Cats figuring value of a bye week



By Alex Forkner | Football columnist

[email protected]

The bye week is like puberty for college football teams: Everyone has to experience it and it happens at different times.

And while I’m cooking up strange similes, the bye week is also like Facebook’s stock: Its value is debatable.

Two schools of thought prevail when it comes to bye weeks. They either come at much needed times or kill a team’s momentum.

“We can certainly use this week to get better as a football team and not worry so much about game-planning as far as just getting better,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “I think it can help in that regard.”

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot perfectly summed up how the Cats want to use this bye week.

“We’re always trying to stay ahead of the game, so we’re preparing for Florida but emphasizing on Kentucky,” Eliot said.

UK has a lot to work on in house without having to worry about what Florida is doing. The Cats need to tighten all the screws and polish all the floors before turning their attention to landscaping.

UK’s offense can clean up those dropped passes and missed blocking assignments. The defense can iron out alignment issues and work on tackling.

Most important of all, UK can get healthy. Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith and senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph are nursing shoulder injuries. Were there a game on Saturday, they’d both likely be out. Smith hasn’t thrown a pass in practice this week and Rumph has sat out. Having the extra week is good medicine.

But on the other hand, UK was making steady improvement in a lot of areas. Not having a game to prepare for could hinder that progression.

“Sometimes you get a little stagnant coming off of a bye,” Stoops said. “You’d rather just go all the way through and just keep on getting better.”

Over the last 10 years, UK is 4-6 coming off the bye week. Four of those losses came to the University of Tennessee, who has been UK’s most common opponent after a bye week. The other two losses came against Ole Miss in 2005 and Vandy in 2003.

UK’s wins came against Samford University last season, Jacksonville State University in 2011, the University of Louisville in 2009 and Mississippi State University in 2006.

Scheduling bye weeks before softer competition like Samford and Jacksonville State is really wasting the potential of the time off. UK shouldn’t need extra preparation for such teams. Ideally, playing an FCS team should be a pseudo-bye week itself, where your starters can get healthy and you start to focus on more formidable foes ahead.

So what’s the verdict on this bye week for UK?

Having a bye week before the start of SEC play, where UK will face three straight AP Top 20 teams, is probably a good thing. A team as young as UK needs as much work on the practice field as it can get, working on fundamentals and mastering the schemes.

Oddly enough, UK has another open date in a month, after hosting Alabama on Oct. 12 and before playing a Thursday night game at Mississippi State on Oct. 24. The Cats could be able to catch their breath after running a gauntlet and turn toward a stretch featuring some winnable games.

As for whether he thinks it’s good or bad, Stoops knows all he can do is say hello to the bye.

“It is what it is, anyway,” Stoops said. “I mean, we have the bye. There’s nothing we can do about it, so it really doesn’t matter what I think about that. So we just need to take this time to get better as a football team and help us prepare a little bit extra for Florida and help us get better in a lot of ways.”