“You are who you are,” Stoops all in for season opener against ULM


UK head coach Mark Stoops and huddles up the Kentucky defense during the University of Kentucky vs Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 41-42. Photo by Victoria Rogers | Staff

Ahead of Kentucky’s season opener, a lot has changed inside the program from this time last year.

A new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator and new players filling roles left from graduates and NFL ‘Cats alike. Stoops is making sure he’s extra prepared heading into the game against ULM.

“This first game, you always put a little extra time in,” Stoops said.

Stoops said his squad didn’t have the best practice on Wednesday, but felt Thursday’s walkthrough took them a step in the right direction. “We’ll continue to sharpen up and get ready for this opener,” he said. He doesn’t see one bad practice affecting how his team preforms on Saturday, though.

One positive for Kentucky, however, is that Liam Coen will be on the sidelines instead of the booth. Coen previously said he wasn’t sure where he would be during games, but wanted to do what felt most comfortable for him and his players.

“[Coen] is going to run his offense, he’s going to call the plays,” Stoops said. “I’m not gonna be running the offensive plays, I can promise you that.”

Stoops added, “There’s always going to be situations where they will come to me and say, ‘What do you think here?’ You know, there’ll be communication, [but] those [will be] in critical moments.”

Communication is key in the SEC and Kentucky’s found their guys who they trust to keep the team going during tough times.

UK Football announced their captains for the 2021 season Thursday morning, which include eight veteran athletes: Josh Ali, Yusuf Corker, DeAndre Square, Luke Fortner, Marquan McCall, Will Levis, Chris Rodriguez Jr. and is rounded out by Josh Paschal. Paschal is the first three-time captain in Kentucky football history.

“It’s hard to quantify the sacrifices and the things that he’s done for us,” Stoops said of Paschal. “… He’s really a remarkable young man.”

Preparing for a team like ULM hasn’t been the easiest, as Terry Bowden, the Warhawk’s head coach has known great success over his quarter century coaching career. Prior to ULM, he was an offensive analyst for Clemson where he spent the last two seasons and won a championship. 

ULM’s offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez is a former head coach at schools ranging from Michigan to Arizona before landing in Monroe, Louisiana. His son, Rhett, is slated to start at quarterback for the Warhawks this Saturday.

“Offensively, I’m sure there’ll be some wrinkles,” Stoops said of the ULM defense. “Rich [Rodriguez] is very creative. I have a lot of respect for him.”

After months of waiting to see Kentucky’s new offense and how the defense reacts to losing some key stars, the highly anticipated season opener is set for Saturday, Sept. 4 at noon inside Kroger Field as football returns to the Bluegrass.