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Mark Stoops says Kentucky can improve off win over Mississippi State

Despite its win over No. 14-ranked Mississippi State, and its now No. 17 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops says there are areas where his team can improve.
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Despite its win over No. 14-ranked Mississippi State, and its now No. 17 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops says there are areas where his team can improve.

Kentucky’s Mark Stoops held his weekly news conference Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s upcoming game against South Carolina at Kroger Field. Here is everything the UK head coach had to say:

Opening statement:

“I appreciate you 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. So, back to work. Little different for me today because I’ve already moved on for two days, but excited about this opportunity here this week playing at home. 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 how team has responded to being patted on the back for a couple days now:

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

On how they approach defending South Carolina’s passing game:

“Yeah, we approach it the same every week. Certainly teams feature or maybe are 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 — you’re correct — especially with their quarterback and their wide receivers. They’re very good players. So, we’ll definitely have to be good in our coverage and good in our rush lanes and so on.”

Despite its win over No. 14-ranked Mississippi State, and its now No. 17 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops says there are areas where his team can improve.

On how he’s seen Jordan Jones mature on and off the field:

“You know, Jordan, he definitely has matured. And 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. So, that’s our job to get him back on the rails, but this year he’s done a good job himself of being intentional about staying ahead of it and doing the right things, and 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. So, I’ve been proud of him and his progress. We’re a quarter of the way through, so he’s got a long ways to go, but I’m pleased.”

UK linebacker Jordan Jones was all smiles after the Cats' upset of Mississippi State, and he talked about being a more mature player on the football field.

On if it’s rewarding to see players who have had problems respond to him sticking with them:

“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 is for sure, we have a lot of depth. So, it’s next man up around here, and 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.

“But that’s hard to do when we’ve got a lot of good players and keeping everybody happy and 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 and they’ve had a great attitude about that. That doesn’t mean that there’s (not) a lot of individual guys that wish they could get more opportunity, but you got to do what’s right and what’s best for the football team.”

On if he could have predicted this success for Benny Snell:

“I’ve always said — people frame it different ways — we had a good idea of who he was, but to say that he would have all this and 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. So, 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 Snell’s success changed his approach with the offense:

“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, 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.”

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On Snell focusing on the team in his Heisman hype video:

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

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On how much the team would be helped by the atmosphere from the Mississippi State game becoming the norm at home games:

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

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On (Henry Clay graduate) Davonte Robinson making a bigger impact:

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

On if he’s noticed a boost in recruiting from success:

“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 areas he sees room for improvement:

“There’s many things. Defensively, we had two mistakes. 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’re 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 8 yards on first down that set up — that was part of their scoring drive. That’s not acceptable. We need to be on point 100 percent of the time, and if we do that I don’t know what we would have done. You possibly could have shut them out, I don’t know, but I don’t like giving them two first downs in a scoring drive.

“And offensively, there’s a lot of things we can do better. There’s missed assignments, there’s not being crisp in our routes, (quarterback) 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 Tyrell Ajian’s performance vs. Mississippi State and if he expects Jordan Griffin back this week:

“Jordan will be back full go, and 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’d like getting him going a little bit more.”

On how rewarding it is personally to make history with top-25 ranking and 2-0 SEC start:

“Yeah, I really don’t. Am I proud? Am I 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 and move on to the next opponent. 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 we’ve been talking and preaching and working for years have 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. Gotta prove it again this Saturday.”

On helping players keep things in perspective:

“Well, it starts with the respect that we have for our preparation. It’s obedience. It’s being obedient and disciplined to do the things you have to do. And it’s about earning it. You earn it in the way you prepare. Our players are starting to buy into that and they like the grind, the discipline that it takes to earn it throughout the week. We talk about all the time that 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’ve got to have a great Monday. We did that. Jon asked me about that and I’m just going to put that in the OK category. We need to have a great Tuesday.”

On South Carolina changes with new offensive coordinator:

“They’re different in some ways. Eric Wolford was also on that staff and Dan Werner they’re some friends of mine, guys I’ve known. They’re a good team. They’re different in that they’re bouncing around a little bit. They have great quarterbacks and wide receivers. I think they’re trying to feed those guys, which makes sense because they’re dynamic. But we all know run game’s important; they know that as well. You’re certainly seeing that with a talented tailback and being physical at times, but just like I get asked those questions sometimes, there’s only one ball and 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 head coach Will Muschamp’s defense is similar to aggressive ones UK has already faced like Florida and Mississippi State:

“Similar in that structurally very good and very good, make you beat them. They’ve been very good on third downs; they’ve been incredible on third down, so you’ve got to win some third down matchups. We have to convert some third downs offensively. They’re just a good, sound, fundamental football team.”

On what makes them so good on third down:

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

On how much adding Brad White and moving Dean Hood to secondary has helped defense grow:

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

On different TV times and if he prefers one over the other:

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

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops credits the crowd after his teams 28-7 win over Mississippi State at Kroger Field on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

On the defensive line’s consistent play:

“They’ve been unselfish, they’re playing hard. It’s nice to have that rotation and continue to rotate guys through. They’ve been pretty evenly dispersed, especially this last week. Guys are just buying into their role and you guys burn me up, they burn every coach on clichés. The truth is the strength of our team is the team and that’s the truth. We are good together. We have some individually some very good players who are getting some recognition they deserve. Some of our standouts made some 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 of it is the defensive line. The strength of that group is the group. There’s a bunch of guys playing and they’re all playing well.”

On if he’s be surprised by how well they’re playing without Josh Pashcal and with a limited Quinton Bohanna:

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

On if there’s anything special defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc does with that group:

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

On what improvement he needs to see from the wide receivers:

“Well, it was good to see Dorian step up and make a huge play. On those two scoring drives, Dorian makes the big individual play, and we’ve talked about it in here, many times you play a good, strong, physical game and at some point somebody’s gotta make a good play, win a one-on-one. You see Dorian make a one-on-one and it led to a scoring drive. And you see C.J. make an incredible catch, led to a scoring drive. You’re seeing that. Overall, I think it’s fair to say we need to improve at all of our position groups and the wide receivers are no different and we want to keep on proving and working and getting better in the pass game.”

On the ranking and opening as an underdog and if he worries about that stuff:

“I don’t. I don’t care. I think we were a two-touchdown dog 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. The players have earned it; they’ve worked hard. That’s fine, but it can’t detract from us. It could not and it will not. But they do deserve to get some recognition because they’ve put a lot of time in and it’s about the production they’ve done this year. They didn’t get that in preseason, you know what I mean? They’ve earned that through the work that they’ve done.”

On the discipline they played with against Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald:

“There’s no perfect recipe for that because as I liked to point out before when I 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 do things, they ad lib, they make plays when things break down. They’re good 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 House had a great plan. It wasn’t overly complex. We had a few changeups. And the players executed and played extremely hard and kept them off balance. It went that way; it’s not always going to go that way. It’s that we won some one-on-ones both in protections and in coverage. And got the behind the chains some. There’s no perfect recipe. Believe me, I’ve watched — I was going to just cuss right there — I’ve watched a heck ton of football and I’ve watched it all. If there was a perfect recipe, believe me, I’d find it and copy it.”

On if UK used to have to be more complex because the players weren’t winning those one-on-one matchups and now he fully trusts the personnel:

“Really all of the above, yes, because in the past sometimes you have to throw some things at the wall, when you do too much against a guy like that, with all the different runs that they have and the different ways they can go and block and run and pressure them and bring too many different things, they 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. I talked about that after the game, that I definitely wanted them to play left-handed from the start, but 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 how close the team is and how that’s translated to success:

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

On if he ever whispers in Eddie Gran’s ear to try different things:

“You know I have at times but at times I do, and Eddie appreciates that. If I’m seeing things — offensive coordinators, there’s a lot of plays they have to call. If something is working, I want to make sure they defend it before we move on. As a defensive coach, you’re letting us off the hook if you’re not defending it, you just decide to call something different. Something you’re doing — and he likes it when I give him that. Certainly there’s some things that I know defensively that give us problem and I know 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 them to attack us, therefore it creates something they like. But as far as getting in his ear during the game and all that, no, I click off sometimes and say I’m going over to defense, you do what you have to do.”

On a defensive coach’s perspective on stopping Terry Wilson and Benny Snell:

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

On how much it’s helped the past few years like Benny and Boom Williams take pressure off the QB:

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

On how much Terry has benefited from doing what Snell does:

“Again, with us, our system for Terry and all them, we make him make protections. He has to know reads. He has to know where to go. He’s getting taught pro systems to a point. But in college, we have runs where there’s reads. I don’t know one college team in America that doesn’t have them, where there’s reads you have to do one thing or the other. You either have to give it or you have to pull it, or you have an option to give it or throw a pass, an RPO. That’s just the game. It’s trickled into the NFL as well to a point with the RPOs and where it’s going.

“The other part of Terry is just letting him play. Just the comfort of playing. That you can’t coach. When he’s in the pocket and he’s 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 thought he’s made really good decisions there. Saturday there were a couple of plays where he could’ve stayed with it a little longer. But I can’t tell you a quarterback that we’ve faced who hadn’t gone through that as well. That’s normal progression. As much experience as Fitzgerald has, and I have all the respect in the world for him there, but everybody can look at the film afterwards and say ‘man, I should’ve stayed with this or done that.’ That’s just coaching. Terry is no different. I think he’s doing very good and working hard to get better everyday.”

On kicking down doors:

“You know I don’t like getting stuck on any narrative longer than about a day. 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’ll just give you nothing. Just going to (makes sound effects). Just one word answers. How’s that? I’m teasing you (laughter).”

On if “kicking down doors” is an original Stoops saying:

“I don’t know but I don’t need to talk about it anymore. The point of frustration is our players don’t need to hear the negative tones, as you’re here. I’m talking about going back five, six years. You’re just here, trying to do your job and keep on working and pushing the program forward. The players, sometimes they don’t deserve the history. These guys come in, they work, they put their head down. They’re just trying to do their job and help the program move forward. They don’t deserve this and that. 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 all they’re worried about is right now. That’s the beautiful thing.”

On what Drake Jackson does that people don’t see:

“Drake, he’s solid. He’s 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 is a technique game. It is everywhere, but really at those positions. He’s fundamentally sound on what he does and he’s passionate and he cares about what he does. He plays with that edge, that attitude, that chip on the shoulder everyday to prepare himself. And he has great knowledge for a young kid. He does a lot of things good.”

On how the left tackles are playing:

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

On what he’s seen from South Carolina since focusing on it this week:

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

On an analytics company grading the top four players on the season as offensive linemen and if that’s consistent with the team’s grading:

“I mean, we do a lot of analytics but I can’t get that deep into it (laughter). 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. Coach Schlarman does a wonderful job with that. We use our own grading systems and everything. But we’ve seen the line, you’ve heard me talk about it in general, how pleased I’ve been. I think the individual players will be the first one to tell you. It maybe a game here or a series here where they may have been off a little bit, but in general, extremely pleased with that group. This week, our inside guys really played well. Logan (Stenberg) had the penalty that’s not acceptable. Outside of that, he probably would’ve been player of the game with Bunchy because Bunchy and him played very good. Drake played good. But again, our tackles have done a nice job also. Been pleased with them. Not perfect. Certain games they’ve been better than others, each individual guy, but as a group collectively they’ve played very well.”

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