By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s 38-14 victory at Vanderbilt Saturday was a rare opportunity for coach Mark Stoops to get some playing time for players who had been on the field very little or not at all this year.
Stoops said that made for some “sloppy” play late in the game and he thought at first he might have gone to his bench a little too early.
“If they score there in the fourth quarter, you cut it to — if they get the first down, they cut it to a two-possession game there with, what, maybe nine minutes or something, eight minutes,” Stoops said. “You put a little, they put a little pressure on there. But the defense got the stop, which was good, because I wanted to get those guys some quality reps.
“And offensively the same thing, certainly at quarterback. That’s why we were throwing it a little bit, getting (quarterback) Sawyer (Smith), getting the dust off him and letting him get some game reps. Normally, you know I would be wanting to run the clock and get out of there but we needed the snaps, our team needed it. So Sawyer needed to make some throws.”
Stoops even played redshirt sophomore quarterback Walker Wood. He had not played this year despite UK’s injury problems at quarterback and some have speculated Woods’ career might be over due to injuries and surgeries from the last two years. Yet Wood handled his playing time well.
“It was really important to get (backup quarterback) Walker (Wood) in there. And that’s been on my mind to get him in the game,” Stoops said. “So really proud of him and just what he’s done and what he’s meant to this program.
“I wanted to give him a few throws and get him out there, get him some snaps and just see what he can do. He deserves it. So that was good to see.”
Stoops said it was important to get young players into the game to restore “hope” for players who have gone through a rugged season with little playing time to show for it.
“Some of these guys are just practicing. But you keep on sewing your seeds, keep on doing what you’re supposed to do, and eventually you’re going to collect on that. And generally it’s much later than you want it to be,” Stoops said.
“But generally if you keep on doing that, it’s going to be more than you want it to be. So that’s hard to see for young people. And so that morale is real important and it’s important to get them in some games and keep their hope up.
“That’s why through some tough losses it’s easy to cave. It’s easy to give in. But our team hasn’t done that and we’re creating a good identity and we’re not perfect, but I like the mentality of this team.”