We tackle the best question asked by Kentucky fans every day. If you’d like to submit a question, tweet to Kyle Tucker here and Joe Mussatto here. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday.
He wouldn’t say it, but Mark Stoops’ least favorite weekly obligation might be his radio call-in show on Monday night. It’s an unenviable spot, especially after a loss, but it’s one of the few times when fans can directly interact with the coach who makes nearly $4 million per year.
Stoops was more combative than usual on Monday. Kentucky’s 37-34 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday overshadowed what is still a solid 6-3 start for the Wildcats. And in the 60 minutes of radio, two topics stole most of the air time: late-game clock management and poor play from the secondary.
Complain about what you want, but the time management criticism is flimsy at best. Sure, Benny Snell received the snap with about 9 and 12 seconds left on the play clock on their final two plays. Instead of giving Ole Miss 2 minutes, 14 seconds to play with on its final drive, Kentucky could’ve forced the Rebels to start that drive with less than 2 minutes on the clock.
Ole Miss’ game-winning touchdown came with 5 seconds to play, but seeing how the defense played Saturday, there’s nothing to suggest Ole Miss wouldn’t have scored faster if that’s what would’ve been required.
Stoops scoffed at the time management criticism, and I understand why. Kentucky’s final drive took more than 6 minutes off the clock. It’s hard to ask for more time to be bled than that. A stronger, more valid criticism can be centered on a secondary that ranks worst in the SEC.
Finally, that brings us to the Kentucky Question of the Day. There were many similarly worded questions about the secondary, but we’ll use one from @jonsmack220: “Why was the UK secondary so highly touted preseason but ended up being a liability?”
Kentucky ranks last in the SEC, giving up 279 yards per game through the air. Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu torched the Cats for 382 yards on 31 of 40 passing. Rebels receivers were running free, and Stoops, a coach whose career was built around coaching defensive backs, was rightly questioned about his disappointment in the secondary.
“You’re asking me and I’m giving an honest answer,” Stoops said. “Sure, it’s disappointing to me.”
Players such as Derrick Baity, Chris Westry, Mike Edwards and Darius West were all highly touted, but something happened. The progression hasn’t been there for a position group once thought to be a strength. Much has been written and talked about, but Stoops tried to explain the issues in the secondary at his news conference Monday afternoon and again on his radio show Monday night.
“Obviously we’re not winning enough at this point,” Stoops said of the secondary on his radio show. “We have to make more competitive plays. We’ve talked about that, and that’s a fair criticism that me and the players can all understand.”
But then Stoops questioned some of the criticism.
“There’s parts of it that are just silly,” he said. “People that only look at the numbers and only write articles about the secondary, that’s just ignorance. Anybody could look at a number and say what’s good and bad, but I think we also can all admit and see that there’s plays out there that we need to do better.”
The secondary questions persisted throughout the show.
“There’s certainly things that we have to take accountability for and get better with coaching and with playing, but just to lump it all together and just look at the bottom line is just people that aren’t real intelligent,” Stoops said.
Stoops said over and over again that Kentucky’s pass defense problems were “alarming.” To his credit, he deflected no blame. And although he detailed that defending the pass relies not only on the secondary making plays, but the front seven getting pressure on the quarterback, the questions didn’t stop.
Stoops went in-depth about Lonnie Johnson’s play on the ball on the game-winning touchdown. He was asked to explain why the Cats played zone defense instead of man-to-man. He was asked why the corners don’t press more and why his defense doesn’t blitz more.
By the end of the show Stoops couldn’t help but look at his watch.
At this point there aren’t many suitable explanations behind Kentucky’s struggles on pass defense. But it’ll be up to Stoops, the staff and the players to find answers over the next four games.
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