“I could not be more proud of our team and the victory. It was a hard fought, tough game, just like I said on Monday it would be. And so very, very proud of our team. We overcame a lot of adversity and that’s what you have to do. You have to dig down and make plays and win sometimes. I don’t really care how it looks. Certainly I want to get a lot of things cleaned up, but I really am proud. Like I said, I really was frustrated, it seemed like the ball was not bouncing our way again and with the muffed punt, us not getting that, but our team overcame that. And again we can’t think negative, you can’t think that it’s not going to happen, you just got to put your head down and go to the next play and keep on grinding and keep on working, because as I told the team, all the time, nobody’s going to give you anything, you got to work for what you get, you got to grind it out, you got to have tough victories, and I was very proud. I thought we grew in that area. Nobody wants to come out, get a three and out, stop them and then put the ball on the ground and then have them run it back for a first down and here we go again. That was not going to happen. I told the team the second I went in there, before I made the adjustments with the staff, I walked right in and talked to the team while the coaches were meeting, and that’s what I told them, that there was no way in heck that it wasn’t going to come down to being a close game. I knew they would hang in there somehow and make a play, get a turnover, make something happen, and that’s what happened. And you don’t, you would like to see us play a little bit more clean and come out, like I said, and get the big three and out to start the second half and get the ball and move it and pull away, but it didn’t happen. So what are you going to do? Are you going to just keep on working, keep on grinding?
“And I was very proud of the outcome, the two-minute drill there at the end, there was some things we certainly need to trap the ball better, we were a little hesitant, guys were a little gun shy on trapping the ball and getting them down and that keeps the clock moving. So we were a little slow on that and that we’ll get cleaned up, but didn’t want to panic, and pull some kind of blitz or something and have them get something cheap. I wanted to make them earn it and again it got a little close for my comfort there but again we had to stay the course, stay patient, and execute and that’s what we did. So, very proud of the victory, we really needed the break right now. We spent these past six weeks it’s been as I said before, it’s been a tough start, but our guys have stayed the course, we have gotten better, I told you we were getting better, and we certainly have. There’s no doubt defensively we have. And offensively we will get back to moving the football. I think when the game tightened up and you put the ball on the ground and it gets close, and Stephen was getting a little antsy, he will settle down, I just told him that right now, just relax, you can see on his face, and he’s a very good conscientious young man and he needs a little break right now, and we’ll get back to work on Tuesday. So we’ll give them one more day than usual, they will have Monday off, we’ll watch the film and get back to work on Tuesday and we’ll work hard to get better this week and we have the bye and then another home game, which will be nice. So, we got some good momentum and looking forward to giving these guys a few days off and getting healthy and ready for that last stretch.”
Q. After the first two and a half games did you think your defense is going to be able to turn things around as quickly as they have?
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MARK STOOPS: I did. Some of it. As I told you, after the New Mexico State game, and I came in here and I told you, I said that, I said, some will be easily fixed, some will not. And it’s still the case. Some things we could get fixed, quickly, and just coaching them up and getting them in position and I was very confident that it wouldn’t look like that. So, the guys are settling in and executing much better, so I’m proud of them. We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting much better and I appreciate their effort and their attitude and the way they have gone to work and they haven’t flinched and they didn’t let even this game, they didn’t let the negativity, they didn’t let the bad breaks, they didn’t let anything deter them from getting the victory, any way you slice it. We only gave up two field goals, right? So that’s pretty good for us. And we’ll build on that.
Q. What was your emotions during and after that final play?
MARK STOOPS: I just threw my head set, I was like, you know, I really did, I was like, I don’t know, I was smoked. I was smoked. You always want it to look easier, but we’re not built that way. But you know what, again we have had these games before, you guys have asked me those questions, and there is a lot to be said about building on games like that. Until we change the performance on the field, when bad things happen, then the result’s going to be the other way. Now when bad things happen, and you just keep on staying the course, keep on fighting, love, trust, and believe in each other, then good things happen. Not always, it doesn’t guarantee you anything, but it gives us an opportunity and so in that way it is nice to see.
Q. How hard is it to prepare for that scenario that the defense faced at the end where basically they have four plays to win the game?
MARK STOOPS: For us to get a stop?
Q. Yeah, in that situation you can’t really mock that up in practice.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, well, we do a two minute drill a lot and as I said, earlier that that drive I was a little disappointed, our guys were a little too hesitant. And that wasn’t designed to be that soft, really, we were had some hard edges and if we have a little better vision and trap that ball quicker, then the clock moves. And we can’t let them get first downs and get out of bounds. So, there’s things we could clean up there, but again I wanted to stay patient even as they were moving it into the red zone, with that amount of time, one sack in the game would be in pretty good shape and we were close and also as you get closer there, if you stay in coverage and don’t just panic and blitz -- and I’ve done that before, we have went and brought the whole team years ago and in a critical situation and they threw it up to him and that didn’t work out real good. So wanted to stay patient, we did come down and start playing some man free in the red zone, which tightened it up, but we wanted to make them earn it and get the ball in the end zone, because when you got a lot of guys in coverage, it does get hard.
Q. Did you simplify some things on defense overall?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, we have, we have built on it. We have I’ve been talked about that for several week, I thought it was important to see what we can do, how to go about it, how to structure the calls, personnel, because we were we did, yes, we simplified things and we built on things each week. We really built on, we had some nice new pressures tonight that really one came completely free and we missed the sack. And that was aggravating.
Q. Have you gotten too one-dimensional and if so what gives you confidence that Stephen will settle down?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, Stephen will settle down. We all know we need to throw the ball to win some football games as we move forward, and we will. We’ll get back to -- I talked about that a lot this week -- yes, I talked about the protecting the football, but I also talked about getting back to confident and attack mode and moving the ball. We did early, like I said, you hate to when momentum shifts, we have got to be able to go to some things and the run game helped us win this football game. If we weren’t able to run the ball, it would have been very difficult to win this game. So, I think that, but, yes, we do want to throw it as we move forward.
Q. Is this one of those milestones when you’re going to look at Barker and reassess during this bye week or is it going to --
MARK STOOPS: Not right now, no.
Q. What does it say about Bennie and the staff’s trust in him, he carries it 28 times in a game like today. How much has that grown?
MARK STOOPS: Again, you have to give him a lot of credit. I really have a lot of confidence in him and, for being a true freshman, it’s amazing, but you love that. As we recruit more and more guys like that, that don’t flinch, that will never flinch, and look adversity right in the eye and move on and compete at a high level. We got a lot of those guys and we just are trying to put it all together. We’re getting better and better and but he’s a tough runner.
Q. Does his presence change the attitude of the other guys on the offense? It seems like you guys have a little more edge in the running game and not just because of him now when you need to get those yards.
MARK STOOPS: It is. He changes a lot of things. That’s, I touched on it before, but he’s, when you recruit, he’s what we thought he was going to be, but it just is a little faster than maybe you anticipated. But that hard nosed, great balance, tough runner, tough mindset, tough attitude, no BS about him. He’s here to work and win football games and get better. And I love that. So, he helps in a lot of ways, but you got to give a lot of credit to all of our backs, Boom had some big runs. He put the ball on the ground, but he had some big runs early. He’s explosive, he’ll be fine. I’m sure he’s probably frustrated, but you put the ball on the ground, and we went with the other guys and they got hot. And really you got to give a lot of credit to Jojo, I thought the run when he bounced it and outran him and got the first down was huge. That’s a big play. And so, you know, it’s nice seeing somebody step up when their number’s called.
Q. How much do you think the credit goes to that you’re just a more physical football team on both sides of the ball with your running game on offense and the way you were playing on defense the last two or three weeks?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, without the physicality we wouldn’t have had any chance to win this game tonight. So it definitely is helping. Now we got to polish it up and start attacking and throwing the ball down the field. We got good wide outs that I’m sure are going to want the ball and we got to get it to them and loosen some things up, but the toughness on both sides of the ball and the attitude and the belief, if you didn’t have it, then we wouldn’t have won that game. So it’s a big piece of it.
Q. (Question about Josh being banged up.)
MARK STOOPS: They have been really working hard. Josh has been banged up, it will be nice for him to have a few days and get healed up. He’s been playing through injury, playing extremely hard, we’re really thin at that position at the outside backer position and at late, when we go to four down, those guys off the edge, just playing D ends and rushing, we’re down some guys there and so they’re really playing a lot of snaps and playing very hard. So, proud of them.
Q. How much should we credit the defense improvement for you taking a bigger role?
MARK STOOPS: No, I want to be very clear about this, there’s no way we would have this success without Coach Elliott putting a lot of this together. I really helped eliminate some of that, some of the pressure of calling the game, because we work well together. We always have. So the structure of it is very good. He’s seeing what’s going on in the press box, he’s making great adjustments. And, really, it’s easy to call plays when the structure’s right and the guys are playing. We are keeping them off balance, but that’s a credit to the whole defensive staff. So, we really have done well, but DJ’s worked his tail off and is doing the same things he’s always done, he’s always been successful, it’s just helping with me being involved in calling it and he can really see what’s going on up there and make quality adjustments and know exactly -- because, before, if he is so busy doing all that and we don’t know exactly what’s going on and how to get things fixed, so it’s been an -- it’s been working well.
Q. Was Elam an injury situation?
MARK STOOPS: He’s been injured the past couple weeks. He tried to play last week against Bama, but he’s got some injuries and, hopefully, it will be a week or two. I think he should be back by the next game.
Q. What did you see from the special teams?
MARK STOOPS: For the first time all year we didn’t -- thank you for that question.
I’ve been waiting on that.
But, no, I was disappointed in that, because we have been playing really hard and we got to get some things cleaned up and the execution on the kickoff return at the end of the half is not acceptable, and so they’re doing a couple things there that we anticipated and we didn’t make the play and we didn’t beat, we lost some one-on-ones that put us in a stressful situation. So we’ll get it cleaned up, we’ll get it working and I’m confident we’ll bounce back and play good, special teams-wise.
Q. It’s obvious you’re more physical, but why? Why the change? You’re playing much harder, but why?
MARK STOOPS: Just stay the course. Just stay the course. If we didn’t need to get better by grinding and practicing and doing what we do then why, I mean why work the way we do, right? They get better. They get better. We were inexperienced and thin at D line. And we fundamentally had to keep on grinding on them to get better. It’s not just being physical, it’s also execution, and executing their technique. So, it’s a big piece of it is technique, not just brute strength. And so they’re getting better and the structure of everything’s better, they’re in better positions, and we’re making people work for their yards. And we’re going to continue to do that. We need to continue to get more physical, we need to continue to get more depth.
But also on the O line, those guys have been around for awhile now, a lot of them, and they have been playing for a few years and they’re really getting some tough physical yards in there as well.
Q. If your kids are hesitating less then they can be more physical?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I think that we touched on that earlier, maybe before you were working your way down here, did you try to get an extra hot dog up there or what?
So, but I think that with simplifying things, yeah, yes, part, that’s part of it. We have been down that road for two or three weeks with simplifying things, but a big piece of it is fundamentally, like I told you four weeks ago or three weeks ago, if you’re calling something, that is meant to stop something, and they’re still getting eight yards, I don’t care who is calling what, you’re not going to be successful. They have to execute and, yeah, they have to play with technique and they have to play with that passion, energy, desire, everything that our fans and everybody wants to see. And they’re doing that. I think that early on, with the inexperience we were maybe, yes, we were not executing and not playing well. So I think you’re building on all that.
Q. You guys were in a storm a little bit as a team three weeks ago. Has there been an element within that locker room on the practice field across the board of sort of us against the world and a rallying in the mentality of this team from sort of what how bad things looked three weeks ago?
MARK STOOPS: I think part of that, part of that. I told them in the locker room, after the Southern Mississippi game, first thing I told them, I grabbed them up, I wanted to see the whites of their eyes, and I told them to stay the course. I said, every son of a gun outside of this room right here will be attacking you and me. So put your head down, do your job, and go to work. Because there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide. You either man up and get better or you cave. And we’re still working, you know that, but nobody’s been hesitant, it’s about getting back and getting to work. We knew we had a good football team. We’re not a great team, but we’re a work in progress and we’re getting better and better. And I love their attitude and I love the way they work and so we do need everybody back on board. And I’ve said that -- I’ll tell you this: It’s very hard to get something turned when it’s toxic and negative. And the criticism, we deserve it sometimes. And that’s, you know that. I sat here and taken it and will. When you deserve to be criticized, you take it like a man and move on. But the toxic, negative stuff, very hard to turn a program when people turn that way, and turn on the kids and turn on the players. Coaches deserve to be criticized. That’s our job, it’s part of our job, but the players and getting toxic and negative and being all that, that’s not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you.