Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops on ‘amazing’ QB, the big kick and bigger win over Louisville

Mark Stoops proud of victory over Louisville

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team, a 27-point underdog, upset Louisville 41-38 to win the Governor's Cup for the first time since 2010.
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Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team, a 27-point underdog, upset Louisville 41-38 to win the Governor's Cup for the first time since 2010.

MARK STOOPS

“As you can imagine, a very exciting, emotional win. One that our program desperately needed and deserved. Our players have worked extremely hard for a long time, and we're improving every day. And again, you know I'll say it, I've said it a bunch, that this team was fun to coach from the beginning. We knew we had our flaws, but when you have that kind of attitude and that kind of toughness and they believe in their coaches and all stick together, good things will happen sooner or later. I'm just very happy with that group. I'm very happy for the seniors, for this team. They deserved it. They're a great group to coach. We knew it was going to be a hard fought game, but we believed every minute that we were gonna come in here and battle a very good football team, an unbelievably talented quarterback. We were fortunate to get some turnovers, which you guys know we've been on the wrong end of that a lot, and we were able to get a few tonight that made a difference. Again, just happy to hang in there and battle and continue to grow. It's a special moment for these players to get a little reward for all their hard work, and for the assistant coaches that have worked so hard.”

On how he characterizes the performance of Stephen Johnson:I mean, Stephen Johnson was really amazing. Really. Just like we've been talking, he's so poised. He pulls it down, he scrambles, he runs when he has to. Even the batted pass, fortunate to get that and run for it, but he has a knack for making plays. He threw the deep ball beautiful. We even had some drops in there that would've kept some drives going. But he has a lot of poise, and we knew it was going to take just a great team effort. Everybody was going to have to do their part. They're extremely explosive. Fortunately, we matched that. We kept the clock a good deal in the second half and had some long physical drives, because in the first half they had too many plays compared to ours. We had big plays, then it kind of evened out in the second half, but they're an explosive bunch and we knew we needed to get some turnovers.”

On his emotions when he was watching the final field goal:Uh, I had great confidence in him, but honestly I was numb. To be honest. Just wanted to finish it off, too. You knew you were gonna have to go back out, whether he missed it – we were gonna have to go and play with a dynamic guy like that. We were thinking about the kickoff and what we were gonna do and the seconds. There was a lot going through my mind and what the next step was gonna be.”

On how he felt after the numbness and after the field goal was good: (Sighs) “There's so many things. I don't know. I don't know if I can characterize it. I don't know. There's a lot of emotions going through there. Still are. Two weeks in a row you guys are trying to get me in here. You know I'm a tough guy from Youngstown. I can't show my emotions. No, it's just really a lot of things going through your mind, and there's so many people that these wins and losses affect. Our fanbase has waited a long time and again, we know the ups and downs that we've gone through, but they deserve a football team that they're proud of. These players care. They work hard. Our administration has been so supportive. Dr. Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart, in the middle of 0-2 and playing like crap for half of the third game, didn't budge for a second. I can truthfully say that, and when you feel that kind of support, you just put your head down and go to work and control the things you can control and get better. So it affects a lot of people. I'm really happy for everybody. Really am.”

On if this is his biggest win at UK: “I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that right now. It’s big. There’s no denying that.”

On seniors making big plays: “It means a great deal, because the seniors, we’ve learned. A lot of those guys were here two years ago and we were on the field and had opportunities to win. Like I tell you in every win and every loss you try to grow and learn from every experience. These guys really grew up and are here making plays as seniors to help you win a tough game like that.”

On Dorian Baker making a big catch in what has been a tough year: “Yeah, I agree. I think it was big for him. We needed him. We need him to step up and make some plays. Just throwing the ball, we had some success throwing the ball today so when you do that you can distribute it a little bit and have more opportunities. I thought our coaches did a great job of keeping them off balance.”

On how confident he was they could make plays in the passing game: “I told the players this morning – we’ve been talking about it all week – we always talk about the same things with our preparation, the energy in our preparation and focus, but the last piece of that is we had to pay aggressive. You know as you’re getting over that hump and trying to get over that hump getting in big environments like this and making plays against a quality team. We talked about playing aggressive and going for it when we needed to. We always do that, but we just have to make big plays in big moments. They did that tonight.”

On message to defense before Jackson’s fumble: “The same thing as always. We talked about it when they were moving the ball. The power-read play they hit us on, it’s off balance. He’s dynamic. You get one guy out of a gap and one guy in a bad situation they put a lot of pressure on you, but we talked about fighting for every yard whether it’s once they get down there fighting, trying to get turnovers, trying to hold them to field goals at the worst. There was some time. That was right at the point where we would have had to start calling some timeouts and try to hold them to a field goal and leave yourselves some time. Fortunately we got the turnover.”

On when they scripted the first play: “Yeah, we had it scripted up all week. We felt like we could have a big play there. It was nice. I should have done a better job on the first play, our defense. I felt also they would get us and take a shot there. I should have closed the middle of the field. I made a bad call there. Not that play, but we hit them with some of the same things, kind of the same scenarios when you get put in stressful situations. There’s some strengths and weaknesses to every call. Fortunately we hit some tonight. Too bad they hit some as well.”

On if he saw anything from Stephen Johnson to anticipate this performance: “I just think overall as the whole team you felt like -- we talked about all the time, ‘When are we going to put it all together? When are we going to play our best football?’ I think that was the case with Stephen tonight.”

On importance of third quarter in asserting control: “Very. Very important. I don’t know – you guys probably know – but that drive we had had to be close to seven minutes or so, I would think. We talked about that. Eddie and I talked about that walking out at halftime, because we had some big shots but we only had 27 plays and they had 45 and if it stayed that way we would have a hard time at the end of the game. So, again, I think it was really nice. We still were picking our spots and making big plays, but possessing the ball and being physical is a big part of our identity.”

On how they responded after Wednesday’s practice when he was frustrated: “I was disappointed in the focus at the end of practice in the two-minute situation. You know, how do you know what situation is gonna dictate the game? And, we’re better, we’re getting there, but constantly we have to be sharp in our communication. We weren’t perfect tonight, but again, their hearts are in the right place. They fight.”

On if he said anything to Austin MacGinnis before the kick: “No. No, no.”

On how much of a program builder the game was: “I think it’s important. Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s significant. It’s a significant win. Our players deserved it, our fan base did, our administration. Like I said, we poured a lot into this. It’s not easy. So, it’s a giant step in the right direction.”

On if he saw a seven-win season after the 0-2 start: “I’m not gonna, you know I don’t, I’m not going to put a number on it. But absolutely I knew we had a good football team and were gonna get better. Why would I short myself on seven? We had an opportunity to win eight or nine.”

On not being happy after the Tennessee game and getting to this point: “I don’t recall saying I wasn’t, I mean obviously when you give up that amount of yards you’re not happy, but Tennessee puts you in some, you’ve got to give them credit too. I said it after the game. But we did some very good things in that game. Even on defense, I told you after the game, they had 32 runs where they ran 100 yards. We gave up explosives that we had to get ironed out. That’s all with that focus I’m talking about. Details, things change — what we do defensively, what they do, we’re constantly seeing new plays and new things and you have to adjust to it. As our team matures, they start seeing things and it fits to our system. And we’re getting better. Again, these offenses are tough when you’ve got the dual-threat guys. I don’t want anyone to keep on writing about it (laughs). They’re the No. 1 offense in the country for a reason. So everyone’s had problems with them, okay? (laughs). When they’re the No. 1 offense in the country it’s not just us who has problems with them. Everybody did who they played if you paid any attention.”

On how much the win helps recruiting: “I’m hitting the road tomorrow morning at 10:30 (laughs). You guys are working me.”

On how much easier this makes recruiting: “I’ll be smiling. I’ll be smiling. But I’m taking off tomorrow morning and won’t be back till Friday. We’re hitting the pavement hard. We got to keep getting some good players.”

On the season motto of finishing games and finishing a season: “It was big and that’s the last thing I told them as we left the locker room at halftime. ‘That’s what we talked about. And let’s man up and do that. Let’s finish strong.’ Every guy in there, every person in the locker room believed that. Win or lose, we were gonna lay it on the line. That’s what I was proud of.”

On how long he’ll let them celebrate: “It was hard for me to calm down them down and talk to them for a minute. I want them to enjoy it. They deserve it.”

On when bowl practices will start: “I’ve started gathering some information, contacting some of my coaches that, Jimbo (Fisher) got a laugh when I called his secretary and said, ‘I need that bowl schedule. Unfortunately I haven’t had, you know (laughs). His secretary said he got a big kick out of that. I’m looking at his and obviously Bob (Stoops). But we’ll look at it. I was going to practice next week but I’m not going to. We’re gonna go the following week, whatever that Friday will be. But they will lift and they will run. And they have some academics that they have to get going through the next two weeks. Then we have a big recruiting weekend this weekend as well.”

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