Cats regroup, focus on fundamentals ahead of EKU encounter
Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Mark Stoops couldn’t fault his team’s effort in a season-opening 44-14 win over Ball State last Saturday, but the Kentucky coach wasn’t happy with the lack of attention to details.
“I will say that the biggest thing, the biggest compliment I could say for our team is they were definitely ready to play the game. Emotionally, I thought physically we were ready to play the game,” Stoops said Monday. “I thought our guys played physical on both sides of the ball. We played really mentally. They were ready to play. What we did not play was very clean.
“That was true with watching the film, the little details and all the things that we talk about. It’s a fundamental game and we played hard (and) we played physical. We were not always fundamentally sound and that will bite us eventually.”
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Stoops wasn’t happy the Wildcats had just 11 plays in the second half until the final scoring drive that featured 10 plays and 78 yards, capped by Ray Davis’ 30-yard touchdown run.
“It was frustrating and that’s twofold,” he said. “I compliment our team on scoring on offense, defense and special teams, and that’s something that we’ll always take, but you put that in with long drives.”
The Kentucky coach will be seeking improvement from opening week to the second one when the Wildcats take on Eastern Kentucky University on Saturday at Kroger Field. The Colonels, Stoops said, will pose a challenge, but added the focus will be on his own squad.
EKU will be trying to regroup after being belted by Cincinnati, 66-13, in its opener.
“Just like anybody we’re playing, we need to focus on ourselves — we need to improve this week,” he said. “We need to coach harder and more detailed, and we need to execute better in critical moments.”
The Wildcats came out relatively healthy after the opener but will be without standout offensive lineman Kenneth Horsey, who suffered an undisclosed injury in the opener.
“The good news is, is it will not be season-ending at this point, but he will be out for for a couple of weeks, I think at the least,” Stoops said.
West Virginia transfer Dylan Ray will fill Horsey’s spot at left guard, while Paul Rodriguez will be Ray’s backup on the offensive line.
Kentucky sophomore Barion Brown was named Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, while teammate Trevin Wallace, a linebacker, was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week by the league office on Monday.
Brown returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the opener, marking the first time in school history the Wildcats have returned a kickoff in the opener for a score in back-to-back years. Brown had three receptions for 39 yards and collected 156 all-purpose yards.
“It’s a dream come true for any football player to score a touchdown on a kick return, and it’s a blessing,” Brown said. “Being able to make it on the side where my parents and friends were sitting made it great.”
Wallace collected 12 tackles against the Cardinals, tying a career-high. Seven of his tackles were for a loss, including a sack. He had a key tackle that led to Jalen Geiger’s 69-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter.