Kentucky's 2-8 season has left a lot to be desired. From coaches, to players and to the fans. But one thing keeping the Big Blue Nation interested is that the future seems bright.
The Wildcats had their strongest-ever recruiting class in 2013, when Mark Stoops only had a few months to finish the class. All signs are pointing to 2014 being better. But in Stoops' first year at UK, he'll tweak recruiting after seeing his team on the field.
"I mean -- and you know -- the short answer is we need help in all areas," Stoops said at his weekly news luncheon on Monday. "I think we're going to continue to do that and recruit extremely hard. I feel very good about the way things are going in '14 and off to a good start in '15."
With 25 commitments, UK currently ranks No.8 in the Rivals team rankings. But the Cats already have begun looking at the 2015 and 2016 classes. Earlier this month UK received a commitment from 2015 athlete Montrell Custis, who had early offers from Auburn, Mississippi State and Tennessee among others.
While the Cats are limping to finish the 2013 season, Stoops has never waivered in his optimism of UK's future.
"You know, makes me very optimistic about the future," Stoops said. "I think we're recruiting some great leaders, some great young men that will help our program."
And Stoops knows what he specifically needs to help his program. Earlier he said he needed help in all areas, but specifically Stoops is looking for more playmakers and to get bigger at every position.
If speed is king in the Southeastern conference, size isn't far behind.
"We need to continue to get bigger across the board, so we need some size, and really we need help up front, at linebacker and in the secondary," Stoops said. "You need a lot of guys."
[rl]Stoops noted that the versatility of the SEC means a variety of recruiting needs.
"You've got to be big and physical at times," he said. "You've got to be able to cover at times. You've got to be very multiple."
The Cats rank second to last in the SEC in offensive yards per game, so Stoops will always be welcoming more players that can help score in UK's offense.
"Yeah, we definitely, as you know, we need some more playmakers," Stoops said. "We're having a hard time getting explosive plays. We know we need to improve offensively. Nobody is more frustrated than us."
Black and blue
UK is banged up. As the season progresses, while some Cats are healing, it appears more and more are going down with injury.
Kentucky was without a few key players in Saturday's loss at Vanderbilt, had a couple leave the game due to injury, and safety Eric Dixon will have to miss the first half of the Georgia game due to his targeting penalty against the Commodores.
"Yeah, we're banged up," Stoops said.
Ryan Timmons sprained his ankle against Alabama State, forcing him to sit out the Missouri game and limiting his action against Vanderbilt. Stoops said he should be better.
UK offensive tackle Darrian Miller left Saturday's game with a knee injury. He should be back for the Georgia game.
But cornerback Nate Willis didn't travel to Nashville and he seems unlikely to play against the Bulldogs.
"Nate Willis, I think, his knee, I don't think he'll be able to play," Stoops said.
Same goes for linebacker TraVaughn Paschal. He wasn't listed in UK's updated depth chart, instead Tyler Brause is the backup.
"TraVaughn is doubtful," Stoops said. "The rest of them we'll have to see. But yeah, TraVaughn doesn't look good."
Highs and Whitlow
Stoops won't sugarcoat it. Not his style. He said after Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt that he wasn't thrilled with his quarterback play, and he wasn't backing off that statement after reviewing the tapes Monday.
In order for UK to be successful offensively, Jalen Whitlow has to throw the ball better.
"He's got to distribute the ball where it needs to go all the time," Stoops said. "That'll help our offense go. We did miss a couple of those, but we are getting better in that area."
Whitlow finished with season highs in incompletions (14) and interceptions (four) Saturday.
He did rush for 69 yards against the Commodores. Whitlow's ability to run has never been in question, but Stoops needs to see more of him through the air.
"We missed some throws we've got to make," Stoops said. "We really did. We have to make those throws."