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Maxwell Smith

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Neal Brown

Neal Brown

By LARRY VAUGHT

Without wanting to go into great detail about Kentucky’s quarterback play, coach Mark Stoops will admit it was “not a perfect situation” this season with both Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith battling injuries and inconsistencies.

“It’s an issue.  I think each guy did some good things at times and some things that weren’t so good, and again, that’s our whole team, though. That’s not just on those guys. We have to play better around them,” said Stoops after his team’s 2-10 finish in his first year as head coach. “So we can’t just put that all on the quarterbacks. But I don’t think it’s a perfect situation and I don’t think anybody really went out and just said, this is mine, which you’re waiting to see.”

Smith played in nine games and completed 105 of 183 passes for 1,276 yards and nine scores with just one interception. Whitlow played in 12 games and was 98 of 159 passing for 1,035 yards and five scores with five interceptions. Whitlow also rushed for 457 yards, the third best mark on the team, and a team-high six scores.

“Nobody expects to go 2-10 in consecutive seasons, but I can sense that something about this program is going to change. Coach Stoops, they’re getting their recruits in, implementing their system,” Smith said. “It’s tough. A lot of guys struggle with a new system, just little, tiny mistakes. I think that’s our biggest thing is mentally, there are a lot of mental mistakes out there. We know how to practice now, we get a winter under our belt, we get another spring, and I think we’re going to have a big turnaround.”

Smith called it a “disappointing” season.

“We all felt good going in. We knew we had a tough schedule like I said, so it was disappointing. When you go 2-10 it’s obviously disappointing,” Smith said.

Smith and Whitlow, both sophomores, will be pressed in spring practice by redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and sophomore Patrick Towles, who redshirted this season also. Plus, Conner High School quarterback Drew Barker will arrive at UK in January and will participate in spring drills.

Smith has been hampered by a sore shoulder that he opted not to have surgery on after the 2012 season. Stoops still believes he “could be healthy enough” to compete for playing time in 2014.

“I hope he can and I think he needs to go in and we need to look at that shoulder again. This was (a) different (injury this year).  (Trainer) Jim Madaleno and our doctors tell me this injury right now is a little different now than other problems he’s had,” Stoops said.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said it was a “patchwork” season offensively.

“It’s a deal where we’ve gotta get better. I’ve gotta do a better job coaching those guys. They’ve gotta do a better job playing consistently,” Brown said. “I think it was encouraging that Maxwell played as good as he did (against Tennessee). He’s gotta connect on those deep balls.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got quite a bit of time around the holiday season that I’ll have to sit around and contemplate and get this thing fixed. The next two weeks are going to be recruiting; our guys are going to get to work. The guys that are here are going to get to work and we’re going to get to work recruiting for two weeks. And then we’ve got a big, long break where it’s a dead period where I can sit around and get a lot of our problems fixed.”

Brown said there’s no doubt UK has “to play better” at quarterback in 2014 no matter who the starter is.

“I think we have to play more consistently there. I think that’s understood,” Brown said.

Kentucky running back Dyshawn Mobley (33) pushes away would-be Tennessee tackler Corey Miller (80) in a run in the first half of their NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

Kentucky running back Dyshawn Mobley (33) pushes away would-be Tennessee tackler Corey Miller (80) in a run in the first half of their NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

By LARRY VAUGHT

He had to make his mark on special teams, and did that so well that Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops joked that he might switch Dyshawn Mobley from running back to defense because of the tackles he was making.

But in UK’s final two games, Mobley showed he can definitely have a spot in Neal Brown’s offense even with the expected competition the Cats will have at running back next year.

Mobley scored on a 69-yard run at Georgia and then had a 53-yard run and a career-high 143 yards in the season-ending loss to Tennessee. He finished the year with 300 yards on 43 carries, an average of a team-high 7.0 yards per attempt.

“I told my team at halftime I was going to lay it all on the line. I told them I was going to go out there and have fun,” said Mobley after the Tennessee game.

Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith says there has never been any doubt that the 5-11, 210-pound Mobley, a record-setting back during his prep career in Tennessee, could run the football. He ran for 3,068 yards and 48 scores as a senior and had 5,849 rushing yards and 76 touchdowns in his prep career.

“We all know he can run the ball really hard. He’s got talent, but he has other stuff that he needs to work on and things that he needs to show the coaching staff,” Smith said. “He played great. He ran his butt off (against Tennessee). He ran really tough, and that’s who he is. He goes out every day on special teams and just balls. He is a baller and tonight he showed that he can play.”

Stoops admitted he was “impressed” with the way Mobley finished the season.

“I love the way he’s playing. He’s going all out and it’s good to see. He’s got great passion for the game,” Stoops said after the Tennessee game. “You could see that when he’s going down there and busting his hump on special teams and doing all those good things, so I’ve been pleased with Dyshawn.”

Stoops wished more players had seized the chance to finish the season strong to show him they deserved spots on next year’s team.

“We’ve got to continue to build in all areas of this program and we need guys to step up and take charge.  We need toughness and we need leadership and we need to continue to have guys emerge in that area,” Stoops said.

Mobley said it was hard to patiently wait for a chance to show what he could do the last two years.

“For any kid it would be hard to wait your turn. I just sat back and waited for my turn. I knew I would get my chance and when I did I was going to give it my all. A couple people (were) down and the coaches had enough trust to put me in,” he said. “Once I got out there and started playing, it definitely slowed down.”

Mobley knows he has to work in the offseason to keep improving.

“We have just got to get in there and work hard,” he said.

Brown said it was “encouraging” to see how Mobley finished the season, but now he has to show he can be a more consistent player.

“He’s gotta focus more. He runs the ball really well, OK? His running ability, I’ve never questioned. He’s gotta be more consistent in his pass protection,” Brown said. “He does some things where he loses focus, like I think he had one or maybe two procedure penalties where he just didn’t get set in the backfield; we were going to direct-snap him.

“I think just consistency. He practiced better the last three or four weeks. That’s encouraging. But he’s got raw ability. He’s tough to tackle in space, and I’m real encouraged. I think he’s going to be a big-time factor for us moving forward.”

That’s what Mobley wants to help thank the seniors for what they did for him and his teammates this season.

“The seniors laid down the foundation for our upcoming season. They help push the tradition of UK football forward and now we have to take it and go with it,” he said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson wiped away tears as he left the Commonwealth Stadium field. He was upset UK lost 27-14 to Tennessee Saturday night, but he was crying because it was his final time to play for the Wildcats — and he not only loved playing at UK but also knows better times are ahead.

“I have no regrets about anything. I loved it here,” said Williamson, who finished his career with 296 tackles. “But I also know I was part of something to help build this program for the future despite our record (2-10). This coaching staff is going to get it done. There are good young players here. Fans should not worry. This program is going forward.”

That’s the same way first-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops feels despite going 0-8 in SEC play and losing to in-state rivals Louisville and Western Kentucky. He was obviously frustrated that UK made way too many mistakes to even beat a mediocre Tennessee — but that was the story far too often this year.

“It was a tough way to wrap up the season,” Stoops admitted. “It was a frustrating loss, but give Tennessee credit. They played better than us. They made plays when they needed to. They coaches better than us. It seems it was that way most of the year for us. We all need to do things better, starting with me.”

Stoops praised his seniors, who went through back-to-back 2-10 seasons — the first one costing then coach Joker Phillips his job and the second one frustrating Stoops and UK fans who wanted more. However, Stoops noted it was not easy for seniors to deal with coaching and scheme changes.

“I thought those guys handles it well and tried to handle things well through the end of the year,” Stoops said. “We know we are laying a foundation in our program.”

That’s how Wiliamson felt, and why he almost wishes he could come back rather than now chase his dream in the NFL.

“People told me I couldn’t play here, but I think I proved I could be one of the best players in the SEC,” Williamson said. “I know I can prove myself at the next level, too. But I’ll miss here. It’s been great. And it will get better. Count on that. Just wait and see. Fans just need to keep believing.”

Stoops didn’t feel his players gave up on the season against Tennessee.  He felt practice preparation was good and that players were “motivated and excited” to play and “wanted to go out with a good win” to end the season.

Of course, practice preparation was hampered by having not one, but two, quarterbacks hurting and unable to go through a full week of practice. Maxwell Smith started at quarterback and was 25-for-38 passing for 254 yards and two scores. However, Stoops revealed that he didn’t throw in practice Tuesday because of his sore shoulder and was even limited on Wednesday and that backup Jalen Whitlow, the former starter, played sparingly after spending last week seeing specialists and having tests to make sure his neck injury would allow him to play.

“He (Whitlow) did what he could to get in there and help us get out of the game. But he was not feeling good and he definitely couldn’t, I don’t think, take a whole game of getting hit and things like that,” Stoops said. “I mean, he was cleared, but just his mental framework in not being able to practice all week and all those things.

“And Max, again, he really gave it everything he had. His arm was bothering him. He took a shot last week and his arm was bothering him a little bit this week. Again, those guys tried to do what they could.”

But Kentucky seldom could do enough on offense or defense this year. Not enough depth, not enough overall talent. Stoops never made excuses. Instead, he often used the phrase “it is what it is” about his team — and those who understood football realized the obstacles he faced trying to fix problems that have plagued UK football for years in one season.

However, he feels no relief that the season is over. He’s a competitor. He wanted to win and expects to win.

“I’m disappointed.  Right after this last game here, we really put a lot into this game. I thought, again, we were excited to play and really wanted to go out and play better than that. I’m disappointed right now,” Stoops said.

“But I know there’s a lot of work to be done and again, starting tomorrow, we’re hitting the road, and, we’ve got recruits on campus and meeting with our players that are here and go get in some homes and get busy recruiting.”

He insisted there’s “no doubt” in his mind the program is progressing. Wiliamson agreed.

“You may not see it on the scoreboard, but we got better,” the senior linebacker said. “These coaches know what they are doing. This program is going to be fine. The young guys will work hard and get better and they will keep bringing in players. Coach Stoops is a great coach and person. I’m glad I got to be around him this and glad down the road I will be able to say I was part of helping him turn this program in the direction he wanted.”

uk footballBy LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown thinks there have been “two different messages” for UK players this week preparing for Saturday night’s final game here against Tennessee.

“No. 1, you’ve got a group of seniors that I think that while the results may not look like it, they’ve done a good job from a work ethic standpoint. Guys like Kevin Mitchell, guys like Jordan Aumiller and Tyler Robinson, there are a couple other of those guys, who have done a good job of showing the young guys how to work and the mentality to have. So I think you approach it from one way, like, ‘Hey, this is their last game. This is their last chance to perform at this type of level at the University of Kentucky,’” said Brown.

“And the other aspect of it for the young guys, is this is going to lead us into the off-season, so we can go into the offseason on a positive.”

Brown has also had to game plan for Tennessee without knowing exactly whether starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow (shoulder, neck) will play, play on a limited basis or not play at all. Even if he does play, he could be re-injured. That’s why Maxwell Smith, who took over for Smith in the loss at Georgia last week, could well be the starter against Tennessee.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been in this (position) before this year, so it won’t be that much of a difference for all the rest of the guys,” Brown said.

Brown says he knows UK made the “right decision” by not using freshman Reese Phillips’ redshirt year to play him in recent games.

“Selfishly as a coaching staff, we’d like to see, I’d like to see what he’d do in a game, but we’re going to have to wait a little bit more time to see that,” Brown said. “That’s not in our plans to play him, you know what I mean? But we’ve got two guys that are banged up, too. We’ll be creative.”

Kentucky had to play receiver Matt Roark at quarterback against Tennessee two years ago — and beat the Vols.

Brown says Kentucky has already “thrown about all we’ve got” at defenses in an attempt to move the ball this season.

“Here’s how I look at this: It’s an opportunity for us to go into the offseason with positivity. And I think we’ve shown some growth. The last two weeks have been a real struggle for us offensively. Some of that’s because we’ve been beat up, some people haven’t played,” Brown said. “And some of that is just some of the things we were doing to move the ball early in the year, people are catching on.

“But I think it’s a … we’re playing Tennessee, who is in a lot of ways in a similar spot to what we are: new program, really good recruiting class coming in, season hasn’t gone as well as they would’ve liked it to go either. But it’s a rivalry game. I think our kids will be excited. That’s our job, to get them excited to play. There’s a lot to play for.”

Brown said there’s no relief knowing the season ends Saturday and he can turn his attention to 2014.

“For our program to move forward, our young guys have to improve. And the only way, from a football aspect, fundamentally, is to actually get your hands on them and work with them. And in the offseason, we don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to do that. So it’s not a sigh of relief in that part,” Brown sid. “I have a very good grasp on what our problems are. I know what they are, I know where our weaknesses are.

“I know what we’ve got to do to improve from a schematic standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, and you can’t do a whole lot of that during the season. That’s fair to say. So I’m excited about getting it fixed in the offseason, but I’m also a little bit down that this will be the last week that we can actually go through a week of practice with some of these young guys.”

Brown again emphasized the offense UK is using and what he would like to run are not the same — yet.

“The reality of it is my job is to put our guys in the best situation possible to win the game. And I thought really, minus two games, I think we’ve done that,” Brown said.  “We’ve put ourselves in the position to have an opportunity to compete. I don’t think we’ve won games on offense. I really don’t think – I’m a realist, I don’t think we’ve gone out and won games – but we’ve been able to hang around in games, with the exception of the Alabama and the Georgia games. We put our defense in some bad situations, and we did that in the Missouri game also, but I think we’ve been able to hang around.

“We’ve run the ball, at times, successfully. We’ve struggled to throw it all year. I don’t think that’s any grand secret. We’ve really struggled to throw it. We struggle to get open, we struggle to complete it, we struggle to protect it. Every aspect. But I think, like I said, we’ve given ourselves a chance. Moving forward, we’re going to keep evolving. But I think what we’ve done the last three years at (Texas) Tech, what we did at Troy, that style … will be successful, and we will get closer to that as some of our personnel changes.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops didn’t mince words after his team lost 59-17 at Georgia Saturday night.

“It was a tough night all the way around. We were not good enough in any area, starting with myself and the assistant coaches. It was not acceptable, and we didn’t have a good enough effort or good enough preparation,” said Stoops. “You have to give credit to Georgia. They came in with an attitude and took it to us from the opening kickoff to the end of the game.”

“We were not competitive, and that has a lot to do with Georgia and that has a lot to do with us. We were not prepared for this game.”

No excuses, either.

What about not having his starting cornerbacks — Nate Willis (injured) and Cody Quinn (suspended)?

“I don’t think having them would have made much of a difference. I would hope we would have been more competitive and had some different packages. It hurt a little bit, but we were beat from start to finish,” Stoops said.

What lies ahead?

“I think there is no mystery that we need some changes. We are working through this, but it’s a tough night. No one likes to go through nights like this. We have been competitive and we have fought our way through games, but tonight is game that I am not real proud of,” Stoops said. “I told the team that. It starts with me and I didn’t do a good enough job tonight.”

Stoops suspended Quinn and defensive end Jason Hatcher Thursday for the Georgia game and also announced an indefinite suspension for receiver Demarco Robinson.

“We’ve got policies and procedures and team rules and if you don’t meet them, there’s going to be consequences, that’s it,” Stoops said.

He admitted he hopes the suspensions send a needed message to players about what changes are necessary in the program.

“After you’re here for a whole year, you get a sense for what’s going on in the program and where changes need to be made, and I’m coming up on a year and there are things we need to be better at,” Stoops said. “ “We’ll move forward. There’s no doubt in my mind, but there needs to be some changes, absolutely.

“It’s either right or wrong. It’s very simple with me. We’re going to have discipline in our program. I hope it sends a message, but I don’t do it just for the message. I do it because it’s right and wrong.”

Freshman JoJo Kemp said the message was easy to understand.

“He was just trying to set an example. He wants to keep pushing this program in the right direction, so he doesn’t want anything to bring us down,” Kemp said.

“We have rules and regulations and whatever happens with those, if you break the rules and regulations, things are going to happen. And that goes for any school in this country,” backup quarterback Maxwell Smith, who played after Jalen Whitlow was hurt, said. “ “I don’t think that was a distraction. I just think we got our butts kicked.”

Stoops also made it clear that despite rumors and Internet speculation that senior running back Raymond Sanders was never going to be kicked off the team. However, Sanders did not start and played only sparingly for what Stoops said was a disciplinary issue.

“It was never a situation where Raymond was going to be off the team. There were some things we were working through with Raymond. It cost him some practice time,” Stoops said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

With questions continuing to swirl about Kentucky’s quarterback situation, coach Mark Stoops knows what he would like to see happen against Alabama State Saturday night.

“I think in a perfect world we’d keep our quarterbacks healthy and whoever was in there would be running the offense efficiently,” said Stoops. “And in this case, Jalen (Whitlow) starting the game, it would be really nice to have him start a game and finish a game unless we decide to take him out for good reasons. So that would be nice to happen.”

If that happens, then Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown would not have to decide if former starter Maxwell Smith or true freshman Reese Phillips, who is scheduled to be redshirted, would go in if Whitlow was hurt or ineffective.

“If something happens early, then we got a decision to make,” Stoops said.

Brown said that Phillips is “looking good” in practice even though Whitlow has got all the first-team reps this week.

“We’ve gotten him a decent amount of work the last couple of weeks. Ideally, I think we’d like to keep the red shirt on him this late, but I think we’re mentally getting him ready and we’re getting him enough reps where if he needs to play, he’ll be ready,” Brown said. “Jalen will start the game and hopefully finish it and be healthy and all those type of things. And Maxwell (Smith) and Reese are splitting those two reps.”

Stoops said on the Southeastern Conference teleconference that he was “not ready” to say if Smith or Phillips would be the primary backup Saturday night.

“Right now, he (Smith) is our No. 2 on the depth chart, but we have been pushing a little bit with Reese and getting him ready and there’s a chance that he could see some action if Jalen was injured.

“Jalen should be ready. Like most SEC quarterbacks, a little banged up, a little bruised up and all that, but he should be healthy. The last game it was his ankle, and this week seems to be better, he’s a little dinged up on his shoulder, but he should be fine.”

Stoops knows it is important to have a valid backup plan at quarterback. Smith has battled a sore shoulder all season and Whitlow was challenged last week by Stoops to play with more toughness.

“There’s some big boys out there, very physical like we all know. It’s been troublesome to us. We were sorting through our quarterback situation most of the spring and most of the summer and into the fall here and then once we settled in, we felt like we were making some progress and really starting to click offensively with Jalen, then he goes down and gets injured and you go back to Max (Smith). You need to have some depth at that position,” Stoops said.

Stoops has seen signs that Whitlow has accepted the challenge of playing with more toughness.

“He’s beat up, but the deal is this late in the season, most people that are playing college football are beat up, regardless of positions and quarterback’s probably — their wear and tear through the week is a lot less — I always tell them they’ve got the easiest job Sunday through Friday and the hardest job on Saturdays,” Stoops said. “I think he’s accepted the challenge. He’s got a little bit of a sore ankle, a little bit of a sore shoulder, neither one of them anything major. But he’s been out here every day, hasn’t missed any time, so I think he has responded.”

Stoops admits the one unknown with Phillips is how he will actually perform in a collegiate game.

“He’s good and comfortable. Seems like he’s got one of those personalities where he doesn’t get too worked up about anything,” Stoops said. “Of course, that’s easier said than done on the practice field, right? With quarterbacks, you never really know until you get them out there in game situations and see how it goes and all that. So we’ll see, but I like the way he’s gone about his business.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Quarterback Jalen Whitlow has a “dinged up shoulder” and a continuing sore ankle, but Kentucky coach Mark Stoops insisted Monday that he “should be fine” for Saturday night’s game against Alabama State.

“He’ll be sore. He’ll be out there practicing today,” said Stoops Monday. “He should be fine.”

However, who would play if Whitlow is hurt and/or ineffective remains a bit of a mystery after Stoops confirmed that true freshman Reese Phillips has moved ahead of sophomore Patrick Towles, a former Kentucky Mr. Football.

Stoops said that Phillips, who has not played this year, will get “some reps in practice” this week. Stoops did not mention Maxwell Smith, last week’s starting quarterback at Mississippi State when Whitlow was slowed by an ankle injury. Whitlow and Smith have battled for the No. 1 spot since spring practice, but Stoops said “I don’t know” when asked if Phillips would be UK’s second or third option at quarterback this week.

“We’ll work on it this week. He’s definitely going to be an option,” Stoops said.

That sure sounds like if Smith does not have a good week of practice and Phillips does, then Phillips likely would be the backup Saturday and could well get into his first game at UK even though the plan has been to redshirt him. It could also signal that Towles has to rethink his future at UK — something that never seemed possible when he was the marquee recruit in UK’s 2012 recruiting class after his storied prep career — because Whitlow, Smith and Phillips could all be back next year along with recruit Drew Barker.

Stoops said Phillips has done a “nice job of managing the game” from his play in the Blue-White Game to end spring practice to every scrimmage he’s been in.

“If nothing else, if we get ourselves with certain plays and checks and run‑pass options, if we just execute the call, we give ourselves a chance.  We’re not even doing that at times, and that’s frustrating, let alone throws or different things,” Stoops said. “It’s just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision making.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has been looking for consistency play after play from a quarterback — and has not got it yet this season.

“He’s a true freshman, and we have other options. He didn’t get as many reps all along, but he has gotten reps and he has been impressive.  We keep on waiting, and you know that; we all do. We wait for our other quarterbacks to take it and run,” Stoops said. “I think Jalen has been there. I think Jalen is the guy that has been very close to leading us, and then we get an injury and set us back, and that can’t happen.

“We’ve just got to stay healthy. We’ve got to be stronger, we have got to protect him better, and if he does go down we’ve got to be better prepared for somebody else to lead us.”

Stoops clearly wants to see Whitlow take charge at quarterback, something he seemed poised to do with his play against South Carolina before injuring his ankle against Alabama. Whitlow told UK coaches he felt “gimpy” warming up for Mississippi State, but at halftime Stoops went to him to see if he could not play — and he did.

“I see it as a guy that’s leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don’t you?  That’s what we need to do,” Stoops said.

The Kentucky coach admitted there was a “fine line” between being injured and playing through pain and that he does not ever tell a player he should be playing.

“But if somebody is sore, then yeah, I’m going to challenge them. If somebody is —‑they (medical personnel) make all those decisions. I can’t get into that,” Stoops said. “But yes, we have to learn to differentiate between being injured and just being a little bit banged up. That’s for the players and for the trainers to decide. But if they can go, they need to go.”

Stoops noted how South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw twice has been injured but each time came back to play, including Saturday at Missouri when he rallied South Carolina to a comeback victory.

“It’s up to the players, and they have to decide what they can handle, and our medical people do a great job. But I think that toughness comes from a culture, and we’re trying to build it,” Stoops said. “I don’t think we’re there yet, and we’re going to get there. I can promise you.”

But while he’s mulling who the backup quarterback will be and if Whitlow and others can play with toughness, he is seeing signs his team is maturing.

“I think I saw a group that was hurt after the game (at Mississippi State) that they know — the more you invest, the more it should hurt, and I think our team is starting to hurt,” Stoops said. “They’re starting to understand that we can do this. If we, again, just do some things better, control the things we can control, and execute in some critical situations. I think they see us looking like an SEC football team at times.  We’re just not consistent.”

Neal Brown photo by Gary Moyers.

Neal Brown photo by Gary Moyers.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Sometimes it’s not easy to measure progress, but even though Kentucky lost 28-22 at Mississippi State Thursday, it still seems that coach Mark Stoops’ team made progress.

Sure, UK failed to score on its last drive when it was within reach of its first Southeastern Conference win of the season — and Stoops’ biggest win at Kentucky. Sure, the loss dropped UK to 1-6 and on pace for a seconds straight 2-10 season.

But this is not last year’s team. This team doesn’t fold against adversity. This team does have a strong resolve about it and wants to get better. And it’s obvious this team believes in its coaching staff, something recruits have to be noticing at the same time they are seeing how much UK needs them.

Stoops is a fighter and not one to mince words after a loss. He made that clear when asked about his message to the team.

“We are going to look them dead in the face. It is what it is and it’s not ok. We are going to coach better, they’re going to play better and we’re going to address these issues. We are going to get better and keep on fighting. End of story,” said Stoops.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown is being roasted for UK’s lack of consistent offense and second-guessed for the way he is using quarterbacks Maxwell Smith/Jalen Whitlow and not using Patrick Towles/Reese Phillips.

“I think we had some bad progressions as much as anything on some crucial plays,” Brown admitted after the game. “Our passing game has got to be better. We have to complete balls down the field and we are not doing that. Until we do that, we are going to struggle.”

That’s new for Brown, too, because his quarterbacks have always been able to “complete balls down the field” at Troy and Texas Tech. But not here. Yet Brown knows there is more to this problem than who is playing quarterback.

“It’s a combination of coaching, receiving, protection, quarterback. When you are not executing as well as we would like to, there are a lot of issues,” Brown said.

Many UK fans wondered why Brown did not try to stretch the field more, especially with Smith — the passing quarterback — playing most of the game. Pay close attention to Brown’s answer.

“We are running stuff in the game that we think we can execute. We had too many drops again tonight. We had some things we didn’t do very smart. We ran out of bounds on two plays which we should have got first downs on. We skipped some progressions at quarterback. We have to do a better job carrying things over from practice field to the game,”  Brown said.

Brown said Whitlow was not “100 percent” and turned his ankle again slightly in the game after practicing only “sparingly” since injuring his ankle two weeks earlier against Alabama.

“We felt Maxwell gave us the best chance (to win). There were some things coming into the game we felt Jalen could do well if he warmed up well,” Brown said. “He felt gimpy before the game.”

Translation: Brown and Stoops had hoped to be able to play Whitlow more and when he couldn’t, they tried the things they felt most comfortable letting Smith do.

Give Smith credit for offering no excuses. His biggest play was a short pass that Ryan Timmons turned into a touchdown catch/run, but he knew he was off on way too many throws again.

“We just didn’t make enough plays. Plain and simple. I didn’t make enough plays,” Smith said. “We are not here for consolation prizes. I missed too many throws I should not miss, throws I never miss in practice. I just missed them. I don’t know why. Probably mechanics. But throws I make it practice, I just didn’t make. There were a couple of ones that got away from me. I just wasn’t throwing the ball as good as I can.”

That’s not a good thing when the “passing” quarterback isn’t throwing as well as he can and the “running” quarterback is gimpy. Yet UK still found a way to stay in the game and compete — something it didn’t do most of last season.

“We need to execute better. That’s the bottom line. We had our opportunities. Our team is going to work. Our team needs to improve. We all need to do a better job starting with me. That’s the way it is and we’ll do that,” Stoops said. “We’re not going to hesitate. We’ll go back to work. We have to execute when the game is on the line and we’re going to do that.”

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