Kentucky Sports

Kentucky's Stoops previews Missouri game

UK head coach Mark Stoops acknowledged the crowd Saturday during the Cat Walk before the game against Florida.
UK head coach Mark Stoops acknowledged the crowd Saturday during the Cat Walk before the game against Florida. Herald-Leader

Here is what University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops had to say during his Monday press luncheon looking ahead to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. home game against Missouri:

“Just like I said after the game, disappointed in the Florida game and the outcome. I felt like our team played exceptionally hard. Didn’t make enough plays to win the game. So, optimistic going as we move forward. Got to get back and have a good week of practice and prepare for another great opportunity this week with Missouri.”

On Regie Meant’s absence on the depth chart: “Yeah, he got banged up. He is better. Had a good report today, so he’ll be questionable. As of last night, we thought he was doubtful when I put that depth chart together, but there’s a good chance he could play a little bit, so we’ll see. We’ll prepare and see how he progresses throughout the week.”

On which unit played the best against Florida: “Well, I think just in general if you look at the way the defense played, I was pleased with the overall effort. We’re always picky and looking for that perfect game, knowing that it’s probably never gonna happen but you’re always striving for perfection. We were far from that defensively, but I did feel like the guys played really hard. We limited big plays. They had one big play in the game, and really disappointed in that one because it was a pass play that A.J. Stamps had a great opportunity to defend and we just didn’t make the play. We weren’t in position to make the play and we should’ve been. But outside of that, the unit really played hard. Again, there were some missed opportunities. Give them credit, the way they escaped some pressure at times, but we were harassing the quarterback. We were on him. Both touchdown drives they had, we had opportunities to stop them and didn’t do it, but overall it was great effort. I think that was good to see. And offensively, the effort was there as well. Just need to convert and be more precise in certain situations.”

On Ryan Flannigan dressing out vs. Florida: “He was cleared late in the week. Hadn’t had a rep, hadn’t hit anybody live. We even took him out there Friday and put some pads on some people and him and let him hit it, and he felt good. He just hadn’t had a lot of reps.”

On how big it is to have Flannigan back: “Well, it’s very big to get him back this week. So he’ll be full steam ahead. He’ll be in there getting ready to go this week.”

On Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk’s running ability: “It’s very concerning. We need to do a better job. It’s gonna start today. We’ll work on that. And getting some things corrected, just with our pass lanes in general. Last Saturday’s weren’t great in some of our pressures and certain technique issues were there, and some of it’s athletic ability. Sometimes you just gotta make a play.”

On what he saw from Jason Hatcher to move him into a starting spot: “Just he’s earned the right. We wanted to make sure he earned his spot and worked his way back in there, and did some good things. And certain packages, we’ll go with other guys. So, again, that’s for you all. You all make a bigger deal with the depth chart than we do, I promise you. So certain packages, certain guys start and certain don’t. So, we’ll see, but he’s gonna play and so is Denzil (Ware) and so is Jabari (Johnson).”

On what he saw from the offensive line’s protection issues: “There’s many different things. There’s the guys up front. There’s technique with the guys up front. There is guys overreacting. Maybe they got beat with a speed rush one time so they get popping out too far and they come under. There’s things the quarterback can do to step up in the pocket. There’s protection that we could do and we could call things better. All of us can do a better job, and will. Give them credit. They’re very disruptive and created some havoc for us up front, but there’s things that we can do better and will do better.”

On Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers: 
”Just a very good football player. I like when I watch Missouri and what I have a lot of respect for is how hard they play. I really do. I think defensively they’ve been that way. They play very hard and very disruptive, and I appreciate that.”

On how you scheme for a linebacker like Brothers that can hurt you so many ways: “We got to do what we do. We’re going to see — if you haven’t noticed, we’re going to face pretty good players throughout the year, so we can’t overreact to any one player. Certain guys definitely command some attention, in particular up front if you can’t handle a pass rush and things like that, but with any defensive player you’ve just got to do what you do and try to do some things better, more effectively than we did a week ago too.”

On if he worries about the early drops getting in Dorian Baker’s head at all: “A little bit. Sure. You’ve got to look at things. He’s one of those guys that’s high energy. He’s — I’ve talked about him before: just bringing him back in, getting his attention with us all the time. He’s one of those guys, he’s erratic, but I love the way he plays, I love his energy, I love his passion. Just got to make sure he’s ready to play. There’s always that balance as a coach. I talk about it often. We do our fair amount of getting guys ready and talks, whatever you want to call it, pregame speeches or throughout the week motivating guys, but most of it has to come with motivation and preparation. You can’t talk yourself into being ready to play on Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon. He’s a guy that seems to always be ready. Maybe he’s a little too amped up — I don’t know — but usually he makes those catches and if he’s going to be the guy we think he can be he’s got to be consistent.”

On what makes Boom Williams so effective: “Yeah, he’s been really good player for us so far this year, and at times last year as well, as you know. But I think he’s growing. He’s growing. He needs to continue to do that. He’s been steady this year in his practice and his approach. I think he’s a talented football player. What makes him effective? It’s hard for me to put my finger on it exactly except he’s extremely talented. He’s explosive. Again, those things — you’ve heard me say it before — those things are between him and God, some of those moves. You know what I mean? We can’t teach him those things. Got to have instincts, and he has shown that.”

On Williams appearing to be injured at the end of the first half but coming back into the game: “He’s fine. Yeah. I didn’t even know.”

On how he compares Missouri’s defense to Florida: “Both effective, both four-down primarily and both disruptive up front. Missouri, to me, after playing them this will be the third year in a row here, it starts with them up front. They’re disruptive up front. A lot like Florida. So, they play hard. I appreciate — I think they play with a lot of edge to them. When I watch a defense it starts with them up front. So, we’ll have to be better, and I expect we will be.”

On competition in the SEC and importance of having an established quarterback: “Well, as far as the league, I think that gets talked about plenty. We obviously have great respect for all of our opponents. We know it’s going to be a real challenge week in and week out. That’s going to be the same old story. You’ll get tired of hearing me and every other SEC coach talk about that, because it is — that’s the grind we all have to live. But, it’s important. It’s good that we have some experience at quarterback. I think we need to play better at that position, like we do across the board. I think a lot of people — it’s easy for people to look for somebody to blame when you lose a game. I don’t think that’s right and that’s fair. That’s not been my style. If there’s any one person or anything, it all starts and ends with me. So, we’ll play better at quarterback and we’ll play better across the board. The good news is we’re closing the gap. We’re in a one-possession game and we’re all upset. That’s a good thing. The fans are upset and want better play, and so do I. So, let’s go back to work today.”

On Patrick Towles’ mindset since the Florida loss: “There’s things that — you constantly look to help alleviate some pressure and different things. There’s things that we can do better. There’s things that we can do better throughout the week. There’s situations we can put them in to help them be successful. And we’ll all do our part, but he’ll be fine.”

On what he would like to see Towles do better: “I think just the same things that you saw and that he saw. Certain passes that are there, we can’t miss them. He does some very good things. The deep ball that he threw to Jeff (Badet), and there’s passes throughout the game that the talent is there. But when you have — I think the frustrating thing for him and for myself and all of us is when there’s layups there you can’t miss layups. That he has to improve on, and he knows that.”

On if the way Missouri plays is the reason it exceeds expectations: “That’s the greatest compliment you can give a team or a coach is when they exceed their expectations and they’ve certainly done that the last two years as far as what everyone has picked them and all that. Not from a coach’s point of view but from the media and things like that. They’ve always played hard and they win close games and that’s a credit to what they’re doing and how they’re coaching them. The energy that their team plays with is good.”

On how he feels about the special teams so far: “There’s things that we can do better. For some reason Landon (Foster) isn’t kicking the ball as good as he can and that’s creating some problems. We’ve gotta get those things figured out. It’s putting a lot of pressure on our punt team, on the cover guys because we’re not kicking the ball very good. We’ve gotta get some things figured out. The effort and the coaching and what guys are doing I feel very good about.”

On Ryan Timmons' decision making in punt returns: “There are times when we’d like him to get to the ball, but in general he’s been comfortable back there. He’s done a good job.”

On what he wants the team to learn from Saturday: “There’s a lot to learn from. Every time we step on the field there’s so much to learn from, and we will. The good thing is, and taking nothing away from Florida because they had a lot to do with us not playing well, but we feel like we can play better. We’re in a one possession game with an opportunity to win the game and didn’t get it done. There’s a lot to take from that. We will get better and we will continue to improve on some things. I like our teams attitude and I like our focus. I have no doubt on my mind that we’ll be anxious and excited to get this film watched and corrected, as painful as it’ll be at times. To get back on the practice field this afternoon and get ready to prepare for a game with Missouri. It’s going to be another great opportunity for us and we’ll be excited and ready to play.”

On if preparing for two quarterbacks against Missouri will be tougher to prepare for: “No. No different to prepare for the two quarterbacks. Maty (Mauk) has got more experience and he’s got a great feel for the pocket. He really is a big part of why they’ve won so many games. He’s a player and finds way to move the ball and create space in the pocket. He’s always a guy from a defensive point of view that’s a pain in the butt sometimes when they make plays.”

On if having Ryan Flannigan back helps in that regard: “It does. Ryan was really playing some great football. You heard us talking about him throughout the spring and throughout the summer. He was really playing fast and explosive. Anytime you get a player like that back you’re happy. Khalid (Henderson) will still get some reps and play and maybe backs up at both spots and be able to help. He’s done some really good things for us and we really appreciate the great effort that he’s given us. He’s really played well at times. But it’ll be good to get Ryan back as well and get that depth because we’ve been pretty thin there.”

On how Henderson stayed plugged in when getting passed on depth chart: “I think that’s always a challenge for guys in particular who have been starters for you and then you pass them up with someone else on the roster. Give someone else an opportunity. That’s hard on any player, not just him. That happens all the time across football, that’s part of our business. We’re moving forward. We’re not making any knee-jerk decisions around here just because of a loss. Like I said, I like where we’re at. Believe me, I wish we would’ve played better. I know I can do better and our team could do better to have a different outcome last Saturday. But it’s over and we’re going to move forward, but, with that being said, we’re not going to stay the same. We’re going to move forward, going to get better, and we gotta get players in there that are going to make plays. And even some older guys that I’m going to talk to individually that I know can play better, and if they don’t, we’re going to move on.”

On similarities between Ryan Flannigan’s injury this year and Zach West’s last year: “I’m probably not going to talk about that. I’m not a doctor. I mean, it was never explained to me that way.”

On if he’s seeing the growing pains he expects from a true freshman OT like George Asafo-Adjei: “Yeah, definitely some growing pains. And they’re playing some dudes out there. You know, they’re playing some guys. On the road at South Carolina and at home against Florida, those guys can go; they can rush. And you get put on an island, and we want to throw the ball, and to get the ball down the field you gotta protect. He’s going through some growing pains, but he’s also doing some very good things, so I’m very pleased. I know he’ll get better and better.”

On moving on from a hard loss and whether that’s easier for young guys: “I don’t know. I’m not sure. I hope so. We got a lot of young guys. But young or old, we gotta move on. And we talk about it every Monday with the team. We’re in there on Sunday, they’re in here on Monday for the first time. We’ll get it corrected and we’ll look to improve and we’ll move on. I don’t anticipate any lingering effects or any hangover whatsoever. We’re doing a lot of good things and there’s a lot of things we could do better.”

On if it was big for Dorian Baker to bounce back from Saturday’s drop with a big catch on the last drive: “I think it’s important that he made that play – for all of us. For him and for all of us, because we know he’s capable of it and we expect big plays out of him. You know, we can’t overthink the drops, because he doesn’t drop many, honestly. But he has two big drops at the beginning of two games in a row, so I’ll get asked about it and he’ll get asked about it. So deal with it. Deal with it and move on.”

On this team being healthy: “Yeah, we’re in pretty good shape. They seem to be in pretty good shape. It’ll be a good game, be a hard-fought game. They’re a very well-coached team. I have a lot of respect for Coach Pinkel and what he’s done and the way his teams play. And I’m excited about it. I ask the fans to come out again. I wanted to keep on winning, and part of it (was) to keep on packing this stadium. So let that not be an excuse. We want it full. I greatly appreciate everyone’s support. It’s been a great environment. We’ll look to play a little better to give them a few more things to cheer about.”

On players saying they could win the SEC East: “I haven’t heard any player talk about winning the East. I don’t know, maybe they did. I’ve heard players say – I want them to follow my pattern in that: We prepare and play to win every game. The answer is: We’re not going to go on a talk show or media or I just had another interview with somebody else (asking) what our goals are (and) I’m not to sit here and say we’re going to expect to win six or seven games, because we’re not going to concede any games. And (the players) are not either. They don’t know how to answer it all the time (but) they play and they prepare to win every week. I haven’t heard anybody make a prediction that we’re going to win every game. They say we can and prepare to win every game, and that’s the truth, OK? (Matt Elam said undefeated.) Well, yeah, that knucklehead (laughing).”

On if the players feel that way: “Well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. I better educate them a little bit more on the answer that I want, but yes, they know we can win. Again, we have confidence in what we’re doing. Yes, I expect them to have the same confidence today as they had before the Florida game. Because, again, we’re all disappointed in the outcome, and nobody’s more disappointed than myself and the coaching staff, but the good is we were in position to win that game. We didn’t make the plays. That’s playing football. Watch the game. Y’all watched the game. I had an opportunity, I even watched the pro game last night and everything else. Two great teams. They didn’t play clean. You know what I mean? It’s hard to play a clean game. It’s a long season. So we’ll play better. Our players have a good attitude, they’re working hard and we’re getting better and we’re getting in position to win games. You’re not going to do it all the time, although we’ll strive to do it. We’re fine. Our psyche’s fine. Their confidence is fine. We’ll move on and get better.”

On beating a ranked team: “It’ll be good. Any win is good, as you know. You all know it and our fans know it. Wins are valuable. They’re hard. They’re hard to come by. If they’re ranked, that’s great, but also because this team’s won the East and they’re a good team.”

On if milestones matter in the rebuilding process: “Sure. I’d be lying (if I said) they didn’t. Sure. It is. That’s why people are upset with the Florida (game). They’re tired of hearing about it. They’re tired about the streak. Again, we just need to win. You know what I mean? Really doesn’t matter to me if they’d won 28 in a row or one. Each win is valuable. I know it does for the fans, and I appreciate that. But this win this week is our opportunity again this week to prepare to play a great team and try to get a victory at home.”

On protection issues were about Florida or had there been issues before that: “There was a couple pressures that we could’ve handled better, but a lot of it was just speed and athleticism and they won some one on ones. They won too many one on ones for us to be successful.”

On if it’s typical for a true freshman tackle to be better in run protection than pass protection: “It’s difficult. (Asafo-Adjei) has never seen anything like that. It’s hard to simulate that. So he’s going to get better and better and he’s done some really good things, but it’s hard.”

On if Asafo-Adjei is where Stoops expected him to be: “Absolutely. Anytime — if you ask any coach — that you’re going to start a true freshman at tackle in this league that you’d be a little bit alarmed. It’s not easy to do. So I appreciate the effort he’s giving and he’s getting better. Proud of him and the way he’s working.”

On Kyle Meadows: “Kyle did some good things and he’ll help us. Kyle will help us as we move forward as well.”

On if Alvonte Bell has a redshirt available: "He does. He does. So that’s what we’re working on. We’re preparing him; he’s practicing with us. He’s getting better. I don’t want to burn it if it’s just going to be very limited play.”

On C.J. Johnson: “Better. Better. He’s doing some better things. Played pretty well, yeah. Regie (Meant) really was doing some good things before he got hurt. Really, really was doing some good things, then again, he hurt that shoulder. Disappointed because I think he’s the type of guy every time he takes the field, plays more and more, he’s getting better and better.”

On if it’s physically all there for him: “Yes. Exactly. Just reps and playing, getting a feel for that game experience. He’s getting better and better.”

On if UK’s developing guys who can win one on ones like the Florida defensive line: “We are. We are. Coach Eliot’s done a nice job. He’s creating some things, too, schematically mixing some things up and doing the very best we can with trying to get some pressure in certain ways and trying to be creative with what we’re doing.”

On Adrian Middleton’s development: “He’ll get some action again this week. And he’s getting better. He’ll get more involved this week. It’ll be fun to see him out there and get him amped up and get him playing, coming along. You know, it’s funny as we talk, as you guys hear us talk throughout camp all the time and we talk about the depth, guys get into these games and they’re so darn tight, that it’s tough. And we need to continue to push our young guys and develop them, get them some game experience. We haven’t really played as many snaps — defensively it’s a good thing we haven’t played as many snaps the last two games — and offensively, unfortunately we’re not playing as many snaps as we’d like to. We need to continue to bring along some guys.”

On Meant’s injury: “I just said he was doubtful we thought last night when I released the depth chart, but I got a good report on (him) this morning, so there’s a chance he could play. So we’ll see as the week goes on.”

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