“Very excited for our football team, for our program. It was an important win. I was very thankful to come away with the victory. I thought our team really showed their toughness all season and it was evident again tonight. When we needed it, we got physical and the guys played exceptionally well. It's been a season of a lot of ups and downs, and we got one big game left. But I've been proud of these guys, their effort, and their resiliency. So, it's a good starting point. We're thankful to get to six victories and proud of the seniors. We wouldn't have done it without them and without their leadership. So, just an exciting locker room.”
Q. Were guys a little bit nervous early when they came out? Started a little slow.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we were overrunning some things, too. I think guys were a little jacked up and we were over pursuing and they were getting some cutback yards early, aggravating yards. But they possessed the ball a little longer than I wanted to at the start, but we felt pretty comfortable.
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Q. Talk more about what happened in the locker room with the kids and the excitement and just what happened.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. The guys were, they, it's a happy locker room. I told the team that we talk about toughness and an attitude, every day, and being resilient. And this team has showed that. It wouldn't have happened without the great leadership of our seniors and I'm very happy for them. They have been through some ups and some downs. And they knew very clearly when I got here, that what we were up against and what we were trying to do and there was going to be some tough times. And they stayed the course. They never flinched. And it's not always easy, but that's been a fun group to coach and we're going to continue to push forward.
Q. This has to bring out a lot of emotion, you try not to be emotional with us, but can you talk about that?
MARK STOOPS: Trying to be like 60 Minutes or something. I could be, believe me. I mean that. It is. It's hard to control the emotions right now. It is. Because I'm very thankful and appreciative of this team, the administration, our fans, the people that sat out there tonight and it was cold, nasty day and stuck with us through the good times and the bad. And I greatly appreciate everybody. I said it day one and I continue to say it, that it's going to take all of us to take this program to new heights. So, it is. It's hard, for me right now, to be totally honest with you. Because I'm very proud that have group.
Q. Why control the emotions right now?
MARK STOOPS: Never flinch. (Laughter.) Good or bad.
Q. What do you know about Stephen Johnson's injury? Was he able to practice this week?
MARK STOOPS: He did not practice at all. I take that back. He did very little Wednesday and very little Friday. So, he is tough as nails. He was banged up and was not able to practice, was not able to be on his leg very much. He fought through it and came in there tonight. And Luke, I feel bad, we didn't put him in the best situation. That was not the way we wanted that to go. I wanted to take the ball, they got it and took it and possessed the ball. And we put him in a bad situation to start the game. And that's on the team, not on Luke. So, that was tough for him to start that way.
Q. Is this the type of injury where you expect Stephen to be able come back with some rest?
MARK STOOPS: Hopefully it won't, nothing will swell up and he'll be good to go. He is extremely tough. He's been that way all year.
Q. What was the thought process in terms of, they told us that he was available in an emergency. 13-0 down you needed him.
MARK STOOPS: Well, obviously, an important game. So, and again, I just, I feel like we put Luke in a tough spot to start that way. But we needed to calm him down and we did. And Steven is that way. We talked about it all year, his poise. And he showed that tonight.
Q. Do you think when Stephen went in he lifted the entire team both offensively and defensively just with his presence on the field?
MARK STOOPS: I'm not sure. I think guys were going to settle in and play and we knew we were more physical and we would settle down defensively and be in a good situation. But it was important or we wouldn't have put him in. So, hopefully, the guys fed off that a little bit and just calmed everybody down.
Q. Benny Snell broke the freshman rushing record tonight. Talk about that.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it was good. It was nice to have Moe here. And Moe give him the hug when he broke it. And I thought it was significant for him. I think he went over a thousand tonight. To have two over a thousand was a great mark for the team. And all those guys, it was good to get Jojo (Kemp) in there and get him some touchdowns. So it was just a good night overall.
Q. Do you consider this one more step in the culture change that we so often talk about?
MARK STOOPS: I think it is. I think it's a big step in the culture change. And we want this to be the norm to go to bowl games and win over six games and that's our plan. Fortunately, we have another game left this season and it's against our rival and we'll be fired up and ready to go for that. But, yeah, it is part of it. And you know you're going to go through tough times and I think the team and myself and you know very clearly kind of what you're getting into. That doesn't make it always easy. So, I've been just proud of the guys just really, just grinding it out and listening, and taking the coaching, taking the counseling, and a lot of the hard work that they do in the offseason is starting to pay off.
Q. Would you say after -- you said at the beginning of this week, that you felt like the program was starting to knock on some doors. Do you think after being stuck on five wins the last couple years, that this is kind of a big door that you knocked down?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. We're knocking doors down as often as we can. This was a significant one. I've said that all along. Like I said, I've said it in the preseason, and I said it when we sitting here at 0-2 and not playing very good football. And I still had a lot of confidence in this football team and knew, without a doubt, that we were going to go to work and get better every day. And this team has gotten better every day and every week. Doesn't mean you're always going to play perfect, but we're getting better, and they're getting better. And we're getting -- there's just always things to learn from and this is part of it.
Q. What did you see in Snell on his recruiting trip?
MARK STOOPS: As I mentioned before, just like he is, a strong, steady, disciplined player. He's physically strong, he has great balance and vision for his size, and he's a solid guy. He's a disciplined guy. So, I think that he's been good for us.
Q. You always --
MARK STOOPS: But, excuse me, but over the years we have had, we have been inches and yards short. And he we needed a guy with that type of physicality. And he's brought that to us. And of course, we're getting more physical in the O-line across the board.
Q. You always say don't flinch. But was there any point this season where you doubted that you were going to get to six wins?
MARK STOOPS: Never. Never. No. I answered that question before. I never really looked at the end, at the wins, I never doubted for a minute what we were doing.
Q. After a couple deep balls were dropped, what does it say about him to be able to come back and make that play?
MARK STOOPS: That's exactly what we said. We knew we were coming back to him tonight and he was going to get more opportunities tonight and he went and made a more difficult catch. And that's important. It was important for him and for us to see him get that completion.
Q. Your wife and kids were standing over with Alex. Was that your idea, what was the thought there?
MARK STOOPS: It was our idea, because Alex, his grandma was not able to come, and so we have been very close with Alex and he's a remarkable young man and I'm excited to have him come work with me next year. So he'll be around for a year and work with us. But he's a strong kid and it's hard for him to give up football. But he's been through so many injuries and it's been a tough road for him. But we're going to get him over, get him coaching. I hurt my knee in college, too, so we'll get him going.
Q. Have you figured out what part of your staff he's going to be on?
MARK STOOPS: No, not sure.
Q. You watch the kids, you develop them, and some go to the NFL and some move on to other stuff, but having one that's had some injuries and has to sit, is it hard?
MARK STOOPS: It's hard. It's very difficult. Because he's just a salt of the earth guy. He's a great kid. He was a very good player, if you remember him back -- and he's had so many injuries since then -- but he was a starter and a good player and playing at a young age and doing good and he had great hands and he was physical. And so it's tough. He's going through adversity right now and it's not easy, but the big thing is for us to give him the support here. He's a long way from home, from Fort Lauderdale, and being here and for us to support him and be around him, it's awesome. It's part of the big family and he's just another example of that. But he is a special guy.
Q. Can you spill beans on what senior cried tonight?
MARK STOOPS: (Laughter.) None that I know of. None that I know of. But they were definitely emotional and I could just see it in their eyes, all of them. And for the guys that, the great ones that, the great kids that we inherited were awesome to coach the whole time. And the ones that I remember were going into those homes that first year and it seems like it's gone very quickly. Maybe not all the time. When I was banging my head into the wall for 14 hours a day it doesn't, that day went slow. But, no, it's gone fast. I think those guys realize it, too, that how quickly it goes.