UK Football

Q&A: Stoops, Eliot preview Louisville

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator met with the media for a final time before the Cats take on Louisville Saturday. They discussed the seniors, recruiting in-state players, team Thanksgiving plans and much more:

MARK STOOPS

“So far so good. It’s been a really good week of preparation so far. Guys got a lot of energy, good focus, been some good practices. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the week. We’ll practice tomorrow late in the morning, give them a little time in the afternoon, then come back and have a good run through on Friday.”

On team meal: “We are. We’ll have practice and then we’ll all get together afterwards here with the team.”

On the senior class: “Very good group, really good. They’ve been fun to work with since the moment I arrived on campus. They’ve really bought in and wanted to make a difference, in wanting to make a change in the culture and what we’re doing and winning. We’re still trying to establish that and these guys are fighting all the way through with this last game, with an opportunity to get a sixth victory and go to a bowl game. I know it’s very important to them and I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve led. Like I said, they’ve been a really good group to coach. It’s been fun.”

On import of getting seniors on board early: “It was very important. Like I said early on, those guys never asked for any change. They don’t know what’s going on with coaches and things like that. They’re really always put in the middle of it, but they’ve embraced us and our staff since we’ve been here and tried to do their part in changing the culture and having a winning attitude and a winning environment. They’ve been very good that way.”

On Louisville’s offensive line giving up most sacks in country and if that makes pressure especially important: “It’s very important to get pressure. I think there’s a variety of reasons. Just like us, if you’re behind in games, dropback passing’s maybe not exactly where we want to be either. As you know, we have our problems with that as well. So I think staying balanced is a big part of it. I’m sure they’ll want to be balanced just like we do. They have good concepts and they like getting the ball down the field when they have their time. So that will be important to get some pressure.”

On the four freshmen in the secondary: “They’ve been -- what I see is I see some good looking guys. I see some range. I see some guys that are tall and rangy and have some long arms and have some bodies to build with. I also see some guys who are a little bit skinny right now. So we’ve got to get them in the offseason program, gain some weight. But really, I see them getting more and more confident and I see them making good plays and not being afraid of anything. They like being out there competing against the very best. They’re enjoying it and they’ve been fun to coach.”

On how Westry has grown: “I’ve seen just solid play. I really think there’s an awful lot to build on there. To be able to go through an entire season in this league and be able to compete and win his fair share and be able to be very comfortable out there competing against the guys he’s competing against says a lot. There’s a lot to build from. I’ve been very encouraged with Baity as well the past couple weeks in particular. I think he’s got a bright upside.”

On if teams are throwing less at those freshmen like Westry at end of season: “Yeah, I think so. Depending on who you’re playing and what their plan is. Just normal shots now, just like any offense, you’re going to run it, you’re going to take your shots, just a matter of when. They’ve got two freshmen to choose from right now.”

On import of getting Jason Hatcher and if D.J. Eliot’s first start after hire was to Trinity: “I don’t know. D.J. will tell you. I think he’s coming in after me. It was (Ryan) Timmons and Hatcher. I’m not sure what order he went. But yeah, those two guys were the first guys first day. Then he went on the road. I didn’t because I’m only allowed in the home once, so we had to pick and choose strategically when I was going to go in there. I had no assistants there for a while, so D.J. had to hit them all.”

On if assistants will be out recruiting next week regardless of outcome of Louisville game: “Yes. Yeah. I’ll be on the road. Most all of us will be on the road Sunday.”

On how big a transition he’s seen in Josh Forrest: “Quite a bit. Quite a bit, and really, you saw him transform on the field, but most of it off the field. He’s really grown. I’ve been very proud of him. He’ll be the first to tell you he’s probably one of those guys saying, ‘Coach Stoops doesn’t like me.’ It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s that I want him to do the right things, and when you do the right things all the sudden you become a guy that the coach likes. It’s not personal. It’s what you expect of all your players. You like the guys that do things right and make a difference, and I’m very proud of him and the way he’s changed. He’s changed an awful lot off the field. I don’t need to get into specifics, but I think he’d be the first one to tell you he’s grown a lot. Because of that he’ll have an opportunity to play this game at the next level. He’s still a guy that gets better every year. He’s a guy that learns to play more physical with every opportunity and every year, and as he continues to progress that way he’ll have an opportunity to play for a long time.”

On if a story like Forrest’s is why he became a coach in the first place: “Definitely. Yeah. Definitely. It puts a smile on your face when you see a guy transform and get it and really want to make a difference, not only with his life, but he changes the locker room as well.”

On his thoughts about 5-7 teams possibly going to a bowl: “I don’t right now. I’d hate to comment on that. We desperately want to get six. (Laughs). I don’t want you in here asking me those questions next week. I want to be in here talking about six. So, I don’t want to think about that.”

On no coach turning down a month of practice, regardless of the record: “I would not for that very reason. It would be a good practice time.”

On the 2014 Louisville highlights being shown on TVs in the facility: “Yeah, I told them to turn it off today. I got tired of looking at it. It shouldn’t be on anymore.”

On if they can build on being so close a year ago: “Well, last year was a different team. Really is. You never know how you’re going to play. You try to judge it on your preparation and your team’s mental aspect during the week, but we’ll see how we play. I think our team’s excited to play. We know we had our opportunities last year, but that was last year. We also need to learn to make plays when the game is on the line. We’ve done that some this year, and we’ve not done it a few games. I think we’re getting better. I think we’re getting more confident. Looking forward to this game.”

On if he’s spent more Thanksgivings with D.J. Eliot thank his actual family: “Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s a holiday with the team, because it’s always a work day for us. So it’s always a holiday for us, but my family gets to spend it with the family here at UK and with the players. That’s always enjoyable for us. As I was a position coach I had guys over to my house on Wednesday, and that’s what our coaches will do tonight, but I don’t have a position so I get the night off as far as that. But tomorrow we’ll spend it all together.”

On being a secondary coach when it’s beneficial but not in this situation: “Yeah, just like when they play well, I’m the secondary coach. (Laughter). When they don’t, it’s on Coach Ansley. Yeah, exactly.”

D.J. ELIOT

“Today is a day we needed. We needed to get out there and play fast. That’s the emphasis. It’s not about our opponent. It’s about us. We harp on fundamentals, and today was a good fundamental day. The players were enthusiastic. No school today so they seemed to have more pep in their step. Maybe they got more rest last night, which is good. We’re excited about this week and finishing out the week of practice, and Thanksgiving tomorrow. What questions do you guys have?”

On the strides Josh Forrest has made since he got to Kentucky: “Well, he came in as a receiver, so just teaching him the basics of defense, let alone just linebacker play, was a challenge. He’s been able to progress from a guy that didn’t even know how to play defense to a good linebacker. That’s something that you don’t see very often, so I’m very proud of his efforts and I’m very proud of the hard work that he put in and what type of player and person that he’s become.”

On what he remembers about visiting Jason Hatcher on his first day on the job: “Well, I was hired, and that day after I finally filled out my paperwork, I left. I was here for like an hour, and then I left and I drove to Frankfort and I went to Ryan Timmons first and went by his school. And I school visited him and talked about him coming and playing here. And then I went to Trinity and I visited Jason Hatcher. Those were our first two contacts of Coach Stoops’ era, and it was very good to get them. They’re very good players and they’re in-state kids and they’ve done a lot for us. Jason’s had kind of a rough year, being banged up, but he’s been healthy and has played well the last two games. I know he wants to finish this thing out right.”

On if there was a message sent regarding in-state recruiting when they signed Hatcher: “I think so. I think that the school has a lot to offer. It doesn’t sit backseat to a lot of other people as far support, as far as facilities, as far as league. We have a great coaching staff, so I think that we have a lot to offer. We were able to present that and sell it to the in-state kids, and on top of that, the ability to play in front of their home state fans and be close to home and play for the team that they grew up cheering for. I think it’s a win-win for Kentucky kids.”

On if the first time he met with Hatcher, he seemed receptive to UK’s pitch: “I spoke to the coach and the coach said he’d have no interest. ‘You can talk to him, but I guarantee you he’ll have no interest in coming to Kentucky.’ So then I sat down and I hit a hard sell on him, and that night his mom called me and his mom said, ‘You know, he’s been recruited for six months and you’re the first coach he’s asked me to call.’ So she called me and we had a good visit and we got the ball rolling and we were able to flip him from USC.”

On if UK knew before signing day 2013 that Hatcher was coming: “If I’m recruiting a kid, I try not to let you guys find out before signing day (laughing). But yeah, we knew before signing day.”

On if there was a hoorah from the staff: “Yeah, big hoorah. Yep, we were excited to get him, and he’s done well. Glad to have him.”

On takeaway from Charlotte: “I think the kids played hard. Sometimes in those games, when you’ve got a big rivalry the next week and it was bad weather, maybe they don’t come out fired up. But I think our kids came out fired up and took it seriously and played the right way and played physical, played assignment-sound, and for four quarters, so I was pleased to see that.”

On if any young guys who got more playing time vs. Charlotte stood out: “Josh Allen did some good things; he got a sack. He’s a freshman. There were some other guys; I just can’t think of them off the top of my head. A lot of them have been playing. Most of our freshman DBs already play. I’d name them, but they’ve already played a bunch.”

On facing a mobile QB and possibly multiple QBs: “I think that their quarterbacks are talented in different ways, so you have to be aware of that. You have to be aware of what their talents are and be able to defend that. So we are aware of the different style quarterbacks and are being prepared for that.”

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