Dancin’ in the streets
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops danced for joy Saturday when the Wildcats ended a 17-game SEC losing streak, beating Vanderbilt 17-7.
But his dancing skills were met with mixed reviews. “It was great to see coach happy and trying to dance,” senior defensive end Bud Dupree told the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. Several players said Stoops was trying to do the popular dance move called the “Nae Nae.”
Kentucky’s last SEC win was against Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011.
Stoops brought optimism and enthusiasm to Kentucky in his first year, despite not having the on-the-field success to go with it. UK boasts facility improvements, increased ticket sales and improved recruiting.
Stoops was awarded a contract extension through the 2018 season despite going 2-10 (0-8 SEC) in 2013.
“I think it shows the administration believes in the plan that we have in place,” Stoops said.
With victories against UT-Martin, Ohio and Vandy and a loss to Florida, Kentucky is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC.
Offensive lineman Jordan Swindle said he would measure success as going to a bowl game, which means Kentucky must win at least six games. UK is halfway there and has non-conference games remaining against Louisiana-Monroe and Louisville.
Kentucky held Vanderbilt to 139 yards, the fewest UK allowed an SEC opponent since Mississippi State had 91 yards in 1996.
“Our guys right now have an attitude, a mentality and a confidence about them and that goes a long way,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
They badgered Vanderbilt freshman quarterback Wade Freebeck into three interceptions. He was sacked four times.
An ongoing $110 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium will reduce capacity from 67,000 to 61,000. The idea is to create better seats, not more seats.
Sophomore Patrick Towles has taken over as the starting quarterback after beating out junior Maxwell Smith, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and freshman Drew Barker in the preseason. Barker picked UK over USC. Towles completed 23 of 30 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown against Vandy.
The last time Kentucky beat an SEC East team from outside the state of Tennessee was in 2010. That’s when the Wildcats beat USC 31-28.
The best defensive-end tandem in the league might be at Kentucky.
Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith combined for 13 sacks last season and might be this year’s replacement to Missouri’s Michael Sam and Kony Ealy.
“We need guys on the inside to help us out if we really want to be the best,” Dupree said. “Hopefully by the end of the season, we will be the best.”
Stoops has made many inroads to Ohio and come away with top recruits. He figured that going north to get players instead of south, where the rest of the SEC already has established a stronghold, was the way to go.
“It only makes sense for us to go to Ohio with my ties to Ohio, my roots to Ohio, but also the proximity,” said Stoops, a Youngstown native. “Southern Ohio, we’re so close to. There’s quality football players there.”
Kentucky played eight true freshmen last year, and four junior-college transfers. Stoops estimated 60 percent of the team has been around since January 2013.
While Steve Spurrier became the winningest coach at two SEC schools when he earned his 65th win at South Carolina, he is the second coach to reach that mark. The first was Paul “Bear” Bryant, who won 60 games at Kentucky in eight years before finishing his career at Alabama (232 wins). The Wildcats have had 11 coaches since Bryant left following the 1953 season, and only one had a record over .500 – Blanton Collier (1954-61), who went 41-36-3.