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Sports Notes: Wildcat fans are starting to question whether Stoops and Co. are up to the task


By Glenn Osborne
KyForward sports editor

After more than a month of watching junior quarterback Patrick Towles’ play regress, after watching Towles and his offense fail to score a point after gaining first downs inside the Vanderbilt five-yard line twice, after seeing Towles audible to a fade pass and throw a killer interception from the VU one, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops finally decided he had seen enough.

Trailing Vandy 7-3 in a game it should have lead by double-digits, Kentucky switched signal-callers. Stoops called the number of another former northern Kentucky star, Drew Barker, early in the second quarter and when Barker hit on a deep play on first down, a charge of electricity coursed through the UK sideline, the first sign of life on that side of the field in quite a while.

Barker ultimately led his team to a touchdown and a 10-7 lead and it seemed that a Kentucky football season that was all but on life-support still had some hope after all.

Following a number of questionable decision during Kentucky's loss to Vanderbilt, some fans are beginning to question Mark Stoops' ability to develop a winning program (UK Athletics Photo)

Following a number of questionable decision during Kentucky’s loss to Vanderbilt, some fans are beginning to question Mark Stoops’ ability to develop a winning program (UK Athletics Photo)

But Barker, showing the effects of a lack of playing time during this disappointing season, didn’t see a defender on a subsequent drive and tossed a pick-six interception. Kentucky being Kentucky also gave up a first-half TD on a trick play that involved a pass to a Vandy receiver who appeared to be leaving the field. A UK fumble by Boom Williams set up the first Vandy score.

It was a most Kentucky-like game. There was a blocked punt. A field goal attempt that was pushed back five yards by a delay of game penalty and then missed. An unsuccessful long-ball attempt on a pass on fourth-and-one from midfield.

Fast-forward to another Kentucky loss in a game it had to have. Vandy 21, UK 17. A second successive season undone by a late losing streak that nullified a promising start. Questionable play calling by the coaching staff late in the first half certainly didn’t help anything.

Early in the third quarter, Stoops decided to pull the plug on the brief Barker experiment and went back to Towles, who finished the game. Who knows what might have happened if he had stayed with Barker. The coach said he wanted to go with the hot hand.

Towles’ hot hand included completing 10 of 26 passes with an interception for 67 yards. He was sacked twice, including on the last play of the game. Against a three-man Vandy rush. Who didn’t see that coming? Towles ranks sixth on the school’s all-time passing yardage list, but he has been held under 100 yards his last two games.

Barker wasn’t exactly Tom Brady, but he had nearly as many yards (60) on just eight tries, five of them completions. The Wildcats seemed to get a lift from his entrance into the game and you could almost sense them sag when Towles came back in. Social media lit up with questions about what Towles had done to deserve another look.

It exploded over the play-calling and clock management by Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. Both accepted blame for theie decisions after the game, as they always seem to do.

At some point, things have to get better. The play of the team, the decisions by the coaches, the outcome on the field. Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart isn’t going to pull the plug on another head football coach after three years for the second time in a row.

But most members of the Big Blue Nation are wondering if there is more to Stoops than recruiting and raising money. They are beginning to question whether he can coach, whether he is overmatched against his SEC counterparts. Whether his excitable temperament on the sidelines is hurting his team.

Kentucky is a 30-point favorite against Charlotte this Saturday, but few expect the Cats to be able to overcome Louisville in the season finale. That would be a second straight finish of 5-7 and a fifth consecutive year without a bowl invitation.

Something is wrong in Wildcat land and it’s past time that Stoops and company stopped making excuses and started figuring out how to fix it. He may have taken one step Monday when the new two-deep chart was announced. Barker was listed as the No. 1 quarterback for the first time in his career.

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Kentucky sophomore guard Tyler Ulis is one of 30 players on the 2015 Lute Olson Award preseason watch list, an award presented annually at the end of each season to the nation’s top Division I player who has played at least two collegiate seasons.

Freshmen and transfers are not eligible for the preseason watch list.

Ulis, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference selection, appeared in 37 games during the 2014-15 season and the Chicago native led the Wildcats in assists in 20 contests while posting five or more dimes in 12 games. He did not commit a turnover in any of UK’s final four games of the season during the NCAA Tournament.

He concluded his freshman campaign ranked third in the country and first among league competition with a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Ulis will lead the Wildcats against Duke Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Chicago. The Wildcats and Blue Devils will face off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. KyForward senior sports columnist Keith Taylor will be on hand to provide coverage.

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Alabama took care of Mississippi State 31-6 Saturday and when LSU was upset by Arkansas 31-14, the Crimson Tide clinched a spot opposite Florida in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Florida defeated South Carolina by a 24-14 margin after nearly blowing a 17-0 lead. Georgia was a 20-13 winner over Auburn.

Top games on tap this weekend include LSU meeting Ole Miss, Mississippi State traveling to Arkansas and Tennessee at Missouri.

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The Morehead State women’s basketball team led the entire way in its 121-91 victory over Kentucky Christian at Johnson Arena Saturday afternoon and in the process the Eagles broke a 37-year-old single-game scoring record.

The scoring record (115) was originally held by the 1978-79 team coached, ironically, by the former MSU head coach the tournament is named for.

“We were excited to score that many points, we felt we had the opportunity to score well tonight, and offensively we have no complaints,” said head coach Greg Todd. “We did turn the ball over a few more times than we would like, but when you have that many positions, it’s going to happen.”

The Eagles recorded their first win of the season (1-1) as the Knights moved to 1-4 on the year.

Five Eagles registered double figures in points, led by junior forward Shay Steele’s first double-double of the season. She tallied a career-high 34 points and 13 rebounds in just 24 minutes. Sophomore forward Eriel McKee flirted with a quadruple-double, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and eight steals in 30 minutes.

For the second straight contest the Eagles scored more than 100 points. It was the first time in program history the Eagles had scored 100 points or more in consecutive games.

Morehead will face Kentucky Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Coliseum.


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