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Larry Vaught Weekly: Stoops as SEC COY?

Photo: Andrew Bishop,

Mark Stoops won’t be SEC Coach of the Year, but what he’s done after an 0-2 start has been remarkable and UK should now be bowl eligible this season after last week’s win at Missouri.

By: Larry Vaught

Photo: Andrew Bishop,

Photo: Andrew Bishop,

Mark Stoops won’t be SEC Coach of the Year, but maybe he should be. No one could really have believed UK would be 5-3 after it lost its first two games and had to rally just to beat New Mexico State in game three.

Yet Kentucky has rebounded to win four out of five games, all SEC games. The one loss was at No. 1 Alabama, certainly no embarrassment for any team.

Kentucky should be at least bowl eligible since it still has a game with winless Austin Peay. But this Saturday night’s game in Commonwealth Stadium against Georgia could be another game the Cats will win. No, I don’t expect UK to put up the rushing numbers against Georgia it did against Mississippi State and Missouri. However, UK’s offense is good enough to score on Georgia if the Cats do not turn the ball over and quarterback Stephen Johnson is consistent with his passing.

“We want to win the rest of our games. We cannot be satisfied with what we have done so far. We have to go out and finish what we started and win the rest of these games,” Johnson said.

What has made finishing games possible is an improved defense but also a more physical offense. Kentucky had the football almost 40 minutes against Missouri. I cannot remember that happening before. This physical play is what Stoops envisioned when he came to UK.

“You’re never going to be satisfied as a coach. Ever. Or you shouldn’t be. We know we’re making progress in a lot of areas. We know we’ve got good kids and all that. And we can grow up and get experience and play well: offense, defense special teams. This is the first time with this whole staff. The staff has done a remarkable job, every coach and every player,” Stoops said.

He’s right. Most fans gave up on this team — and Stoops. He never flinched — a phrase he likes to use. Recruiting has stabilized and that’s big because UK is still a young team with the fewest seniors of any Division I team. If the Cats could find a way to beat Georgia, what looked like a disastrous season then becomes special.

It’s a process to get there that nobody wants to go through and wait, but we weren’t ever discouraged. You just got to stay the course and get better. Some of those linemen are grown up. We have some backs, the receivers are always a threat even when we’re not throwing the ball extremely well. They are a threat,” Stoops said.

Just like Kentucky has become a threat to win games in a season where it looked like all might have been lost. That’s why even though it will never happen, Stoops merits consideration for SEC Coach of the Year because I’m not sure there is a league coach who has done a better overall job this season than him.

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