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Kentucky defense makes big plays while offense sips some bad ‘Kool-Aid’ during Saturday scrimmage

By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer

LEXINGTON — Eddie Gran has been through several spring practice sessions during his long coaching career. The Kentucky offensive coordinator had plenty to say after the team’s intra-squad scrimmage Saturday and it wasn’t good.

To say Gran wasn’t happy following the 20-minute scrimmage totally dominated by the Wildcats’ defense is an understatement.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops throws the football to his defensive backs during a drill Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (Keith Taylor Photo)

“I think they’re drinking some Kool-Aid and it’s bad Kool-Aid,” said Gran, who praised the first 11 segments of practice prior to the scrimmage. “I’ve got to get them to quit drinking (the bad Kool-Aid). We’ll get that fixed (but the scrimmage) was an absolute joke. (They were) non-competitive.”

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson shouldered the blame for the team’s poor offensive showing and vowed the Wildcats would improve before the Blue-White game set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Commonwealth Stadium.

“It’s all on me,” Johnson said. “This is my offense, this is my team. I have to be able to bring our guys up when we’re in a lull like that. That’s really on me for not being able to pick those guys up.”

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During the scrimmage to conclude the 12th workout of this spring, Kentucky’s offense was shutout as Tobias Gilliam returned a Gunnar Hoak pass for a touchdown. The defense later scooped up a fumble by standout running back Benny Snell. Josh Allen also delivered a monster hit on running back Siheim King, one of several big plays by the defensive unit throughout the scrimmage.

“I think the offense took a day off,” Kentucky defensive tackle Naquez Pringle said. “They’re always going to come back on the swing. They’re never going to let us relax. They’re going to go back, watch film and see what happened. They’re going to come back swinging. We’ll just have to be prepared.”

Unlike Gran and Johnson, Kentucky first-year defensive coordinator Matt House was happy with the way the defense ended the open practice for media members and added the offense had an advantage in the early going.

“I think (the defense) has progressed, but earlier in practice, I thought the offense had the advance over us, too,” he said. “It was good to see we took the ball away a little more, which was good to see. I thought the kids played hard.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said the defensive outing was reminiscent of how the team has performed in practice this week.

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Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

“The last two days it’s been like that — really good defensively up front — and it’s a start,” Stoops said. “We have a long way to go, but I like the energy they’re playing with, I like the confidence they’re playing with. You can see we made some turnovers, made some big plays and that’s good to see.”

From Gran’s perspective, the Kentucky offensive coordinator thought the Wildcats had “moved past” bad finishes, especially behind the scenes, but the outing left Gran at a loss for words.

“They whipped us,” Gran said. “I don’t know what else to say. Their 11 whipped our 11. For an hour and a half today, we whipped them. For the last 20 (minutes), we got smoked.”

Although spring practice isn’t a full indicator of what to expect next fall, the workouts give the coaches an opportunity to develop team chemistry and build confidence.

“The great thing about spring is the competition and it goes back and forth, go back and forth,” House said. “(On) Tuesday, we better bring it again or the offense is gonna come out and kick our tail. That’s when you grow as a program. You grow as a program when it is back and forth and competition, like I said, whether it’s in your position group or within your football team. That’s what brings out the best in all of us.”

Spring game: Blue vs. White, Friday, 7:30 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, 98.1 WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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