Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops looks back at Tennessee, ahead to Austin Peay, talks senior class


“After review of the Tennessee game, again, as I mentioned after the game, there was entirely too many explosive plays. I felt like our team on both sides and special teams did some very good things and then some things that were not good enough to win, obviously. We moved the ball very efficiently. We need to get some touchdowns, we can’t turn it over. Defensively, it was all about the explosive plays. There were nine explosive plays in the run game alone. That is a bad recipe right there. That was a combination of things, whether it be, there were some new wrinkles, there were some details that we need to fundamentally play better, there were some missed tackles. So, it’s all the above. All of us, whether it’s the scheme or structure of the defense, whether it’s missed tackles, or whether it’s the details of the defense, we need to execute better. I think there was nine explosive plays for 272 yards, so that’s not good. The flip side of that, there was 32 run plays for 104 yards. It shows that we can do some good things and that we gotta get back to doing that. When you have massive breakdowns in your defense, again, it’s a combination of those issues, whether it’s the structure, the details or missed tackles. So, we’ll get those things fixed, get back to work today and really push and grind on the details in all areas of the program. And that’s why we’ve improved a great deal, that’s why we’ve gotten better through this season. In this past game it wasn’t there on particular plays, and you’re not going to win against a very good team that has, that puts a lot of stress on you anyway, as I mentioned. And certainly when they get you in space and you miss tackles, you’re going to have issues. So, again, the positive is that we did that to them as well. I think with our run game, with what we’re doing and with as physical as we are, we did some very good things structurally, our backs made some extremely good runs and our line played very physical. Need to continue to improve in the pass game, so.

“Moving on to Austin Peay, we’re just, again, excited to get back to work today and get back to work and get that attention to detail that we need to keep on pushing our program forward. I expect us to have a great practice today and a great week of preparation.”

On if the injuries to Jeff Badet and Jordan Jones would linger into this week: “I think there’s a good chance they could play this week. You know, that’s where the details really, you know, we have to be relentless in the way we’re doing things and practicing because inexperience in a game like that is also a tough recipe. It didn’t hurt, you know, we had some guys banged up. That’s just the way it is. It’s never good. Mike Edwards has played terrific football for us all year and last week he couldn’t practice one snap and it showed. It showed in the game.”

On how he cautions his players to not look past Austin Peay: “Well, I think it gets back to where are we going as a program and what’re we going to do. It’s about our preparation, and that’s how I’ll challenge them. It’ll be the same every week and today is about going back out there and having that great attention to detail and getting the things fixed that we did wrong. That’s how you’re going to move forward in the future. So, we’ll challenge them. I don’t anticipate that being a problem. As I mentioned once, I mentioned it a bunch of times, we’re in no position to overlook anybody. We’re worried about ourselves. We’re worried about getting better and pushing the program forward. And getting to six wins and getting to a bowl game, I said it in the summer, I said it when we were in dire straights. I made no denying it was important for us to do that — just for our players, for recruiting, for the practices.”

On what the seniors who were part of his first class have meant to him and the program: “Yeah, the seniors have been very solid. They’re great young men to work with. They’ve been very good leaders, and again, I said it earlier during the tough times of this season, I don’t know if we would’ve grown if we didn’t have strong seniors. There’s not very many of them, but they’re good people. They’re good players and they mean a lot to me and this program.”

On how Ryan Timmons has stepped up this year despite the ups and downs of his career: “Yeah, just like you mentioned, through ups and downs he’s been there. He’s been out there working, trying to get better. He’s made some big plays for us through the years. This year he’s been more consistent. It does, you know, you always have part of you that is a little ticked off because you’d love to redshirt these guys. It kills me that Marcus McWilson not having another year. Blake (McClain), Timmons, so on. I mean, you’re really starting to see them playing some good football. In particular, Marcus. I’d love to have him another year, but we weren’t in that situation.”

On containing Austin Peay WR Jay Beard: “We just structurally again I think we’ve shown we can play good defense and good run defense in general. But we have to be in great position and that comes down to details. That’s executing whether it’s run blitzes or any type of movement or pressure when you’re getting all the deception and so many different run plays -- and Tennessee really did a nice job, I think they had spent some time probably on their bye week -- and they had some good runs in there. Anytime you’ve got a quarterback that runs the ball like he does and they feature him in on a game, that puts a lot of stress on you. You have to, it comes down to execution and doing all the little things right. You get two guys outside the gap or, again, we’re not spilling when we’re supposed to. Of all the different pressures, of all the different looks, it gets hard. When you’ve got explosive players, you’ve got to be very detailed in your assignments.”

On Jon Toth: “Jon is everything that you look for in a person in your program, just he’s an excellent person, a great student, solid as a rock. He’s there every day. I’ve mentioned it a bunch this season, but he always seems to be the first one in the building and the last one to leave. He’s fun to be around. He’s meant an awful lot.”

On when UK moved him to center as a freshman and what they saw: “I think again you talk about football IQ. He’s smart in general, but he also can apply that to the football field. That’s a big part of it. He’s very conscientious. He’s going to work. He’s going to get it done. He’s just the anchor that you want.”

On if Benny Snell fumble will have any lasting impact: “No, I don’t.”

On J.D. Harmon and their relationship: “It’s again, it’s always work with all these guys. They mean well. J.D. means well. He’s been very versatile. He’s been a guy that’s done anything we’ve asked him to do. He’s a guy who can play corner, nickel, dime; he can play some safety. You always want everybody to have that detail and play at a higher level. We’re never going to stop that. I’m going to coach him hard until the last day he’s here. He got it Saturday, too.”

On Alexander Montgomery and Ramsey Meyers on Senior Day list: “Alex had another knee surgery. It was more significant than we thought. Alex will be in a medical redshirt. He’s done playing football. So I told him that I’d love to keep him in the program, have him come work with us, be a student assistant, in the recruiting room, wherever because he’s a wonderful young man and we want to take care of him and have him finish. Ramsey, I think at that point, he’s exhausted. Four years and he’s going to graduate in May. I think he’d just assume let it go at that point.”

On connection with that first class: “There is. Those guys took a leap of faith and jumped in at some very tough times and they got thrown into some situations where it was very difficult for them and it’s been tough. It’s nice to see us be in the position we’ve been in and not always perfect, but we’ve come a long way and we’re never going to look back and I think those guys are a big piece of that.”

On the seniors being good leaders: “Yeah, I think they set a good example because the nice thing is as we move forward -- I’m not sure because I don’t have the numbers right in front of me -- the difference will be next year’s senior class will be I’m sure more than double. I want to say in the neighborhood of 20, 25, I don’t know. One of you guys probably know. There’s a bunch of seniors next year and the juniors, the sophomores will be juniors, so our next two classes. That’s what you want: You want a bunch of experience and some mature players and hopefully, I’m confident we’ll continue to push and get better and improve in all areas.”

On all that Montgomery has endured: “Alex is one of my favorites. He’s just a great kid. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a guy I went to see right away from my years at Florida State and Fort Lauderdale, he’s a great young man. I’ve got some stories about his grandma. His grandma was busting my chops when I was recruiting him. One of my favorite recruiting stories, I don’t want to tell you anything about it, but she was teasing me. She was wonderful. Alex has had some tough times in his life and he’s persevered through a lot of things.”

On getting Jojo Kemp back in the mix: “It was really good. And you know, he really hit a good speed, and you could tell with some fresh legs that made a difference. I think he ran as fast as he ever has since he’s been here according to his GPS on his long run. He hit at a high number, so it was good. Good to see those fresh legs.”

On structural problems on defense and whether that was not lining up or not executing: ”Just a combination. There's a lot of misdirection there. There's a lot, and they put stress on you. We talk about it, I talked about it beforehand. They put a lot of stress on you on the perimeter and inside, and a lot of it is faking perimeter and combing back and running power plays inside. They arc, they influence, they do a lot of things. As you're bringing pressures, you got to be very precise. Like I said, there's 32 runs where you'll take all day. Even with the big runs that we had, we had a 110 yards after missed tackles. You put all that together, you're not gonna win. You take the missed tackles out of there alone, I think you got a good chance. I don't know what would happen, but I know you can't have 110 yards after contact.”

On what he attributes missed tackles to: I think, again, I talked about it last week. A big part of it is position on the football, so had we done all the structure things different – and again, you know going into it. You know they're going to put some stress on you and you they're gonna put you in some situations where it's tough to defend. But I think it's all of the above. I think if our position on the football was much better, we wouldn't have missed as many tackles. Some of it you have to give them credit. They're very athletic and physical and made us miss. So, those things.”

On if communication issues UK had against Georgia improved vs. Tennessee:Some. Yeah, some. Yeah, I didn't see – there wasn't major communication issues, no. I think, again, there's always that fine line of doing, you always wonder, too much, too little. A team that's doing an awful lot, you have to be really detailed. We'll get back out there today and continue to detail the program, basically. Keep on working, keep on getting better and we are. And we will.”

On how Eli Brown played in extended snaps vs. Tennessee:Let me tell you this: It was a tough game for him just in general without having that much experience playing that spot. He was put in a bad position. And he had some tough things going on with him with a loss in his personal life last week, and I love him and he's really a great young man. He's going to be a great player, but that was a tough situation for him to have to play significant snaps.”

On how Stephen Johnson graded:He did some good things. He only made a few really poor decisions, so I think he made good decisions. One that stuck out that was probably a poor decision that put us in a bad spot in the red zone, but other than he did some good things. Sure, we'd like to be a little more efficient throwing the ball but that's a combination of things. Giving him some time and getting open and all that.”

On message to Garrett Johnson after drop issues that have popped up of late:Go to work. Keep on going. It's gonna happen. Just like the fumbles and all the above. We just got to go back to work and keep on getting better, keep on grinding. I believe in Garrett. He can play. He's made big plays for us before. He's got to get back to doing that.”

On how much communication he's had with Austin Peay DE Lloyd Tubman since he left Kentucky and if he will talk to him before the game Saturday:I have had contact with him since he left, and no I will not before the game. I really prefer not to comment too much more on that just due to sensitivity to everybody involved. So. ..”

On how much improvement Stephen Johnson can make on throwing the ball at this point in the season:I think he can make significant improvement, and I think as a team we need to continue to make improvement. Again, we know that in predictable pass situations there are some guys in this league that are tough to block. We know we got to continue to improve there. I think we're run blocking exceptionally well. Pass blocking, still getting better and working at it. Making catches, helping your quarterback out, making difficult catches helps. Running the right routes and Stephen delivering the ball. So it's always a combination of issues. But I think you've seen us throw the ball efficiently. We'll continue to do that. You look at a lot of people, everybody would like to have perfect balance. I think a lot of people would like to run the ball like we're running it right now and still be able to throw it at a high level as well. That's what we'll strive for.”

On how important Sihiem King is to the future of the running back position:Yeah, it was really good to see him get some runs there against a quality team and an SEC opponent and see him make some big runs and get some reps. I thought we had a nice distribution of snaps for our running backs this past week. It was good, like we said, to get Jojo in there and Boom have a big day. Hopefully that'll bode well for us here at the end of the season because we do have some depth at that position. A part of it is our team, we have to get out there and challenge them this week and push just for that very reason. You can’t grow weary right now. We’ve gotta play our best football down the stretch. We’ve played two tough games in a row and left a lot on that field. Our players have played extremely hard. We’ve competed and we’ve come up on the short end. Now is the time when we really have to push to get better. Everybody’s beat up but that’ll be the real challenge, to practice and push and continue to improve.”

On if he’d like to get quarterback Luke Wright snaps this week: “Yeah. I would like to get him some.”

On if going .500 in conference shows progress:

“I think it does. We told the team right after the game -- never will we accept losing. But I’m not going to let people take away from the good things we’ve done. What did you say at the beginning? It’s the best since what? (Since 2006). See, I don’t pay attention to that. But it’s significant. The fact that our players, again, in losses were competing at a high level. I know it was very tough as we were building to this point, to go on the field where we were physically, it was not a good look. That’s difficult to go coach in that position. I know we’ve closed that gap big time. We’re going to continue to work on it. As I mentioned, that’s something that stood out to me was Tennessee is a big, long, physical team. And that’s with a bunch of injuries.”

On the team still fighting when down 49-22: “There’s no doubt that that’s been our team. We may not be perfect. We all know that. There’s a lot of things in every game that we could do better. But they’re always striding to get better and to work and to have that fight. It comes down to execution. Their heart and mind is in the right places. It’s being detailed and that’s where we will continue to grow. With good athletes, with good players, with stronger players. As we physically mature and get more depth. Then it comes down to details and execution.”

On if Alex Montgomery had a third knee surgery: “He had one this year. It was last week. So he’s out right now. We were hoping to go in there and just clean it up a bit, but they found another significant tear in there. He had to get an ACL repair.”

On if it would mean something to get the 6th win on senior day: “Absolutely. It’s our next opponent and it’s our next opportunity. We wanted to get six two weeks ago. But it is important to get six. I’ve never denied that. I said that in the summer and I said it when we were sitting here at 0-2. It’s important. We were never going to quit fighting and improving. We’re going to battle tooth and nail until the season is over.”

On if it will help the players confidence if they score touchdowns in the red zone this week: “Yeah, I think that’s important. We know we have to improve in that area. There’s a lot of things that we can do and will do to execute better. And we have to get back to creating some big plays. That’s what hurt us this past week. They got some big runs and finished them off. We got some big runs and settled for field goals. Both areas need to improve.”

On if he’s been happy with the strength and conditioning program: “I have been happy with that because I think if you look at us physically with the way -- we wouldn’t have been in these past two games and wouldn’t have a chance to do what we were playing for -- have a winning record in the SEC for the first time in four years -- we wouldn’t have been in that position if we weren’t physical. We lost our quarterback on the first play of the second game of the year and we played physical. We’ve put ourselves in a position to win a lot of games. That wouldn’t happen if we weren’t being physical. Even defensively, even with giving up a rushing total that you don’t want to see, a lot of it is just not being pushed around. There’s a lot of deception in that run game. It’s not just pushing around. Some of it is, but some of it is still being physical and tackling and being strong at the point of attack. Some of it is not. That’s where, again, we’re in much better position. Are we where we want to be? No. But I think most people would say that. You always want to be bigger and physical and stronger and have more depth. We’ll continue to do that because that’s what our league is.”