UK, Stoops focusing on turnovers

Published 3:34 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2017

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

Mark Stoops has plenty of experience when it comes to coaching defense.

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Stoops, a former defensive coordinator at Florida State before taking his first head coaching job at Kentucky more than five years ago, wants the Wildcats to improve their turnover margin this season, an area that will be a major point of emphasis when Kentucky opens fall training camp next week.

Kentucky was 107th in the nation in turnover margin last year at minus 7, placing the Wildcats last in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats forced just 21 turnovers and committed 28 miscues – 16 fumbles and 12 interceptions.

“I’d like to see us take care of the football better and create some more turnovers,” Stoops said during the team’s annual kickoff luncheon earlier this week at Kroger Field. “We put ourselves in some (bad) situations last year. Fortunately we came out on top of some of those games. We found a way to win.”

Stoops added the path to the postseason could have been smoother, however.

“You’d like to make it a little easier on yourself,” he said. “Turnover margin is a big piece of that.”

During the off-season, Stoops promoted Matt House to defensive coordinator, replacing D.J. Eliot, who resigned to take a similar position at the University of Colorado. In addition, Stoops hired former Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood to be the team’s special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach.

Known as a defensive coach, Hood nearly led the Colonels to an upset of Kentucky during his final season at Eastern Kentucky in 2015. Eastern led by two touchdowns with eight minutes remaining before the Wildcats rallied and posted a 34-27 victory in overtime.

The Colonels forced three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble — during the contest, making things hard for the Kentucky offense throughout the unexpected nip-and-tuck encounter. The addition of Hood, who coached at Charlotte last season, gives the Wildcats another experienced voice on the staff.

“Dean has a wealth of experience,” Stoops said. “He’s been a head coach. He has been a defensive coordinator. He’s another seasoned veteran. We are very proud to have Dean on our staff. He also knows the state of Kentucky. He’s been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky for quite a while. So we are very excited to have him and his expertise.”

Hood was head coach at Eastern Kentucky from 2008-15 and compiled a 55-38 record and led the Colonels to a pair of Ohio Valley Conference championships.

Kickoff times set

Kentucky’s opener at Southern Mississippi has been set for 4 p.m. on Sept. 2 and will be televised by the CBS Sports Network. The Golden Eagles defeated the Wildcats 44-35 in the season-opener for both teams last season.

The Wildcats’ home opener on Sept. 9 is set for a noon kickoff against Eastern Kentucky and will be shown on the SEC Network. The Wildcats own a 4-0 edge in the series.

Kentucky’s league opener at South Carolina will be played at 7:30 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network. The Wildcats have won three straight over the Gamecocks after snapping a three-game losing streak to their Eastern Division rival in 2011 at Kroger Field.

New rules

A pair of new rules will take effect this season in college football. Teams will no longer be allowed to conduct two-a-day practices and coaches will be accessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for disputing a call on the field.

Stoops, known to argue officials on the playing turf, said coaches will have to adjust to the rule and plans to have someone follow him on the sidelines to be sure he complies to the rule at all times.

“I think it’s important to have somebody, yes, to monitor me. It’s been habit for us, you know, to be on the field,” Stoops said. “Certainly as I’m involved with defense or trying to get ahold of personnels or talking with the defensive guys, that’s when you seem to me out there more than just trying to dispute a call. But that’s going to be a rule change that I know I’ll have to pay attention to.”