UK Football

Stoops on UK-Mississippi State: ‘We’ve got to kick it up a notch’

MARK STOOPS

“As I said after the game, I thought it was a good sign for our football team, a maturity about us to go out there and prepare the right way last week and to go out and play a good football game, but we’re going to have to do the same thing this week. We’ve got to kick it up a notch. Big game with Mississippi State, so we’re excited and guys are ready to get to work on that.”

On how Miss St is different with new coach: “There are some things that carry over. Then you see his wrinkle, his nuances with the offense and what he’s doing. They’re still very, very good and still very physical.”

On importance of getting a marquee home win: “I think it’s important. Again, it’s the next game. That’s why it’s most important. It’s the game we’re focusing on. It’s a big opportunity against a ranked opponent at home. A lot of reasons why it’s a big game, and part of that is to win at home in a good environment like we’re going to have and I expect this week.”

On the toughest challenges facing Nick Fitzgerald: “Well, he has experience. He’s physical. He makes plays when he has to. He’s talented with his arm. As always, when you play a team like this that’s not only physical at running the ball but they have a physical quarterback and they use quarterback runs, that makes you play with numbers, and then he’s talented enough and their receiving corp and tight ends are talented enough to hurt you throwing the ball. So, it puts a lot of pressure on you.”

On Mississippi State defense: “They’re very good defensively. As always, seems like when you talk about them, they’re very long, they’re big, they’re physical and they’re experienced. They have, I want to say, three seniors on their front who are very big and athletic and one junior. Then across the rest of their defense a bunch of juniors, seniors and they sprinkle in a couple sophomores. They’re an experienced group and big, physical group. Very active.”

On matching physicality this week: “I guess it is, because that’s the nature of this league and you have to be. Certainly you can look to the success of Mississippi State because of the way they play. They’re as physical as anybody you’re going to play in this league, if not more. So you have to match it. It starts there, but, again, there’s a lot of other things that are going to go into it. But that’s a big piece of it.”

On getting second-team OL a lot of reps: “I think it was good just in general for us to get a lot of guys in there, but I want to say we played 11 offensive linemen so it was really good to get some reps for them and get their feet wet and get some experience.”

On if any young guys showed up on film of Murray State game: “A lot of guys did some good things. We talked about the offensive line. I think Darrian Kinnard showed some good things. We haven’t talked much, he’s not so much a young guy, but Luke Fortner is really doing some good things. Luke has played some good football. Mason Wolfe is doing some good things. Again, not a young guy, but Kengera Daniel is playing good football for us and we need that at the outside linebacker. Really like the way he’s playing. Jordan Wright got significant snaps because Jamar “Boogie” was a little banged up last week so we held him. But Jordan Wright did some good things. We talked about LiAllen Dailey. Zy’Aire getting a touchdown was big.

“Keaton Upshaw got hurt last week in practice. We’re going to have to redshirt him, so he’s going to be out for the year. But we did play Brenden Bates some in that position. Chris Rodriguez did a good job. You could go on and on. A lot of those guys I was impressed with.”

On if he expects Watson back this week: “Yes.”

On what film revealed about Marquan McCall’s game: “He did a good job. He’s powerful at the point of attack, but some things that showed up was he needed to get into shape. He needs to get his but moving a little bit there. He knows that. We’ll continue to push him a little bit.”

On Terry Wilson’s comfort level growing: “It does say a lot about him, because we’ve seen that. You’ve heard me talk about that at least two or three times, that he makes improvement often. He takes the coaching, he works at it. He comes in early, he stays late. He does what he has to do to do the studying on his own and also take the coaching. Does not surprise me much because I anticipated that. I mentioned that after week one in here that he’s a sophomore and game one and there was no doubt in our mind he would improve. He has.”

On depth of the league and college football: “When we watched the crossover we see it, and just this past week getting done early for a change and being able to watch some football just in general it doesn’t surprise me. The league is deep, we all know that. Like I always say there’s nobody that’s going backwards. The teams are working extremely hard to improve their program. I saw that. One team that just jumps out at me – many of them are – but I just watched Vandy. Vandy is a good football team and had every opportunity to win at Notre Dame, so it says a lot about what they’re doing.”

On what’s going right in the third quarter defensively: “I don’t know if much has changed. I think the experience of our group helps, and the group being intentional about going in the locker room. It’s a sign of maturity, our team getting with their groups, the leaders within the groups discussing things before the coaches get in there. I like that. I think they’ve been intentional about that, about getting together, sitting with each other, reviewing the things that are hurting us, how to get them corrected, things we’re doing good, how to attack and so on.”

On end of the second quarter issues in game at Mississippi State last season: “Well that was a big topic last year. You knew how I felt about that last year because you know how strong of a team that is and you’re in that environment and I didn’t feel like we’d played our best and had an opportunity to go in tied or up or down three. It’s a big difference between being down 10 and having the momentum. We learned from that opportunity. That was big this year already. I want to say at Florida, we may have been in the same situation and Eddie (Gran) and I discussed that at that moment. We were much more successful this year. It’s not always going to be that way because it’s hard. You’ve got to make the first downs, you’ve got to understand what you’re trying to do with the clock. But yeah, that was a big turning point in the game last year at Mississippi State for sure.”

On Dan Mullen saying he saw similarities between what UK is doing and what he did in Starkville: “I do and Dan and I have talked about that and I’ve watched the success he’s had along with everybody else in this league, especially when you play them every year because you just look at their team and again, you always saw in their teams length and athletic ability. Again, we’re trying to be as big as we can and as athletic as we can. Part of that is recruiting and part of that is development. Now we’re getting some experience with that as well. That’s what this team has for them. They have all those things and they have experience.”

On making decision to move Zy’Aire Hughes back to WR after a season on defense: “I think he was most comfortable with that and we discussed it. He is talented with the ball in his hands. You know there’s a lot of other facets of the offense. We love Zy’Aire. He’s a great kid and works hard and he’s dynamic and he’s got some speed, so I’d like him to put it altogether to help us some because we need that speed at wide receiver.”

On punter Max Duffy: “Just Max is one of those guys that is very, very mature. He just kind of goes about his business, does it in a very professional way. He works on his craft all the time. He’s talented in his punting. You can see him getting better already and that’s a good sign for us. He has some ability; he has a very strong leg and again, he has the talent to do different kicks. Really like what I see out of Max and I’m glad we have him.”

On the SEC Network features and them being in locker room and him looking ‘very presidential’: “Well, thank you. I’m not used to getting any compliments.”

On if he enjoys doing those sorts of things: “In what way? In the locker room? As you guys know, you haven’t seen many features with me in the locker room. I just feel like that’s an intimate setting with the team and myself. I don’t often let people into that because it’s just what I like to do with the team. I understand there’s a portion of it — the promoting and stuff like that — but I just really feel like what goes on behind closed doors with the team stays in there, but in that case, the network was in there. And I’ll be honest with you, nobody even asked me. (Laughter.) I just got talking and they were in there. It was really authentic because I didn’t know they were coming in. I’ll have to talk to them about that. (Cross talking about it being chief of staff Dan Berezowitz who let them in.) Yeah, so I was glad people got to see it. It was special, I thought. You saw genuine excitement from our team and you saw the team and us and the staff and how we feel about John and Josh and the things we’re going through behind closed doors. You got a peek at that. That’s all good as well. So it was a nice piece. Glad you liked it.”

On what makes Mississippi State’s rushing attack so effective: “Well, you put together a physical offensive line, a dynamic back and a big beast at quarterback. That’s a lot of good things. They’re big; they’re strong and they’re explosive. They just put a lot of pressure on you. The quarterback run game, when you have a guy like Fitzgerald, who’s fast and also big and strong.”

On cornerbacks matching up with receivers and that being a key matchup versus Florida and what it is this week against Mississippi State: “It’s going to be the same. You know what I’m going to say: We have to play with numbers. We have to play with numbers in there. They make you do that and therefore it puts a lot of stress outside. If you’re an offense — and you hear me talking about it a lot — that creates an opportunity for big plays. So we have to matchup and we have to win those one-on-ones because we have to put some pressure on those guys.”

On how Nick Fitzgerald is better this season: “Just maturity and just experience. He’s still. He’s fresh. He’s only played in two games and hasn’t been close. He looks good.”

On challenge Terry Wilson presents and similarities to what he shows defense each week to Mississippi State: “It’s similar in some ways. In some of the designed quarterback runs and some of the reads, so it helps. Why it’s different is because we all know the designed runs both for them and for us, there’s opportunity. They also can be defensed. What really hurts you is when things break down and those guys. You see what Terry does and the same with Fitzgerald. And you have to be disciplined in your rush lanes, therefore you can’t just be running up the field at them all the time because they could be a designed quarterback draws or they could just pull it down when they see a gap and you saw that with Terry this last week. That’s what makes it very, very difficult for defensive coordinators at times to stop because they can have everything matched up very good and then a guy just pulls it down and runs it 54 yards or whatever it was for a touchdown. That’s hard to overcome.”

On if Danny Clark can give a decent look to simulate Fitzgerald: “Danny is similar to Fitzgerald in those ways because he’s one of those great big strong runners and can also throw it. He’s been practicing with our offense, so he doesn’t give us the scout team look, but when we do go good against good, we may get some looks with him in there. We practice on Tuesday and Wednesday portions of the practice offense versus defense.”

On if there were any other motives for getting Zy’Aire Hughes the ball: “Just motive to get him the football. Get him going. But obviously with our playbook, everybody has a bit of deception at times. They always look pretty when they work and you look very silly when they don’t.”

On that play giving Mississippi State something to look at: “Well that’s what I’m saying. Yeah, we always have a bit of deception. We always have a few plays here or there like everybody does. It’s always something for somebody to look at. Could be plays off of it as well.”

On opening the playbook up more for Terry Wilson: “Terry has done a great job with the playbook. It’s always like that with inexperience. Making sure they’re doing the things that they do well until they can get their feet up underneath them. He’s always done a good job of picking up the offense. You’ve gotta understand when you’re doing things like that, the old school stuff, progression one, two, three, four, five, that’s chalkboard stuff. You know how many people really do that? You’ve gotta have an awful lot of time and operation and even in the NFL you’re seeing things more segmented to half the field.”

On how Jordan Jones has been playing: “He played really good Saturday. He did a nice job. He really was disciplined. He was good in his fits. He was really good in pass coverage. He did some good things.”

On how Jordan and Kash are working together: “I think they’re working well together. It’s been a nice mix. Kash played good again. The two of them together, I’m happy with.”

On playing Jordan Jones more in coverage: “No, same. The same. Same defense for the most part, give or take a few things. What (Murray) did Saturday put him out in space a little more, maybe, than you would see all the time. He did a nice job with that.”

On if he’s still optimistic that Quinton Bohanna will play: “I am. I expect him to be out there this week. I do.”

On Dorian Baker shaking the rust off: “He’s getting there. I think more and more opportunities. You’d like to see him continue to step up and make competitive plays. He had a couple of opportunities Saturday that you’d like to see him make. One of them is just simple things with hand placement. That, again, comes with opportunity and getting a bunch of catches. We’ll continue to work with him.”

On if Lynn Bowden has made the transition all the way to receiver: “Much more comfortable. Again, I’ve said it often, Lynn is a bright kid. He gets it. He just needs to be coached and he needs the reps. He needs to look at the good things and the negative things on film and build from it. I think he gets better with opportunity.”

On the atmosphere on Saturday: “Well, I don’t know what to compare it to. I just hope and expect to have a great crowd. I’m sure we will. The Big Blue Nation has not disappointed us in these big opportunities. The team is excited about being here and being in this environment and working extremely hard this week to give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

On if he knew MSU coach Joe Moorhead: “Not much. I just got to know him a bit through the league and the meetings. Just really impressed with him. Really good person. You know he’s a sharp football mind, but I really enjoyed being around him. Really pleasant guy. Good guy. We both share an affinity for Italian restaurants so he gave me one when we were at the meetings.”

On keeping Benny Snell on MSU and not breaking records: “I don’t think there will be any problem with that. There’s many opportunities and records, I’m sure, that Benny has either passed or coming up on. I don’t think that would distract at all. Knowing Benny, he’s worried about playing good and helping this team get an opportunity to win a big game.”

On if he’s lobbying to play more QB after his passer rating Saturday: (Laughter) Yeah, probably. We had that opportunity last year where they didn’t cover Stephen (Johnson) and we threw it out there and he dropped that one last year. I think it was against South Carolina. We’re working on that too, getting him to throw a little bit out of the Wildcat.” On how much of a help it is that arguably his best player has maybe the best work ethic: “Well, the good thing is I don’t even know who you’re talking about because I really mean there are several of those guys that could fit what you just talked about. I like that about our team. It does show a sign of maturity. We have an opportunity to build on that every week. This will be another opportunity for these guys to continue to do what they’ve done. I think the team is very close that way. They genuinely care about each other. I think that was evident again this past Saturday with the guys excited for guys to get in and play and have some positive things happen to them. Because it gets hard. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of good players on our team and we’re deeper than we’ve been. There’s only one football. Guys want carries. Guys want catches. They want to play. You understand that but they have to earn their way onto the field. It’s really difficult to keep 105 guys extremely happy because they do care about their personal interests as well, and that’s OK. But not at the team’s expense. I think they understand that.”

On how a team gets to the point of having a strong work ethic and having players happy for others: “Both. Recruiting the right player that fits and understands his role. And then being intentional about the development and the leadership of what you’re teaching with the team aspect. You’re never going to be 100 percent. But you strive for that. You’re seeing that with this team. They’re very unselfish. But again, you’re never going to be 100 percent in that aspect. But we’re much better than we’ve ever been, that’s for sure.”

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