LEXINGTON, Ky- MARK STOOPS: We could have finished that a little better and we shot ourselves in the foot and got a little reckless with some penalties and just a little bit of sloppy play or we really had a chance to put that away much earlier than we did.
But, again, really loved the way our team started. We knew we had to start fast. We knew we had to limit big plays by them. We gave up the one off a scramble and just a missed judged ball, really had an opportunity to intercept it, but give Deebo (Samuel) credit. He makes a nice catch and run. But outside of that, I thought our defense did an exceptional job of limiting big plays. We were able to play one short in the run game most of the night to put hands on and be able to protect us a little bit better, more than we normally would in coverage, and that’s why you saw some rush yards early and got a little soft in there at times, but we were trying to limit explosive plays. And also I thought we did a good job on third downs, in some critical third downs.
Offensively, again, really controlled the game early first half, played exceptional, mixing it up, thought Eddie (Gran) did a great job, of course Coach (Matt) House did a great job with his plan as well. But offense, we were really mixing it up, kept them off balance. We had a great drive there to start the second half and just missed some opportunities. We threw it on second and third and we were right in that range where it was a little bit, a little bit of a distance for Miles (Butler). We could do a little better in that situation to at least try to get three because it would have been great to get a six-minute drive and even three right there. But so many things we could do better.
But loved the team’s attitude and their work ethic. And again, their preparation last week was a bit tough, as I mentioned early in the week, has to be expected with some of these late games and what we were doing over the weekend, but they really bounced back and had a great finish to the week. I love this group and it’s routine now. They’re in there and we didn’t even dance or celebrate at all. We just kind of, all right, that’s a good job and expect to play that way and really appreciate their effort and the staff’s done a great job as well.
Q. The defense responded to your challenge to them?
MARK STOOPS: They sure did. We felt like we would have some opportunities and what was it? Four or three (turnovers). Four. So, yeah, it was nice to get that early one, for sure, set up three points. And I just thought the defense played really hard. South Carolina had that long drive, what was it? It had to be a bunch of plays and they converted the fourth down, but our guys, they kept on coming and coming and coming and limiting big plays. And again we — they got talented guys. We did a nice job of keeping them off balance and the explosive plays were really down, like I said. The one great play Deebo made for 58, but outside of that, there wasn’t a bunch of explosive plays.
Q. Does it say something about your team that you’re winning pretty convincingly and not playing a perfect game?
MARK STOOPS: It is and we talk about that all the time, about how we expect to play better and there’s a lot of things we can do better and will. We’re always striving for that perfect game and it’s probably unrealistic, but the guys are really practicing in a good way. And we’ve talked a lot about, that obedience equals rewards. And we’ve talked about it all week, just going about your business, doing things the right way, and they have done that.
Q. How did Josh Allen do as a fill-in for Kash Daniel?
MARK STOOPS: He did a good job. Didn’t really notice anything really sticking out. Josh was playing so hard. He played really hard. Just throw that out there too.
Sihiem (King), you didn’t see him dressed today. He’s going to redshirt, so and that makes sense. I’m in full support of that, that rule, to me, that’s zero controversy at all. I’m a hundred percent in support of that. I can’t apologize for the way Benny (Snell) and A.J. Rose are running and it’s pretty dang hard to take them off the field. So I think that’s a good situation for him.
Q. (Question regarding Sihiem King’s future …)
MARK STOOPS: We’ll address that later, but he’s good.
Q. Your thoughts on the targeting call with Kash?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Kash, he’s bummed out with himself. And, again, that’s what I told the team. I felt like we always, early in the week, we talk about whatever the situation’s going to be. Another big game at home and all that. And at times we could handle this situation better than we did tonight. We didn’t handle it quite as good as we did a week ago, in my opinion. So the guy’s got to reign it back in a little bit. There was nothing malicious about that. He didn’t mean to target somebody, it was very, very close, from what I could tell, and so it’s disappointing. But again, teaching moment for us about peel back blocks and all that stuff.
Q. Going back to Josh. Is he human at all? I mean he was —
MARK STOOPS: I don’t even know what his numbers were today.
Q. — amazing.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Yeah.
Q. Talk about how he took over in that second half.
MARK STOOPS: He has a tendency to do that. You get him in predictable pass and he’s very hard to block. And they were chipping him and as they should. They were putting a back on him and trying to, they would take some shots to try to hit him in the ribs. Nothing illegal, but I mean we do the same. But just good strong chip blocks and he’s going to get that. He’s going to command a double-team because he’s, you single him and they did a few times tonight, but the ball was coming out or he’s going to get there.
Q. You’ve obviously coached some really, really good rushers. Have you ever had one play better than he’s playing right now?
MARK STOOPS: I can’t say that I have. I really can’t. He’s really a dominant player and he’s exceptional on his feet as well. Yeah, half the time I do want to look at, wonder why in the world I’m dropping him sometimes because he’s not blockable. But he’s dang good in coverage as well. He really disrupts things. He’s so good and comfortable on his feet and that’s where our length is helping us. Our defensive line length and our backers are getting bigger and our secondary’s long. So we like that.
Q. Obviously talent has a lot to do with it, but do you see some of these edge rushers’ just mentality change a little bit in closing time?
MARK STOOPS: Do I see our guys mentality changing? Yeah.
Q. The rushers really seem to step up?
MARK STOOPS: They love it. They know. That’s their opportunity. Predictable pass. I mean, you know, especially with no draw or no run game, no Q run game, none of that, because they didn’t have time to risk a run, even a running back draw or — but so they could pin their ears back and go. That’s their time. We had the ball on the ground at least two or three times there at the end.
Q. Zach Johnson seems to really enjoy special teams.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he does. He does a great job. He’s a very good football player, he’s down there, he’ll do anything. Of course we get him ready to always play running back as well, but he jumps in there at scout team, busts his tail all day, every day on scout team, goes and plays special teams, just team player. Does whatever you ask him to do.
Q. (Question regarding Max Duffy’s punting)
MARK STOOPS: No, that’s it. That’s it. I mean I had to coach him up a little bit today, though, because after they got that run return I said Max, hit the thing, hit it. He said, I got you coach. So, you know, he — and then he started hitting it high and deep. Kind of being cute and placing it and they got a little return and then just started bombing it. So that works out a little better.
Q. Strange to be 5-0 and not celebrating in the locker room and not —
MARK STOOPS: It does. It did feel a little different in there. Because they, we truly expect to do that. And, honestly, I think we all feel a little like we left a lot out there. We — and I give South Carolina a lot of credit. They — you’re not just going to push them around. They have a lot of pride and play really hard and are well coached. And we had them really off balance in the first half, but they dug in and had some big stops and really played exceptionally hard.
Q. How much do you think your team has been able to grow just because all of the lessons learned in these games are coming up with wins instead of losses?
MARK STOOPS: That’s always helpful. It’s always helpful. Because, again, to think that I’m going to keep 105 guys in there personally happy, not going to happen. But they do love the team. Even guys that are like, well, I got to redshirt or I got to do this, like I’m in full support of it, but they still truly want to help the team in other ways, anyway they can. So it’s been really good.
Q. You said with everything going on last week you got off to a little bit of a slow start but then bounced back. Were you confident that they would bounce back from Wednesday, Thursday, given the makeup of this team?
MARK STOOPS: Without a doubt. There was no panic, I just wanted to get their attention. I never, we’re never going to give them an out, but kind of you could see that coming a bit. The nice thing is maturity and every one of them are, like we got you, we got it, they handle it, they realize it, and come out. There was nothing like exceptionally wrong, just didn’t feel like the same vibe on Tuesday. And part of it was we were inside and that’s really hard, we got a tight perimeter in there and the guys, it’s a risk of getting injured and that’s really tight in there. So we kind of lost the whole practice Tuesday and they’re in there as well, but they came back Wednesday and had a great day.
Q. Will it be weird going against Jimbo (Fisher)?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. Jimbo is a very good coach. He’s one of those guys that, he’s a play caller, he attacks and he will, he doesn’t just run plays, he’ll dissect what you’re doing and attack it and he’s very good, a very good coach.
Q. On at least one route maybe more it looked like you were just playing two down linemen on defense.
MARK STOOPS: That shouldn’t be, no. So we had a couple things screwed up in there, yeah, but.
I know there were (some mistakes) yeah.
Q. Have you ever, I mean, do you think you took at least one or two away from the run game to cover their pass, is that, have you used that type of defense before?
MARK STOOPS: Well, if there was two out there, let’s — thank goodness we won or else you guys would bury me on that for about five years. So, no, we got to get that straight. So what we were doing was our Okie front, we were trying to get to over and rush Josh four down and didn’t quite get it done right a couple times. Once in particular. Yeah, I don’t want to try that every day. But, yeah.
Q. When they ran that offense or split a bunch of linemen out was that something y’all expected?
MARK STOOPS: Well we do a nice job, Coach Hood does that, we call it numbers, because they could do it many different ways. They could put more guys to one side or the other, so we count and make sure we’re properly lined up and I was pleased that no time out was needed, we had all the eligibles covered, they always try to hide one in the middle to make somebody eligible in the inside and slip them a cheap one down the middle. Had it all covered, we got a little soft in there and they milked us a little bit on that drive, but big play-wise they were looking for big plays there as well and we had it all matched up very good. So they did a nice job of just applying the rules and we do just kind of cover that once a week. And, again, it could be many different sets, we could pull all the linemen on one side or eligible, where are the eligibles and all that, so we’re pretty sound on that.
Q. Do you have any updates on guys like Naasir (Watkins) or Derrick (Baity) or any of them?
MARK STOOPS: Naasir, he just has a knee injury. Expect him to be out for a short period of time. Nothing major.
MARK STOOPS: You know I don’t even know what happened to Derrick. He looked fine there in the locker room there after I just saw him.
Q. Did DeAndre (Square) comeback in?
MARK STOOPS: DeAndre? I don’t know. I don’t know. Well, we were in dime — yeah, he did. He did. We were playing nickel, he was back in there, yeah. DeAndre was back in there. Right, Tony? Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah, he was. I wish I could get them all trained up like that.
Q. Who are your other options at left tackle if Naasir can’t go?
MARK STOOPS: We’ll have to talk to John and see what we’ll do. Darian (Kinnard), I would expect Darian, you know, so I’m not sure how many games he played in yet, we can always use him and that’s where that rule would have come in, could play him and let Naasir clear up, we have a bye week after next week, so could plug him in and maybe still keep his year.
Q. Feel weird we haven’t mentioned Benny yet.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, yeah, it does. Yeah, it was a quiet night for him, but again, really solid start, some good physical runs. It was really nice to see A.J. get some good carries and see the explosive run that he had. Again you saw his speed and him with a nice little change up right there. It’s not easy when you’re sitting there pounding Benny at you all day long and then you bring in A.J. who has great size and great speed and so, yeah he did a nice job.
Q. A lot of stoppages late in the game. Do you think that that was just the fatigue of them trying to run so many plays over the game?
MARK STOOPS: Our team has been outstanding with their conditioning. Again I mentioned them a couple times but Coach Edmond and Coach Mark Hill and Corey Edmond and those guys have done a phenomenal job. It was, it was hot and it was late and we were, guys were going hard and it was long drives. That fourth down, you know, we needed to get off the field on the one fourth and long, they converted and that would have helped our fatigue problem right there. But the guys were playing, they were leaving it all out there. We still ended up time of possession 34 to 25, but it was really strong in our favor before that long drive there in the fourth.