Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops optimistic about offense, discusses tough matchup with Webb

MARK STOOPS

“Looking forward to an opportunity to get home and play a great game against Vanderbilt. I feel like our team is getting better in certain phases and we’re continuing to grow. I thought we showed some better signs defensively this past week in a tough environment at Alabama. And hopefully our offense will get back on track this week and again, just looking forward to a great challenge against Vanderbilt. We’ve always had close games and we expect another tough, hard-fought, close game against Coach Mason and Vanderbilt here this weekend.”

On how Alabama’s returned fumble for touchdown and what that can do to momentum of a game: “That was obviously very critical. You know you’re in for a tough matchup all night because of how good defensively they are. So you need to play great defense yourself. You need to play great special teams and you have to keep the game close, and then get your shots and your opportunities when you have them. We only had very few. Your margin for error is very small. We had a play or two set up and just didn’t quite execute them. One got tipped that we had a chance to get off to a fast start. And with that turnover, it really was critical because it was 10-3 at the time and we were in good field position to at least punt them and put them – back them up again even if we don't make the third down. And when they scoop and score that's extremely difficult against a great team like Alabama, especially in that environment. It gets their crowd into it and of course it gets their defense fired up and they start pinning their ears back so it definitely changes the game quickly.”

On if Alabama's defense is opportunistic or lucky:I think it's all of the above. First of all, they're always in great position, and when you have great position on the football and you have very good players doing it then they have great leverage everywhere and they play – they're just in good position on the ball. Then you have some dynamic players individually making some great effort and they're coached up to do that. They see a weakness in somebody, if they see the ball loose, when you're getting that type of pressure, they're definitely coached up to get the strips and return it. When you got a bunch of great players on the same unit, they're kind of feasting on that. You know that they're making a point of emphasis. They want to do that. They're aggressive. All of the above. I think it's coaching, good players, good position on the football.”

On if anything from Stephen Johnson’s performance has surprised him: “No, I think with every opportunity things change. I think, you know, with experience sometimes that can be good or bad as you know. When you’re up against the quality opponents in tough environments, you’re always interested to see how they respond. I think Stephen’s very resilient. I knew he was when we recruited him. He has great poise. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be affected because certainly great defenses in hostile environments have a tendency to affect all quarterbacks for the most part. So, I think how he responds, how he bounces back this week, will be a big indicator for him as he moves forward. I’m anxious to see it. I’m very confident that he’ll bounce back and put that game behind him and put the ball security issues behind him. And he’s gotta go out there and play like he can play, very poised and aggressive, because he can’t, you know we’ve got to get back to attacking and playing the type of football offensively that we’re capable of.”

On Ralph Webb getting yards against defenses stacking the box because Vanderbilt passing game has struggled: “Yeah, it is tough yards for him. You know it is. In this last game in particular against Florida, they really got in big sets, they got in two-tight-end-and-a-fullback sets and/or 12-personnel, two tight ends and two wide outs. They were getting in big sets and really pounding the football. He’s a very, very good player. He gets quality yards. He’s tough to bring down. He’s got good vision, and they’re riding him right now because they’re making it difficult on defenses with the sifting and the motioning and creating extra gaps with some power-run game. Then they have a great back like Ralph back there getting tough yards. So, they’ve really kind of settled in. Looks like they have an identity and what they want to be. They’re playing good defense. Very opportunistic, creating turnovers. They’re very good, they’re plus-three in the turnover ratio, and he’s obviously protecting the football so they’re doing very good things and Ralph definitely makes it very difficult on defenses.”

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