Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Coach Mark Stoops after Cats’ 49-36 defeat at Tennessee

MARK STOOPS

“We didn’t play good enough to win. You have to give credit to Tennessee. They made plays, they were physical, they put us in a lot of space with their run game. Their dual-threat quarterback put a lot of pressure on us. They put a lot to the perimeter and made big plays — explosive runs. It’s hard to win when you do that. I thought our offense did the same. We had a lot of quality runs, obviously, when you rush for that many yards. The difference was in the red zone. They capped it off with touchdowns, we capped it off with some field goals. Again, in a close game when the defense is reeling and every point counts, and got it down there and had a turnover down deep, that puts us down as well. The bottom line is they played better than us. We did not play clean enough to win. We know that going into this game you’re going to be put under some pressure on the perimeter, and they finished off some big runs. I thought that was the difference. Give them credit. I think they’re a big, physical team and Dobbs is a real talent. He’s been around for a long time and really made some quality runs. Part of it, and again, I want to give them credit first. In particular, their team and their coaching staff, but also I think it gets down to some of it with us. The aggravating pieces is we have to do the things we’re capable of doing. It gets back to the things I touched on early in the year and some of that showed, reared it’s ugly head today as well with guys not executing their responsibilities at times. That’s where we have to grow and get better in all sides from when it’s offense, defense, special teams. When we have a play that’s there, we have to make them. They’re good enough. That’s a heck of a football team, and they’re coached really well and put a lot of stress on you. You know that going into it, but the plays that are there, we’re not making them. It’s difficult to win a game like that and that’s where we have to grow and take it to the next step.”

On what wasn’t working in the red zone that was working in other places for the offense: “Well, you have to give them credit. Obviously they’re a physical bunch, and when things get tighter, the windows get smaller. We had a pass or two that were, that we have to stick in there. You know, there’s going to be tight windows and you’re going to have to make plays. And our guys gotta get open, we have to protect and all the above.”

On how much the injuries affected them early: “Definitely hurt. Definitely hurt. We know that going into it. They’re banged up, but they’re physical as heck. They’re a big football team. They’re very big. Their skill on offense is big and strong. So, I think with Jordan Jones missing basically, I don’t know when he went out in the first half, most of the first half. Not having him hurt. With Eli (Brown), Eli does some very good things, but to play an entire game for him with all the misdirection that they do, it puts you in a real bind. And it puts a lot of stress on the perimeter. It’s what they do. It’s part of their offense.”

On what makes Joshua Dobbs so hard to defend: “Yeah, he’s a very good football player. He’s very talented. He’s a big guy that’s very elusive. He’s deceptive. He has great speed but he has very good balance and toughness. I’m glad we don’t have to see him anymore. He is a senior, right? Yeah, I know, because he played us all four years. He’s a heck of a player. That’s what I told him afterwards: He’s a heck of a player, and I congratulated him on a great game and glad I don’t have to see him again.”

On Tennessee’s pass rush after they fell behind: “Yeah, I think that’s a key. That’s where as a team you have to do the things necessary. The defense has to stop them, we can’t get them those (inaudible) runs, we can’t let them get out ahead of us and we have to keep them off balance, because you’re correct in predictable pass very difficult to block those guys. That’s what makes it hard. I thought our offense did a great job. Again, all of us can do better, but to put up those kind of numbers is pretty darn good. It is hard for us when we get off balance. We take shots and we get behind the chains, it’s hard to block those guys.”

On Tennessee having so many second-and-shorts and only five third downs: “Third down was the key. We didn’t even get them in third down. So, they were making too much hay on first and second down.”

On if there was something Tennessee was doing on first and second down to have so much success: “They just mix it up. Again, they put a lot of stress on you, and we tried many different things. Even when we were playing straight they were getting five, six tough yards. So that’s where we’ve got to sturdy up and as we execute some run pressures at times when you’re running into it and they have certain (inaudible) it gets to be tough. Then we had some pressures away from it where we got some stops but they did a nice job of keeping us off balance. Again, they were parts where it gets frustrating because we didn’t execute some of the things we have to do. So it’s all – there’s a lot of things that contribute to that kind of yards.”

On Tennessee answering all their scores with TDs: “It’s very big. Yeah, I mean, we had to get a stop and get off the field and couldn’t do it. Again, there was very few third downs. They were making hay on first and second down. That was frustrating.”

On if part of the balance he wants on offense is needing the pass game to work to pick up quick chunks of yards when down: “We have our opportunities, we have our plays. Part of it is, again, protection with some dynamic pass-rushers and a talented football team. We move the ball, but of course you’re always striving for balance.”

On failed two-point conversion play: “We fumbled the ball, or missed the reverse. We botched the reverse.”

On momentum swing of Benny Snell fumble: “It was important for us to stay close right there and it’s obviously painful when you fumble inside the 10.”

On Stephen Johnson’s troubles: “I think anytime we get behind the chains, they’ve got some pass rushers that kept him very uncomfortable. And I think if we can get some protection -- you know there’s that fine balance right now for us of again taking our shots on first, second down and then if we miss it, we’re behind the chains and that’s a tough spot to play. We need to play ahead of the chains. Our strength is in our run game right now and that’s a recipe where, that’s a team situation where the defense has to play better than it did today, keep it close, run it, then throw it when we have our opportunities. And it’s always a combination of things. It’s never just Stephen. It’s protection, it’s catching the ball, taking your shots, all of the above.”

On if he’s seen a game with 400-plus rushing yards and the team didn’t win: “No. Nope. Not real happy with the other side having some rush yards as well.”

On bowl eligibility potential next week and what it would mean: “It would mean a great deal and we have to continue to push forward. Nobody’s happy. We have to learn with every opportunity, in our preparation, in big games, in big moments, in tough environments against very good teams, you have to get better each and every day and our team has to bounce back. They will; I think it’s very important. We’ve come a long way and we’re not going to go backwards, we’ve got to continue to push forward. This next game is the next opportunity and we have to approach it and challenge it the same way we always do. And so we have to find ways to make plays in big moments and big games. Again, I thought our preparation was good, our effort was good, we have to execute -- the plays that are there for us to execute, we have to execute. We know you’re going to be under stress. We know this is a talented football team. So I know they’re banged up and so are we and they put a season high down for a reason. They’re a big, physical team.”

On if he considered going for a touchdown instead of opting for field goal on fourth-and-2 early in game: “I did. That’s why we took the delay. I knew the delay was no issue. I actually wanted a little more room. But they told me it was from the 2. So once I realized it was from the 2, I knew we had to take (the points). You could always play better defense and certain points are valuable.”

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