The Next Big Game!

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The “Big Blue Weekend,” featuring the Blue/White Spring Football Game, three baseball games and three softball games, is set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the University of Kentucky.

The Blue/White Game is Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium.  The Blue/White Game will conclude spring practice and is the fans’ first look at the 2014 Wildcats.  Tickets are free and are available at the tents located outside Gates 4 and 12 of the stadium. Parking is also free and is first-come, first-served.  For complete fan information, go to www.ukathletics.com/fbgameday.

The baseball series features a pair of top-20 teams as No. 19-ranked Kentucky will play host to No. 12 Ole Miss in a three-game series at Cliff Hagan Stadium.  Friday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m., followed by 1 p.m. contests on Saturday and Sunday.

The softball series will be a matchup of teams ranked in the nation’s top 10 when No. 9 Kentucky, takes on No. 8-ranked Tennessee.  The teams will tangle at 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday at John Cropp Stadium, followed by a 2 p.m. Sunday finale.

Single-game tickets for baseball and softball cost $5 for adults and $2 for age 6-18.  UK students and persons age 5 and under are free.  Fans with a Blue/White Game ticket will be admitted free to the baseball and softball games on Saturday.

Here is the composite schedule of games for the weekend:

Friday, April 25

Softball vs. Tennessee, 6 p.m.

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m.

 

Saturday, April 26

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 1 p.m.

Blue/White Spring Football Game, 3:30 p.m.

Softball vs. Tennessee, 5 p.m.

 

Sunday, April 27

Baseball vs. Ole Miss, 1 p.m.

Softball vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive certainly seems like he is anticipating that SEC schools may well vote to add a ninth conference game — a move that would not seem to be in Kentucky’s favor.

Slive told the Associated Press Sports Editors Southeast Region Association that he expects SEC presidents and chancellors to vote on whether to add a ninth league game before spring meetings May 27-30 in Destin, Fla.

He said possible scenarios to be considered include eight games or nine games, with or without permanent inter-division opponents. “We’ve shown them that with all the formats every one of them has advantages and disadvantages,” the commissioner said.Maybe nine games would be an advantage for the elite SEC teams, but for many — like Kentucky — it certainly would seem to make the job Mark Stoops faces even more daunting.

By LARRY VAUGHT

For fans wondering if attending Saturday’s Blue-White Game is important, Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow has a simple message.

“Most definitely attendance at the spring game impacts recruiting,” said Marrow. “I think what did it last year was a lot of those guys (recruits) and their parents saw a team come off a 2-10 record and people thinking football is not important … parents saw 50,000 people there and that made my job a lot easier in recruiting.

“I already felt good about recruiting and all those kids whether they were from Ohio or Florida were blown away by attendance (at the spring game). So it is important.”

Because of construction at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky can’t match last year’s attendance figure. Marrow has prepared recruits and their families for that, but he also knows enthusiastic fans — and a lot of them — can impact decisions players might make about UK while they are on unofficial visits to UK this weekend.

“We have told them numbers will be down and the thing is the stadium is being renovated and we can only have 40,000 in there,” Marrow said. “I have told recruits that you may have anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 people here. I think as long as they see the crowds, the enthusiasm … and fans are more important. They did a big job last year selling that whole deal for us to recruits and families.”

He says Kentucky will have a lot of “top guys” coming for the Blue-White game. That includes players already signed with UK, players who have given verbal commitments for 2015 and others still undecided about college choices.

Kentucky got a key verbal commitment from linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green this week. Marrow expects more commitments next month just like UK had last year.

“Yeah, I assume so. We are a little behind because we started spring ball late. A lot of coaches are out on the road recruiting now. We have not been out yet, but I feel real good with the people we coming in to the spring game that we will get some commits in May,” Marrow said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

There have been times that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has had a few shots for Southeastern Conference football. However, he had no trouble putting on a Kentucky pullover Wednesday while watching his brother’s team at UK practice.

“No, he was cold,” UK coach Mark Stoops told reporters. “They like to support us. He’s proud to wear it. I’m sure he’ll take that home with him.”

His brother, Mike, the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, was also present for practice. The only brother missing was Ron, an assistant coach at Youngstown State.

The UK coach wanted his brothers to offer advice — and they even did during practice. More was expected to follow in the film room.

“That’s what there here for. I mean, they’re not here just for fun. We’ve got to put them to work,” Mark Stoops said. “So, absolutely that’s what we constantly do. We talk about ideas, ways to do things, different change ups, how they may play a certain formation or a certain adjustment.

“So it’s good to have them here. I’m definitely going to utilize them while they’re here to go watch some film of this practice and some previous spring practices and get some work done.”

Stoops’ brothers were not the only coaches at practice. Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, who knows Bob Stoops, also stopped by.

“He had some time this morning to come out and say hi and see my brothers and stop in and see a little bit of practice,” Mark Stoops said. “It was good to see him out here.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky has lost one receiver — A.J. Legree — to transfer and has another one — Jeff Badet — out for the next two to three months with a broken fibula.

Badet had 22 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown last season as a true freshman.

“He’s gonna be out. He got hurt the other day, Monday. He got hurt in Monday’s practice. He was alone. It was a good play-action pass; he was wide-open. He kind of got underthrown and just a freaky accident,” said UK coach Mark Stoops Wednesday when asked about Badet’s leg. “It looked like on film his own knee came down on his ankle and he broke a bone in his — he broke his fibular.

“So he’s gonna be out another two, three months. Clean break. Nothing — no surgery, anything like that. So he’ll be fine. Just needs to rest up.”

Legree, a junior, caught seven passes for 97 yards last season. Stoops said he had “wrapped it up” after being asked about Twitter mentions that Legree had left the team.

“He’s gonna quit and go play somewhere else and we wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said.

Kentucky was already thin on receivers with Javess Blue out with shoulder surgery and Alex Montgomery still recovering from a torn knee ligament. Ryan Timmons has also been limited by a shoulder injury suffered last week.

Kentucky had just four scholarship wide receivers —Rashad Cunningham, T.V. Williams, Demarco Robinson and Ryan Timmon — go through drills Wednesday and Timmons was not allowed to have any contact.

“We’ll be fine,” Stoops said. “I want the guys who want to be here; I’m not worried about any of that.”

Kentucky has a large number of players either injured or coming back from injuries at other positions as well.

“That’s the way it is. Some of them were through the winter with surgeries and some of them were dinged up in practice. The good news is, I think there’s nothing major — knock on wood — nothing that’s gonna keep guys out for the year. So we should be at 100 percent if we don’t have anything new happen,” Stoops said.

The coach said he likely would send the No. 1 offense and defense against the rest of the squad in Saturday’s Blue-White Game.

“So the only thing it’ll change as far as the fans and things like that — and most people do it — you’re gonna speed up the game somehow. We can’t afford to take a whole boatload of reps. We’re just thin. So we’ll iron out all the details and tell you, but it’ll be very similar to last year. Some type of abbreviated schedule,” Stoops said.

By ASHLEY SCOBY

As long as you don’t outfit Jojo Kemp in Ralph Lauren Polo, he has the potential to have quite the sophomore campaign.

Kemp, Kentucky’s leading rusher last season as a freshman, traveled to offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s house this weekend directly after attending an Easter church service. With several athletes who couldn’t go home for the holiday there, a spontaneous kickball game broke out. By the time it was over, Kemp (and his Easter Sunday outfit) was a little worse for the wear.

“I was struggling out there because you know I had on my Polo,” he said. “It was Ralph, though. I had on Ralph Lauren everything. So we had a little kickball game and it just got competitive. I ended up slipping. I done ruined my Polo jeans. I got grass stains on them.”

Kemp struggled so mightily, in fact, that Brown took to Twitter to talk about it, tweeting “FYI … You don’t want @mikelhorton1 or @J_Kemp3 on your kickball team! Back to what they do best in the am. Spring prac 12. #GetBetter.”

To clarify, Kemp smiled and said, “I’m a real good kickball player if I have my gear right.”

Kickball skills notwithstanding, Kemp is gearing up to be the starting running back on a team that is deep with talent at that position. Josh Clemons, back from an Achilles injury, is practicing again. Braylon Heard, a transfer from Nebraska, is eligible this year. Mikel Horton, a true freshman, is looking to make a splash after enrolling at UK early and going through spring practice. Stanley “Boom” Williams, another true freshman with big upside, will arrive in the fall.

Kemp has recovered from his own injuries: He had surgery right after last year’s loss to Tennessee for bone spurs in his ankles, and has sat out a couple of spring practices as a precautionary measure against a tight hamstring.

But even with those setbacks, Kemp is ready to roll in the game that is finally slowing down for him.

“Last year I had my bone spurs so I wasn’t able to stick my foot in the ground and get up field,” he said. “I was beating a lot of guys with speed. Now, I’ve got speed and I’ve got that cut to get up field. I’m more of a complete back now. I know all my assignments, I know all the blocking techniques, I know all my run reads so right now, it’s just building and getting better, where last year I was trying to learn and get used to the game speed.”

For Kemp during his freshman year, it wasn’t about the physical reps. It was about the mental reps that both taught him how to be an SEC running back and slowed him down at the same time. Instead of planting his foot and cutting through a hole, he was usually half a second behind because he was thinking about what he needed to do.

This year, according to Kemp, that won’t be a problem.

“Now I’m just reacting as the play goes on,” he said. “When I get the ball and I see something, I go at it. I’m trying to make my high school plays again. I’m trying to be that dominant player in the SEC, so I’ve got to keep fighting and working hard until I’m that type of guy.”

One of the factors that could lead to Kemp being that dominant player is the competition he faces during practice. Not only is he competing for the starting job against guys like Clemons, Heard and Horton, but he is also competing against an improved Kentucky defense.

In particular, Kemp battles the most with junior linebacker Khalid Henderson.

“It’s just like a challenge,” Kemp said. “He was here last year and he played, and I played, so we were the only two guys that played a lot out of both groups. We just try to compete with each other, get each other better. We’re kind of used to each other.”

As spring practice – and his battles with Henderson and the rest of the linebackers – continues, Kemp will try to set the foundation for his sophomore year. After carrying the ball 100 times for 482 yards and three touchdowns last season against stiff SEC competition, Kemp is jetting right into his comfort zone.

“I’m trying to make this like high school again,” he said. “I got that first year out of the way. I know what it’s like to be playing big teams – the Alabamas and the South Carolinas and the Georgias.”

Just make sure that when those games come around for Kemp this year, his pads aren’t Ralph Lauren.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has enjoyed the spring practice competition between offensive tackle Jordan Swindle and defensive end Bud Dupree.

“The great thing about those two is they’re really learning how to practice. It’s really important to both of them,” Stoops said. “They both have good energy and are becoming leaders on each side of the ball there, so it’s fun to watch them go at it. I like to tease Swindle because he’s the high-energy, but sometimes at that pace when we get going I don’t hear much from him.”

Being able to hold his own with Dupree shows how good Swindle might be this season because UK is counting on Dupree to be one of the Southeastern Conference’s best defensive linemen.

“I don’t want to use the term that everybody uses: freak. But athletically, he really does things very easy. And that even comes from like putting on weight, cutting weight,” Stoops said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him, because he works his tail off, but he’s blessed to have a lot of athletic ability and things come very natural to him as well.

“So he’s right where he needs to be. He’s very comfortable. He’s playing extremely fast. And again, I’ve said it before: he’s very versatile.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

With so much attention focused on Kentucky’s quarterback battle, there has not been as much buzz over the competition to see who will emerge as the starting running back among JoJo Kemp, Bryalon Heard, Josh Clemons and Mikel Horton.

I think running back, you can be by committee. Now, we’d like a guy to jump up and just be the guy and be able to do everything. But I think you can kind form that running back position around what people do the best. But I know coach (Chad) Scott wants a guy to emerge, and I’d like for that too, but you can — it’s not a negative if we do it by committee,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Monday.

What does he like best about the running backs currently?

“They’re catching the ball really well. They’re actually catching the ball better than our receivers, which I’m not sure is a good thing but they are,” Brown said. “They are doing a nice job. We do a deal where we do a catch percentage, and we want everybody — everybody should have a 90 percent or higher catch percentage. All the running backs do. They’ve had very few drops. We’re doing some things this spring to get them more involved in the pass game because all those guys that are playing can do that. So, I’m pleased with those.

“Pass protection wise, technique wise we’re good. We have a few technique errors, and some of that is because our defense is doing a lot as far as blitz. But I’m pleased overall with them in the pass game, from catching and blocking.”

By ASHLEY SCOBY

Junior college transfer and early enrollee CJ Johnson showed instant potential to be a fan favorite when he demonstrated his own judo moves during the 2014 Signing Day press conference. That streak of humor has not slowed down since the defensive tackle began spring practice, as he talks here about why he can’t get a dog, what “pop-locking” means in the context of coaching, and how “running around like a fool” can be tough on your conditioning.

On how he’s adjusting in practice so far…

At first I was just out here doing my JUCO style, sprinting everywhere but then once you sprint around and get knocked around a little bit, you realize you’ve got to slow down and work technique. It’s kind of frustrating because I’ve got to play slow and I feel like I ain’t making no plays but when you go back and watch film it actually looks like I’m doing a pretty good job on things that I know.

On the differences between JUCO and UK football…

Here, I’m over the tackle more. In junior college I was just playing straight three-technique. So it’s like I’m learning how to play the three and the four so it’s a big adjustment. I’ve got to play them both so I’ve got a lot more to learn.

On the rotation at defensive tackle…

Right now, Regie Meant is the first guy up, and I’m learning a lot off of him. … I love working behind him because right now it’s a learning experience. If they just throw me in there at first string, I’d get all busted up. I’m just trying to learn and Regie Meant is a great guy to learn behind.

On what he needs to do before the season starts…

Just got to keep focusing, watching film. Every time we have a meeting, make sure I focus in and get everything I can out of the meeting. When we come out to practice, make sure I get a lot of mental reps. I’m about to start working more on the weekends and coming out by myself or meeting with Regie again and really learning the plays and techniques of what I’ve got to do. I’ve just basically got to step it up, play a little harder, do more than what I’ve been doing.

On the importance of enrolling early so he could participate in spring practice…

It was big. It’s important. I can see now, if I hadn’t gotten here in the spring, I would have been redshirting it up. Spring is almost over and I still don’t know everything. It’s like every day they’re throwing up more game signs and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to look for on the sidelines.’ It’s a big learning experience, like I said, so I’m glad I’m here early.

On if playing at Kentucky is at a whole other level from junior college…

It definitely is. Speed is one of the big things. They’re running a lot of fast tempo. They don’t really hold up too much. That’s crazy. I’ve got to learn where to line up at and they ain’t huddling up? I be all messed up. … I done run into some people out there. I just be all over the place.

On how prepared he is for that tempo in terms of conditioning…

I’m conditioned when I know what I’m doing. When you’re running around like a fool, bumping into everybody, tripping over things, that takes a lot of energy. Thinking can take a lot of energy too. If you’re thinking about a lot when you’re trying to do a play, you’re going to be tired. That’s a lot of mental work. That’s brainwork.

On if he remembers a particular play that he messed up during practice…

We were working a lot on choke technique and I was basically shooting the A-gap. They were teaching me to shoot the A-gap on the choke technique and I didn’t realize when they go to the other side of the field, I was supposed to play the outside. I was so used to shooting the A-gap, I ran into the nose guard and the linebacker, just messing up everything, tripping up everybody. That’s what I do.

On how the coaches react when he messes up like that…

They get on me. They get on me hard. That’s how it should be though. They show me 100 times and then I get out there and mess it up because I’m thinking about something else. Like they say, they get on me while I’m here but they still know I’m learning. It’s all love on the outside, I’ve just got to learn how to take it to heart.

On if the adjustment has been harder than he thought it would be…

Definitely. Mostly it’s learning the plays. I’ve got the strength and speed so when I know what I’m doing, I’m pretty sound. But even Hercules can get knocked over.

On how prepared he is for SEC games, on a scale of 1 to 10…

I’m probably at like a 6 right now. I know most of the plays but it’s just when I look to the sideline and see them pop-locking over there. It’s like I’ve got to try to adjust on the field and know what I’m doing. A lot of plays I know but I’ve just got to basically learn where I’m going and where I’m at most of the time.

On what he means by ‘pop-locking’…

You know how they be over there throwing up the signals.

On the kind of size he faced off against in junior college…

It’s really not different. We had a lot of great size. Like my freshman year, #74 that started for ‘Bama, offensive guard – well he didn’t start the whole season, I think somebody got taken out. And then we had a guy that was about 6’6, 370, so we had some size at junior college but they didn’t move like these guys here. They’ve got the more athletic guys here and that’s a big adjustment. If I can get my hands on them, I’m good but when they get around me and then they get their hands on me, it’s a show.

On if a particular offensive lineman has made him look bad in practice so far…

Not really. If I mess up, then yeah. But I don’t count that. Delete that film. When we do 7-on-7 pass rush, I was killing them at first but then I guess they figured out my moves so now it’s back to the drawing board. I be getting all busted up.

On who the toughest offensive lineman he’s faced so far has been…

Gravity. I ain’t got nobody to name so I’ll just go with gravity because I’m always down there with it.

On how he has adjusted to UK off the field…

That is big, because at my junior college, if I wake up one morning and I don’t feel like going to class, I can just chill at the house. Here, this is my house. They have beds so I wouldn’t even go home because I’m only at home for about five hours and then I’m right back here. It’s a big transition because I’m always here. I want a dog. Can’t even get a dog because I’m never home. I get here at like 5, 6 in the morning and don’t even leave until about 8 o’clock. I’m always here. I’m tired of this place.

 

Kentucky’s football recruiting got another big in-state boost Monday when Warren East linebacker Eli Brown gave his verbal commitment to UK Monday night.

He had offers from Ohio State, Penn State and Southern Cal among others. He originally committed to Vanderbilt but after he de-committed, UK became the leader for Brown, who is ranked among the nation’s top 125 players by Rivals.com.

He is considered the No. 8 junior outside linebacker nationally by Rivals and is a four-star player on ESPN.com, 247Sports.com and Scout.com.

The only in-state player ranked ahead of him is Madison Southern running back Damien Harris, who has UK among the final 10 teams on his list after his earlier de-commitment from Michigan. He is scheduled to be at Saturday’s Blue-White Game.

Brown is the second in-state player in UK’s 2015 class following the earlier commitment by Henderson County offensive lineman Mason Wolfe.

Brown is UK’s fifth pledge in the 2015 class, joining four offensive linemen.

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