Jen Smith on UK Football

Stoops Q&A: Lots of talk about Johnson, Young, Love on SEC teleconference


“I’m looking forward to another opportunity. Play at home this week, a division opponent, league opponent in South Carolina. You know, go out the gate in a win column last week with our first win of the season. Our players needed that and gave us an opportunity to get back to work. There’s a lot of work to be done here. It’s a lot better to get back to work after the victory, but we have a lot of things to shore up, in particular on the defensive side of the ball. I was pleased with the team’s effort on offense and special teams. There were some moments for the defense, but we need to be more consistent. So, um, looking forward to getting back out there and playing this week against South Carolina.”

On Brandon McIlwain: “You see a guy that’s getting more comfortable with each rep, with each series that he’s out there. He’s definitely a talented player, that again, seems more and more comfortable and seems like, you know, just watching them evolve offfensively to the talents around them. The way their offense is headed, and I’m sure there’ll be more plays implemented this week for Brandon as he gets more comfortable but he’s definitely a guy that can hurt you with his arms and legs.”

On his relationship with Will Muschamp and how that’s changing any philosophy this week: “Yeah, I always have great respect for Will and the way he coaches and his defensive teams. He and I have both been on some defenses that were terrific and some that needs work. He seems to be doing a very good job with this crew this year as he, you know in his first year, they’re doing an excellent job at keeping people out of the end zone and keeping the points down. There are some similarities to each of us and maybe one or the other is featuring more of a different front. But we both have the abilities to do an odd front or the four-down looks. So there are some similarities and I certainly do watch them a lot and see what he’s doing.”

On how Courtney Love has played and what he needs to work on:Yeah. I think you can see the game is moving very fast for him at times, and he’s not making some routine plays. And when that happens, you wonder what he’s looking at or what’s going on or maybe we’re doing too much and all those things that we need to continue to refine defensively, because he’s a good kid and he means so well. He’s a great leader and he wants to be great and wants to help our defense, so his intentions are very good. We just gotta put our players in a position where they can make routine plays look routine. Sometimes we’re not doing that and that puts us in a real bad situation. So I think overall to sum it up, I think Courtney’s doing some good things and needs to play better as the rest of our defense does.”

On how much if any of that is rust from Love sitting out for a year:I don’t know. I think probably some of it. I think he’ll get better, because he’s a very conscientious young man. He wants to do well, so I think any mistake that he makes he will continue to work hard at it. But that could be some of it because there’s just so many different things that can happen on a football field. You’ve just got to apply your rules and some of it is not triggering quite fast enough for him yet.”

On if he can remember when Landon Young committed to Kentucky:

(Laughs) “Yeah, I can. I remember. I remember back – it was a long time ago, but I certainly do remember. I’m not 100 percent positive but I believe it was the first time in my career, certainly as a head coach because it was my first year, that I ever offered a freshman. He was pretty impressive and it’s been nice to see his growth ever since. Through the recruiting process we talked about that a lot because was shocked, I think, when we offered him and probably had no idea he had that kind of talent, and it was nice to see him physically and mentally maturing through his high school years. And you see it here. One thing about him that has always been evident, is you saw him getting better in everything that he does, and that’s the sign of his work ethic, his family, the way he’s brought up. No matter what his accolades are or what he’s doing, he’s constantly working to get better. That’s why he’ll be a great player eventually.”

On if he envisioned Young being able to start as a freshman when he offered the scholarship: (Laughs). “I don’t think it works out that way. We’d have a lot more wins if I could see it all that clear. You know, sometimes it works out that way, sometimes it doesn’t, but you certainly saw the great length that he had and the frame to put on weight and you knew that would come. And he was very athletic for a tall, rangy guy at that point. Again, you just see him getting better and better each and every day, better each and every year. Through the recruiting process you don’t see him all the time like you see him now, but we saw him quite a bit because he was right down the road. It seemed every couple months, every three or four months, whatever it was, you just noticed it, like, ‘Wow, he’s getting a lot bigger.’ In every sport that he participated in he got better, whether it was throwing the shot, disc, wrestling, football, anything. He’s a worker. Love his mentality.”

On if he anticipated Stephen Johnson exploding the way he did against New Mexico State: “Yeah, to answer your question, honestly I wasn’t sure I saw that coming. I had all the confidence that he would move the football and that we would get on pace, and our offensive players believe in him and we’ve talked about him for a long time because we knew he’d shown signs in practice of being very efficient at running the offense. He’s a very consciences kid, he works extremely hard, he wants to perform well for his team and he has some talent. So you knew he’d be good, but to see him play that well, I don’t know if I saw that coming. You take that first series away and he was unbelievably efficient. The first series you could see the jitters, he was a little nervous, and the next series he settles in. Of course, the run game helped settle him in a little bit – we got the big run from Boom. But he went out there and just operated the offense and was very comfortable and very poised and efficient.”

On what gets results quickest when a team is struggling: “You need to settle in on who you are and what you do, first and foremost and make sure you put your players in the position where they can play fast in whatever defense you’re calling that they can line up and have confidence that we have to at least start with not beating ourselves. You can’t beat anybody until you stop beating yourself, and getting lined up properly and playing hard are things that are essential. So it comes down to that and fundamentals and executing a scheme and all of those things, but a big piece of it is also settling in on both sides of the ball. That doesn’t get talked a lot about. But if you look at from the second half of the Southern Miss game until probably halfway through this past game, we were, there was an unbelievable amount of opportunities and when you’re not playing good defense, that’s not what you want to do. We had way too many turnovers and we weren’t playing consistent on both sides of the ball if that makes sense. So I want to say -- between a stretch there when you look at when I look at things -- there was a turnover every 8.5 plays for a period of time. When you’re struggling already, you can’t do that.”

On Stoops and process of charging Darin Hinshaw with finding a QB: “It was and Coach Hinshaw did a heckuva job. We definitely felt like we needed some experience there and we did look around between him and my recruiting coordinator Dan Berezowitz behind the scenes looking at film of guys that are out there, but yeah once they brought in Stephen and looked at him, brought him in on a visit, we were sold. I’m sure glad we have him right now, you know with Drew being banged up, we would not be a good situation. With Patrick Towles deciding to transfer for his senior year, it left the cupboard bare. We do like what we see out of Gunnar Hoak, but he’s a true freshman and needs some time to mature a little bit. I’m sure glad we have Stephen, that’s for sure.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader