Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops discusses South Carolina, Kentucky learning from weekend win

“It’s good to get that victory. It’s not exactly how we had it drawn up, but any victory is a good victory. There’s a lot of very good things we did in special teams and on offense, and defensively there was a lot of things that are fixable and there’s some that are work in progress. We’ll continue to work. We’ll approach this Monday much like we did a week ago and fundamentally go out there and work to get better. We have some young inexperienced players that we’ve got to continue to push, that need to grow up in a hurry. Looking forward to having the opportunity to get to .500 this week at home versus South Carolina, so big game for both of us and looking forward to the challenge.”

On the latest on injured quarterback Drew Barker:Yeah, we’ll see how the week goes on. I’m in no position to talk about that right now. He had an MRI. He’s gonna consult with our doctors and some specialists and we’ll get to the bottom of it and see what’s best for him.”

On if it is a back injury for Barker:It’s his back.”

On if it was caused by a hit:Yeah, but he’s had some issues that were lingering, so it’s not just one hit. So if you look at the hit it doesn’t look anything too much, but I think you put that and compound it on some of the back problems that he’s had, even going back to last week at Florida.”

On if Barker has had back problems previously:No – he had a few issues come up in the summer, a couple things were bothering him. Some of this is chronic.”

On if Stephen Johnson II will play Saturday regardless of Barker’s availability:I would assume so. Yeah.”

On what he liked about Johnson’s performance against New Mexico State:I thought he was really exceptional. He started a little shaky the first possession. After that first possession he really settled in and played an exceptional game, really. He made good decisions. He was very poised. He was accurate on the deep ball. He got the ball on the bubble screens, where we have the run-pass options on the bubble screens and the RPOs where we get the ball down the field to C.J. (Conrad). He made very good decisions and was very poised and he was accurate.”

On how much Johnson’s threat to run helps:There’s no question. There’s no doubt it helps. Even if it’s just somebody on the backside just lingering around a little more, then you can get a few more yards sometimes instead of the overlappers all the time. It definitely helps.”

On Dorian Baker’s hamstring injury and if he’s worried that will linger:Anytime you get a hamstring it’s aggravating, period. It’s aggravating to me, it’s aggravating to the player. It’s just a situation where it’s hard to predict, hamstrings.”

On how Landon Young played against NMSU:He really did good. He did some good things. He’s getting better. It’s really nice to see a young player get better at some areas where he’s weak in just a week. From one game to the next, see him make that kind of improvement. We know the level of competition will go up for him, but he’s certainly – again, just like I mentioned a week ago, it’s very evident to see the talent that he has. He’s a smart kid and he works at it, so he’s getting better.”

On if Cole Mosier is back:Cole is getting back this week. We’ll see. I have no idea, but they say he’ll be out there today. So hopefully he’ll be out there and continue to work and we’ll see how he is. I won’t make any decision or anything until we see how the week goes. I’m sure Landon will play no matter what, but Cole, we’ll see what his ankle’s like.”

On what he saw from tight ends:Well it was really good to see – it was good to see us make the routine plays that we talked about. It was nice to see C.J. make one or two difficult catches, and he really ran the ball nice after he caught the ball, which is the best – you put it all together and it’s the best he’s played with blocking as well. He can’t put the ball on the ground with the one fumble that he had, but he really did some good things.”

On if Barker is available if there is a decision to make about who starts game at QB:Drew’s listed as the starter on the depth chart for a reason.”

On if Kengera Daniel is still with the team:Yes. He’ll be available to play after this week.”

On if Daniel was suspended:Yes.”

On if it’s difficult to manage who starting quarterback is after Saturday:It can be, but we will see how it goes. I’ll see how healthy (Barker) is. It’s hard to talk about hypotheticals right now. I have no idea how healthy Drew’s gonna be and what he’s gonna look like this week. I was just asked if I anticipate Stephen playing and the answer is yes, I do. To what extent, I don’t know.”

On what defensive changes Kentucky made in the second half:We did make some adjustments. There was a few things. We’ve got to play better defensively. Some of it is fixable, relatively easy to fix, and some of it is gonna be a work in progress. But Coach (D.J.) Eliot made some good suggestions from the press box, watching it from the press box, some suggestions at halftime and some adjustments that really were helpful, and really we should have played better than we did. That’s what kind of gets you really pissed, because the first play of the second half should have went for minus-one or minus-two, and it runs it on us. It gets you all out of kilter. We’ve got to play better and we’ve got to coach better and the whole deal. But we did make some good adjustments at halftime and guys just settled in and started playing better. And the game went the way it was. Again, make no mistake. We all know that’s not acceptable defense. Not under my watch. I know what good defense looks like and we’ll work hard to get it fixed. But it’s also not good to get — when you’re not playing good defense you certainly can’t go out there every —with turnovers and fumbled punts and bad situations. Like I said right after the game, you call a very aggressive call that really would’ve been fine but our corner comes off of it with bad eyes, and those are the things that you’ve got to get fixed that are relatively easy. I mean, cover your guy. Some things can be fixed, but it’s not good to get completely out of kilter when you’re struggling, and it’s not good to have one-play turnovers, one-play punt fumbles, one-play touchdowns. It’s all that. We just got to settle in, let the guys settle in and play a little bit.”

On who are young guys on defense that make him believe defense can improve: “I think T.J. Carter is a guy that we have to bring along at defensive line, that has to play. Adrian Middleton is doing some good things inside. He’s playing better. Tymere Dubose is a big body that we have to get to play more consistently, to play better, to rest guys like Courtney Miggins. We have to get some more depth in there. Our ends are getting some good pressure. We’re not doing good with the inside guys. Y’all can see it, I’m by no means labeling you experts no matter what you say or write. Half the time you don’t know what for what, you know what I’m saying? But y’all can see when you’re getting good pressure and, when you rush four you’ve got to get good pressure and you certainly can’t let them run around back there all day and then find an open guy. And then when you pressure, you gotta get to them, you got to cover them and then you’ve got to watch the screens. There’s always issues, and so, when our ends are getting pressure, we’ve got to do a better job containing them from inside guys.”

On Matt Elam: “His development, he can do some good things when we’re in the odd front and they’re in big sets. So when he’s a zero nose and they’re in big sets. You know, so when we’re playing people, and they do play some 12 this week. They’ll be in a lot of 12 personnel so they’ll be in some big sets. So when we move forward in this league, he’s good at that. When you’re asking him to do some other things in spread games and all that, it’s harder for him. And he’s not rushing the passer very good, but again, that’s not his strength.”

On Naquez Pringle at that spot: “Uh, a little more active. A little more activity.”

On seeing progress from Ryan Timmons: “I did. It was a really nice play he made. He made several nice plays, made some good blocks. He’s being unselfish and he’s just coming along and running the offense. Just like you’d hope. Just get out there and play. As we mentioned, you know the first couple games, as we get more plays you see more guys getting the ball, you see the offense moving, you see the ball spread around — guys running it and catching it. You see C.J., Timmons and all those guys. So, you never know who’s going to have the big day, but you see the ball spread around more.”

On what he sees from South Carolina when they use McIlwain: “To me, I think that’s where they settled in right there. You can see they can build around that and what they’re gonna do. The different problems that he can present with running the ball that we always talk about when you play those guys who can run the ball. So, I see them building around that. Of course when you add numbers, then they get shots. I can tell they’re getting a little confidence in what they’re doing and their continuity offensively and settled in with him and some of the problems he presents, some of his strengths. I think they’re going to get nothing but better offensively.”

On how South Carolina looks different with a new staff: “They’re different in certain ways. You see what they’re doing defensively is the same with what Will’s always done. It’s just less right now. He just looks like he builds more each week but you see the core of what they are defensively. And offensively, I think they’re changed but much of what you saw last week, and then I think they’ll build off of that.”

On how much of an issue turnovers have been: “It’s an issue. Anytime you’re not playing the best defense, you definitely don’t want to be put in bad situations. When you score that many points you’ll take it, but you know and I know we’re not always gonna do that. We’d like to protect the football.”

On when he saw Benny Snell doing things that were elevating him: “Yeah we mentioned it, you probably heard me mention it all the way back to when I talk about young guys that are impressing. He impressed us right from the start. Much like he did, very consistent, physical, disciplined and all the things you’re looking for. He’s very good in pass protections, he’s good with vision and he runs the ball hard. We needed that.”

On how that’s how he envisioned the offense looking when Gran was hired. Mixing the run and the pass: “It is. You heard me talk about it. Really, Southern Miss we were consistent the whole game. The second half was weird. We got it and drove it right down and fumbled. And then we had the two possessions in there where the blitz is going to happen and then the bad pass that we talked about. Really, that whole game, we were pretty good. We need to do things better, we know that, but we were certainly moving the ball. Florida was just, you know, that’s not what I envisioned. No. Not on any side. Yes, this is what I envisioned. We know there will be much more difficult competition, but I certainly have a lot of confidence in what Eddie, Coach Hinshaw and the whole offensive staff do. But also, we have guys who have played a lot of football. And that’s where, you know, we should. We have guys that have been around a long time now. These same guys that we’re mentioning have played three years. Then you can sprinkle in, when you have that kind of experience, you can sprinkle in a Benny, a Landon. Because there’s a bunch of good players with a lot of experience around them. That’s the nice thing. You see the, we talked about it, the depth at wide receiver and, you know, how well they’ve been practicing, playing, maturing. The same way with the offensive line. Those guys have been playing a lot time, particularly inside. And with Kyle.”

On Boom Williams having more capacity: “He has. You can see with his endurance. He didn’t wanna come out, he wanted to keep on running, keep running the ball and that’s what you wanna see. Yes, I think his capacity’s gone up. I think also it’s nice to see him face some adversity. He puts the ball on the ground, he’s hard on himself. He bounced right back, we took him out a play, and I think we put him right back in. He took an injury. Sometimes, when you get hit, it happens to defensive players a lot, you get these stingers. Or you get hit in the neck and think, you know, it’s very painful and you’re not sure. You know, you’ve never had one before. You don’t know what the heck happened to you because you feel like you broke your neck. Sometimes the numbness goes away and you get your strength back and play. Of course that’s up to the doctors. But anyway, the point being, once he got hurt and was under a lot of pain, he wanted to get right back in there, and that’s maturity and growth. We’re never gonna play a guy that’s hurt, excuse me, we’re never gonna play a guy that’s injured. In football you better play when you’re hurting. You’re always going to be hurting.”

On special teams guys who have stood out: “It’s nice just to see athletes, more guys and more bodies, cause that’s what’s helped us on special teams. And again, kicks. Kick the ball up and we cover well. That’s been the case the past couple years, not always perfect, but those guys are running and working. We’re kicking the ball better. We need to be more consistent with our punts but we will be. Think Grant’s got a lot of talent and upside.”

On special teams guys who could potentially play defense: “Yeah, there are. A lot of those guys are playing right now. A lot are guys that are in the mix.”

On the punt return fumbled and touchdown: “On the fumble, Jordan Griffin’s gotta do a better job of getting out of his way. He distracted him a little bit and on the return, we were really in the safe concept because the last thing we wanted to do there was let them fake a punt, so we were in punt return, but with a safe call, so you’re discouraging a fake punt with getting some hold up. It’s really not designed to spring for a touchdown. It’s designed to get the ball back, but there were some guys -- of course you take that on top if it that after the ball’s punted you get to your guys and strain and use all the techniques we’re talking about and you saw that. We’ve been stressing that and working that and as you get more depth and your team is more conscientious to the details. They’re buying into that. Again, we talked about it. I talked about it after the game that I thought we were close on kickoff return, and we had a shot. I’m not going to sell out the returner who missed it, but one of our returners missed one on a kickoff return that if he really does, stays up in there where we’re reading it, then it has a great chance to go to the house. We’ll continue to work on that and get one of those. But the guys are straining and working hard and using the techniques that they need on the punt return.”

On if you have to tailor two different offenses because Johnson and Barker are different quarterbacks with different skill sets: “You’re talking about for us facing them? (exchange for clarity) It won’t be difficult because offensively they’re going to pull and feature what they want to feature. They have a lot of offense (No, you guys, your offense). Yeah, I’m talking about that. You’re right, I should say “our.” Eddie and Darin, we have a lot of offense we can pull from. What we’re going to feature each week depends on what you’re going to see and where we go and how much we can handle week to week. We talked about it last week as a team, being relatively simple on both sides of the ball to be able to execute better. And you know, you could see why defensively now I have such little hair, you know what I mean, that we are going to try and find all avenues to stop people. Some of it is fixable. Some of it is football IQ, gonna get higher and smarter and some of it is technique and some of it, that technique comes with personnel and in experience. Either way, saying all of that, we know it’s not acceptable and we’ve got to get better and we will. That’s all you can do is go back to work. Offensively, it won’t be much different, no. Either guy can do much. Obviously with Drew having a back issue, I don’t think we’ll put a lot of QB run game in there if he was in there.”

On Johnson protecting his body on some of those QB runs: “I was a little concerned about that myself after Drew went down. So late during the game, I may have hit a point like, ‘He does not have the option any more to run the ball. That is it.’ So because some of it is reads. You’re just reading things and I wanted the reads off and then we can get the bigger sets and different sets where there isn’t that option. So that’s what -- anyway -- it’s concerning because obviously with Drew being banged up and wherever he’s at with our depth, we’ve got to be careful with him and be smart. And I don’t know what happened yet, but certainly when he got ripped down from behind, it looked like he broke his leg and I didn’t like seeing that. I’m sure it was a legal play, though. I don’t even have to send it in.”

On if he tells Gran no more Johnson run or Johnson himself: “I told Eddie to put — if we’re in a certain personnel running certain plays — it’s a read, so it’s built into the offense. So at that point, I don’t care if we have to call a timeout or get a tight end in the game, we had to get the read off. So yes, I told Eddie and once Stephen got to the sideline and we did have time in between possessions, I told Stephen no more pulls. And I didn’t want any more bubbles at that time either because he’s reading the bubble screen. I didn’t want one of those picked off either. Run the ball.”

On fine line there of wanting Johnson to run but not too much because of injury concerns: “Yes, it is. It is. But we have to play it. We have to win, we have to play. We have to do whatever gives us the best opportunity to win football games. … Ever heard the saying scared money never wins? So same thing here.”

On who No. 3 quarterback and clarification on Cincinnati transfer Luke Wright being eligible: “I was wrong on that. He’s a one-time transfer, so he was allowed to play right now. Luke is our third-team guy right now. He got us out of that game and played in that game if you noticed at the end. And we’ll see whether it will be Luke or Gunnar. We’ll get Gunnar some reps this week as well.”

On if he feels good about team now or did he ever not stop feeling good: “I always felt good about the team, but obviously you’re concerned that your team has to go play what they’re capable of and we still haven’t done that. We’ve done it at times and again, the good news is defensively is as porous if you just look at numbers are, and there is some play in there that is absolutely not OK and will get me upset obviously and a lot of things we’ve got to get straight. There were, finally, there were six three-and-outs I want to say. Six or seven three-and-outs, which you know, we haven’t been getting stops. We could get ahead because we finally got some stops. And part of that again -- make no excuse -- you can’t have a one-possession interception, fumble a punt. One-play TDs don’t help, of course you’re never going to complain about those. But when you’re reeling, when you’re reeling, the turnovers in particular really put you in a bad mindset. Then you start forcing things and guys get out of kilter. We have to start better and let the guys settle in. Even defense in general when things happen, the first possession or two you can kind of see what they’re going to go to and you can settle in and make some adjustments and get your guys playing better, so it’s just like the pin sets, the one they hit us on the touchdown later, we intercept. You’ve just got to have time to settle in.”

On how he thinks the secondary played: “Not very good. Not pleased. I mean, you can’t give up big plays. You can’t. Just the first touchdown alone is just enough to piss me off all week. So, it’s just not all right. That’s just one that shouldn’t have happened. Then the reverse pass, you know, can’t happen. Just cover your guy. We have it all fit up. That’s a trick play where we had pressure coming from this side (right), pressure coming from the other way. The guy that was on the – we had pressure coming all ways, but the way they blocked it we had the extra DB pulling up the reverse, so you’re going to tackle him and you’re going to be in second down. But you just can’t leave your guy. So, that’s not good.

“The long play before half is inexcusable. We’ve got to get it fixed, period. It’s not all right. We just – common sense. If you’re playing four across, just four-deep zone, you can’t go 40 yards deep. I mean, there’s a huge hole in between the linebacker and the next man. Then if you do, you better run to him and tackle him. So, there’s a lot we’ve got to get straightened out.”

On if there’s anything specific about the drives right before halftime that has troubled them: “Yeah, it is. That’s why I said – it happened in particular the two games this year. So, that’s where the secondary has to regroup. It’s like if you take a shot, if they hit an over route, they hit the deep ball, now all the sudden they just run it out of there instead of reading their keys and playing football. That’s where – yeah, it’s a problem. It’s a problem for me too.”

On if secondary issues can be mostly attributed to corner or safety: “Yeah, all of the above. I don’t think -- we’re getting good safety play out of one. We moved our nickel to free, and I think with that – I’m not saying Kendall (Randolph) is not playing good, but you lose the experience of your nickel and then you get inexperienced at free (safety) and inexperienced at nickel. Again, our reps, our IQ is going – not calling out any guys, but as far as football reps you’re losing some things there. So, we’ve got to go back to looking at where we play guys. That’s where we need to be better.

“Marcus McWilson is a guy that needs to play better. I was counting on him coming into the year to play well. Darius (West) got hurt, but I thought that Marcus would battle him for that spot all along. With Darius going down it weakened us. He’s got to step up and play better there. Then maybe we can play Blake (McClain) back at some nickel and continue to use Kendall in nickel and dime. He’s coming along but doesn’t have a lot of reps.

“Our corners are – the two young guys, sometimes they’re seeing things for the first time still. Different plays, different things and all that. Really, they’re good press guys. As people are getting us in pinch sets and doing some things where we need to zone off a little bit, in particular that’s not Chris (Westry)’s strength. We need to work on that for him, at playing off. He’s a good press guy.”

On if he expects to get Jojo Kemp back this week: “I hope so. I hope he’s back at full strength this week. We’ll see.”

On helping secondary disguise some weaknesses: “Yeah, I think – it’s team defense. As I’ve mentioned, when we have opportunities to get people in second-down-and-long you have to do it. It’s hard when they’re not behind the chains, when it’s second-and-medium, third-and-short-or-medium. Last week, again, in the game, two third-and-mediums where they run the ball on us that we have to be able to stop. On a mixed down you have to be able to play something that’s good against the run and the pass. So, to answer your question, you get put in some situations where sometimes you’re trying to protect a guy here or there in what you’re doing and it will weaken you somewhere else. You’ve heard me talk about it a long time: There’s no getting around putting pressure on those guys outside…But there’s no getting around putting pressure on the outside corners. You’ve got to win out there. You can’t lose your nerve. If you make some mistakes you’ve got to go to the next play. To play that position you’re going to lose some battles, but you’ve got to come back and win some. And it was nice to see Derrick (Baity) come back with that interception as well. And he really made a nice play or two – we almost picked it, he had to kind of throw it away.”

On how difficult it is for CBs to develop short memory as a young player: “It is hard, because these kids, they care. They want to do right. With that they have to grow up. They have to take the criticism. We all have to take the criticism. It goes with the territory. Those guys have got to understand, you want to go play in the arena then deal with it. That’s what you’re constantly trying to get them to overcome. That’s what we did talk about at halftime. Went right in and said, ‘This, this and this, these three things can’t happen. There’s other issues that we’ve got to get fixed out, but there’s some that we can get cleaned up immediately.’ They can’t let that affect them the next time. It’s just like on the one before half. Why were they back there so far? Because in the first game they threw it over our head. So now they throw it under. So now they back so far up that there’s no way they’re getting it over our head. And they catch it intermediately and step ‘em up. Don’t tackle them. So, just got to continue to work.”

On Baity being made at himself after the game: “I know. So was Chris. Chris was really made at himself about the first one. He was really hard on himself because he means well. He’s up in there trying to challenge the guy and wanting to make a play, but we talked about off those sets to get high. Let the safety take that one, and he should have climbed. That would have cut off the safety’s man. The safety’s man essentially could have ran all the way across the field. There was no anchor point back there. So, we let one guy suck up too on the backside, and they strung our guy out on the front side. So, it’s just understanding all the concepts and reps. But he means well. He wants to get up in there, press somebody and try to win a one-on-one. And that takes some nerve too. Just got to be smart on when we can do it and when we can’t.”

On the statue of SEC’s first black players being unveiled this week: “Yeah, just like in the summer, we love having them around. They always mean an awful lot to us. We always do enjoy when they want to spending some time talking to our team. We ask them to come talk every year whenever they’re here. It’s significant. It’s significant for our program, our history, the university, the state and those individuals. So, we’re proud to be a part of it.”