Stoops, Wildcats eager to get back to ‘who we are’

Published 9:15 am Friday, July 21, 2023


Kentucky Today

It’s time to start talking football and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops answered plenty of questions during Day 2 of the Southeastern Conference Media Days Wednesday in Nashville.

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Prior to making their appearance in Music City, the flight from Lexington was a roller-coaster ride for Stoops and the team’s supporting staff.

“It was definitely bumpy,” Kentucky defensive lineman Octavious Oxendine said. “When we first got into the air, it was okay. We started getting closer to Nashville a little bit and it definitely got bumpy, a couple of jumps, stuff like that. We definitely got to looking at each other and talking about the flight.”

The conversation quickly changed from what transpired moments earlier to the upcoming season. Most of that talk centered around the return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen, along with transfer quarterback Devin Leary (North Carolina State) and former Vanderbilt running back Ray Davis.

Coen is expected to bring back the edge he brought to the Wildcats in his first stint as chief offensive boss in 2021. He spent last season as offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams before returning to Lexington last spring. The absence of Coen last season was obvious as the Wildcats struggled on the offensive side of the football.

“Bringing Liam back, a very big deal for us. You go back a couple years ago and you see the immediate impact that he had with our offense and the energy and the juice that he had within our building … I think it’s pretty obvious that we have to get back to being who we are at Kentucky. And we’ve always been a physical football team, and it started up front and playing physical on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I feel like we fell short of that a year ago.”

Much like Stoops, Kentucky’s veteran players are excited to have Coen back in the fold. Converted center Eli Cox said Coen “brings an ability to get our play-makers the ball in good situations.”

“He puts them in matches that they know they can win,” he said. “He gives them the confidence that when the ball is in their hands, they’ll do something special.”

Cox added Coen’s style remains the same as it was two years ago, one that thrust former quarterback Will Levis into the spotlight.

“His philosophy is something that hasn’t changed,” he said. “His philosophy on offense is to be explosive, to be disciplined, do the little things right. When you have a team that can do all those tiny little details correctly and well is when you have not just good offenses but great ones, when the details don’t slip up.”

Cox added the return of Coen gives the team’s younger players an opportunity to experience Coen’s offense.

“The guys that were here in 2021 we’re excited to have him back, just how many points we were able to score and the weapons he was able to use,”: Cox said. “The new guys are excited to find and carve out a role with him.”

Stoops likes the comfort level he has with Coen and is looking forward to building on the success the Wildcats enjoyed two years ago.

“I think there is great familiarity with the two of us,” he said. “You know, I think with him coming back, he knew what to expect from me. I knew what to expect from him. I think the difference is there’s a confidence level. That doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen or it’s going to be easy, but Liam is much more proven at this point than he was when he came in the first time. I mean, that’s the difference, so I think the confidence level is there.”

Talking season has arrived. That means the regular season is just around the corner.