith, who fumbled the ball after getting sacked for an 11-yard loss. South Carolina scored on the first play from scrimmage following the turnover. Smith was sacked a season-high four times.

Bowden took several snaps in an effort to relieve Smith throughout the contest and had a hand in Kentucky’s lone scoring drive with a 26-yard run in the fourth frame.

“I’m a fighter,” Bowden said. “I’m just fighting for my team. … if that’s what I’ve got to do, then that’s what I am going to do.”

Looking back, Stoops said the Wildcats “maybe should have went to Lynn earlier.”

“I know everybody is going to ask that,” Stoops said. “I don’t know, it was worth a shot because we certainly did struggle to move the football. Sawyer has to heal up and hopefully, he will. We’ve got to some things checked on him during this bye (week).”

The bad start to open the second half ended any hopes of a comeback as Kentucky’s losing streak increased to three games. Now Kentucky has two weeks to regroup for the second half of the season.

“The bye is coming at a good time for us,” Stoops said. “We’re beat up pretty good. We need to hit the reset button and get some guys healthy, get some of these mistakes that we’re making corrected. There are a lot of things we can get fixed and will.”

Next game: Arkansas at Kentucky, Oct. 12. TV/Radio: TBA, UK Radio Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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  1. Obviously there is a lack of leadership both from the players and the staff. I am concerned there are some deeper issues that have not surfaced yet. Like Larry said this morning, Could be that we overestimated our talent this year and underestimated the loss of leaders last year. Kash Daniel has been a non- factor in play and leadership since the Florida game. Most of the work now for this team is from the neck up.

    1. I disagree, Kash is one of the true leaders on that Kentucky defense, and a good one. It does seem that he has not been his old self lately. They need others to step up. Kash has given much for this program. I wish UK had many others with the kind of heart and passion he has. He can’t be in on every play. I have never seen him dog a play. He plays whistle to whistle. I am critical of Stoops for not starting him against MSU and taking his captain status away in that game. Looks like Stoops was caving into outside pressure, from of all places, an Eastern Kentucky radio station who posted the infamous video. It could have been the SEC too I guess. I also see the cry baby from Florida looks real healthy to me these days. If Kash had wanted too hurt him he’d be on crutches today. This could be a problem within this program, but I don’t know that.

  2. There really aren’t any leaders or “go to” guys on either side of the ball. The only one that has been consistently standing out is the kicker. Couple of D line players have been looking good but that is about it. Rodriguez looked very good when given the chance and would have during the MSU game as well if given the chance but really didn’t play as Stoops said he would. Staff wanted to bully him couple of games to show who is in charge. Does Brad White even have the word “blitz” in his vocabulary? This year trending to show that last year a anamoly for Stoops as well as he was saved by his talent and not his coaching.

  3. I can take a loss, but It is easy to pile on after that disappointing performance we all witnessed last night from UK. This loss is on the entire team, both offense and defense. Too much hype has been spewed out, within this program, about this football team, and their talent, to go out and play like that. It was awful, embarrassing, and a disgrace. This team needs to man up, and go out there and represent Kentucky with some HEART and play better, starting with fundamentals, like tackling. For one thing, quit acting like a bunch of disco dancers before the start, like some UK players were doing on the sidelines before the game even started, and on a national TV audience. Instead, get ready to play a tough hard nosed game. What did they think USC was going too come in there and give up after five straight defeats at the hands of UK ? I knew they would be locked and loaded. As for these coaches, this team was not PREPARED, not even close.

    I feel for Walker Wood, who apparently started warming up, got his helmet, and on national TV was ready to enter the game I thought, only to watch Bowden get the call. The game was already lost, by the way. He looked stunned. It was just weird. Bowden did ok, he did well as a matter of fact, but is he really the long term answer at QB? I don’t know? He is a great athlete that is needed at other positions, and duty. UK better not lose him.

    Everybody in the stadium, and those watching on TV, could see that Smith was injured and ineffective from start to finish. No zip on the ball, no mobility, no time to set and throw on target with consistency, scrambling for his life all night. UK was fortunate more of his passes were not intercepted. Taking hit after hit. It was hard to watch. He was put in a position to sustain a more serious injury, and became a liability to his team Coach Stoops. Not his fault, that is on you. There are coaches on this team who are getting paid mega bucks to prepare these QB’s. To leave that young man (Smith) out there to absorb that kind of punishment and humiliation is plain dangerous and bad coaching. You can win or lose with a fresh QB off the bench just as well, and get him some much needed game experience in the process. So get one prepared is my view. But what do I know.

    This game hurt UK football, set it back, and it could take a long time to recover from this display of ineptness. What galls me is that it makes all the talking heads, who were writing UK off even before the season even started, look spot on. UK football took a step back last night, and can do better, and deserve better. Also, ticket prices are way to high to endure that kind of product.

    1. Good post Pup!!…welcome back. It is what it is, and it is obvious that this team not highly inspired or motivated. This is on the coaches. They certainly have their work cut out for them next 2 weeks.

  4. When the announcers for the game were talking about everything else but the game, you knew that they felt embarrassed for the poor performance they were witnessing…that was just simply ugly…sad, but true.

  5. Hinshaw made the comment that Gilmore didn’t have the play book down. If that is true then shame on Hinshaw. If a QB recruit cannot grasp this basic, limited, pure vanilla play book then maybe he shouldn’t have been recruited.

    1. It is Hinshaw’s job. Smith is a great kid, very smart, and he has tremendous courage, but he has not been in this system long enough, nor faced the kind of competition in the SEC he has had to face IMO. He was not the starter at Troy, he was the backup. I also say this loss was not all on Smith either. Plenty of blame to go around. I say Kentucky has kids on the bench right now that can fill that role if they are properly prepared the right way. I don’t know if the rules allow it , but maybe he works with a QB after practice to work on fundamentals, the play book, and in live practices give one or two a chance to take reps with the first team. If that is happening now, I stand corrected, but how come we did not see a new UK QB to start the second half this past Saturday night. My goodness, script plays specifically designed for that backup. These coaches (Stoops) have to give the chosen one, the named backup, an opportunity to go play when the time comes like it did Saturday night against USC. This coaching staff put Smith in a difficult and dangerous position Saturday night. He should have exited long before he did.

      The best QB videos I have ever watched are done by Art Briles, who knows offensive football. But you can’t teach effort and heart, it is a character trait IMO. “Tough lay it on the line” PLAY has to be motivated by hard nosed coaches who enforce tough love. I watched Mac Brown on the sidelines against No. 1 Clemson Sat, he is a football coach that is in charge, and everybody knows it. His team beat USC earlier this year too.

  6. I haven’t see that Hinshaw has developed anything, much less a QB. Stephen Johnson was good, but Hinshaw did not “develop” him into a serious threat of a QB and he had him 2 years.
    He had Hoak for 3 years, and never developed him into a player they would hardly let see the field; even when Johnson was hobbling around so hurt he could hardly go. Hoak hardly ever saw the field last year either. No wonder the kid left and so did Clark because they both knew that unless the QB was carried off, they weren’t going to play.
    If Smith was actually hurt, and Stoops and Gran kept him in there knowing he was being pounded even more; why would any kid want to be a backup QB at UK??? I would rather have taken the lose with someone that was actually able to throw the ball down the field than to take a chance on hurting Smith even more.
    Terrible coaching decisions.

  7. Stoops and his coaching staff should be very disappointed in their coaching effort or lack of it. They knew Sawyer was hurt and should have took him out in the first half to 1. keep him from getting hurt more 2. have a more viable guy running the offense. Who knows if Sawyer will be healed up enough to play against Arkansas, but they have 2 weeks to have a Plan B ready if he isn’t. It is becoming obvious that putting 3 and 4 star talent on the field is not going to cut it in the SEC. If our program is ever going to be competitive on an ongoing basis, it will have to start with more 5 star talent on the field and 5 star coaching instead of the 3 star level that we currently are suffering with.

  8. Stoops is in a position that no one could have predicted at this point in the season. The USS Stoops is listing badly. Is the last couple weeks an aberration or was our 2018 performance the aberration? It might be a combo of both, but I am going to put a little more weight on the latter. My feelings on Stoop’s acumen for coaching as less than SEC quality will be challenged by possibly many, but I still feel that way. I feel last year was more player talent than coaching talent and feel still the same this year even if talent level down in comparison. Our talent did show in first 2 games, and the coaching talent has shown last 2 plus games. Not sure what is really going on in locker room, but it is obvious this team shows no confidence or fight and a lot of that is on coaching staff. If you want an exciting and inspiring interview put the mic in front of Gran.

  9. I have long felt that our problem was too many 3 and 4 star players going up against 4 and 5 star players that Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn routinely field. Mississippi State and South Carolina are not loaded with 5 star talent, but they both sure gave us a whooping just the same. Sure we lost Wilson and Smith has been banged up, but our competitive drive seems to have flown the coop. It was good to see Rodriquez play again but he didn’t get much help. It time for the coaches and players to have a checkup from the neck up. We have a bye this Saturday, hopefully Smith will heal up and get his game back on track for Arkansas….a should win/MUST win game. Tennessee also falls into the must win category. Vandy will not be the usual guaranteed win this year and Missouri may very well be the most important game of the season. Win it, and we could still go bowling…lose it, especially if its a bad loss, and the whole season could collapse. Now, more than ever, is the time for our coaches to step out of their comfort zone and play to win instead of playing not to lose. Thank God that UT Martin and Lousyville are both winnable games. Can we come up with at least 2 more W’s from the tossups? My heart says YES, but my gut says NOT LIKELY. Come on Coach Stoops. Show us that you have a winning plan for the rest of our season. Please don’t use injuries and inexperience as an excuse to mail-in the rest of our season.

  10. What frustrates me the most is Stoop’s saying how good the practices have been, but that is not carrying over to the game. Either Stoops is lying or the players are only confident against themselves. Time for the coaches to crack down on the players and demand more effort in tackling and basic football skills. Losing is terrible, but lack of effort and results are not excusable! Need to pull players and plan for next year, if the players do not improve. Reset is right and should include the coaches too.

    1. Does make you wonder what practice he saw compared to the game we saw Saturday night

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