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September 1, 2013NASHVILLE, Tenn. - By the end of the night, it was clear Mark Stoops needed more from his Kentucky football team.
The Wildcats had been mostly dominated in a 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky, Stoops' head coaching debut, and when it was over he lamented a lack of execution.
Even before it started, though, he'd been asking his players for more emotion.
"Normally, you're trying to calm guys down a little bit before games and before scrimmages, and there's a fine line there," Stoops said afterward. "Like I said before, I don't want that being fake. I want it being real."
Coaching enthusiasm might have been unexpected in Stoops' debut. The rest of it - outside of the result - went about the way he thought it would.
"I felt OK," Stoops said of his first head coaching experience. "I felt comfortable with that. Tried to manage the game the best I could. I need to get our team in a better position to win."
Stoops was faced with at least one difficult decision in his first game. Trailing 35-17 and facing a fourth and four with a little less than 10 minutes to play, Stoops opted to kick a field goal rather than go for a first down from the WKU 13-yard line.
"It was fourth and three I believe, and (I) thought long and hard - well, not for a long time - but thought quickly about going for it," Stoops said. "But we needed points."
Kentucky got them - Joe Mansour made the 30-yard field goal - and had a chance to make a game of it late after a touchdown pass from Maxwell Smith to Demarco Robinson. But Mansour missed the extra-point try, and his onside kick sailed out of bounds.
Some fans booed Stoops' decision.
The rookie head coach was unfazed.
"You've got to stay the course," he said. "I plan on being a head coach for a long time, and you got to do what you believe is right. I understand that goes with the territory completely. Shoot, half of me wanted to go for it too."
First things first
A lot went wrong in Kentucky's loss to WKU.
On offense, it started with the beginning.
Kentucky made only 15 first downs - "I don't remember the last time I played a game where I had 15 first downs," said offensive coordinator Neal Brown, who averaged 26.8, 26.2 and 24.8 first downs per game over the last three years at Texas Tech - the entire game.
"I think that's what hurt us," Brown said. We got behind the chains sometimes and we had a hard time overcoming that."
Brown said before the season he wanted to gain four or more yards on 48 percent of UK's first-down plays.
Against WKU, 11 of UK's 23 first-and-10 calls (47.8 percent) gained that amount. Ten of those led to another first down.
Overall, UK passed 12 times (for 73 yards on seven completions) and ran 11 times (for 121 yards, although 83 of those yards came on just two plays) on first-and-10 situations.
But because UK didn't string together multiple first downs often - and didn't collect enough of them - Brown couldn't push the pace as fast as he wanted.
The Wildcats ran 60 total plays, 15 fewer than Brown's stated preseason goal.
"We have to get better on first downs," Brown said. "That's the key. If we get better on first downs, then we can play fast, then we can move the chains."
All during the summer camp, Stoops had officials come to his practice and officiate.
Stoops wanted to make sure his team wasn't committing penalties and were playing clean. And during most of the camp that was the case. But that didn't happen Saturday night.
UK's ten penalties for 69 yards surprised Stoops.
"That was discouraging," Stoops said. "We haven't seen much of that. Came at some critical times.
At one point during the game UK was deep in its own territory and committed back-to-back false starts.
"We were backed up there, and to get two in a row was very disappointing," Stoops said. "So, yeah, back to work on everything."
69 penalty yards was the most UK has committed since the Vanderbilt game last year, where it had 100 yards.
"I think it hurt us," Brown said. "We struggle when we get behind the chains. That's kind of who we are right now, and we didn't help ourselves. Especially on third down, twice. One time we had two of them in a row. We've got to be more disciplined than we were tonight."