In some ways, it feels like Mark Stoops has been the head coach at Kentucky for quite a while. Some days, his introductory press conference seems to have taken place much longer than eight months ago.
Leading UK through its first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Stoops was reminded that he is still not far removed from his days as a defensive coordinator.
"It's always a little bit new for me to be the head coach, because one side or the other has to do good and one side has to do bad," Stoops said.
The scrimmage began with the offense asserting itself, as the first- and second-string units led multiple long drives. Led by solid blocking by the offensive line, UK was solid in the run game in scoring at least one touchdown and "a couple field goals."
But as the afternoon in Commonwealth Stadium wore on, the defense stiffened. Using pressure from the front four, the defense dominated the latter half and situational portions of the scrimmage.
"We played a little bit better fundamentally," Stoops said. "We played a little bit better up front. We were able to incorporate a few more wrinkles within the defense. But some of that was just poor execution by the offense. We had some dropped passes show up again today, which we haven't seen too much of through camp, so that hurt, and some turnovers."
The turnovers came through the air, as the defense intercepted four passes. Sophomore linebacker Kory Brown took credit for one - though he said he should have had two more - and one of the Blaylock twins, a cornerback and Marcus McWilson had the others, according to Brown.
"I thought one of them, the wide out had a chance to make a play," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "The other three were probably-well I know they were definitely bad throws."
Brown credited UK's secondary for making life hard on the wide receivers, but refused to make any excuses for the group. Outside of a Fan Day practice in Commonwealth last week, the receivers had been relatively sure-handed during fall camp, leading Brown to wonder what happened Saturday.
"It was an epidemic in the spring," Brown said. "I thought we had kind of been over that and then we kind of took a step back today."
A week of two-a-days could certainly have played a role - particularly considering the burden placed on receivers in UK's high-tempo attack - but Brown isn't interested in hearing about that.
"You can make an excuse and say, 'OK, well we're two weeks into camp,' " Brown said. "Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Everybody else that's playing college football is at the same point where we are."
But as much as Brown would have liked to see more plays made in the passing game, he knows to withhold judgment.
"I think it's hard to see 'til you watch the video," Brown said. "There's going to be some wide outs that played better than I thought they did and there's going to be some guys that made movements that I didn't see for whatever reason - the ball didn't get thrown their way or whatever it might be."
Taking a look at the tape will be key as the staff begins to make decisions about the depth chart in the coming week, especially at quarterback. Brown said the picture is becoming clearer at the position, but neither he nor Stoops were willing to talk specifics.
"We're gonna sit down here today and we'll go through it as a staff and see where we're at. And if we make any decisions, we'll let you know," Stoops said. "But we're gonna work through some of that for sure this week."
As the two-week countdown before UK's season opener vs. Western Kentucky University begins, moving toward starter decisions becomes more pressing. The offense and defense must be tailored to the players who will be playing the majority of the snaps during that time.
"We're better than we were in the spring," Brown said. "I don't want to be here doom and gloom because we're a lot better than we were in the spring. A lot better. I think we're picking it up, but what we've got now, we've got everything we can do in. Now what we've gotta do is figure out what we're good at."
Even more importantly than that, Stoops is looking for his team to show more of an edge. The Wildcats were unquestionably better in terms of intensity than during a disappointing Friday morning practice, but Stoops is still looking for more.
"I think our players mean well and they care," Stoops said. "I think we've got to continue to develop an attitude on both sides of the ball and special teams. I think I see some guys that are trying to make plays, that mean right, that just don't have the attitude that we need right now."
But as Stoops was reminded on Saturday, he's still not long into his UK tenure.
- At running back, senior Raymond Sanders saw his carries limited during the scrimmage, but not due to injury. "He's got a lot of carries in camp so far and we've got a good feel for what he can do," Brown said. Sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and freshman Jojo Kemp took advantage of the opportunity as both played well. Kemp, however, did not finish the scrimmage due to an ankle injury that Brown called "nothing major."
- With Zach Myers out of action, Max Godby got the majority of the first-team reps at center. Zach West and Teven Eatmon-Nared shared time at left guard.
- Just four days after his arrival, cornerback Nate Willis played extensively during the scrimmage. "He played quite a bit, and he did some good things," Stoops said.