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Keith Taylor: Wildcats seek to avoid costly letdowns down the stretch this season, finish on a high note


During a break in practice earlier this week, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran gathered around some of his offensive players and stressed the importance of finishing.

Although Gran hasn’t been apart of the team’s late-season meltdowns during the past two years, he is aware of promising starts and season-ending disappointments that have resulted in two consecutive 5-7 finishes. Gran and the coaching staff preached the “finish” sermon during the off-season, trying to get the players to heed to the importance of going the distance in practice, games and off the field.

 Quarterback Drew Barker will lead UK's offense this season (Keith Taylor Photo)

Quarterback Drew Barker will lead UK’s offense this season (Keith Taylor Photo)

“The main thing we’ve been preaching is to finish,” Kentucky running back Stanley “Boom” Williams. “That’s the main thing we want to do. Once we have those chances to win close games, we want to be able to finish those games and get some wins.”

Williams, Kentucky’s top rusher during the past two years, said the Wildcats’ struggles down the stretch during the past two seasons have been disappointing and took a toll on the program. Despite the misfortunes, Williams said UK can’t get caught up in past mistakes.

“It gets frustrating, but you can’t dwell on the past,” Williams said. “We have made some critical mistakes in the past that cost us, but that’s why we have the off-season, so we can learn from those mistakes and so we can better ourselves and not make the same mistakes this year.”

 Boom Williams returns as UK's leading rusher during the past two seasons (Keith Taylor Photo)

Boom Williams returns as UK’s leading rusher during the past two seasons (Keith Taylor Photo)

In order to avoid a replay of late letdowns, Gran said the players must do their part of hold up their end of the bargain and dare to be different.

“I think the biggest thing is (figuring out) who are those guys on our offense that are going to lead,” he said. “I just want to make sure that we have guys that don’t want to be popular and just want to win and do things right. That will help us get to the next level.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops agreed and added the Wildcats have expanded the playbook to help the veterans reach their full potential.

“I’ve talked all summer about having the capacity to handle more and do more,” Stoops said earlier this week. “There’s no doubt we’ve done that. The players have worked through these first two weeks of camp extremely hard. We got an awful lot done. We certainly have pushed them. We’ve had full two-a-days when we could and got a lot of work there. We’ve had long practices. We’ve done probably 28 percent more work, 25-28 percent more work overall than we did a year ago. So they can handle it, they’re stronger, they’re in better shape and they’re doing some really good things.”

Stoops added the Wildcats have the right tools in place to handle a heavier workload.

“I really believe this team has what it takes physically and mentally,” he said. “We’re up for the challenge.”

Overall outlook

In order to reach its goals, Kentucky must produce better pass protection on offense and get solid play from the running backs, receivers, not to mention consistent leadership from quarterback Drew Barker. Barker showed promise during the last two games last season and hasn’t taken a step back since being named starting quarterback last spring.

Barker has plenty of talent around him, namely an experienced offensive line, anchored by center Jon Toth. The Wildcats also have plenty of depth at receiver (Jeff Badet, Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone and Ryan Timmons) and running back (Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton). C.J. Conrad gives the Wildcats an experienced blocker and part-time receiver at tight end, an option that has been rare since Jacon Tamme graduate in 2009.

The biggest question mark is on defense, as one full-time starter (Denzil Ware) returns from last year. Despite the inexperience across the board on defense, the Wildcats are expecting big things from Matt Elam, Courtney Love, Jordan Bonner, Josh Allen, Eli Brown, Kobie Walker, Adrian Middleton. The most experienced part of the defensive unit lies in the secondary, led by Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Marcus McWilson and Blake McClain.

Schedule

Sept. 3, Southern Mississippi, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU

Sept. 10, at Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Sept. 17, New Mexico State, 4 p.m., SEC Network

Sept. 24, South Carolina, TBA

Oct. 1, at Alabama, TBA

Oct. 8, Vanderbilt, TBA

Oct. 22, Mississippi State, TBA

Oct. 29, at Missouri, TBA

Nov. 5, Georgia, TBA

Nov. 12, at Tennessee, TBA

Nov. 19, Austin Peay, TBA

Nov. 26, at Louisville, TBA

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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One Comment

  1. Paul says:

    “Barker showed promise during the last two games last season”

    One of those games was against Charlotte, in which he completed a whopping 55% of his passes for a total of 129 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.

    Against Louisville in the finale, he was 6-22 for 128 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT.

    Your interpretation of “promising” is lacking.

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