Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops discusses loss to Southern Miss, looks ahead to Florida

MARK STOOPS

“OK, a lot like I said after the game, just felt like it was a very disappointing loss and we know that. But, there were a lot of good things in that film. We are a better football team offensively, we played very well. Defensively, it’s a game of third downs. You saw in the first half us convert some third downs and we had them off balance. When they drop-back pass, we had pressure, we got a sack, we had the ball on the ground twice. We had three interceptions, two fumbles, didn’t get the fumbles but had opportunities. Had them off balance, had good pressure, had good coverage, had interceptions, and in the second half it came down to third downs. They were getting aggravating yards — two, three yards, four yards, five yards. Too many. That we need to shore up. We cannot get milked in the run game and then we have to convert third downs. They won the one-on-ones in the second half, put us in some situations where we had to win some one-on-ones in third and medium and lost just about every one of those, whether it be by penalty or not covering. Then they hit us on the critical screen and we’re off balance. Again, it comes down to making plays and this is where the frustration does come in because again, there’s any number of plays, I could think of five plays, where we make any one of those and we win the game, and that’s what it comes down to. We have to make those plays. We put ourselves in position, we’re a better football team. Offensively we moved it at will in the first half. In the second half we didn’t have enough possessions and that comes by not getting off the field defensively and winning some third downs. It also comes with converting. What was nice to see was the first drive of the second half when the offense got the ball, moves it right down the field. Then we get the turnover. Drew makes that same play earlier and throws a touchdown pass, literally the same move. He just didn’t protect the ball quite as good the second go round and we didn’t pin the defensive end long enough. That’s a technique issue. Our tight end has to pin their defensive end longer to not give him the opportunity to rush. We had it open. The play was there, it was good for a big play, possible touchdown. Instead it’s a turnover.

“And then when you look at defensively, there’s no question we need to do better. Again, look at what we did in the first half, what we’re capable of — the big plays, the pressure, the interceptions, the whole deal. And then, but also, you get worn down. Don’t take this out of context because I always wanna score points, but if you look at our offense in the first half, we scored touchdowns with two-play drives so the defense is on the field, on the field, on the field. You start three-and-out, five play missed field goal, then it’s two-play touchdown, two-play touchdown, seven-play touchdown, then another three-and-out in there. We had 10 possessions of under three plays and so your defense is going to be on the field. And we just gotta find a way to respond. We got to do a better job of mixing our depth and getting some guys in there because that’s a lot of possessions and they did a really good job of keeping us off balance.

“Give them credit, they played exceptionally well just like I said after the game. And we gotta make some third-down plays and you can’t have the turnover. With the fumble in the second half and then the interception was really, that was the only play that really stood out to me that Drew had a bad play. That’s just not a good throw, not a good decision. That’s not how he will play. That’s not how he’s coached. And that was the only play he made a really bad decision and a bad choice and a bad throw. And that didn’t’ help our case at that point, either. That’s a bit of hitting the panic button right there and just throwing it up. We won’t do that. And so, you know, we feel the same way today as we felt after the game. It hurts just as bad, but I promise you, as I said all year, this is a good football team. They knew what to do. We’ve gotta execute. And the thing that we have to do, have to get coached is when things go wrong, we have to go back and execute. We talk about that constantly and I’ve got to look at all ways to get that relayed and taught and get us to execute that to the team. When things go wrong, we have guys that start rat trapping, doing some things that are inexcusable. And that’s gotta stop. That’s a losing mentality that we will not tolerate. And that’s gotta change because there are so many people doing so many good things and we cannot do that. Players have to make plays when things are going wrong. Again it’s just a simple play that jumps out at me, but the first possession of the second half on defense, the ball hits us directly in the chest. A gift for the fourth interception of the day and we get it in great field position going in. Instead, we drop it and they go down and score. Those are winning and losing plays — bottom line. There’s many of those and players know all the time no one play loses the game, but you never know what one play would. Because you never know what the difference is going to be and there’s a bunch of plays in there, there’s 10 plays in that game whether we don’t execute cause we’re rat trapping or we go back to a losing mentality. Whatever it is, that’s gotta change. That will be changed because the vast majority of this football team is much better. We’ve got 11 games and we’ll move forward.”

On how the team can change: “We show it to them, and we put it on them. Here’s the deal: Because there are so many guys doing so many good things, we’re beyond having to be delicate with these guys because they can handle more. They are tougher, but you’ve got to be honest with them. We’ve got to show it to them. Guys that are having a losing mentality or a losing play when the game’s on the line is unacceptable. You’re not going to win when that happens. We’ve either gotta change them -- sometimes after so many opportunities, they either can’t or won’t; they either can’t change or won’t change -- so we’ve got to continue to find guys that can get them. And you’re talking about just a few guys. Most of it has been very good and the effort is there.”

On Blake McClain missing from depth chart: “Yeah, he’s injured. We anticipate him back, but he won’t practice today.”

On the point in the game where he said, ‘What the hell is going on out there?’ “Well, at what point? You’re always questioning. I don’t know what kind of question that is. I don’t know if ever in my mind, I said ‘What the hell is going on.’ But I was not pleased, that’s for sure. And we came in at the halftime and as I mentioned after the game, we gave up the one big play and I addressed that immediately with the team that that’s one play, go back to doing what we’ve been doing and executing. When stuff goes haywire, you have to lean on your technique and your assignment and that we don’t always do. And again, that’s what I was talking about, pointing out to the guys on the entire team. I mean when you have an opportunity to do something, to make a play and you don’t, that’s just inexcusable. We’re playing at a high level of competition, we expect you to make those plays and if we’re going to go where we need to go, we’re going to need to do it. That’s not scape goating. That starts with me getting it taught on down to everybody, but there’s a lot of guys doing a lot of good things. There’s a lot of good coaching going on. There’s good things happening, we’ve just got to be more consistent and we can’t have those momentum shifts.”

On what happened on TD before half: “Missed, there was a missed assignment. One person tried to cover for another.”

On getting team refocused: “I don’t believe that will be difficult at all to get them back on point and get them focused on Florida. That won’t be difficult. I’m sure this team will come back, we’ll have a meeting today and we’ll show them all the things we did well, all the things we need to do better, and we’ll get going on the Gators, but I don’t think it will be hard to get them motivated and get them going.”

On putting too much pressure on this game to get an immediate response for what happened on Saturday: “I think when you’re looking at us, it’s the world we live in. I think you know that every game is very important to us. The first game was important to us. I don’t think we felt like we put any added pressure on that. I think we went out and executed and did the things we thought we were capable of, we’ve just gotta continue to do them. And when things go wrong, like I said, just hone in and be very precise when bad things happen. And until we do it, until somebody makes a big play when those games are on the line and flip it, then that’s the result. That’s what we have to get changed and we will get changed.”

On if this game is make or break: “I don’t every want to put a ‘make or break’ on one game because say we win it, it doesn’t mean anything. You know that. You all have written about that plenty, about starting good and not finishing. What good does that do? It’s a 12-game season.”

On losing mentality is something you an coach differently or is it about maturity issues: “I believe both. We have to point out the issues. Again, we’re beyond dealing with fragile mentalities. They’ll be called out and showed in front of everybody the plays that we had the opportunity to make so everybody keeps the confidence and knows that everything was in place to win the game. And then eventually the players will start making them and then we’ll get over the hump. That’s the last thing left to do in this program is finding that winning attitude, that winning culture and ways to win games instead of losing them.”

On the unknowns both good and bad from first game: “I don’t know if it was unknowns, but I think there were some guys on defense that did not play as well as they can. And we know we have some inexperience there and some limitations at places, but we can play better than we did.”

On if fatigue could be a factor for a 3:30 p.m. game in Gainesville: “I’m not sure. I mean we’re in good shape. Our defense, guys played 95 snaps. Some guys like, I think Matt Elam played don’t quote me exactly, but I want to say it was in the 70 or 80, but 70 or 80 plays, I don’t have it in front of me there. He played quite a few plays, more than I thought. So we need to do a better job of developing and bringing some guys along and getting that depth going. But we did have some guys play an awful lot of snaps. I believe Courtney Love played every snap, every defensive snap. We had some hydration issues that I think you see across the country. Some of these guys have very little body fat and they don’t keep very much water in their system. That’s an issue. That’ll be an issue as we go down there. But fatigue – depth is an issue, but I think our team is in good shape.”

On upsets around college football: “Yeah, you could see it. The parity and the balance across the country. The margin for error has gone down. There’s a lot of good teams, there’s great parity and anything can happen. And that’s why we’ve got to continue to fight and take care of our part. I understand that y’all may know that because you cover college football, but our fanbase doesn’t because they want us to turn the corner and that’s what – I get it and I want it, too. That’s what gets hard and it gets frustrating, but believe me, we can’t wait to get back to work today, get this game behind us and move forward on the Gators. It’s difficult the way the structure sets up because we have to give them a day off. I would’ve much rather buried this game yesterday and went on to the Gators because as a coaching staff we’re ready to but we do have to go back and address these issues today just because of the schedule, the way it sets up.”

On status of Josh Allen:We’ll see how the week goes on. I’m not sure. He’s injured. Whether it’s one day, two days, three days, I don’t know.”

On if there were any significant injuries on Saturday: ”Nothing I care to comment on at this time. Nothing that I feel like somebody’s definitely out. If somebody was out I’d tell you, but I don’t feel like that’s the case yet. Too early.”

On if he has reason to believe depth on defense will improve:Well, the depth is about bringing guys along to where you trust them to put them in a game. That game there was a lot on the line, as you know, and as the momentum got going against us, you sometimes are a little hesitant to put in some guys that haven’t had a lot of experience. So that, we have to get more confident in the guys that we have before them to develop that depth in game situations.”

On young players on defense trying too hard or nervous:I think it’s a combination of things. I think when the lights come on and things start happening, guys really do want to make plays and their heart’s right, but they have to rely on the things they were taught. Fundamentally when things go haywire, it’s not good. And then execution of run pressure in critical situations was unacceptable. We had some things called that would’ve been great, and we don’t execute ‘em. And the game’s on the line and instead of 2nd and 12 it’s 2nd and 4. It’s hard to manage it that way.”

On if he’s familiar with the Kicking Childhood Cancer program:Not that one in particular. As you know I work very close with the UK Children’s Hospital. I think you know that our heart’s in the right place and we’ve helped a lot of causes at this point. I’ve done an awful lot with what I can do, but I’ll be honest with you I’m 100 percent concentrated on the Florida Gators right now. But we’ll always game to do whatever we can. You know that.”

On what “rat trapping” is:How in the world would I describe that? Now I’m gonna give you a definition and it’s gonna be all screwed up. It’s a Jimbo-ism.”

On what “rat trapping” looks like on the field: ”Go back to bad habits. When pressure’s on the line you go back to bad habits.”

On what beating Florida would do for establishing winning culture at Kentucky:I think it would do a lot because it’s a big game. It’s a conference game, it’s a divisional game and it’s on the road. I think it would mean a great deal for us to respond, to bounce back and go get a victory.”

On if he thinks past close games with Florida can give players confidence this week:I do, I do. But you know I always say also every year is a new year and a new team. Last year’s game, win or lose, is behind you. But I definitely think our players will respond and play well. We have quite a few players on our team that are from Florida. I know they like going down there and playing. We know it’s a real challenge. I think we know we have to play very well or we will not have a shot. They deserve the respect that they get, but our players also know it’s about us and what we do and if we go execute and play the very best we can then we’ll have an opportunity, a great opportunity. And if we don’t, we’ll have no chance.”

On if Southern Miss did anything to neutralize tight end targets:You never can tell. It doesn’t help when the first play of the game we go to ‘em and they drop it. That doesn’t help the cause. It’s just, in this offense – and this has been preached the whole time – that you never can tell who’s gonna get the ball and when. Our receivers have seen that sometimes in scrimmages where they may not get a touch or as many as they can and then they go out in games and they get quite a few. Just like Garrett (Johnson). Garrett goes out and gets, what, six receptions, 143 yards and two TDs. That wasn’t the game plan. It just happened to go that way, with the calls and with the plays. I think you’ll see through the course of the year certain running backs have big games and certain receivers, including the tight ends.”

On play of Jordan Jones: ”Jordan Jones played exceptionally well. As you know, I go back to the first scrimmage and I was disappointed in assignments, and he kind of did that little rat trapping thing. Just got out there and wanted to run around instead of taking care of his business and then play. He only had two missed assignments, and he played – again, don’t quote me exactly. He played in the neighborhood of 80 snaps and he was all over the field. He made, what, 19 tackles, a sack and a QB hit. So he was running around and he showed the explosiveness and the speed that you’re looking for. That was good to see.”

On if the drop in size between first- and second-team defensive linemen hurts run defense: “It just depends on what we’re in and what we’re doing and how we’re executing. The only time I felt like we – I was disappointed in getting blocked and getting driven off the ball late in the game. Early in the game, it wasn’t about just being soft. It was about being more precise in what we’re doing. We need to escape and we need to look at different ways. Like I said, when we have certain pressures or different movements and we don’t execute them properly it’s tough, because you don’t always know what’s going on on the field. It just could be simple things.

“I don’t want to get too technical, but when two four-techniques are both pinching and one of them is supposed to be you’ve got a real problem. So, you don’t always see every little subtle nuance until you put on that film. Certain blitzes you know you’re not executing properly, but the movements and certain things – then you get away from it and it would have been good. So, those are the execution things that we have to iron out.”

On what looks different about Florida on tape: “They are different. The first thing you see with the new quarterback (Luke Del Rio) and what they’re doing: They’re getting rid of the ball quick. They were throwing it around pretty good, and he looked very efficient. He was very smart with the football. They have some weapons. They’re a good football team.”

On how many different positions Kobie Walker played against Southern Miss: “He played one position. He just was asked to do a lot. That we have to look at too.”

On how much of the “rat trapping” or getting away from fundamentals is about inexperience: “It does, but it’s not an excuse. Nobody wants to hear that anymore. Neither do I.”

On special teams against Southern Miss and what went wrong on block punt: “I thought our special teams were exceptional outside of – the real critical one obviously is the blocked punt. Luckily it just got tipped and we got some roll out of that. But the things we look at – you look at hidden yardage, we won in a big way on special teams. So, our coverage units were outstanding. We need to punt the ball better. So, there was really one issue that you have to watch, and that’s a simple adjustment of being more firm with the guy inside on the one that got tipped. Outside of that, I thought they were exceptional really.

“Our cover units were as good as they’ve been. When you look at our kickoff return vs. the kickoff and vice versa, you look at the hidden yardage on that, we had big returns and a chance for big ones. We’ve got to clean up some things because we missed a couple opportunities to hit some big ones in our kickoff return, and I felt that going into the game. I felt that we’d have a good chance to really hit some possible home runs there. We had some really good returns and really good starting field position. But we just need to clean some things up and we’ll get some more out of that. And our kickoff coverage unit was outstanding. Again, I’ve told you this for two years – and I understand it when you talk about special teams – when you get a good kick our guys are humping it down there. They were busting it down the field, and we got really good kicks out of Austin. And our coverage unit were really hustling and flying down there and playing physical. We had some great kickoff covers.

“Can punt the ball a little bit better. We’ll be better. And if you look at the other side of that, we had one opportunity for a (punt) return and we had some really good things. We got beat outside by one guy, made us fair catch it. The other two were really non-returnable. They made great punts. So, we got a chance on the punt return too. We had some guys really fundamentally doing some really good things inside and got it all blocked up. We’ve got to get the outside secured, so we can get started. So, I was really pleased.”

On pass interference calls: “I thought the one on Chris (Westry), he needs to finish better and he needs to be locked in. We had great pressure. It wasn’t tipped. If it was tipped it wouldn’t have been a pass interference. But he got pushed into so the ball was flopping around, and that’s tough on a guy because it’s greatly underthrown. So, when you’re in press that’s what you’re giving up. Of course, if we’re off then we’re going to be soft all day. That’s what you’ve got to play.

“And the one with J.D. (Harmon), that was a silly mistake by him because he had him covered. He gave him a little extra, he gave him an extra shove that he didn’t have to because he had it covered perfectly. Two other times you saw him play it exceptionally well, some very similar play, but that was critical because it was a third down, if I’m not mistaken, that penalty there.”

On Harmon’s performance overall with the highlight reel interceptions: “The two highlight-reel were very good. We knew in the third-and-medium when they isolated the guy on the backside we had to win. He and Chris both got beat on critical third downs on the slants. Fundamentally we need to clean that up and play a little better, but as I always say if you’re playing that position you’re going to win some and they’re going to win some. I was pleased to see J.D. win some of those. He had some good covers, he had a tip and he had the two big picks. So, certainly you’ve got to applaud what he did and how he played. Our other two corners didn’t play very well, in my eyes. I think we were capable of much more and we expect much more.”

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