LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mark Stoops walked to the practice-field podium Wednesday to give an update on Drew Barker’s injury.
But in an odd order of thoughts, he transitioned from mentioning the injury without saying what it was, to talking about how bad his team practiced that day. He had to be pulled back to the news that his former starting quarterback would miss significant time.
That news strangely took a back seat. Stoops was boiling about something else.
His anger was directed at his defense — a side that ranks 122nd in the nation in yards given up per game. The Wildcats defense hasn’t held an opponent under 40 points this season, but Stoops was ripping its lack of maturity and concentration — problems that outweigh the side’s statistical shortcomings.
Stoops is either to the point where he’s fed up, or it’s a no more Mr. Nice Guy shift in strategy to see if his team responds. Probably a little bit of both.
“Until we get it changed, we’re gonna have the same darn results that we have in that stadium, which is bull crap,” Stoops said Wednesday of his defense’s effort. “So until we grow up and get a mentality about us and have some guys step up and get tougher, then we’re gonna look like the same bunch of crap. Some guys need to grow up in a hurry.”
He wasn’t done.
“I’m not pleased,” Stoops said. “I’m just, you know, it’s frustrating. We try to teach, try to coach, try to educate, and sometimes all that don’t work. The truth is the truth. If we’re so fragile we can’t handle the truth, we’re not going to win many games. I told them the truth.”
The timing of Stoops’ mini-tirade doesn’t seem coincidental. His team has a home date against South Carolina at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The Wildcats have bested the Gamecocks the last two years, but those seasons saw different starts.
If Kentucky drops the game Saturday, its third loss of the season will come a full month before its third loss of 2014 and 2015.
Saturday could chart the course for the season. The SEC East is messy past Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri will be in a four-way brawl to maintain relevancy.
The fan base is shaky, but it’s liable to crack with a loss to a South Carolina team hitting the road for its third time in four games, led by a true freshman quarterback and a first-year staff.
South Carolina hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game this season. If the Gamecocks light up the scoreboard Saturday, well, just get out of Stoops’ way.