Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops on preparing for Louisville, QB Lamar Jackson


“Excited about this week, another great opportunity for us and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I was pleased with a lot of things we’ve done this past game and there’s a lot to learn from as well. We’ll do like we always do, go in and watch this film from this Monday, see the good things and the bad and try to get better. We need to play our best football this week against Louisville. They’re a very good football team, as you know. Very well coached, very talented across the board. There’s really not a weakness on that team. They’re strong everywhere, very good defensively, extremely dynamic offensively and so it’ll be a challenge, but we’re excited about it.”

On if there’s relief going into final week without a bowl game hanging in the balance: “I don’t know if it’s relief, but certainly it’s better. There’s no denying that. Wish we were sitting at seven or eight (wins), but definitely a better situation.”

On if he expects Stephen Johnson to be back fully at practice on Monday: “I do. Jim (Madaleno) tells me that there was no setback yesterday when he came in and got his treatment and there’s no swelling, came out of the game fine, so that was good to hear.”

On if UK wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas, who coached at Louisville, was able to give him any insights into stopping Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: “I don’t know if anybody has any real good ideas on how to slow him down. He’s absolutely a phenomenal player. What I admire most about Lamar Jackson is you could see his leadership and you can see his toughness, just watching some of their games and we had an opportunity to watch throughout the year on TV and of course on film you don’t see it as much, but on TV, you can just tell how strong he is and what type of leader he is. They are good across the board and they’re well coached across the board, but when they need a play, he’s there. He’ll run or throw or make a good decision and will his team to win, so you have to have a lot of respect for somebody like that.”

On having Stephen Johnson come off bench hurt and play well: “I think a lot the same way in that regard in how it’s hard not to admire Stephen Johnson and see him play hurt. He’s been banged up. He was hurt last week. And to see him come in and have the poise and the confidence, you can see that with the team. Threw a beautiful pass — I think that was his first pass when he laid it out there. So, I think that was great for our football team and it says a lot about who Stephen is. He’s a tough guy, like I mentioned after the game. And he’s a leader and been very pleased with him.”

On if his post-game emotion was based on fulfilled promises or what: “I think, yeah, I was just trying to be honest. They asked me how I felt and I certainly didn’t want to show you anything, but yeah. How can you (not) be proud of the football, from the players’ point of view, for them first, but for so many people. There’s a lot that goes into the wins and losses. Behind closed doors, the progress we make, the progress we talk about, you see it. But again, I make no bones about it. You get judged on wins and losses and you have a fan base that’s starving for wins and have been there and been loyal. And we want to build that fan base and they deserve it and our administration have been through the good and the bad, one thing’s for sure, Dr. Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart have been there every step of the way. You’ve heard me talk about that you want to deliver; you want to deliver for those people. You want to deliver for your team, your players, your administration, your fan base. There’s a lot of people involved. There’s an awful lot of hard work that goes into it. It’s tough, you know, when you’re building a program and you’re knocking down one door after another, it’s not always going to go according to script. There’s going to be ups and downs and you have to weather the storm, stay the course, stick to the things that you know are going to make a difference. We’ve done that, and we know, there’s still a lot to do.”

On the chess match between coaches and how well he knows Bobby Petrino: “He’s obviously a great play caller. There’s no doubt about that. I think what stands out when you look at Coach Petrino and all the success he’s had, there’s a lot of offense there. You can see how well they do in the second half of games. They score a lot of points. I think they have a good way of seeing what you’re doing, what the problems are and coming back with something else. So, obviously, he’s got a lot of offense. Very good play caller, keeps you off balance. And obviously it doesn’t hurt with Lamar Jackson, when things break down, he can kill you. He’s a dynamic player.”

On if he uses it in recruiting that Lamar Thomas was the guy who found Lamar Jackson: “I think, I don’t know, I don’t. But I’m sure Lamar, you know people, I’m sure it comes up in conversations with him. Recruits, I’m not sure. It’s not something that we’re gonna advertise much, but Lamar, those are things we expect. I expect him to find us one of those guys (laughs). I told him that last week in a recruiting meeting. I was rattling his cage telling him to find me somebody like that.” (Laughs)

On how Lamar Jackson has improved since last year: “With experience. With playing. Decision making. He’s an exceptional athlete and, yeah. I think, you know, maybe we shouldn’t have had all those interceptions at the beginning of the game last year and we would’ve kept him on the bench. Would’ve been the best thing (laughs). He’s just, he’s improved in a lot of ways. I think you could just see with, like I talked about earlier with him, with the leadership and the toughness. He’s a complete player. He can throw the heck out of the football and sit in the pocket. But obviously he’s an exceptional athlete as well.”

On if they’ll go to Louisville on Friday or Saturday: “Friday.”

On what he saw from Houston being able to attack Louisville up front: “Yeah I think, the lead, it’s a different game. I mean, you’ve watched Louisville all year. They’re No. 1 in the country offensively for a reason. They do things very well. They keep you off balance. If you’re fortunate enough to get that kind of lead it helps, but it’s just one of those nights you could tell things weren’t going well for Louisville and everything was going right for Houston.”

On what stands out about Louisville’s defense: “Very well coached. Todd (Grantham) does a great job. They’re very good. They’re multiple. They’re very good players. I’m familiar with quite a few of those guys. They’re good players and play extremely hard. They’ll play both four-down and some odd. They’re good across the board.”

On how dangerous Kentucky is going into Louisville: “Well, we want to play our best football. We talk about it every week. Hopefully we’ll put it together and play a great game this week. We’re going to need to. I feel good about our team. I feel good about where they’re at mentally. Physically we’re in good shape. We go back to all the things we talked about in the summer. Being strong at the end, mentally and physically being able to finish things. And they’ve been good. We’ve had great energetic practices. The first thing I challenge them with every week is preparation. We’ve got to have great preparation and great energy. Then it comes down to focus. And you can see, late in the year with a lot of teams, that mental fatigue is where you’ve got to be mentally sharp. I really feel like we’ve been good in that, but there’s a lot of ways to improve. Just going back to the past two, three games, that’s where they’ll be challenged. Not growing weary and getting stronger and really having a great week with great energy. We’ve been energetic. It’s just being extremely disciplined. There’s teams that come in and there’s new wrinkles, new plays, new schemes and you have to be able to settle down and just rely on your system and focus to execute. We’ll need that again with all the offense we’re going to see. We’ll have to be discipline.”

On who will be Lamar Jackson on scout team: “We’ll probably play A.J. Rose there.”

On if he can give them a good representation of Jackson: “I don’t know if anybody can give you that kind of look. As a runner he can. We’re featuring some of that.”

On what he’s seen from scout team guys: “(Rose) is definitely one that we absolutely love. He and Davante (Robinson), Drake (Jackson) are guys who really look good. Guys that probably could have played some this year.”

On Alabama using former players to practice: “That’s a good idea. We’ll get Moe (Williams) dressed up today (laughter). I’ll tell him to go get his ankles taped. The players would like that.”

On if the pursuit issues early against Austin Peay are the same or different against Louisville: “I think it’s different. But it’s always learning opportunities. We talk about that all the time and it’s so true. Just like last week, everyone wanted to go out there and make every play, think they’re going to make every tackle or sack, every run is going to go for a big gain. It’s not about that. We harped on it all week. Early, it was a little like that. We settled down and did what we were supposed to do. I think that’s another opportunity to learn from it.”

If there’s any unique challenges coaches face in the last game of the season:“No, it’s just a lot of film. The only thing is different I’d say is you’re looking at an awful lot of film. What you may see or what you may not see, you try to get all of those things repped is impossible. You have to zero in on the core plays that you know you’re going to see every week, and you know you’re going to see a different wrinkle all the time as well.”

On preparing the team to handle the highs and lows in a rivalry game: “I think that’s a good point. Again, you just take the experience from this year alone and the different games and even this past week. Again, just like I’ve touched on, I hit on it all week about doing your job. Go out and prepare the exact same way. Focus on your job. But, I think you can say that all you want. They mean well, they want to do the right thing. But it’s not about that. It’s the same thing in this game. It’s important to have intensity, but let’s have it Monday through Friday as well. Let’s prepare with that intensity. Let’s prepare with that focus. Because after a few minutes in a game like that I expect us to play with that energy all the time. That distracts and then you lose focus and negative things happen. It’s about being very precise with our focus and our discipline. Again, that’s easy to talk about but it’s different. These kids have emotions. You want that, but you want to be able to control it.”

On how important it is for UK’s offense to keep the ball: “I definitely think that’s a big piece of it. That’s been our best recipe. We’ve had some sustained drives. But, as you know, against quality teams you have to be able to find some big plays as well. You have to be able to get it in the end zone. There will be a balance there. It’s always a team effort. You know we have to play good in all areas. And I think that was part of it last year. It’s always part of it in games. When one side or the other is having issues, the other side has to pick it up. When you go bad in two phases or three phases big shifts are going to happen, and that you have to try to offset.”

On if they draw any confidence from leading UofL in the second half of each of the last two games: “Every year is totally different. So, I think we know we had our opportunities, but those are gone. You have to learn from it, and if we get in same position you have to learn to make the plays. That’s really not much different, if you think about it, through this season. With each and every game there’s plays that have been made that helped turn the game and then there’s some missed opportunities. But that’s football. That’s every week.”

On if any of the young guys who got reps in the second half against Austin Peay stood out: “I think Jordan Bonner is a guy that looked good out there. Athletically I think he’s really got a good chance. So, he’s one that just jumped out at me right away. Jordan Griffin is another one. I really like him. I think he’s got a very bright future. He’s really got great demeanor for a freshman. He really cares and – he’s precise in the way he practices and learns and pays attention to his keys and has the ability. So anybody that has that kind of work ethic, you know I’m really high on. He’s a freshman, it’s late in the year and he still has that focus and he has that mental capacity to handle it and learn and grow. So I’m pretty pumped up about him.”

On how this rivalry compares to others he’s played and coached in: “Right in there with it. It’s always fun because every situation you’re totally ingrained in this situation. So to me this is the most important one right now. We have another great opportunity. It’s a rivalry, and it feels like that. Certainly as I mentioned, we are building our program to elevate us to make this game more prominent nationally. That with us as we improve and get our program better, which we’re doing and we’re going to do. We’ll have more national attention. Some of the other ones I’ve been in have been phenomenal experiences. I was really hot there for awhile too. I was in good shape with a lot of those.” (Laughter)

On if he has any preference about a bowl destination: “Absolutely not. I have no clue. Just — no. I’m sure Mitch and our administration will fight to put us in the best situation we can for our fans, but we’ll be happy. We’ll be happy to go somewhere.”

On if Jojo Kemp was most joyful player in the locker room Saturday: “It was important to him. He’s a guy that he’s been here through all the ups and downs. Has had some really high moments, some lows. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor. It’s not always easy. He hasn’t been perfect -- none of us have – but his intentions are always right. Even early in the season when things were going wrong I saw some real frustration in him, and it came from a good place because he wanted at the minimum that, a bowl game. He is a guy I’ve noticed through the year. He’s emotional. He’s a fighter, and you love that.”

On saying Kemp would carry a knife in his sock during his first week as a freshman: “Yeah. Yeah, exactly. That’s just it. That’s why I say – is there frustration? Sometimes, absolutely. These guys invest a lot. Look at the work he’s put in and been here. Yeah, that was that first week, I think. He was doing some board drills, and I made that comment. But that’s who he is. He’s a tough guy, and he’s a fighter and he’s been that way. He’s helped us, because if you didn’t have that mentality, as I also mentioned before with other scenarios, is there’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide. And that’s the beautiful thing about sport. You either man up or you cave, and he could’ve done that and he did not. He’s successful, he’s gonna graduate, he’s helped us in anyway he could. That doesn’t mean he’s always liked it or been perfect or other guys come in. But he’s accepted his role and he’s been a great teammate, and that’s one of the reasons why we got to this point. Guys like that.”

On saying players were too jacked up going into the Austin Peay game:Focus. Getting focused is the big issue. But go ahead.”

On how jacked up he thinks players will be before the Louisville game:Same thing. Again, just like I talked about, yeah, they have to – it’s not about emotion. We need to have emotion on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in our preparation and focus and intensity during the week to put us in position to win. Without that we’ll have no chance. And then when we get there on Saturday, yes, they have to play with emotion but you also have to have a discipline. If you also remember in both of those games the last two (years), that emotion has hurt us. We had a guy come off the bench two years ago up there when we were in a great spot and get a 15 yard penalty, and that set us back. Last year we got a 15 yard penalty that set us back. That’s the kind of discipline that we’re gonna need, and they’re gonna hear about that today.”

On if discipline was the message going into last Saturday:Focus. It’s always about that, the preparation. Preparation and effort and focus. It’s not just you’re gonna get so jacked up to beat somebody. That’s not it. You know what I mean? You can’t win a game on that alone. But again, without that, you don’t have much of a chance because you don’t put much into your prep.”

On how far Bunchy Stallings has come since getting that penalty at Louisville two years ago:Bunchy’s come a long way, a long way. And again, his intentions are always good. And those guys being there that year, that group — I remember Darius West, him, all the guys and a lot of the redshirt guys, they traveled with us – that was a big part of the team having that kind of intensity, too. They brought something. They helped affect the team in a positive way. Just not on that play.” (Laughter)

On if there was a theme for the increased number of penalties last Saturday:One or two of ‘em — I’m not gonna pick on any one individual – but that’s pure focus. Because you’re negating some plays that are just — I’m gonna use the word silly instead of stupid. Just not smart. That to me is all about focus. Just do your job like you’ve been doing it and we have big plays both sides. So.”

On Louisville having other weapons on offense besides Jackson:Yeah, (James) Quick’s been around a long time. Knew him out high school, he can run like heck. Really, I said it earlier, there a complete football team. They’re good in a lot of areas and a lot good players, so yeah, I agree with you.”

On if the problems punter Grant McKinniss is having are mental now:I’m sure. You got any suggestions? (Laughter) Yeah, I’ll call my therapist when I get out of here. Been busy.”

On busting a move in the locker room after the win:No, I really didn’t bust a move. Not really. I get in there and Boom was on my chair. I usually stand up and address the team and Boom was up there dancing, so I just let him go. He looked a lot better than me.”

On players saying he could rival women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell:Oh, I don’t know about that. I’m gonna give that to him. I can sing better.” (Laughter)