Mark Stoops Issues Specific Challenges to Players in Vandy Week Presser

On3 imageby:Nick Roush09/18/23


Mark Stoops rarely publicly criticizes players for their performance. In 2014 the media room was shocked when he singled out J.D. Harmon for making a costly error not long after the staff gave him a scholarship. After three weeks of errors in winning efforts, the Kentucky head coach named more names than usual as the Cats prepare for SEC play, without using malice in his words.

They don’t need to be frustrated. They need to be critical of themselves and handle things like a pro,” Stoops said Monday. “Why are we having success? You can’t grow weary of that success. You have to continue to stay diligent in your preparation and then areas where individually they’re falling short, we got to handle it in a professional manner, take the coaching and work at it and get better.”

Jager Burton and the Kentucky Offensive Line

You don’t need to be an expert in offensive line strategy to point out the mistakes Kentucky’s center made against Akron. Two bad snaps by Jager Burton cost Kentucky a little over 30 yards. It’s certainly a problem that will be addressed this week, but Stoops isn’t throwing out the baby with the bath water.

“I saw the Miami Dolphins struggle snapping the ball last night too. They’re good enough to overcome it,” said the Kentucky head coach. “I’m not happy with that. We have to overcome it. We overcame one and scored a touchdown. I don’t want to make a habit of that. It killed one drive, but we have to get better. There’s options. We look at other players, we continue to develop other players. We continue to develop Jager and give him experience and opportunity to grow.”

In addition to the bad snaps, Burton was flagged for a holding penalty that erased a 64-yard touchdown pass. Physically, he made plenty of great plays, but the costly mental mistakes compounded.

“Who cares more than him? He cares. He works hard. He’s a great young man. He cares about his performance and what he does for this team. So is there a mental component? I’m sure there is. I don’t over analyze that. As a group, I challenged the offensive line this past week and we’ll continue to. I think as a group you know, we need to continue to grow.”

One Block that Irked Stoops

One big mistake that probably didn’t get noticed by as many people happened on the edge of the offense line. Kentucky had great field position following a muffed Akron punt that did not produce points because of a miscue at the line of scrimmage.

“We had a well-designed play and we got to block. We missed a block on the perimeter and (Brenden) Bates is usually a hell of a blocker and a good player. He missed blocking flat with the guy in open space or we’re one-on-one with a safety and Barion. I like those odds. I think it’s a great opener to that possession, and it gets nothing, we end up getting nothing out of the drive.”

Those are the little things Stoops will harp on with the players, although he doesn’t want to pile on too much.

“It’s not all on him, not all on any one player. It’s a bad possession. We all can take responsibility for that.”

Avoiding a Sophomore Slump at Wide Receiver

Another reoccurring issue popped up on Saturday that caused a sigh from the crowd. Dane Key dropped another pass on a hard-thrown ball across the middle of the field, his fifth drop in the early season. He did not catch one pass, and his sophomore running mate Barion Brown only had two receptions, one of which was a pop pass. There were some obvious postgame frustrations from offensive coordinator Liam Coen.

Mark Stoops tried to nip these problems in the bud before the season. Now he’s encouraging them to grind in order to push through this stalemate.

“I talked about it with them. ‘Don’t believe all this (hype).’ You’re going into your sophomore season — there’s a reason people call it a sophomore slump. I don’t believe in that, I don’t at all, but I addressed it with them. Because you had some success as a freshman, maybe you’re not truly in tune with every aspect of the game.

“You have to continue to grow and get better and we try to preach that all the time. I think it does get hard with some young guys because they have some immediate success. They just need to understand the importance of staying with it and putting your head down, and grinding it out and getting better. They are in certain aspects and then there’s other aspects, like most of our team, that needs some improvement, and needs the consistency.”

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