UK Football | The Good, the bad, and the not quite ugly



By Joshua Huff

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UK head coach Mark Stoops loses to Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzahn in golf; the status of Ryan Flannigan; Patrick Towle’s inconsistency and freshmen play were all topics of Monday’s media luncheon.

Here’s what Stoops had to say about UK’s play against UL-Lafayette and Saturday’s upcoming game against South Carolina:

The Good

– Five receivers touched the ball against the Ragin’ Cajuns; Garrett Johnson led the charge with 5 receptions for 85 yards and 1 touchdown. The stat that sticks out though is that five receivers had catches of 35, 29, 28, 37 and 36 yards. The combined average of all seven players who had receptions is an impressive 16.1 yards per catch.

The biggest takeaway for Stoops, however, wasn’t the yardage or the catches, but the blocking.

“I thought our receivers blocked probably as good as at anytime we’ve been here and that’s what we’ve always been looking for,” Stoops said. “Tommy Mainord — again, I think I’ve touched on that in the past — that’s one of the reasons why he’s here, I used to watch him at Texas Tech and the way his wideouts played. They were very physical and played very aggressive and they did a good job with that on Saturday.”

– Despite giving up a 23-point lead, all was not bad for a defensive unit that finished with four turnovers on Saturday – Forrest and Harmon combined for 2 interceptions and 1 forced turnover (Harmon).

“Yeah, I’m pleased with him,” Stoops said of Harmon. “I said that in postgame as well: the fact that he earned some trust and some of our confidence throughout camp because he had been practicing better and playing better and more disciplined in his approach. That showed up. Again, he’s not perfect. He made a few bad plays but he helped contribute to the win as well. That I am proud of from him.”

Forrest, a senior, finished the game with 15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 3 pass breakups and 1 interception. How’s that for a start for the potential NFL Draft pick.

The Bad

UK gave up 247 yards of rushing against UL-Lafayette. It might be equivalent to beating a dead horse, but the Cats need to shore up their run defense before things get out of control. USC rushed for 254 yards against North Carolina. Without much of a passing game with Connor Mitch under center, the Gamecocks will look to shove it down the Cat’s throat.

“It’s very important,” Stoops said of fixing the run game. “It’s very important for us to get settled in and to get things cleaned up. You certainly can’t give up big runs. I mean, that’s how they won the game last week. They hit a big long run. I think we can’t be in a situation where we’re playing 80, 90 snaps on defense and only 60 on offense. That’s not the recipe that we need.”

“Yeah. It’s hard,” Stoops said. “There was no getting around some inexperience for us. Obviously, Flannigan not playing didn’t help matters, because we had talked all camp on being a little bit more solid inside, and knowing we’re gonna go through some growing pains with some outside linebackers. Then with throwing in a new starter and playing a freshman inside along with some new outside backers compounded things a little bit. But again, it is what it is. I can’t recall playing that many true freshman. I thought Chris (Westry) held up well. C.J. Conrad played a very good game. I know people are wondering why, probably, he didn’t catch a ball. We didn’t have a heck of a lot of completions, honestly. We had a lot of big plays, but we didn’t have as many completions as we normally would — and will, I anticipate as we move forward. But C.J. did an excellent job of blocking. I mean, I want to say 80 percent of our explosive runs he was in there in one of the primary guys of getting some blocks, even the first play of the game. So he did some very good things.”

The Not Quite Ugly

For all those who watched the game, Towles’ rollercoaster of a performance was evident. He made some terrific throws, he made some bad throws that were caught, and he made some terrible throws.

According to Stoops, there’s nothing to be worried about.

“Not much. I mean, he knows,” Stoops said of Towles. “He’s going to be held accountable like our team, but what do I tell him? ‘Hey, throw it a little more or a little under?  Hey, throw that one a little further. That one you under…Pull back on that next one.’ I’m just teasing. I’m not quarterback guru, but I think that did throw him off. I think that the fact that he missed one — maybe, I think he started with an overthrow and then he underthrew — I think that does play into it a little bit. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself. I think he cares a great deal and wanted to play very well and put a lot of pressure on himself. That’s the only thing I’ll tell him: just settle in and just be who he is. So, I don’t want to get too much in his head and overcoach that. I’m very confident in him, and he’ll make the throws. But, just like everybody else on our team he’ll be held accountable. At some point you’ve got to go, you’ve got to make those plays.”

Towels finished the game 16-for-34 for 257 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception, which are all decent numbers. But with as talented as a receiving core that UK has, decent won’t cut it.


 “We have a good relationship, but it’s not like we talk on the phone or anything like that,” Stoops said. “We played golf during our spring meetings, so we had an opportunity to have a good golf match. I think, who was it? Me and Hugh (Freeze) lost to Gus (Malzahn) and Coach Spurrier.”

“Same. Day to day. We’ll see. I told you, I can’t answer that. When he’s ready, I’ll tell you.”

– “I don’t know; we’ll see. We’ll prepare him to play if we need to. We felt like Jordan (Jones) was the best answer at that point in time last week. Jordan did a few good things and he had a couple of glaring mistakes that are gonna happen with a true freshman.”