Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops wraps up Alabama loss, looks ahead to Vanderbilt

MARK STOOPS

“Just like I said after the game, I thought we grew in certain areas, made some improvements in certain areas and need to continue to work in others. Looking forward to a big challenge this week and a great opportunity against Vanderbilt. So we're excited and ready to get back to work.”

On if they change anything this week to address turnovers by Stephen Johnson: “More of the same. Just continue to stress it and work it. He's gotta go feel comfortable and he's gotta execute and feel loose, but he's gotta be smart as well.”

On challenge of facing Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb: “He's a very good player. Very good vision, strong, breaks tackles. He's a complete back.”

On what he saw in Vanderbilt's defense against Florida last week: “They played really hard. They do a good job. Florida missed some opportunities again and playing with a backup quarterback now, but Vandy will do that. They've got some very big guys in the front of their defense. Really what sticks out to you too when you think about Vandy on defense is how mature they are. I believe they have five fifth-year seniors starting and five fourth-year juniors starting and two juniors, so that's a pretty veteran group. And the guys inside, the two big boys. They've got two inside D-Lineman that are big guys with some experience that are big strong guys.”

On what areas of growth he was pleased with at Alabama:I just think as you go into an environment like that – we weren't pleased, obviously, the last time we went into that situation. Play a good, talented Florida team and go on the road and I don't think we handled it very well, for whatever reason. We got the quarterback hit and things happened and we didn't respond very well. We go into this situation, playing the No. 1 team in the country. It's extremely physical, extremely talented, very well coached and our guys competed. I thought we did the right thing by – we were in the right position. Guys were executing for the most part. There was a drive or two that's still not OK and need to get some things fixed and play with some greater urgency. But I thought overall we had guys in the right position, guys were straining to make plays. We weren't just blowing assignments because bad things were happening. They got lined up and made them beat us. We didn't beat ourselves and I thought that was an improvement.

We got some stops, had a chance to go up. It's a game of inches a lot of times. I thought we had a great set up. We had the play called, we had a chance to go up 10 or at least six. We hit that pop pass to C.J. (Conrad) that's open and they got some big guys that jump up and knock it down. You'd like to see us execute that. Again, your margin for error is very slim and you've got to make the most of your opportunities. We get the turnover, we get a stop early, get a turnover, we drive it down there, get in position and get it tipped, so you're not gonna have a lot of opportunities. I thought we did – even though offensively it doesn't appear that we did very well when you just look at the bottom line, look at the statistics. Again, you're fractions off right there, the screen pass that they make unbelieveable individual effort was set. We had a big play opportunity again there that they made and we didn't. We've got to be a little more disciplined with our splits, we got to be out on them quicker. We get one guy picked off and we have a big play. I thought we had very tough yards at times, especially when we had the looks that we were anticipating. We made good yards and blocked some very good people for some efficient yards. It's not like we were pushing them around or anything like that, but we had efficient yards. Then they move and create and stunt and blitz and it makes it very hard for our guys up front, in particular when you're starting a freshman tackle but there were some really good things in there as well. Things to build off of.”

On Alabama player saying UK was most physical team it has faced all year:“I heard that from a couple of their guys, actually, that they said it was the most physical game that they have played. And that is a compliment, to me, because you know this game is about being physical. That's where I think – when you asked me earlier – I thought our approach was right, played the game the right way. Go out and line up and do what we can do and play the best we can. Certainly there's areas where we can do better and will do better, but the fact that they said that was one of the more physical games, it is a testament to what we are trying to do as we try to move forward. We do have some older guys on offense and some maturity and we need to get – it wasn't one of Stephen's better games but they have a lot to do with that. They're very good at what they do. They put a lot of pressure on you, they cover you and they got guys in your face. It makes it very difficult for quarterbacks.”

On differences he’s seen on defense in last two games compared to first three: “Night and day really. Night and day. We’re growing and we’re getting better. It comes like that. Like I just said, you’d like to have five fifth-year seniors and five fourth-year guys playing, but we do have some inexperience that you’ve got to figure out what they can do and how they can execute. That’s all of us. That’s coaching and players. It’s not on them. But together, we’re figuring it out and making some improvement and you’ll continue to see that.”

On biggest improvement in run defense: “Execution. Guys straining, but also not beating yourself. The big part of it is doing what you do and getting better at it. You always have to have some changeups. I think we have our changeups. If you watch our games, you can see where we’re bringing people and stuntin’ and movin’ and pressuring, but we’re executing those pressures better and we’re keeping some people off balance. It still comes down to being tough and executing and playing with good technique because again, as I’ve said probably every press conference I’ve been in here, when you have plays designed and you have people in place and again, if it’s going to be second-and-long or second-and-medium then that’s what it needs to be or second-and-7 or eight, as opposed to second-and-2. You can’t just go out there and have guys in position and not make the plays. You’ve got to have guys step up. I thought our position on the football is getting better. There’s still so many things on the perimeter that we need to get ironed out and when you play a team like Alabama -- and I talked about it last week where you know they’re physical inside; I was actually pleased with some of the things we did in the interior of our defense -- and then they were getting some things on the perimeter where again they have some very big people blocking on the perimeter that they got some yards that we can play better. Now we did make an adjustment as they were flying and getting their speed with some big blockers on the perimeter, we made an adjustment and trapped it with the corner and shut that down for a little bit, made a few adjustments that helped us on some of that. But again, they’re just big guys, athletic guys and you could see last week it also just missed tackles. That’s the most frustrating part.”

On the frustration from Vanderbilt loss last year: “I never singled anybody out. … But does last year’s Vanderbilt game hurt? Absolutely. It bothers me. It’ll probably bother me for the rest of my life, yes. But this is a totally new year.”

On Saban’s compliments of UK and if Stoops was pleased with game plan: “I was. I was. That’s where I say even offensively if you just, I know how it could look if you just look at a number and say we did some good things, it doesn’t look right. But it did. We had some effective plays and some yards. I thought we had some tough yards at times. I thought our guys competed extremely hard offensive line wise and the running backs ran hard. I thought we had some things schemed up very well that we were fractions off on even some critical third downs where we had some rubs, rub routes, pick routes where we had things very close and just didn’t execute. Had some things that were there that we’ll get better at. Again, give them credit. They know their weakness in each call, too, and they play things very aggressively. I thought on both sides of the ball we did have a good plan. Defensively, I thought we made them work hard for their yards and they hit some late on the perimeter. They hit us with an All-American on a freshman late that was tough for him to be in that spot. Overall, we strained and worked hard and had guys in good position.”

On Tavin Richardson moving over Dorian Baker on depth chart and if that’s a reflection of Richardson’s play or Baker’s injury status: “Little of both. I do expect Dorian back at full strength this week. I do. He’s been very close, just wasn’t able to practice all week last week and get the reps but I think he should be out there 100 percent ready to go today.”

On Tavin Richardson’s play: “Tavin’s been doing some good things, but they both will play. We’ve been rotating. That’s the nice thing, we did play a lot of guys. We rotated offensively in particular we rotated a bunch of guys in there, which was nice. Defensively, we had a good rotation going but it still was a lot of strain. It was a lot of strain on our secondary. I thought we covered their -- they take those shots that I talked about last week -- they hit shots down the field all the time and the one. And the one, that wasn’t an over. I thought our secondary matched some things up very well, extremely well. And so that was a good thing, but we were running all over the field. Those guys were really straining and running. There were things we could do better and need to tighten up. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there were certain sets where we needed to be tighter. That’s a mental and physical thing that we can get cleaned up and then like I said, the one bomb they got on Jordan (Griffin) late, their boots and their over routes and their shots we were playing very well, but it put a lot of stress on our guys.”

On Bunchy Stallings playing more: “I see Bunchy’s doing a lot of good things. What he is is a physical guy but he’s very athletic. He’s quick twitch for a big guy and he’s been doing some good things. I’ve been pleased with Logan as well. Logan Stenberg’s a big guy. You know, inside it takes some experience because there’s a lot of thing that happen very, very quickly inside those tackles and that experience really helps you, but they’re both big and strong guys. And you put that with Toth, and you get a nice rotation in there with some strength.”

On Eli Brown: “Eli’s getting a lot better. He’s executing the defense better. He’s not like a fish out of water so much. He’s learning how to play within the system. He’s always had great talent, he can run. He needs to get more physical and you can see that. He can run, but he needs to put on some weight and lift. That’s certainly evident when you play a team like that but I don’t know too many teams that they play that they’re not more physical then. You know, so, but that’s a good indicator for us on where we need to go with some of our younger guys.”

On if linebacker is a position where he feels good about the depth: “I feel like we got some good guys for the next couple years. I feel like Eli will really get better and give us some depth, Jordan’s really playing well as he gets bigger and stronger and more durable, but he plays so hard. He’s being more disciplined. He still will get a little loose here and there but he has really good instincts and plays extremely hard. And Eli will get better and Kash (Daniel) is doing some better things as he comes along. And Nico (Firios) went in the game and did some good things as well. And another guy we’d like to single out is Mike Edwards. I talked about it after the game, but watching the film, man, he really did some very good things. Really has very good instincts and plays very hard. He’s playing at a high level right now. I’m very pleased with the way he’s playing.”

On the biggest key for Jordan Jones since the moment in camp when he got onto him: “It’s just, it’s just discipline. He’s one of those guys, he’s just wired very different. And he means so well, but he brings unbelievable energy every day. He just, there’s not, you know, he loves playing football. He loves practicing, he loves it all. But, he just, it’s experience, reps, all those things. But, you know, a true sophomore. You talk about a guy that if you could redshirt a year ago as a freshman, he could play for a long time as he gets bigger and stronger. But he’s a sophomore and he’s got a lot of good football ahead of him. He’s getting better and better. But I think it’s him being accountable and dependable also to his teammates. That he’s playing within the structure of the defense.”

On if Jordan Jones’ style of play rubs off on the rest of the defense: “There’s no doubt. When you see him, that passion and energy running to the football, showing up all over the field, you watch it on film and there’s some pretty good looking plays out there when you got guys flying around like that. And again, I think Mike Edwards is playing a lot like that.”

On what he said to Damien Harris after the game: “I just said hello and checked on him, see how he was, how his health was and everything. Wished him the best of luck. That was it.”

On if he sees the young players on defense have a light coming on lately: “There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt. We’ll get better with every practice that we have, every game. They’re getting better. Fundamentally, understanding the structure of the defense. We’re not beating ourselves as much.”

On if Stephen can improve, especially given his lack of experience: “Yeah, I don’t think there’s any doubt. He’s a very consciences young man. That’s a tough group to play against. And you need help, you need protection there too. There were some guys open. I thought our wideouts competed at a much higher level than they had. You know, then it’s about protection and getting them the ball. Our guys worked hard to get open and had some good plays there. We connected on some and we missed on some of the protection or gettin tipped or different issues. But again, your margin is small against them. They make things very difficult for you.”

On if it’s hard for a young QB to strike balance between trying to make a play and realizing when to get rid of the ball or take a sack: “That is. There is a balance there, and that’s where we could not have coached it any more than we did a week ago and it’s going to be the same way this week. This game, a big determining factor in this game will be turnovers. Vandy has done a nice job with that. They’re giving up yards, but they’ve done a nice job with turnovers. They’re ahead with turnover ratio, and we’re last in the league, if I’m not mistaken, at negative-seven. That cannot happen. We stress it, we coach it. As you know – we’ve already been down that road – but during that stretch when we were turning it over and not playing good defense that’s a recipe to lose to anybody. If we get those things corrected and play like we’re doing and keep on improving then we can play with anybody.

“So, we’ll continue to work at it, but I think that’s a big piece of it with Stephen. He has to know, No. 1, who he’s playing and where we were at on the field. That was pretty clear: That play is not OK because we’re in field-goal range right there. So then as a play-caller you either try to trust your quarterback that he’s going to throw it away or run it right there and kick it. But you know you’re only going to get so many opportunities, so you’ve got to try to score and it backfires on us.”

On if he expects Cole Mosier back this week: “I do. I do. I expect Cole to be back out there today.”

On if the challenges Landon Young has faced are an investment in his future: “Yeah, there’s no doubt. He just saw one of the most difficult situations he’ll ever be in, and he’s a true freshman. Did some good things and got beat some, but that’s going to happen. That experience, you can’t replace that. So, he’s a great kid. The nice thing about him is it won’t faze him. He won’t flinch, he won’t lose confidence. He’ll just get better and better.”

On Jordan Jones saying he could run on the treadmill for an hour and if they have to find a new punishment for him: “Yeah, we’ve got to do away with that punishment. (Laughs). He’ll just sit there and run for an hour and talk to you: ‘Hey coach, how’s it going? How’s Chantel doing?’ (Laughs).”

On if he has to find creative ways to punish Jones then: “Yeah, we do. (Laughs). You know he’s from my high school, so I’m allowed to fight him, argue with him. I mean, I need some help, but don’t worry we’ll lock him in a room and I’ll hold my own against him too.”

On how much it helps to have film of Alabama game to show players where they need to be: “It helps a lot because, again, arguably there’s nobody better right now, especially defensively. So, you look at yourself and you compare yourself to the very best. And again, nobody’s happy. You know that. It’s all about wins and losses, but you look at yourself and you look at what we did on all sides and the good things that we did and you have to build on that. I believe our players will because, again, just talking about the physicality that they mentioned and that’s what we have to be to play in the SEC, to play at a high level. There’s a lot of things that we need to do better but it really starts with a mentality and a physical nature about you. You just got to keep on getting players. They’ve got a lot of good-looking players. They’re a very good-looking team. You look at their young guys and the guys that they rolled in there, they’ve got a lot of big, strong guy.

“But I was very pleased also – it goes unnoticed because, again and I don’t meant to tease, it’s like ya’ll have a lot to critique, but last year I got a question about the special teams every game and nobody asks me a darn question about them anymore. You know what I mean? (Laughter) But I’m sure sooner or later some bad thing is going to happen and ya’ll are going to ask me about it. But really we were positive yardage again, against Alabama, and that’s pretty impressive. We met all of our goals, won just about every phase as far as plus-yardage. I think we were plus-35. Against that group is not easy to do.”

On how much of special teams improvement is attributable to Matt House: “A lot, but I also attribute it to punting and kicking the ball better as I’ve said for years. You know that you have to be able to do that. Our guys really mean well and strain and work at it, but yeah he’s done an unbelievable job. I love what he does. He has great passion and energy, and our guys are very detailed. But we have a lot of players, and that does put some stress on our guys too because a lot of them are playing on offense and defense and they have to play on those special teams units. It takes its toll on us, but we’ve done a very good job. Matt’s done a great job, and our kickers have done a very good job.”

On if it was good to see Austin MacGinnis hit a couple field goals for his confidence: “It was. It was good. Definitely. He’s been kicking well in practice. He feels good, he feels strong. Again, his kickoffs have been very good. His placement has been good. It’s nice to see him kick some field goals.”

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