Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops’ message to fans, on getting players to believe, play with passion

Mark Stoops is not happy

At his Monday press conference after Saturday's 45-7 loss at Florida, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops admitted this is has been a tough stretch.
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At his Monday press conference after Saturday's 45-7 loss at Florida, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops admitted this is has been a tough stretch.

MARK STOOPS

“Very disappointed with the way we played. No getting around that. I thought we’d moved past that. It’s not acceptable. We need to play better and we will. It starts with simplifying some things and getting our guys to play with that passion and energy that we need to play with. I’m very disappointed, but we’ll get back to work here today.”

On message to fans: “I think, again, we’ve showed that we can play some good football. We know it. We’ve already been down that road that it’s not acceptable to not play four quarters, but our team will play with that passion and that energy that our fan base wants to see. We will do that. I promise you that this team has some character. We will get back at it today. We fundamentally need to go back and get better. We can’t beat anybody until we stop beating ourselves. Those are things we will get cleaned up today. First thing that’s important is just fundamentally play better football. I think we’ve got to simplify things on both sides of the ball to make sure we can execute it and we need to play with that passion and energy that our fans want to see. We saw that. We need to be able to do it for 60 minutes and we will do that. We played very good football the last time we were here for a half and we’re going to do that for 60 minutes. That I guarantee: That this team will play hard and will play fundamental football. I believe in these players and I hope the fans do as well. It’s a long season and we will get better in certain phases. There’s no doubt about that.”

On simplification and what that looks like: “It will obviously change the game plan. It will be simplified. And with that, you don’t want players — a couple, the several breakdowns that we’ve had this year in the secondary — were unacceptable. And you can’t have that. You can’t give up some things that we’re doing. It’s just. You can’t have guys that are unsure that aren’t playing on the edge. That’s where it’s not OK. That’s where our fans, I’m sure, have some frustration and I do, too. I’ve said our players mean well and they’ve worked hard. None of that is a lie. You saw that for a half. We lost our focus and concentration in the second half of the first game. Second game, I could talk about till we’re blue in the face about handling adversity and responding and we didn’t for whatever reason. That we will get fixed and I think what it looks like is it starts with today with us going out and practicing and going back and fundamentally working and getting our football IQ higher. We need to have a higher football IQ. Nobody cares, I don’t even want to talk about -- you’ve got guys, you’ve got to be able to put them in position. We have who we have and we have some inexperience and we’ve got to get them to play better, especially on the defensive end. Offensively, you throw a freshman in the mix at left tackle and it kind of mucks things up a little bit, too. But it’s our job to put them in position to be successful and that’s where we get back and change things up and go to work and fundamentally get better and get our football IQ up better, and again, you can’t beat anybody until you stop beating yourself and that’s a big message for us today and the way we go about practice.”

On Jordan Jones’ comments after game about players maybe quitting when things get hard: “I don’t know exactly what his intent was, but Jordan backs it up. I wouldn’t use the word ‘quit.’ I’d like to say I’d rather have guys respond the way he does. I think that’s a beautiful quote for you guys, but I don’t think he means it that way. I think he means it that we need to respond. Coaches talk about it all the time: You get hit in the jaw on the first play of the game and we talk about that all the time. And I don’t think we respond the way that he responds. So I’m good with him. He wants to back it up, he wants to go play like that, but again, that’s the — I don’t think he meant any harm. We need to play with that passion and energy that you all want to see, that our fans want to see, that we expect.”

On being past the players lacking belief and if that’s a big problem now: “I certainly don’t think there’s any doubt that we didn’t have a lot of faith last week because once you get hit on the first play of the game, it didn’t appear to me that we had a lot of belief and that is disappointing. We’ve got to change it. Until it changes on the field, then you and I can talk about it, write about it, but until it changes, that’s when it will change out there. Until we demonstrate that we can handle a punch and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and win the game. We’ll do that. We will. I’m not sure when, but hopefully it will start this week and we’ll break that door down and we’ll move forward.”

On any other positives beside Jones: “I thought Kyle Meadows really improved from the first game to the second game as far as when things were going bad. We worked hard with him about focusing and doing his job and he had maybe one missed assignment that led to the big hit on the first play of the game but then he really came back and played a heck of a game and really fought the rest of the way, which was good to see for him. He played one of his better games against some very talented guys. And defensively, Jordan was again, nobody else played exceptionally well. I’m not very pleased. We’re not playing very good in the secondary, can’t give up big plays like we’ve been giving up.”

On how they can get players to believe: “It’s demonstrated performance, and we’ll do that. We’ll play. We’ve showed that we can do that. Again, listen it’s not okay to play a quarter good, a series good, we all know. Before you right anything that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I realize that you have to play a 60-minute game. My point is that our players know that they can play. Until we do it and play for a full game and play and win and beat a quality opponent, that’s when we’ll move forward as a program. And they can and they will. We need to move past taking a beating like we did, but Florida’s been doing good things for a long time. They have players and athletes, guys that I’m quite familiar with. So, you know, as we… we get better and better, and we’ll do that. You ask me a question and that’s how we do it. When we demonstrate we can do it. When we make that play with the game on the line. When we make that play, when we make that stop, when we make that interception that hits us between the numbers, then that’s when.”

On Landon Young: “He did some good things. He showed the talent that we knew he had for a young guy. Obviously getting thrown into the mix at left tackle in The Swamp when you’re getting beat is not exactly how you want to break somebody in but he really showed who he is and the player that he’s going to be. He showed flashes of some real talent. It comes with some experience and strength, but he showed some good things.”

On if he expects Cole Mosier or George to be back: “I feel pretty confident that George will be back. Unsure about Cole at this point.”

On what he got out of the four-man front: “We actually got some mileage out of the four down front in their 11 personnel sets, in their one-back sets as I mentioned after the game. There’s things we can do better there. We were getting cut off with some cracks and some crack replaces — fundamentals. Fundamentally we need to do some things better. That’s what does get frustrating. You’ve been down that road before with a different guy, a different player, you know I’ve talked to players constantly about getting mental reps. It’s just semantics about who it is at a different time. Whether it’s a deep middle player or a corner on the screen and go, or a crack replace. Just fundamental football. That’s what gets frustrating and that’s what we have to get better at. We did some good things, let our players play on the edge a little more. Defensive line wise we secured some run plays that hurt us the week before out of 11 personnel and had some answers for that. Did not play very well in the run game against 12 personnel, in the big sets like I mentioned after the game. And those aggravating yards, we need to harden up and get more firm in the run game there. I have some better answers. And then you’re always worried about that. That’s where they get their timing. That’s one-on-one football to a DB coach. After they do that they max it up and hit it downfield. That’s exactly what they did to us and that’s the second roundhouse right to our chin there, with the deep ball. That was deflating to us. That’s where, you know, again, you have to face adversity better than we did.”

On what he saw from Drew: “I saw Drew, uh, I was surprised he didn’t respond much better. He did get hit on the first play, and, you know, he can play better and will. He knows that. Need to play better around him, give him some protection, get open — it’s everybody. But he can take his part as well.”

On if they have to rebuild Drew’s confidence: “No, no. He’s a resilient guy. It goes with the territory. He’s got to go out there and play.”

On what from New Mexico State catches his attention: “Well, they got some guys that can get down the field and they’ve got a running quarterback. That’s always, anytime they have the dimension where they’ve got the cue run game, you know those are aggravating yards at times because again you’re accounting for 12 guys essentially, if the quarterback runs. That’s what grabs my attention initially.”

On stopping New Mexico State’s quarterback run game: “We’ve gotta have a good plan to, you know, have two on the quarterback run when you need to. There’s ways you can do that. With doing that and don’t beat yourself up, you’ve got to cover guys. So anytime they have that dimension, you have to be able to hold up in your coverage when they’re adding another guy to their quarterback run game. Again, like we mentioned, you have to schematically have that in your plan. When you don’t always have two on the quarterback you have to fundamentally play the right way, so it puts some pressure on.”

On putting Snell back for kickoffs and if King is hurt: “No we just wanted to try Benny in there. I’m sure Sihiem will get another chance as well but we wanted to see Benny run it.”

On what Benny has shown to climb the depth chart: “He’s been doing that all through camp. He’s just been steady and strong and consistent. We’ll see where it goes. As you know, there’s probably three, four, five guys there that need to get some touches. We need to posses the ball longer and get some more plays.”

On working younger cornerbacks in, specifically Jordan Griffin and Davonte Robinson: “I plan on working Jordan in there more. Davonte, we’d like to redshirt if we could. He’s preparing to play if need me, but Jordan I need to get more reps, yes.”

On how staff approaches this week after big loss: “The routine stays the same. We get in Sunday morning and grade the film. Everybody watches it on the plane. Everybody has their portable computer and watches it on the plane once and then comes in Sunday morning and grades it. And then I watch all sides and then meet with the coaches and we discuss the game and what we did well and what we did wrong, things we need to change. Then we go back to work, generally, on the next opponent. Obviously make our corrections and get ready to make the corrections with our team on Monday. But we had to spend some extra time analyzing ourselves. That’s for sure. So yes, yesterday was different in that you had to go through the film several times and go through the first two games to make sure we’re doing things – that we’re putting our players in a position to be successful. Again, you see when we execute and we do things right, we have a chance. When we don’t, there’s very little. That goes back to fundamentally playing the game the right way, having a football IQ that’s higher. That’s what we’re concentrating on ourselves today. Today’s routine is different in that way from all the things I’ve already mentioned.”

On if he has to balance trying new things vs. sticking to what they are doing:“Yeah, I think there’s a little of both. You always have to stay the course. You can’t have knee jerk reactions, but you’d be a fool to not say that you have to look at things. Some things gotta change, some things gotta get better and that’s our job as a coach, and that’s my job and I understand that. So you have to stick to the things that you know will help you win and stay the course there and stay steady with the things I know through the course of my career that will help you win, but you also have to adjust and do the things that put your players in a position to execute what you’re asking to do.”

On what they can do to eliminate points off turnovers: “We know we cannot do that. We can’t handle it. We’re not built that way. When we’ve played poor football, when the defense can’t get off the field and (offense is) creating turnovers, that’s a bad recipe. We’ve got to protect the football and be smart with what we’re doing.”

On if anything stuck out about UK allowing Florida to convert on third-and-longs: “Well, two weeks in a row, it’s always the game — watch it, watch pro games. Caught a little bit of the game late last night. Third downs are a bear for a lot of people. They catch you with a screen, they get you off balance. You bring the pressure, they hit you with a screen. They did it to us again Saturday. They picked off our player that we had — we had two guys on the screen and they blocked ‘em both and then squirted out on us, and then you play coverage and they make a good catch. There’s a lot of things. It’s about trying to get the other group off balance. And it does get frustrating, defensively, when you’re doing those things. So you heat ‘em up one time, maybe you get ‘em, maybe you get a screen popped on you, maybe they throw one over your head. And then you have to have some guys win some one-on-ones, and that’s what you’ve heard me talk about for years. That’s what my DBs over the years that I’ve coached have heard me say and these guys here have heard me say. There’s no getting around it. You better man up and win some one-on-ones. You’re not gonna win ‘em all. You play very good players and they’re gonna win some, but we have to get our share, and right now we’re not getting our share.”

On how he is doing personally: “I’m great. I’m great. (Laughter) No, I’m not happy. How can you be? This is not a job. This is my life. But I can promise you we’re gonna get back to work. I can’t wait to get back on that field today. That’s for sure.”

On if he can’t wait to get away from the press: ”You said that. (Laughter) No, it’s never fun for coaches that way, but the thing about it is, no matter what, no matter where you’re at, it’s always the same. It’s just different. It’s the same. You think being a defensive coordinator at Florida State’s easy? Got some different cats here and there, but it’s not easy.”

On if he particularly disappointed in secondary because of his offseason compliments:I am. I am disappointed. But that’s that fine line. You try to talk nice about it but they listened to it. And if you don’t do the work, it isn’t worth anything. They’re good kids, they mean well, they just don’t understand yet, and they’re sophomores. And I’ll be in their meeting today. Their football IQ’s gonna go up.” (Laughter)

On if secondary is trying to do to much to make up for run game issues:I think that’s always part of it when things go wrong in general. Not just for them but for others. They want to do their part, and then that leads to real bad problems. That was part of it in Game 1, and we show that to ‘em on film. You get those things corrected and then there’s other issues that pop up. It’s all part of it.”

On status of Kobie Walker this week:He was suspended last week, so we’ll see. To be honest with you, not ready to make a decision on that just yet.”

On Jordan Bonner being on depth chart and if he anticipates him playing:He is coming along. He’s getting better, working his way into it. We won an appeal on him, so he wasn’t cleared to play until right before Game 1. So he’s working his way into it now.”

On if that was an appeal to the NCAA: ”Yeah.”

On interception on screen pass and if offense telegraphed it: “Yeah, I mean, a lot of people do that. So anytime you got three guys into the boundary right there, just about everybody that we play — and we do it — will run that screen. So he knew that was coming, but it was by our execution. We have got to go block him. Still not a great call with the way they rolled up into it because we have to get two, and their backer came over the top, but if we get ‘em all blocked we’ll at least get three, four, five yards without making anybody missed, but we got to get ‘em blocked. Not the best call with the way they rolled over the top of it, because, again, they had two guys knifing it. We got one and missed one. I wish he would’ve handed it off. At that point we had — could have handed it, as well.”

On Boom Williams being a bright spot for offense at Florida and if he can handle more carries: “Well, even if you look at Saturday it doesn’t look like we really did anything good, but when you look at certain plays and you’re just breaking it down when we were spread out and handed Boom the ball we were getting some decent yards there. Then what would happen would be a negative-yardage play. Some movement up front and a certain play here or there put us back behind the chains, and then not getting some third downs. But, just running the ball, I thought our o-line did a good job and Boom ran the ball pretty well at times. Again, we just can’t — you can’t do it once or twice and then the next first down you get a d-line movement and you get minus-two. Now all the sudden you’re second-and-12 and in a world of hurt instead of second-and-five like we did on a few of them.

“So, you know, you could always second guess yourself. We were moving it, running the ball at times and then we tried a double-move and it got intercepted by an unbelievable play and an All-American. Those are the chances that we take. In hindsight you’d say, ‘Man, why don’t you just stick with it and keep on grinding it out there a little bit?’ We were moving it, got a couple first downs, were running the ball pretty efficiently, tried a double-move and a guy makes an unbelievable play. So, that crushes you in a game like that.”

On what they can do to get the offense more success early against New Mexico State: “I think, again, you go back to the things that I talked about at the beginning of the press conference: We’ve got to worry about us. We got to fundamentally get better and play the game the way it’s supposed to be play. I don’t care who’s doing what, if you don’t fundamentally play the game the right way and stop beating yourself you’re not going to beat anybody. So, I think it starts there and with us executing, us blocking, us running the right routes, us getting open, us catching the ball and just being efficient like we showed we can do.”

On the evaluation of Stephen Johnson on film: “Yeah, some good things and some bad things, obviously. Again, put him in a tough situation right there at their place with an awful lot of pressure put on him. So, we’ll expand on the things that he can do. He can throw it and will throw it, and he’ll get better.”

On if he agrees with the adage, ‘If you can’t stop the run or at least hold your own against the run you can’t stop anything’: “I don’t think there’s any question that we have to be stronger against the run. We have to be. Yeah, I agree with that. We need to get that fixed, and we need to look at some things, what we’re doing, making sure we can execute. I anticipate we will get better at that. Yeah – you all can sit there if you want and, ‘If you want to stop the run just load everybody up in there.’ Then they throw one over the top and you can blame just one guy. (Laughs). They run it all over you, then you’ve got a lot of problems.”

On how much of the troubles with fundamentals are about inexperience: “It is. Yeah, but again – yeah it’s really difficult. But you don’t care and neither do our fans. I get it. We’ve got to put them in a position that they can do it, but that’s where it’s not all lost, where it’s all gone. We will get better, and these guys do need experience. They’re seeing things for the first time, and it stinks. I’d like to use another word, but I better not.”

On if he has consulted with any mentors: “I do. I do. I do. Actually visited with a friend last night. That’s where he gave me some ideas about today. I talked with some guys. Talked with Beilema – Brett. Brett and I talked for a while. He gave me a couple ideas. I try to visit with guys, yeah.”

On how much team just needs to see something positive happen Saturday: “Yeah. Demonstrated performance. We just need to go play. We know that was a tough situation on Saturday. Not good. Our fans don’t like seeing that. We don’t like seeing that. It has to change. We have to respond better. We can play better than that. We have shown that we can play some good football. We know it’s not OK to not play for 60 minutes, and a lot of that is execution. I think you learn from that, you learn from that first game, the excitement. I talked to the players about that. I mean, we were so jacked up to play that first game we’re jacked up two hours before the game and we go play an unbelievable first half. Well, guess what? You got to play a second. And that’s new. Just all of it that you have to deal with.

“You’ve got another opportunity, so how do you handle your pregame routine? How do you handle the fact that you’ve got to have that same emotion for 60 minutes? That’s what our fans expect and that’s what I expect and our coaches expect. That’s where we’ve got to continue to build depth and continue to have a scheme simple enough to where you can play more people and that they can go in and execute what you’re asking them to do and bring some guys along. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get back to work.

“This game is going to be behind us. That’s the bad thing, as I talked about a week ago: That I have to wait until Monday to address it with the team and you guys. Wish we could do it on Sundays. I thought about going on Sundays with the team, but I just felt like you got more practice in on Monday than a Sunday. Some people practice on Sunday and get them off on Monday, but anyway, that’s the way we’re doing it so it has to wait until today to clear the air and move on. But we’re going to get back out there today, change up our routine as far as what we do on a Monday and we’re going to fundamentally get better. Our football IQ is going to get better, and we’re going to play with passion and energy.”

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