By Amanda Jones
Kentucky Wildcat fans seem to go through a constant cycle of hope and defeat every football season. Before this season, the hiring of former Florida State University defensive coordinator Mark Stoops began to generate some positive buzz throughout the fan base. UK fans quickly lost their hope for a growing program after the first game of the season against Western Kentucky turned into a 35-26 loss. UK fans continued to lose positivity after suffering a defeat against the Louisville Cardinals for the third straight year just two weeks later by a final score of 27-13. After the first three games of the season, the Wildcats have a losing record of 1-2.
Though University of Kentucky fans expected to have a better start to the season, it is still too early to make a judgment on Coach Stoops. It takes any good coach time to rebuild a program. Wildcat fans have to remember that Stoops’s top notch recruiting class is not coming until next season. So, for this fall he will still be working with former UK Coach Joker Phillips’ recruits. This does not mean that Coach Stoops can’t help the current Kentucky roster improve on the field.
This year’s UK team has already started to play at a faster pace and with more confidence than last season. In just three games, there is already a noticeable difference, even if it is not as drastic as many UK fans had hoped.
Next season’s recruiting class is quickly shaping up, but there are a couple of players on this year’s roster to be positive about. Za’Darius Smith has already been a force on the defensive end for the Wildcats. Smith, who was the number one junior college strong defensive end in the country last season, has already contributed five sacks in the first three games of his NCAA football career. He is the first UK player in six years to earn at least one sack in three consecutive games. Smith currently leads the powerhouse SEC in sacks. With the charisma he brings to the field, fans can be confident that Za’Darius Smith will continue to make opponents eat the grass this season.
Offensively, UK fans can get excited about sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith. Mark Stoops has looked to Smith to revive the Air Raid offense and bring it back to Kentucky. Wildcat fans have already seen the Air Raid offense succeed this season against Miami of Ohio, when Smith completed three long touchdown passes to lead the team to a 41-7 victory.
As the offense continues to develop, fans can expect to hear the Air Raid siren sound through Commonwealth Stadium much more this season.
Realistically, this season will not be easy. Adjusting to a new coach and style of play will be hard for the team. The SEC has not weakened since last season. Kentucky will still play one of the hardest schedules in the country, but the program has already seen improvement since Coach Stoops took over. With the enthusiasm of Mark Stoops and players like Za’Darius Smith and Maxwell Smith, this team has the potential to look completely different from last season’s team, and maybe even pull a few upsets.