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Step by Step, UK Football Shows Signs of Improvement
by Ben Tompkins,posted Oct 22 2013 12:00AM
Thursday, October 24, the Wildcats will hit the road to take on Mississippi State. With excitement for the basketball season picking up momentum, it becomes easier for the Big Blue Nation to forget about the football team, but don’t be so quick to write the obituary on this season just yet.
Breaking down the record at face value, 1-5 can seem discouraging to fans. Especially for those who thought Coach Stoops’ outstanding recruiting season would instantly translate to success on the field. Educated fans knew coming into the season what reasonable expectations were.
Building a program from the ground up takes time, hard work and patience. Is it unreasonable to expect a winning season in a coach’s first year at the helm? It happens in some instances, but for the most part, it is a task that is much more difficult than people realize.
In July, offensive coordinator Neal Brown stressed the importance of doing the little things right initially in order to build success.
“When you're coming in, laying the groundwork, you have to have blinders on. It has to be small improvements, the daily process of getting better,” said Brown.
Coach Stoops frequently refers to the process of building the team and in his first year, that process shouldn’t be defined in terms of wins and losses. A team’s record can’t be the only thing that measures the direction of the program, and certainly not when that team is faced with a schedule that college football guru Phil Steele ranks as ninth in terms of strength.
The notion of a process implies steps, and UK has made some noticeable strides this season. Most evident in the recruiting warpath, Coach Stoops is pulling in players that are distinctively improving the team.
While the highly anticipated impact of Drew Barker won’t be seen until next year, Stoops has stocked his receiving corps with guys like Ryan Timmons, Alex Montgomery and Jeff Badet. The leading rusher on the team? Freshman running back Jojo Kemp. Sure, they might be a little rough around the edges now, but after a full season of SEC experience and a year to learn the playbook, the younger players will continue to smooth out.
On the field, the team has shown signs of revitalization. Granted they were faced with the defense of Miami of Ohio, but 675 yards of total offense doesn’t just happen; the team took a step.
Further progress was seen three weeks ago when playing then-ranked No. 13 South Carolina. Despite losing the game, a fourth quarter rally from a 27-7 deficit pulled the Cats to within seven as they would ultimately fall short, 35-28.
Coming off a keenly timed bye week, UK enters Thursday’s game as a 10-point underdog to a Mississippi State team that is wildly unimpressive and whose only three wins have come over Troy, Alcorn State and Bowling Green State University.
Mississippi State is a team that is averaging only 30 points per game whilst allowing 23. In their last two games, the team hasn’t capped a score of 26. Last week, BGSU came into Starkville and lost by only a point, 21-20.
Like I said, the notion of a process implies steps. Undisputedly, Tennessee is a team in the same boat as Kentucky. With an overtime loss to Georgia and a win over South Carolina, even though they aren’t winning out their entire schedule, the gradual strides they are taking as a program are visible signs of improvement.
Similarly to the Vols, UK is seeking that one win, that one upset that grants credit to be given where it’s due: Coach Stoops has the team on the right track. If the Cats pull out a win on ESPN’s Thursday night primetime slot, the conversation begins to shift from “UK is terrible” to “don’t look now but UK is getting better.”
While the Bulldogs are thinking they’ve got this game in the bag, I’ve got a strong feeling Stoops’ Troops take another step in the pursuit of a redefined program and return to Lexington victorious.
Ben Tompkins is an intern and contributing writer for WLXG ESPN Sports Radio 1300. Follow him on Twitter @bennytomp18 and like his page on Facebook, Benny & The Jets.