This story is published in agreement with Kentucky Today and Keith Taylor.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Kentucky Today) – Mark Stoops was in a good mood following spring practice on Saturday.
Stoops was especially pleased with Kentucky’s defensive performance as the Wildcats prepare for their annual spring game set for 6 p.m. Friday night at Kroger Field.
“I felt like a week ago, (we) just kinda milled around out on the field,” Stoops said. “(We) didn’t have the intensity that we’re looking for. This week, (it was) a different story. The defense came out and really played very dominant up front. We were very physical at the point of attack. Created some turnovers. Played a really good scrimmage. I’m pleased.”
Stoops said the offensive unit “did some good things late in the scrimmage.”
“(We) made some big plays down the stretch,” he said. “Lynn (Bowden) made a big play to kind of cap the scrimmage off. Just like typical spring — a little bit of give and take. Felt better about it defensively today. But offensively we were still doing some big plays.”
Stoops is looking for more from his team’s outside linebackers. Kentucky will be replacing Josh Allen and 14 departing players, including running back Benny Snell.
“They played better,” Stoops said. “We’re not as deep as we’d like to be right now at that position. But having Boogie back at full strength, he’s been limited for most of the spring. Now that he’s back it gives him a little bit more pop.”
The team’s most experienced linebacker is junior Jamar “Boogie” Watson. Alex King, Jordan Wright, and Jared Casey also are expected to be in the mix for significant playing time next fall.
Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said earlier this week “we’re not clearly where we need to be.”
“We’ve got a lot of steps to take,” he said. “That’s really the bottom the line. To play in a 3-4 defense, you’ve got to have dominant outside edge guys. Every 3-4 team that you think about that is a really good defense, one of the first names that pop in your head is an outside backer. We need to find some guys that can step up, and right now that’s one of the positions we really need to grind hard.”
Another major concern for the defense is in the secondary.
“Let’s put it this way, it’s not like we’re going out there and noticing it being terrible during the scrimmage,” Stoops said. “They’re holding their own. They gave up very few big plays. We gave up one today on first down — (gave up a) play-action (play) late in the scrimmage, but overall they’re doing OK.”
Overall, Stoops said the Wildcats are ahead of schedule because of the leadership of the team’s 16 seniors and running back Benny Snell.
“I felt like this group was definitely further along than I anticipated because of the blueprint that was set by the 16 seniors that we lost and the good things in the program,” he said. “I feel like they’re doing a good job. That can’t be forced. They have to work their way and earn that trust and respect from their teammates and they’re starting to do that.”
As for a format for Friday’s game, Stoops foresees a routine game.
“We’re going to look at it. I’m going to look at depth and see where we’re at. I’d like to have a regular game rather than offense and defense. I think our players enjoy it that way. I think the fans do. If we have enough numbers I’d like to do it that way. I’ll take a look at it.”