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Stoops Talks Ahead of Saturday’s Game with South Carolina

Posted at 5:22 PM, Sep 25, 2018

UK Head Football Coach, Mark Stoops, met with the media to discuss his teams 4-0 start and to look ahead to the Saturday game with South Carolina.

https://ukathletics.com/news/2018/9/25/football-mark-stoops-tuesday-press-conference.aspx

Stoops Presser

Opening Statement …

“I appreciate y’all understanding the switch from my normal press conference from Monday to Tuesday. Thank you. Pleased with our team’s performance, obviously, from this past week. I thought we played good in all three phases. Did some really good things. There’s still many things we can do to improve, so that’s the good thing. Back to work. A little different for me here today because I’ve already moved on here for two days, but excited about this opportunity this week playing at home. It should be a fantastic crowd. I’m sure it will be sold out. Great atmosphere playing a very good South Carolina team, so looking forward to that challenge.”

On the team handling success …

“Just had one day, I had yesterday, so I thought it was an okay Monday practice. Mondays are a lot of mental work. We have to wrap up the game with a mandatory day off (Sunday) for our players. You have to get a lot done on Monday, so we have to view the game tape, which takes a lot of time. We watched the tape. We look at the good things and the bad things. Then we get together and watch special teams together, have a team meeting, wrap up Mississippi State, and also introduce South Carolina. A lot to do, a lot of time spent in the meeting room. I’ll get a better indication today on where we’re at and how they’re doing.”

On South Carolina offensive challenge …

“We approach it the same every week. Certainly, teams feature, or may be better in one area than another. South Carolina is a very good football team across the board. They’re very balanced, as far as being a good special teams, offense, defense. It does present a challenge, especially with their quarterback and wide receivers. They’re very good players. So we definitely have to be good in our coverage and good in our rush lanes and so on.”

On Jordan Jones’ maturity …

“Jordan has definitely matured. Jordan is one of those kids that he means well 95 percent of the time. He really does. He’s just a joy to be around most of the time, but he’s had a few episodes where he can get a little off. It’s our job to get him back on the rails. This year, he’s done a good job himself of being intentional about staying ahead of it and doing the right things. I’ve been very proud of him. This past week was probably, arguably, one of the best games he’s played. Not because of tackles or production, because of the discipline that he played with, within the defense, and he still showed up to make critical plays when we needed it. I’ve been proud of him and his progress. We’re a quarter of the way through. He’s got a long way to go, but I’m pleased.”

On what it’s like to see his players mature during their time here …

“For sure. It is rewarding because that’s what we’re in it for, to help these guys grow and mature and be successful in all facets of their life. It’s too easy now for kids to chuck it in. It’s too easy for us to dismiss them and move on because, one thing’s for sure, we have a lot of depth. So, it’s next man up around here. That’s a good thing. As a coach you always like to see it that way, but you still always treat guys the way you would expect your kid to be treated. That’s hard to do when we have a lot of good players, keeping everybody happy, playing time, and all those things. So, you’re always going to have that type of deal, but our team is fantastic. They understand that the team comes first. They’ve had a great attitude about that. That doesn’t mean there’s not individual guys that wish they could get more opportunity but you’ve got to do what’s right and what’s best for the football team.”

On Benny Snell Jr’s development …

“I’ve always said, and you people frame it different ways, that we had a good idea of who he was. To say that he would do all this, no, I didn’t know that. I just knew he was very mature. I knew he was strong, got tough yards, and he was disciplined for a young guy. He came in with an edge and an attitude about him from the very beginning and he’s been consistent all the way through. That doesn’t surprise me one bit. Just his approach to the game and his desire to play well and his desire to play good for his team, that has been the same. We knew what we were getting in that. As far as the production, I don’t think you could ever foresee that.”

On how changing his approach the offense based on running game …

“It definitely does. You definitely morph into doing what you’re doing successful. Again, it’s a recipe to win games. That’s all you’re looking for, performing that formula, that recipe to help you win football games because ultimately that’s what it’s about. We all know that. But you also have to progress and make sure you’re doing the things to win games a different way. You can’t always win them one way.”

On Benny Snell Jr.’s promotional website and how he talks about his dedication to Kentucky …

“That’s why it doesn’t worry me when I was approached by Tony [Neely] and Susan [Lax] about doing some of these things, that didn’t bother me because I know Josh [Allen] and I know Benny. I know the type of players they are and the maturity that they have, and I know what’s important to them. Again, with the success of the team, the individual accolades will come. I don’t anticipate anything different from those guys in their approach.”

On the game day atmosphere helping the team …

“It’s hard to quantify how much that will help because that will help a great deal. It’ll change many things and it’s what’s expected in this league. That’s the standard that we need to have because it makes a difference not only with our football team and how we perform but also in recruiting.”

On Davonte Robinson getting more playing time

“He is. Davonte, I’ve always said he’s a wonderful young man. Works hard, is quiet, but goes about his business, works hard every day, he’s versatile and he can run. He is getting more and more confidence and I like putting him in there in stressful situations because I still believe he has so much upside and I think with him and having success and getting out there playing, you’ll see that elevated in himself as we move forward here.”

On if he has seen a boost in recruiting…

“Definitely. I feel like we’ve been on the cusp of having a strong year this whole recruiting cycle and this is doing nothing but helping us.”

On what are some of the areas where they can still improve…

“There’s many things. Defensively, we had two mistakes that let them on the touchdown drive, there were two plays that were our mistakes. We pride ourselves on making the teams earn their yards, taking nothing away from them, we all know they are a good football team. But, there’s two plays where we absolutely did the wrong thing. We gave them 12 yards and a first down and we gave them eight yards on first down that was part of their scoring drive. That’s not acceptable. We need to be on point 100 percent of the time. We do that, and I don’t know what we would’ve done. We possibly could have shut them out, I don’t know. I don’t like giving them two first downs on a scoring drive. In the offense, there’s a lot of things that we could do better. There’s missed assignments, there’s not being crisp in our routes, Terry (Wilson) going where he needs to go with the ball quicker, O-Line being more physical. There’s a lot of things we could do better.”

On if anticipates Jordan Griffin to be back this week and how Tyrell Ajian played…

“Jordan will be back. Tyrell is doing some good things. He’s a different kind of player. He’s very good in our dime situations. He’s a good player away from the ball in middle third, half field, quarters, he’s got good range, good ball skills and a good feel and I like getting him going a little bit more.”

On how much he thinks about getting some things accomplished that haven’t been done in a long time…

“I really don’t. Am I proud, grateful, am I happy? Yes. But, it’s still in the moment. It’s on to the next. Sure it’s a great feeling, go home and enjoy it for a night, move on to the next opponent. So, yeah I’m proud of the process that’s going on with the team and with the staff and the players buying in, and some things that we’ve been talking about and preaching and working for years come to fruition and just want to stay the course. As I say every week I don’t ever get too far ahead of myself. We’ve got to prove it again this Saturday.”

On how he is reminding the players on how to keep things in perspective…

“It starts with the respect that we have for our preparation. It’s obedience. It’s being obedient and disciplined to do things that you have to do. There’s something about earning it, you know you earn it with the way you prepare. Our players are starting to buy into that. They like the grind and the discipline that it takes to earn it throughout the week. We talk about all the time, a successful season comes from some successful weeks. How do successful weeks come about? Each day. That’s all we try to focus on is the day. We gotta have a great Monday, and we did that. John asked me about that and I’m just going to put that in the okay category. We need to have a great Tuesday.”

On how different South Carolina is offensively with a new coordinator…

“They are different in some ways.  Eric Wolford is also on that staff and Dan Werner, some friends of mine I’ve known for awhile.  They are a good team and they are different, they’re bouncing around a little bit. They have a great quarterback and wide receivers. I think they are trying to feature those guys, which makes sense because they are dynamic. We all know the run game is important, they know that as well and you are certainly seeing that with the talented tailback and being physical at times. Just like when I get asked those questions sometimes there’s only one ball and there’s only so much you can do and feature. They have a lot that they can do and a lot of playmakers.”

On if South Carolina’s defense draws similarities to some they have already faced…

“Similar in that structurally very good, very sound, make you beat them. They have been very good on third downs. They have been incredible on third downs, so you gotta win some third down matchups and we have to convert some third downs offensively. They are just a good, sound, fundamental football team.”

On what makes them so good on third down…

“They’re just winning a lot of one-on-one matchups and competing and getting in some long situations as well.”

On how much he thinks bringing in Brad White and moving Dean Hood to the secondary has helped the defense…

“It’s helped, it’s helped. Brad brings a wealth of experience coaching that position. Again, you’ve heard me talk about it, but I know the talent that we have at that position and help elevate Josh’s game and Boogie (Watson) and Jordan Wright and the great young players that we have. Kengera Daniel is playing very good football as well, he’s getting opportunities. He’s done a very good job, and Dean is an experienced, veteran guy that helps in a lot of areas. What he has done with special teams and how he works special teams really doesn’t get talked about enough. If you know Dean, he’s okay with that. He just wants to go to work and do his job but he does a fantastic job with special teams and he brings the experience in the secondary that helps as well.”

On how challenges different start times can be and if he has a preference…

“I really haven’t put any thought into that at all, oher than I get home late (laughter). Doesn’t matter. I’ll be excited to play a night game at home this week. Should be beautiful weather, great crowd, be great atmosphere so we’re excited about this start time.”

On how he convinces the defensive line to play as a unit…

“They have been unselfish. They’re playing hard. It’s nice to have that rotation and continue to rotate guys through. They have been pretty evenly dispersed in particular this last week. Guys are just buying into their role. They burn every coach on clichés, but the truth is (laughter) the strength of our team, is the team. That’s the truth. We are good together. We have some individually very good players that are getting some recognition they deserve, and we have some of our standouts make big plays in that game. But, our team just plays well together and that’s when we’re at our best. That’s a great example, the defensive line. The strength of that group is just the group. There’s a bunch of guys playing and they are all playing well.”

On the defensive line’s performance after adversity, with some players being out…

“I had confidence in the group, but they needed to be challenged. They needed to step up, and they have. To say that I would have guaranteed you that, I would have said they need to prove it and earn it like we talked about.”

On Coach LeBlanc’s work with the defensive line …

“He’s just methodical in his approach, just like this business is. Keep on doing what you do and being methodical in your approach and doing the things that you know are right, continue to build on those and areas where you need to improve. Look at them and get better, and that’s what we try to do, and that’s why I hired Derrick because the system, the style of defensive line technique teaching is what I believe. I’ve always had that style, and he’s done a very good job with them.”

On wide receivers …

“It was good to see Dorian (Baker) step up and make a huge play. On our two scoring drives, Dorian makes the big individual play. We’ve talked about it in here many times, you play a good, strong physical game, but at some point, somebody’s got to make a good play. I mean, win a one-on-one. You saw Dorian make a one-on-one, led to a scoring drive, you see CJ (Conrad) make an incredible catch, led to a scoring drive, and you’re seeing that. Overall, I think it’s fair to say that we need to improve at all of our position groups and wide receiver is no different. We want to keep on improving and working and getting better and more efficient in the passing game.”

On receiving national attention this week …

“I don’t care. I don’t care. I think we were two-touchdown ‘dogs last week, weren’t we? So, I don’t know. We’re just going to go about our business and do the best we can. As far as the recognition and all that, I’m good with it because the players have earned it, they’ve worked hard and that’s fine, but it cannot distract from us. It should not and will not, but they do deserve to get some recognition because they put a lot of time in, and it’s about the production that they’ve done this year. So, they didn’t get that in the preseason, you know what I mean? They’ve earned that through work that they’ve done.”

On the discipline it took to stop a running quarterback like Nick Fitzgerald …

“There’s no perfect recipe for that because, as I like to point out before when we get asked that question, tell me a coordinator that has not been burned by a dual-threat quarterback. Show me one, please. Because we’ve all been there. They just do things, they ad-lib, they make plays when things break down, they’re talented players, so the better your team is, the better opportunity you have to be successful. Structurally, they were in the right place. I said after the game, Coach (Matt) House had a great plan, wasn’t overly complex, we had good changeups, the players executed and played extremely hard, and we kept them off balance. It went that way. It’s not always going to go that way. It’s just, we won some one-on-ones, both in protections and in coverage, and we got them behind the chains some. There’s no perfect recipe. Believe me, I’ve watched – I was just going to cuss right there (laughter) – I’ve watched a heck ton of football, and I’ve watched it all. If there was a perfect recipe, believe me, I would find it and copy it.”

On making the game plan less complex because of trust with this year’s players …

“Yes, because in the past sometimes, we’ve talked about, you have to throw things at the wall. When you do too much against a guy like that with all of the different runs that they have, with the different ways that they can go and block and run and pressure them, bring too many different things, they’ve can really gut you and split you, and you see that with virtually everybody they play. They just absolutely gut people, so there were certain things we wanted to take away, and I talked about that after the game, definitely wanted them to play left-handed and from the start, but you have to win, you have to win your one-on-ones, you have to be strong in that. Our players played good. Our players played hard, they won one-on-one matchups, we covered well and we had a sound plan.”

On the closeness of the team leading to success …

“I think it has everything to do with our success because the team and the way they feel about each other, the sacrifice that they have to make, it’s really hard to describe the amount of work that these guys do. It’s not always easy, and there’s going to very emotional times and hard times, and these guys put an unbelievable amount of work, and you have to be unified and you have to have a tight group, and you have to have great leadership to have the team success.”

On if Stoops ever gives Eddie Gran advice …

“I mean, you know I have at times, but Eddie appreciates that because if I’m seeing things … offensive coordinators, there’s a lot of plays they have to call. If something’s working, I want to make sure they defend it before we move on because as a defensive coach, you’re letting us off the hook if you’re not defending it and you just decide to call something different. Does that make sense? He likes it when I give him that and certainly there’s some things that I know defensively that gives us problems and that I know that we’re getting away from, that we’re getting away with it during camp. We’re getting away with it, but we’re not going to get away with it during the season, so I want him to attack us and then therefore it creates something they like. As far as getting in his ear during the game and all that, I have to get myself off sometimes, I’ll click off, say, ‘I’m going over to defense, you do what you got to do.’ Let him get in a rhythm and keep going.”

On how difficult is it when you have a Terry Wilson/Benny Snell combo…

“It is difficult. With those quarterbacks, also with quarterbacks that can pull it down and run, you want to get pressure on them but you got to cover as well so if you’re getting pressure and you’re getting too far up the field and you’re not super disciplined in rush lanes and even if you are super disciplined in rush lanes, if they’re covering them, he just pulls it down and runs and there’s a first down right there and it breaks your back. It was evident last year when Stephen (Johnson) did it against South Carolina late in the game. You know, because you have to account for guys that can run. This isn’t pro football where most of those guys don’t run, you’re seeing more and more of it but in college football you always have to account for the quarterback so it makes it tough.”

On how much it has helped in the last few years having guys like Boom Williams and Benny being as productive as they are taking pressure off your quarterbacks and not having them do too much…

“It’s very big and I don’t think that’s really any different, all quarterbacks will tell you that. You know, if you have a run game that can balance the attack and keep people off balance it helps. It definitely helps.”

On how much Terry has benefitted and focused on “doing what he does and learn from it”…

“With us, our system for Terry and all (the quarterbacks), we make him make protections, he has to know reads and has to know where to go. He’s getting taught pro systems to a point but in college we have runs where they’re reads and I don’t know one college team in America that doesn’t have them, where there’s reads where you have to do one thing or the other — you either have to give it or you have to pull it or you have the option to give it or throw a pass in RPO. That’s just the game and it’s trickled into the NFL as well to a point you know with the RPOs and where it’s going there. The other part of Terry is just letting him play, just the comfort of playing and that you can’t coach, like when he’s in the pocket and is looking to distribute the football, we need to improve and he wants to throw the ball but when it breaks down and he pulls it down, I’ve thought he’s made really good decisions there. Saturday there were a couple plays where he could’ve stayed with it a little longer, but I can’t tell you a quarterback that we’ve faced that hasn’t gone through that as well. You know, that’s normal progression. As much experience as Fitzgerald has, and I have all respect in the world for him, but everybody can look at the film afterwards and say ‘Man I should’ve stayed with this or done that’ so you know so that’s just coaching and Terry’s no different. I think he’s doing very good and working hard to get better every day.”

On the idea of “kicking down doors,” we enjoy doing that …

“You know I don’t like getting stuck on any narrative longer than about a day (laughter). So, let’s just put that to rest and go on to something new.  I’m just going to go back to being just dead boring (laughter).  I just give you nothing. You know what I mean, just ‘mmm, mmm, mmm,’ all just one word answers.  How’s that? (laughter). I’m teasing you.”

On ”kicking down doors” being an original Stoops saying and putting it to rest and moving on to something new…

“I don’t need to talk about it anymore it’s just, my point is the frustration is, our players don’t need to hear the negative tones of all, as you’re here, going back 5 or 6 years, you’re just trying to do your job, keep on working, pushing the program forward … the players and sometimes they don’t deserve all the history. These guys come in and they work, they put their head down, they’re just trying to do their job and help this program move forward and they don’t deserve this and that. You know what I mean? Coaches, that’s fine, we’re fair game 24/7 but the players I think it just gets old sometimes. This group, what I love about them, is they’re only worried about right now and that’s the beautiful thing.”

On saying on his show that Drake Jackson probably doesn’t get the credit that he deserves and what he does that people maybe don’t see- the things he likes from him…

“Drake, he’s solid, he unbelievably passionate about this game, always has been. He’s a great technician, that’s why he’s able to play the way he does as effectively as he does. He may be slightly undersized compared to some people he plays, but he’s a technician. Offensive line and defensive line are a technique game. It’s a technique game and it is everywhere, but really at those positions. He’s fundamentally sound in what he does and he’s passionate and he cares about what he does so he plays with that edge, that attitude, that chip on his shoulder every day to prepare himself and he has great knowledge for a young kid, so he does a lot of things good.”

On how the left tackles are doing…

“They’re doing good. EJ (Price) and Nassir (Watkins), both had good games, better games this week and they’re having some ups and downs like every player on our team but I’m very pleased with their progress and they’ve been a big part of helping us win the way we have, so those guys need a lot of credit as well for stepping in a tough situation against some very talented good players and have really competed well and have had a great attitude.”

On what you’ve seen on film this week about South Carolina that maybe you hadn’t seen before watching them now…

“I didn’t really see them at all until I started focusing on them but again they’re what I expected, a good football team. They’re good, they’re well coached in all three phases and they’re sound at what they do. They really have some talent offensively at the skill positions that are really explosive guys.”

On companies that do video ratings naming the top four guys on the season are offensive linemen and if that is consistent with what he’s seen and how they grade them and how important it is…

“We do a lot of analytics but I can’t get that deep in on it (laughter) until the off-season. Some people, that’s their full-time job doing that. We dive into a lot of things and certainly we’re very hard and critical on our players and grade them exceptionally hard and Coach (John) Schlarman does a wonderful job with that, so we use our own grading systems. We’ve seen the line, talking about in general, how pleased we’ve been. I think the individual players would be the first to tell you maybe a game here or a series here where they maybe have been off a little bit, but in general, extremely pleased with that group. Again, this week, our inside guys really played well. Logan (Stenberg) had the penalty that’s not acceptable, outside of that he would have probably been player of the game with Bunchy (Stallings), because Bunchy played very good, Drake played good but again our tackles have done a nice job also. In general, I’ve been pleased with them. Not perfect, certain games they have been better than others, each individual guy. As a group collectively they’ve played very well.”