The Kentucky Wildcats program consistently struggles to get off the ground.
Last year’s team finished 5-7, a game short of qualifying for a bowl game for the first time since 2010. There were a fair share of heartbreaks as the Wildcats started the year 4-1 before a five-game losing streak put the team behind the 8-ball. That run included a three-point loss to Auburn and a four-point loss to Vanderbilt.
The Wildcats, as they always seem to be, were close. And they had to get better.
The focus on getting better had to be on the defensive end. Kentucky gave up 394.2 yards of total offense and 196.1 yards on the ground last year. The team had to put a big focus on the defensive end this offseason.
In Mark Stoops’ words. . . they were not good, especially at linebacker.
“You’ve just got to bring them along,” Stoops told Kentucky Sports Radio. “You guys have heard me talk about how hard it is to play that position. That’s where it’s hard, Matt, when you’re trying to piece the whole thing together when you come from where we came from.”
“You know I don’t like making excuses, there’s no bullsh—BS, it just is what it is. It just takes time to put it all together at every position and play at the level you need to play at to win in this league. You look at who we play and that’s a big part of it. We don’t discuss it because it is what it is. But put us in another league and believe me, wins come a lot easier.”
Those are some strong words about the linebacking group. And they should be after the struggles last year.
The Wildcats were ranked 102nd against the run and 111th against the pass according to Defensive S&P+ from Football Outsiders. The defense was not good and was the worst defense in the SEC (80th overall according to S&P+).
That will certainly have to change for Kentucky to take the next step and get to a bowl game.
But the Wildcats are optimistic. The new athletic facility they debuted has the team feeling good and feeling like they can compete with some of the bigger programs. It makes things a lot more convenient for the team for sure.
Stoops reported his team has a new mindset as they prepared for this season. There is definitely a hunger to make the team better.
“There’s no doubt. We do see them training, we see them running, but we are allowed to work with them on some football skills,” Stoops told Kentucky Sports Radio. “I’ve been amazed at how committed our players have been just because there’s a totally different mindset. You can see it and feel it. When you walk out on that field tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m., every player will be here, they will all be in their position groups and they’ll be grinding on their technique and certain aspects of the offense and defense that we’ll work with them on.”
Kentucky is certainly eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take that next step up this year. The Wildcats seem fired up and ready to go for this important year.