Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops on Kentucky’s big win over Missouri on Saturday

MARK STOOPS

“Just a very good victory. I’m very proud of our team. All phases. As I just told them, it’s about our preparation. It’s about how they go to work, each day throughout the week starting on Monday’s. I’ve been saying throughout the season that I enjoy coaching these guys. And that’s why. They take the coaching. They take the criticism. They know they can do so many things better. They did an awful lot of good things tonight. Today. On all sides. The beautiful thing is that there’s so much more we can do and will do. That’s what gives us so much optimism moving forward. Again, plays are going to happen, but I felt like we were in very good control of the game, but I knew they were not going to go away. They’re too good offensively. They can move the ball so quickly that we knew it’d be a challenge somehow, some way in the second half. I was proud of the stop we made early and the offense really controlled the football on the long drive that gave us 35. It was a long drive that took a lot of the clock and got the touchdown. It was big. And, again, there was some momentum shifts late, but we felt like we had it in good control.

“There’s things we all can do better to try to draw them offsides. We thought we had them and we didn’t. In hindsight, we probably just punt that ball. And we can’t give up a long pass in that situation. It’s, you know, it’s not very smart and our football IQ has to go up there. There’s things I can call better in that situation but got to get off and keep things in front of us. But, again, guys were fighting and we talked about that. We were going to fight the whole way through. We were going to stay aggressive and we were going to compete for 60 minutes. That was our mindset and the players’ mentality. And that’s what they did. It’s a very good group and we’re excited. I think for the first time, this isn’t about the relief of winning a game. This is about how much more we can do. I believe that’s what’s fun about this group, that mentality to go back to work Monday for another challenge. That’s what’s fun.”

On if this is the team he envisioned having when he took the job four years ago: “It is. It is. I told you even through some ups and some downs that they were fun to coach. And I was, you know, good. There’s always things. You’re never going to be satisfied as a coach. Ever. Or you shouldn’t be. We know we’re making progress in a lot of areas. We know we’ve got good kids and all that. And we can grow up and get experience and play well: offense, defense special teams. This is the first time with this whole staff. The staff has done a remarkable job, every coach and every player. They’ve been fun to work with.”

On being a more physical team: “Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. You see the physicality. You see the run game and you see how it helps a program. You have to be able to have that physicality. I’ve talked about that since Day 1. It’s a process to get there that nobody wants to go through and wait, but we weren’t ever discouraged. You just got to stay the course and get better. Some of those linemen are grown up. We have some backs, the receivers are always a threat even when we’re not throwing the ball extremely well. They are a threat. Stephen got the ball down the field and threw a beautiful post on 3rd and 8. That stretches people. That gets you off your back a little bit, and I feel like it’s a great combination.”

On getting a stop near goal line on Missouri’s first drive of the second half: ”That was a big piece of the game. We talked about it in here, about getting a stop the first possession of the second half. They did get a good drive, but our guys dug their heels in. And even a field goal at that moment would’ve been a big stop for us. The fact that he missed the field goal was gravy. We did have a really nice play there on 3rd down, we had a nice disguise and we executed very nicely on that play and then they missed a field goal, which was gravy. And then our offense to take the ball and drive it straight down – I think that was the very long drive, six minutes and a touchdown, and that’s huge. And that’s what we talked about at half. We’d like to see us start with a 3 and out but we didn’t, but we still hung in there and made ‘em earn it and executed late and got the stop.”

On how much credit the offensive line deserves: “It was one of the things I just talked about. And I very rarely single out guys or give ‘em game balls, but I started with how about Boom and Benny both almost at 200 apiece from what I understand. Someone said it was very close. But you have to give that credit to the offensive line. (Inaudible) Those guys, I really noticed them finishing blocks. I saw ‘em really playing physical and enjoying that. They’re playing extremely hard and they’re playing smart. The offensive staff and Eddie and the whole crew is really setting things up nicely. And that’s what good teams do. “

On if they run the “wildcat” often: “Yes, that’s what we’ve done a good dose. I know you cover Missouri, but yeah we’ve done that quite a bit. So they had a good feel that was coming.”

On if he’s ready to talk about the SEC East race with team yet: “No. We’re going to talk about next week. Who do we play? Georgia? OK, we’re worried about Georgia. That’s what I’m worried about.”

On adding wrinkles to “wildcat” formation: “Definitely, definitely. We really have. We’ve grown that package, and it’s a great four-minute offense. We needed that at times in all games. Sometimes when I talk about the defense needs a break or whatever, there’s times when you need to slow down and get to four minutes just to get your defense a rest, sit back and get some things figured out. In this game it was important just because of how fast they go and how many plays they can get on us. So, controlling the clock was a big part of it. During the bye week we had some time and we added to it a little bit and I gave him a few wrinkles that have given me problems over the years. And we put those in over the last two weeks and it helped a bit. They helped us last week after the bye, some new little wrinkles that were simple for us to do but have created issues for me in the past.”

On getting a road win: “I think it was very important. You know, what I loved about it is I loved our guys’ preparation – and that’s not coach-speak. I love the way they went about it. This group – that’s what I just asked them right now, ‘Are we satisfied? Is that it? Are we satisfied with this or are we going to go take it to another level?’ And that’s what I love coaching about them: They want to go to work. I want them to enjoy it. They should. The music is on in there and they’re having fun, and they should, but tonight go home and watch somebody else sweat and relax. Let’s get back to work on Monday and not be satisfied. So, that’s our mindset.”

On if Boom Williams and Benny Snell knew they would be ridden hard today with Jojo Kemp unavailable: “Yeah. Jojo, he could play but you could see he’s got a cast on. So, with ball security issues – Jojo was willing to do whatever he could and play hurt or with a cast on. He was an emergency (option), but just with ball security it was an issue. So he was ready to go, but those two knew they would probably geared up for a big day.”

On Boom Williams’ fumble and subsequent injury: “The fumble, he put it on the ground, but we had to get him right back out there. He got hit, got hit on the shoulder or whatever, but he’s fine.”

On if mistakes keep team hungry: “Yes. You’re always learning. The whole way up here, I walked up here with Chris (Westry) and he means so well. He’s going to be a very good player and he’s going to get better. And you know, we’re always learning. Just the situation in the game is so important and understanding things. There’s things I can understand because he’s trying to correct some issues we’ve had before. In that situation, I’d have rather him tackled him and just get the penalty once he got behind him. There’s things that he’ll learn.”

On Johnson’s touchdown play getting hit at end of that long drive in second half: “It was a big play because we had such a long drive. You could tell that they had the rush there and he was supposed to underhand that and he couldn’t because of the pressure, waited for it to clear. And again, that’s Stephen making plays that a lot of people don’t completely understand. He’s not sitting back in the pocket. He sat in the pocket, delivered some good footballs, but that kind of play is helping us win football games. It was supposed to be a shovel. That’s a safe play because if it’s incomplete, it’s incomplete. We get it, you could see the pressure. It was set up well, but he didn’t have vision on it. So he adlibbed and he dumped it over the top and Boom makes one guy miss and we get in. So it’s a big play.”

On if there was a time before this string of wins started when he started to think they would be OK: “Early in the season? Yeah, you know what I’m going to say. Don’t get me to say it again. You know what I’m going to say.”

On if there was a particular practice or game when he saw it: “Stay the course. Continue to build. Rely on the things that you know, the things that you know make a difference, the things you’re committed to that you know can build a program. We had to look at areas, we got things fixed and we got better. It takes a buy-in from everybody. I had confidence that we would continue to improve and get better and we will.”

On what momentum does for this team: “I think, again, I think it’s about our team finally being in a position where we’re not satisfied. I’m proud of them. They should be proud of themselves because of the work and the preparation and how hard they’ve worked and how fun they are to coach, but I truly believe it’s about being back in there Monday ready to go and being ready to prepare to win games. Everybody wants to win on Saturday. What are you willing to sacrifice to put yourself to win the game?”

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