Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: UK’s Stoops previews Georgia game, looks back at Missouri victory

MARK STOOPS

“Again, very proud of our team, our effort this past Saturday. Was most pleased with our preparation. I felt like guys really had a tough mindset last week. We were confident, but prepared. They were extremely disciplined. They did the little things. Even with the early game, I found out later we had an early morning stretch. When they came down there, they were energetic, fired up, had music going. Guys were genuinely excited to play the football game. I actually heard earlier they were up in the hallways on their floor talking and getting each other up, getting each other ready to play. I’m proud of that: Just a mindset. They’re starting to listen and buy into the things we’re talking about and again it starts with the preparation during the week, not just Saturday. Again, felt like our coaches did an excellent job of having them prepared. Our players were ready to play and played a very good football game. You take a few plays away from there and it’s the best we’ve played in a long time, I believe. Proud of that. It will take another, the same type of preparation this week as we prepare for Georgia. I have a lot of respect for Kirby (Smart) and the way they play. So we’ll have our hands full. It will be a real challenge. But it will be an exciting opportunity for us. We have not won five conference games for a long time and we’ll have an opportunity to do that this Saturday. Looking forward to the challenge. Looking forward to getting back into meetings with our players this afternoon and getting back on the field with them and starting our prep for Georgia.”

On having fans at the airport: “I was excited for our players and the program and our fans. I’ve never made, I’ve never denied the fact that I felt, I feel an obligation and I want to put a product out there that they’re proud of. I’ve said that from day one. I’ve said it from every opportunity I’ve had. I don’t say -- I’m not going to use the word pressure -- but you feel an obligation. You want to deliver for those fans that have been starving for a long time to have a successful football program. And believe me, we work very day around the clock to do that for them.”

On seven different receivers catching pass last game and if that’s a sign of growth in QB Stephen Johnson: “I think so. I think it’s Stephen’s getting comfortable. It was nice to see us begin the game with a nice throw and loosen him up a bit. And then the game the way it unfolded, we had such success running the ball and doing the things we talked about necessary to win the game as far as controlling the clock and running the football, it just unfolded that way. We do have confidence in him throwing the ball and he did throw it well Saturday. The opening play of the game was good to see and for sure the third-and-7, the deep post to Jeff (Badet) on the touchdown pass was a huge play for us. There’s a lot of them in there. It’s good to see and the great thing is -- and I’ve said that every week and I’ll say it again -- there’s so much room for improvement, not only with him but with our offense, and with our defense, and special teams. I think there’s a lot of things we can get better at.”

On his success recruiting offensive linemen and if he development coming at that position: “We, you know, again, we knew we had good players, and you’re starting to see a few of those guys have a lot of game experience. They’re growing up well, not all of them, we’re mixing in some redshirt freshmen, we’re mixing in a true freshman, but it’s easier to do when you have other experienced players around them. And it’s nice to see that rotation right now. It keeps us healthy. It keeps us healthy down the stretch. We’re playing extremely physical. That group has been extremely selfless. They come off the sidelines, sit there, talk to each other and make adjustments. They talk about the things that they’re seeing, the things to improve and adjustments that can be made. That really can be said about all of our position groups. Our team has played that way.”

On if the offensive line is the most important group to be strong at in the SEC: “That and the D-Line I think. Again, I think you all, y’all can do your research on it but I think you can trace that back to my first press conference and everyone in between. You have to be strong at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the line of scrimmage. You’re starting to see our defensive line doing good things. I’m proud of them. I was very proud of their effort on Saturday. We talked about getting a rotation going, we talked about developing depth. We talked about, while they’re in the game, playing extremely hard. Playing very hard and passionate. Because with tempo, you have a tendency sometimes to not always get alignment and execute technique and not play as hard because you’re playing a bunch of plays. We challenged them all week that whoever was in the game was going to play extremely hard, extremely fast. And when they come out the next guy was going to come in, and you’re starting to see some depth there as well.”

On Adrian Middleton winning SEC defensive lineman of the week and how he’s grown: “I saw him playing, with again, the technique. But, more importantly, with some confidence and play very fast and physical and start to make plays. And you saw him finishing some plays behind the line of scrimmage when earlier you saw him back there disrupting but not always finishing. So I see him making a lot of growth. I’m very proud of him and the way he’s grown and his effort. He’s a guy, you know, that’s developing. He’s really starting to play much better.”

On Naquez Pringle moving past Matt Elam on the depth chart and how he played Saturday: “He played extremely well in this past game. He played extremely well. He was very physical, very disruptive. Doesn’t always pop up on the stat chart, but he commanded two guys to block him quite a bit and was very strong at the point of attack.”

On if Benny Snell has a limit and if 50 carries is possible: “No, you don’t know. It depends on how the game’s unfolding. We didn’t have Jojo in this game as I said. We could’ve used him in an emergency situation with the cast on his hand. It wasn’t very smart of us to use him because of ball security issues, to use Jojo until he’s a little bit more comfortable. And even this week, he’ll be, I think the pain will be much better this week as opposed to last week and that hand. Benny, he can carry the load. Again, we talked about capacity, we talked about capacity with Boom. He can handle more as well. It was a nice combination this past week.”

On if expects to play a third back: “We will. Sihiem (King) was set to play in this last game. Had a few things not happened down the stretch he would’ve been in there. Really wish we could’ve got him in there. That was the plan.”

On how Georgia is different with a new staff: “I was very disappointed -- I hate to go back all those years, but I felt like we really didn’t play very good. They really manhandled us the first two years. Last year we had some difficulties moving the football. I probably made the frustration move of going for it on 4th down when we were only down seven. But again, we weren’t moving the ball. At some point you have to take some risks, even if they’re good risks or bad risks. You have to try and make something happen. Trying to make something happen didn’t work. Ended up losing the game. I’m not sure we would’ve won if I would’ve punted it. Anyway, we need to find a way to move the football. They’re very good defensively. It’s a very talented football team. We say it every year. They are an absolutely good looking bunch. I know by Georgia’s standards, maybe not playing to the level that they expect and will under Kirby (Smart) as he builds it and gets going. But they still have some awfully good looking football players that are big and physical and can run across the board. They have some backs, probably three backs will play in the NFL. They always have good players.”

On when he saw the light come on for Pringle: “There’s a lot to be said. You can credit Jimmy Brumbaugh for what he’s doing with him. It’s a lot the same as what happened with Melvin (Lewis). He’s just improved. That’s what we’ve talked about, developing our players and getting them to fundamentally play better. Fundamentally play within the scheme and you’re starting to see that by him.”

On how important it is for him and the players to see the stadium full this weekend: “I think it’s very important for us to see the stadium filled. I think our players would love to see that happen. Our fan base, there’s been a lot of loyal fans to us. We just need more. We need more people in there to fill it up. I’d love to see it filled. Again, I make no bones about it, when we see it filled I expect our team to play at a high level to make those fans proud. Believe me, we’re going to go to work today and have a great week of preparation and put ourselves in position to win this game. It’ll be very important for us to play well.”

On Charles Walker’s fair catches and how that helps special teams: Yeah, he's doing his job. He does a good job in a lot of areas. He's a disciplined football player and does a lot of things correct, and that's just one of them.”

On how that was for field position: “I was second-guessing myself a bit after we were up about 21 and they punted it and pinned us at about the 10 and then they had the offsides and I was debating about whether to make them re-kick or not. Just have the penalty or fumble the ball or muff the ball or something like that. Thank goodness they punted in the end zone and it worked out better. I don't even know what your question was. (laughter). That just came into my mind.”

On if he’s seeing any different responses from recruits now that UK’s having success: “Again, I haven't denied that I think it's very important that we show results on the field. We know what we do behind closed doors, we know the progress that we're making, but it's very important to show with the bottom line. I've never denied that and that is the same with recruits. Yes, it certainly helps you take it to another level.”

On Bryan Kirshe: “We'll continue to work on it. My therapist tells me that if I was playing golf with somebody and he was missing putts that I wouldn't be screaming at him to make the putts, right? So, I probably shouldn't be saying anything to Grant either. That's from my therapist (laughing). I'm teasing; that's from my own mind. We know we have to stay the course. He'll get it done. ... He’ll be fine. He's pressing. I'm sure he wants to deliver for his football team, and he will. He'll get back out there and practice this week. He was hitting them good last week in practice, so he'll come around.”

On his sideline anger management getting on players versus not scaring them to death: “Flinch? I'm always going to be me. I don't feel the need to be one way or the other, other than myself. If I feel like they need to be challenged, then I challenge them. If I don't, then I won't. It's never been an issue with me. I'm gonna go with my gut, with my instincts on my coaching and it's always had good results. I'm going to continue to do that. It's just like Saturday, there was things we could've done better defensively throughout that game and late in the game. We're going to continue to coach all the way through. You gotta coach every moment, we don't ever stop. You really can't with young guys and young kids and young people. You gotta continue to harp on things and continue to coach them every second you can.”

On an example of a player carrying himself differently now: “There are so many things that have changed. It starts with a lot of things, but their commitment level, the way they practice, their belief system and discipline, there's a lot of things that we're doing better that makes all the difference in the world. I talked about it last week or the week before, they need to see some results. It's good to win some games, win a close game here or there and get paid off for some of the hard work they're doing. All those things help, but it's never going to happen unless you have the discipline to prepare and all that. That’ll be the same message again today. It's the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, one or the other. They'd better have their discipline to do what it takes to put them in position to win.”

On if his therapist gave him that line:Yeah, he did. I talk to myself often.”

On getting the offensive line to come together:Well, I think it's – I told you from the beginning. I say it now. They're a fun group to coach. They're good guys. They mean well. When you come together, you have some depth, you see some results, it always helps. I don't think it's hard. I think we have great leadership in there, starting with Jon Toth, and the rest of those guys, they're smart, good football players and they're only gonna get better. That's the beautiful thing.”

On Stephen Johnson missing C.J. Conrad on passes and what's off there:Just off. Just fractions off. I think somebody told me C.J. said it best: Don't worry, they'll connect. Right? They'll get on the same page. There are some things with the RPOs there that you don't always see. The one, we were off balance and there was a defender in the way, so Stephen threw it a little high around the defender. If that's timed up a little better there's a much cleaner window. The one, he overthrew. We've seen him miss that once or twice. And he'll get it down. And we'll convert it just when we need to.”

On how tough the SEC is for a first-year head coach to deal with: “Only in this regard: Most of the time when coaches come into the situation, it's not because it was left just perfect, right? I know that's a big storyline and certainly true in my case. I know there's things that I could do better. Y'all are very good at pointing that out to me. I appreciate that. But I think most of the time you're not going into a perfect situation, and there's things to get fixed. Some better than others, some easier fixes than others. It's all different, but none of it's easy.”

On if he's to the point where he's finally having fun:I definitely have enjoyed myself. I have. You know, it's gone back a long way. I've never doubted that this team would get better. I told you that a long time ago in the midst of some football that was not very pretty, that some of it would be easily fixed and we would get better and I've enjoyed doing that, yes. I enjoy the challenge of it, but I've enjoyed coaching this group because they're different and it's a close team. They're fun to work with and they're certainly buying in and getting better.”

On if that goes back to recruiting:“It's always part. That's always part of it. Recruiting character is always a piece of recruiting, an important piece. Extremely important. You have to have the athletic ability also, but I think it's a really good coaching staff. I think the coaches have done an excellent job and the players have worked hard and they're fun to coach and they're not satisfied. I think that's a big message for today when we get into the meeting. Point out all the good things they did, all the things we can get better at and then right back to work and challenge them about not being satisfied, because I know they're not. I know that's not lip service. I know they want to get out there and prepare. I can tell by the way we are practicing, and that makes life more fun, when you can go on the practice field and really enjoy what you're doing. And you can really give 'em the constructive criticism that they need and they take it and move on. That's always a good sign. I think our team has been much more selfless. They pull for each other, they want to win. That’s the bottom line: Winning football games. ‘How does the team play when you’re in there? Not necessarily you.’ I mentioned that last week: ‘Not necessarily you, but how does the team function when you’re in the game?’ That’s where you’re starting to see the depth and the team play well no matter who’s in there.”

On if he will allow any talk of SEC East race among players: “There will be no talk about that. We need to control what we can control, and that’s playing Georgia well. Let’s play Georgia the very best we can. We’re in no position to look ahead against anybody. We’re going to do the same things we’ve been doing and we’re going to try to do them better this week. And that’s the great thing: I believe we have much better football in us.”

On Stephen Johnson making TD pass when he got hit: “Well, what I like about the play was – I didn’t even really notice how he got hit, to be honest with you, but he really was good at…That was supposed to be a shovel pass, so we’d like to see that open and he was going to flip it to him. So it’s like a draw, but if it’s incomplete it’s not a fumble, it’s just an incomplete pass. We knew they were going to pin their ears back and get great pressure on that and we had one lineman up on the backer. We actually didn’t even get the backer blocked, but thank goodness Boom made him miss. But what he did: He just ad-libbed on that play. So he did buy time. He did hang in the pocket, let them come to him and he dumped it off. He just did it in a way where he was just playing football. That was good to see, because actually the ball was probably going to be flipped in his left hand. So he just kind of shout-putted it to him.”

On if that is the kind of thing Johnson couldn’t have done six weeks ago: “Well, that’s kind of the thing actually that he’s done well. It doesn’t always look pretty, but he’s making plays. Those are the type of things where he’s making plays to put us in a position to go win football games. That’s where, again I said it last week, I don’t think people give enough credit for – It may not always look pretty or we may not be completing a certain number of passes, but he’s making football plays when we need him to, whether it be a scramble or a play like that.”

On if he’s gone to Darin Hinshaw and thanked him for finding Stephen Johnson at the 11th hour: “No, no I haven’t done that yet. (Laughs).”

On how significant it is they made that addition: “It is, it is. It is. He’s doing his job. Well, it is really good. It was good that he found him, and certainly said it before, I’ll say it again, I’m certainly glad he’s here. He’s a great kid. He’s got great poise and he’s getting better and better. That’s the good thing.”

On the running game, if he could’ve imagined this production: “No. I said it last week that every football team morphs or evolves into what they are, and I think we’ve done a nice job of finding what we can do well and what our players can handle on both sides. And controlling the ball and running the ball and getting tough yards and running the football when everybody knows you’re going to run the football will help you win some football games, and it has through this run. It has.”

On if Jojo Kemp is going to have a cast on the rest of the season: “He’s got the cast on again this week, so yeah. I told you he can play, and he can play (grinning). He’ll just have a cast on.”

On Missouri’s tempo: “I think we handled the tempo extremely well. Everybody we talked to told us that they would play as fast as anybody that runs tempo – they would go as quick a pace as you could go, and our players handled it extremely well. There was one or two players that I was not happy with. One of them could’ve made us play dearly that we’ve gotta get corrected, but outside of that, I thought the players handled it exceptionally well. I thought our coaches did a great job of preparation for them. We had just enough change-ups to keep them off balance and really played well.

“And Courtney (Love) probably played his best game, I’d say, this past week. And again, it’s also a testament to start getting some depth that Kash (Daniel) went in and played two series, gave Courtney an opportunity to get on the bench, clear his head, rest for a moment. Kash went in and played two series and played very well. Eli (Brown) has played very well at the Will linebacker position, Eli Brown, and done very good. It’s good for our guys to be able to get a rest. We played quite a few guys on the D-line – and we didn’t play very many snaps, which was good. The defense was getting stops and offense was controlling the ball, so it was a great recipe for success and to win the game.

“We could’ve probably done some other things later and thrown the ball, but you know, the bottom line is winning a football game and we did what we had to do. I wish we would’ve played a little cleaner. The punt return really wasn’t fun because you could get some more depth and play some other guys. You didn’t want to give it any opportunity to get close. The one long pass – you take the long pass out of there and I thought the defense played exceptionally well. A lot of stops; I think we made them punt on their first five possessions. The lone touchdown drive of the first half really could’ve been avoided with the penalty.

“And I can’t blame the (player). That was not a selfish penalty at all. A lot of times, late hits or out of bounds is a selfish penalty (but) we were straining for every yard. It was a third down and Jordan (Jones), that was very close and he was straining to stop the third down. Unfortunately kept the drive alive and that’s the only score they had. Otherwise, playing very well on both sides of the ball.”

On Calvin Taylor playing some: “Yeah, he only played a few snaps, but he did better. It was good to get his feet wet, get a few snaps.”

On the officials initially calling that penalty on Love: “No, it was Jordan. He was the one that got him out of bounds and it was – it was, uh, I can’t blame him. (Making a face).”

On his Halloween costume: “There will be none. I will be in my office working.”

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