Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops on what it means to play with edge and being ‘juiced up’ for Vols

MARK STOOPS

“Very tough loss. I was extremely pleased with our team’s effort. I thought our coaches did a great job. I thought our team really played exceptionally hard and we came up fractions off. And that’s going to happen. But I was proud of them and the work they did to put us in position to win a game. Onto the next one: We’re excited and ready to go for Tennessee.”

On the “edge” problems he saw Saturday: “Edge is not about just an attitude. Edge is disciplined execution in the face of adversity. We didn’t always have the execution that we needed. I never faulted their effort. I don’t know that there’s a team in the country that’s worked harder than us the last seven weeks.”

On if “edge” issue was on offense and defense: “Yeah, I think just in a big moment -- and I talk about it all the time -- under extreme pressure, your habits are going to come straight to the surface and we’re getting better habits. We wouldn’t be in this position to win that game if we didn’t do things right and have a great attitude and effort. With that disciplined execution in the face of adversity that I talked about, about being an edge, you talk about purposeful preparation, our team did that. We were relentless in our preparation. Watch film, they got recovery, they got sleep. They did what they had to do. Exceptional energy. Again I cannot thank the fans enough. That’s what it takes. That’s an SEC football game at home against a quality opponent. That’s great energy and our team had great energy. The last thing is fanatical focus and that’s all of it is part of the edge thing that I talked about. The focus, in big moments, we missed a couple of opportunities. You watch football, nobody’s perfect. We gave ourselves a great opportunity to win the game. Our coaches did a great job. It was the exact right recipe to win. Our players did the things necessary, we’ve just got to keep that focus for 60 minutes and continue to put ourselves in positions like this in big games and we will make those plays. Look at where we’ve come. Look at how far this team has grown. We’ve played six games and one bye week in seven weeks, and this team has come a long way. That doesn’t come without an edge and an attitude. They’ve done that. Their effort is right. I’ve told you once; I’ve told you 100 times that their hearts and their minds are in the right place, have I not? So when I talk about edge, I’m not talking about effort. It’s all those three things that I talked about.”

On if he’s concerned about his kids coming to practice not ready: “I’m not. I’m jacked up and ready to go. I really am. I’m not going to lie. It’s a hard locker room after that game, of course it is. It’s not an easy Sunday. That’s it, 24 hours, man, I’m juiced up and ready to go. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee.”

On execution issues and if he could do some things over again what they’d focus on: “There’s things you could do over again, there’s things I would do different? Sure. As a play caller, there’s a couple plays I would call over. I’m sure offensively there’s a few and everything. Again, our coaches did -- we had them in position to make the play -- the recipe was right. Sometimes you make a couple plays, sometimes you don’t. There’s two or three plays in a game that sometimes determine the outcome and I’m not saying which ones they are because you never know which ones they are. They may be big and they may be small. If you do the little things right, the big things aren’t so big. So the big moments, the big plays that everybody thinks are the game changers, what about all the little things, that if we’d have done right to not put ourselves in that position. So there’s many plays that change the outcome of a game and you don’t ever know which ones they are.”

On if the dropped passes are a concern: “It was concerning, but we’ll move on and get past it. Don’t make them.”

On his thinking on not attempting the 54-yard field goal and punting instead:“My thinking was just like I said after the game: Pin them and get field position and get points. So, we didn’t pin them like we wanted to, but we did go three-and-out, we did get field position and we did get 7 points on the next possession if you watched it.”

On Benny willing himself on a third-down run to get the first down: “Incredible. Incredible run. Incredible individual effort there. As we’ve mentioned for weeks, our line, our tight ends, our receivers, everybody’s blocking and giving great effort. Straining. On that play you’ve got to give him a lot of effort. It was a great individual effort to get that third down.”

On if Benny has a Tim Tebow-style jump pass: “You guys keep on asking me that as if the question is even, yeah, we’re always building.”

On if Eddie Gran has to manage egos with the running backs when the crowd is chanting Benny when Boom Williams is a proven player himself: “You know, we preach selfless all the time, and our team has been that. We’ve grown so much and we’ll continue to do that. Is is it always perfect for all those players? No. Was it easy in that locker room? No. Everybody wants to, there should be a competitive nature about some people that are pissed off after a game like that. Doesn’t mean there’s any issues. There’s zero. Zero. Our team will not, I guarantee they’ll be ready to go and they’ll be ready to go today. If you’re a competitive person, you want the ball. If you’re a competitive person, you don’t like to lose. So, we’ll move on. Yeah, it’s always an issue but I see no problems.”

On if that’s a sign of how far the team has come when they have a star at one position and they can put another guy in who’s just as good: “I do. I think it’s a big sign of how far we’ve come. You see all kinds of little things like that. You see it during the game. There’s games when maybe one side or the other is not playing well and the other side needs to set up. But there’s absolutely nothing but encouragement from each other and we’ll continue to do that.”

On Tennessee being the favorite in the East to start the year and what he sees from the team now: “I see a very good team that’s very talented. They’ve been banged up but they had the bye week and they come back last week and played like they’re capable of. If you watch our league, you have the tendency to see some scores sometimes that you raise your eyebrows and say, ‘Wow.’ But again, that’s the nature of the beast. We’re constantly beating up on each other and dog eats dog, right? And so everybody, it’s brutal. It’s hard. You get beat up and you’re not always going to play your best. You’re not always going to be play with that perfect edge. You’ve got to try to win the games when you’re not peaking. Sometimes, you know, the score isn’t always indicative of your team. So, I see a very good team that’s very well coached coming off a bye and had a big win last week and is probably ready to play some very good football again.”

On the challenge of facing Derek Barnett: “Yeah. It’s an issue. He’s a difference maker. He’s a difference maker.”

On what Tennessee’s win last week might’ve done for its psyche: “I’m sure they were not very happy during their bye week and I’m sure they probably did what we did: Hit the reset button, got healed up, got focused and got ready to play. They went out and played an exceptional game. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

On Courtney Love saying a light came on for him after the Missouri game and if that’s visible on film: “Yeah, we do. He certainly played his best game against Missouri. He did some things, like a lot of us, could’ve played a little bit better on Saturday. But, you know, we’ll continue to work.”

On if Cole Mosier is going to be back at practice this week: “Yeah. Yeah I expect him back. I do. He turned his ankle. It’s not a high ankle or anything major. So, hopefully he’ll be back here today or tomorrow.”

On Jordan Jones’ game against UGA: “A very good game, very productive game. Not perfect, but he plays with relentless passion and energy and effort, and he has very good instincts and he’s very quick, so he’s making some good plays. I think it’s good to see Eli (Brown) come in and spell him and play very good football as well. Continue to develop Eli, because he gives us good reps. And as he gets more physical and gets stronger, he’s going to be an exceptional player as well. So I think we need to do that. I think with Courtney (Love), we need to possibly continue to try to get Kash (Daniel) a couple series and give Courtney a rest. I know that worked well for us the week before at Missouri, and we need to do that. That’s a big part of it. This past week, our recipe was right. And I’m not calling out any plays or any player, but we were right there. What happened was they ended up putting some pressure on us at the end of the game that we’d been doing to people – and that comes with time of possession, you know, and turnovers don’t help with those. So we were playing very good defense and the offense was doing extremely well, and I think we were getting ready to put the pressure back on them, had our opportunities to put the pressure back on them, and it didn’t happen. The defense went back out there, and that stress and that pressure and those plays add up, and down the stretch, that’s where again we need to do a better job playing guys in tight ball games and continue to trust and develop and bring some other guys along.”

On scouting UT and any guys that stand out: “They’re a very talented team. The position group that jumps out, obviously there’s a lot of defensive talent. And like you mentioned Barnett, blocking him is a real issue. He’s a guy that has relentless effort and ability to create pressure without blitzing. He’s a guy that can get to the quarterback at any moment. They always have good defensive players across the board; offensively, same thing, they’re backs are extremely talented. Of course their quarterback is a dual-threat guy that puts a lot of pressure on you. And I really think they’ve got some guys that can hurt you at wide receiver.”

On another early kickoff vs. the Vols and if prep will be the same as the early start at Mizzou: “It’ll be very similar. We’ve got to, again, make sure we’re managing it the right way. I thought our prep was very good last week. It’s tough sitting around that hotel all day and getting ready to play a night game. But again, I think it certainly wasn’t a problem getting motivated with that type of atmosphere, that type of energy and excitement. That’s what we need to play in front of all the time. That’s what the SEC is all about. And believe me, I know our coaches and our players are working around the clock to play with that type of effort and play quality football. I’m proud of what we’ve done. We’re right there battling some very good teams and, heck, there’s only, what, four or five teams in the SEC with four or more conference wins? It’s tough, they’re tough. Everybody beating up on each other, it’s tough. I don’t care what anybody says about this or that, up, down – every team does the right thing, they are well-coached, they are tough, hard-nosed teams that play the game the right way. By far the best conference in America. And it’s a brutal league, even if everybody’s beating up on each other. It’s just tough. And our players are right there battling and preparing and working and putting ourselves in position to make plays. Sometimes you make them. Sometimes you don’t. I take nothing away from them. They played an exceptional game and they played very hard and they’re well-coached.”

On general feedback from recruits at the UGA game: “Nothing but positive. Nothing but positive. Anybody that was here absolutely loved the environment and loved seeing the fan base so energized and liked the way our team’s playing. Liked the passion and the effort and the energy of our team.”

On Matt Elam against Georgia and how he’s handled Naquez Pringle moving ahead of him: “He did some good things. We need to play both. Naquez needs a break and Matt needs to go in there and play well when he’s in there. It was a good combination. We’re playing more guys up front that’s helping us. It’s helping us now and it’s going to help us in the future with developing more guys. We need to continue to work around that with everyone else. We’ll start getting a little thin like everyone, like every team. You start looking at backups and all the plays you have to make on special teams and just all the plays you’re playing, it takes its toll on you.”

On looking at the standings and realizing they were close to being on top:“We can’t worry about the standings. I think I’d be a fool to say the players didn’t understand the opportunity. Of course they do. They want to win, but again it’s about what we can control. That’s how we play. It comes with our preparation, with our energy and with our attention to detail and our focus. We’ll continue to harp on those things.”

On if Drew Barker is any closer to practicing: “No. Nope. Let me rephrase that: Is he going to practice this week? No. Is he closer? I don’t know. I’ll get an update or whatever. This week, no, nothing has changed.”

On what is working for Stephen Johnson on deep passes: “I think it comes with a clearer picture. He had good protection and we took our shot at the right moment. We had it there. He threw a beautiful pass. Jeff (Badet) has made some big plays and he does a good job of getting open. He’s made some big plays and we need him to continue to make big plays. We missed that one. It’s on to the next game and he’ll bounce back and so will the rest of our guys.”

On if he’s ever seen anything like Stephen Johnson and C.J. Conrad’s inability to complete a pass: “They’ll get it worked out. When you’re playing teams like Georgia -- you have to realize those are some good football players that put a lot of pressure on you. Standing in that pocket -- he’s still relatively new and not real comfortable. As a defensive coach we talk constantly about affecting the quarterback. Georgia affects the quarterback. A lot of these teams do. So does Tennessee. We need to pick our spots like we’ve done. We need to connect on ones we can. Sure, there’s things he needs to continue to work on and stay calm and deliver when he can. We talk about ball security and all those things while he sits in the pocket. Well, he does and then he gets the ball stripped again, which wasn’t his fault this time. He needs to build some comfort in there and some trust that he can deliver the ball. It’s an issue against good teams. That’s why I believe the recipe that we had to win on Saturday was there. We had our big shot when we had it. We were about ready to get into grind mode at times. It was there. We just missed on a few plays. We’ll continue to work at it. Again, I think we had the right recipe and we’ll continue to work in all areas to do better. That starts with me, but I’ve been very proud of the coaches prep and I’ve been very proud of the team’s effort.”

On the updates with Drew Barker are weekly and if there was anything that pushed him out of the initial timetable for return: “I think we’re still in the midst of that timetable. There’s no denying when I made the announcement that it was going to be a significant amount of time. I don’t know how many weeks that is. That’s a good amount of time.”

On if he would hesitate to play Gunnar Hoak in event of injury to Stephen Johnson this late in the season: “Yeah, I’m not sure because I’ve been very pleased with Luke (Wright). I feel like Luke Wright has really gotten better and is a good quarterback. I like what I’m seeing out of him. So, I’m unsure. We’ll continue to look at that and see what the situation is. I’d like to see what Luke can do in a game, because I feel like he’s playing well and practicing well and I have some confidence in him.”

On what Georgia did well on the final drive: “Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s tough. It’s tough for me to watch. I really didn’t want to watch that on Sunday. I really didn’t, but there’s things that I can do better. Again, that takes that fanatical focus that I’m talking about under extreme pressure. That comes with the urgency that I was a little bit frustrated with after the game, because it doesn’t get relayed all the way over to the guy furthest away from us, furthest away from our sideline. So, we were supposed to be hard corner on some of that, on the second easy out. The second one where they got some critical yards should have been zero. So again, you’ve heard me talk about it before: When you’ve got plays that are stooped and you don’t execute them it gets very frustrating. So, that’s part of it and part of things we can do better as coaches. And we’ll get it done. Players are playing hard. It was a tough drive. We need to do some things better.”

On if that communication to the far sideline is a hand signal or players telling each other: “All of the above. All of the above. Players getting it from the sidelines and us having the urgency to relay it all the way over in a pressure situation.”

On what young guys can get out of playing in those close late-game situations: “I think you can get a lot out of that. Like I said earlier too, the more times you put yourself in these positions with an environment like that with a lot on the line and you’re playing for a lot at stake you always learn from those things. We’ll continue to learn from them. Two-minute situations, it’s hard to simulate that in practice – and we do, we do a bunch of two-minute, but we can learn a lot from that situation right there. And I think that’s a big part of growing as a program. The last time we faced adversity, the tough adversity from the beginning of the year, our team has grown a tremendous amount and I’m very proud of that. This is another tough game and we’re facing some adversity. You learn from it and you move on.”

On if two-minute drills are practice with noise: “Sometimes if we’re playing a road game. If it’s a home game not necessarily, but yeah that is something that we discussed as a staff that I need to continue to push. As I mentioned before, we never stop coaching. 24/7, every day, every game. That’s why I’m always on the field coaching. You saw them on the field coaching, get a penalty. We’re constantly trying to stay on these guys about teaching moments, but it is about harping on the communication of hand signals that you’re talking about and just communication in general. I constantly talk to the DBs about that. I say go watch a pro practice one time and you ought to see the urgency that they practice with with communicating. It’s fanatical. That’s what we need to get to.”

On if he’s suggesting that communication might have cost them the game: “No. No, no, no. Is it one of those plays? Yes. I never put it on any one play. Not any one turnover, not any one missed tackle. There’s many plays in a game that change the outcome, but I always tell the players that you don’t know which one it was. Was it a little one that was earlier in the game? Was it a big one that everybody saw? It’s never on any one person. Never. You can always put that bulls eye on me. You know I can take it, and I’m glad to take it because I appreciate their effort and ultimately it comes down to me and getting them to execute in all situations.”

On UK having trouble facing dual-threat quarterbacks in the past:

You know I always say they give a lot of people problems, so let’s just – watch some football (laughs).

On UK doing better against dual-threat quarterbacks this season and what the key is:We have. I think it’s just great team defense and everybody doing their job. It’s just like tackling. People talk about tackling. When you see a lot of missed tackles, you see not great position on the football. When you have great position on the football, you generally tackle better. If everybody’s doing their job and you’re keeping the lanes as good as you can against running quarterbacks, at least you limit it some. He makes plays. He hurts everybody with his legs. That’s what talented players with some experience do. You’ve seen our quarterback hurt some people with their legs. It’s tough on defense. It’s stress.”

On if Chris Westry has progressed the way he hoped he would:Yeah. He’s done some good things, but as all of us, he can do better. Like all of us.”

On challenge of finding balance of playing young guys when every play means so much:It is tough, because every play is so critical and that’s where the trust comes in and the players need to earn our trust during the week with their prep and the way they do things all the time. Some of it is just with getting them in there and getting them some game experience and getting ‘em ready to play. Another one like that is Jordan Griffin, a corner that I think’s gonna be an exceptional player, and I gotta make sure we get him in there in some quality reps to continue to develop him. Because I think he’s got a great future and we got to get him in there.”

On if he was happier with the punting:We got one really good punt. I’m very pleased with our cover unit’s effort. Coach (Matt) House had to really work something from the week before. The nice thing is with our players is there’s always so many things to stress and so many different scenarios that always happen in a game, but our players have always worked hard at correcting their mistakes. We saw a nice example of that this week with our cover units in particular. We get thin. Our guys get tired and we get thin. There’s a balance there with special teams and with defensive guys, with how many plays they’re playing and all that.”

On if he was surprised to get a text from John Calipari after the loss: ”Oh no. I’m never surprised getting a text from Cal. I would be surprised if I don’t. He’s always like that. He’s always been good, because he’s always been there with supportive texts. Believe it or not, Cal’s even been there before, many years ago. No, I’m teasing. Because we all have tough times as coaches. He’s always been supportive, so I always appreciate him and his support. He’s been a good friend.”

On the hold that negated the field goal: ”Yeah, it comes down to a technique issue that we need to do a little better job on the edge and do what he’s coached to do. We go through that every day. Every day. Every meeting. We have a special teams meeting that starts off with field goal protection on Saturday. We go through that on Saturday morning. We take nothing for granted, believe it or not.”

On the team’s confidence going on the road this week:Team’ll be fine. We’ll be ready to go. They’ll be back to work, I’m sure. They’ve been resilient and they’ll bounce back. There’s no doubt in my mind. Don’t ever quit your cattle on a stormy night.”

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