The addition of Mark Stoops as football coach for the University of Kentucky has created an massive buzz about the opportunities the passionate defensive guru can bring to the Bluegrass. While Stoops is obviously known for his outstanding track record as defensive coordinator, perhaps his greatest trait is his development of the defensive secondary. Anyone who watched the 2012 Kentucky football team would know that an improvement in the secondary is crucial to this team improving from this dismal season. After one quarter of the season opener against Louisville, the horrendous defensive back play was prevalent and Teddy Bridgewater continued to expose that weakness en route to a beatdown at Papa John’s Stadium that Big Blue Nation knows all too well. The rest of the season continued this trend ending with Tyler Bray dismantling the Kentucky defense for four touchdowns.
But enough with the doom and gloom of the past! Mark Stoops is here to the change the culture, and it could very well start with his huge impact on pass defense. First, Mark Stoops has a phenomenal track record of developing defensive backs and making them NFL ready. In his time with the Miami Hurricanes, Stoops helped develop a two-star recruit by the name of Ed Reed into the future Hall of Fame ball hawking safety that he is today. While the next-coming of Ed Reed may not be coming through Commonwealth Stadium, Stoops will certainly be an excellent mentor for a young secondary and is guaranteed to limit the all too common third and long defensive lapses that plagued Kentucky all season long. Aside from Ed Reed, Stoops coached NFL players like Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Phillip Buchanon, and Trent Gamble. Stoops pedigree of producing NFL-caliber cornerbacks and safeties speaks volumes for the vast improvement he can bring to UK’s pass defense.
By the numbers, Stoops’ Florida State defense was the sixth best passing defense in the country, giving up only 164 yards per game and 12 touchdowns. Compare Stoops’ impressive numbers with Rick Minter’s defense who ranked 54th, giving up 229 yards per game and 21 touchdowns. While Florida State may have more talent than Kentucky this year on defense (as a whole really), the FSU defense prior to Stoops’ arrival had a bottom of the barrel defense that was being torched by passing attacks game after game. The season before Stoops hiring in Tallahassee saw Florida State give up 229 yards per game and 26 touchdowns. Each year under Stoops, the pass defense has improved and in just 3 years, he has developed a squad that is among the elite in the NCAA.
While my expectations for the new head coach are quite high, Stoops will need time to implement his game plan and recruit his type of players to play in the secondary. However, I fully expect the arrival of Stoops to make an immediate improvement on Kentucky pass defense. At the least, he won’t allow Teddy Bridgewater to drive the Cardinals 99 yards,connecting with wide open receivers on third and long multiple times. With some luck, Stoops could sign a few 2013 secondary players that fit his zone defense and develop the current Kentucky CBs and safeties to finally rid Big Blue Nation of the momentum killing first downs after holding the opponent well for the first two downs. The Stoops Era brings hope that Kentucky can establish a true SEC defense and bring the (hopefully) revamped offense back on the field.