LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's offense got the jump before the Wildcats' defense had the last word during Saturday's first scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium.
With two weeks remaining before the season opener against Western Kentucky, first-year coach Mark Stoops lamented that his team is still not where it should be at this point.
For all the gains resulting from the offense's start and the defense's strong finish including several interceptions, Stoops said both units still had their share of breakdowns. The coach also thought their sharpness and tempo would be better after two weeks of practice.
As for the quarterback competition, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said sophomores Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and even freshman Reese Phillips showed some positives and that the staff was getting closer toward deciding which of the first three will start.
Compared to Friday's lackluster workout that a clearly-upset Stoops called disappointing, the coach saw some improvement. But things remain a work in progress, especially when it comes to developing an edge and identity.
"I think they care, but I want us to play a little more with an attitude," Stoops said. "If we're going to make a mistake, make it going fast. We've got to play with some confidence and let it rip.
"We're not overcoaching them that way, I promise you that. We're just seeing some guys that are a little bit timid and a little bit quiet; we need them to play with more of an attitude and play with more confidence."
Kentucky's offense initially displayed those qualities as the first and second teams effectively moved the ball downfield and got points. From there the defense dug in and got results, recording four interceptions.
Junior linebacker Kory Brown had one of them, though he didn't know which QB threw it. He credited either Zack or Daron Blaylock for another — he wasn't sure which of the twin safeties had it — freshman safety Marcus McWilson for a third and a cornerback for the fourth.
Brown said the defense took a step ahead with its performance by being physical, making plays and knowing assignments.
"Knowing the scheme allows everybody to just go out and be able and play," said Brown, taking satisfaction in his coverage on receivers and in stopping the run.
The interceptions obviously bothered Neal Brown, who called them poor throws by his quarterbacks. But he seemed more concerned about the situations in which his pass-oriented "Air Raid" scheme faltered, such as the two-minute and red zone (inside the 20-yard line) offenses.
"We started off quickly and moved the ball well with the first group and the second group," he said, "but as the scrimmage went on the defense probably got after us. I didn't think we handled some of the situations as well as we needed to."
Performances such as Saturday will factor into whom Brown and Stoops choose as the Wildcats' quarterback. Both coaches have been secretive about which one they're considering, and players have been just as guarded about the process.
"Every time you start thinking you're getting closer to making a decision, maybe some things go good or go bad with the other guys," Stoops said of the evaluation. "It's not at a point where we're getting antsy about it, but we'll look at all the information, all the data and see if we have some clear decisions that we can let them know and move forward."