Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: UK’s Eddie Gran on first practice of bowl preparation


On how Stephen Johnson has evolved: “I think really it was mentally. What he’s done — he’s understanding where to go with the ball, he’s making the decisions quicker, he is getting us out of some bad situations when somebody is not open — at Louisville he got us some great first downs. I think that’s where he’s evolved: His target, him being more accurate. The long ball has been unbelievable, but then you saw in the Louisville game we hit some third-and-mediums that were really crucial. So, I really love the way he’s kind of started to get better at those types of things and decisions.”

On if it’s rare for a quarterback to struggle with mid-range throws at first or if each QB’s progression is different: “I think it’s different for every one of them. I think when you know where to go with the ball quickly, I think everything is right. When you’re torqued a different way and then all of the sudden he knows he’s over here and he tries to throw it over here, there’s a lot of things technique-wise that he gets better at when he knows where to go with it. So, he’s always had that; it’s just him learning it. Heck, it was only his ninth game or whatever. He’s just going to continue to get better, and if he does that he’s got a chance to be a pretty darn good.”

On how they balance reps for young players and preparing for Georgia Tech: “Well, here at the beginning it’s good against good. That’s the great part because now you’re getting fastball looks. It’s the ones versus the ones and twos versus the twos. Then you can work the young guys in there and you can see how they’ve evolved and where they’re at. Coach has really stressed that we’re going to put a lot on those redshirt guys. We are going to challenge them and not just be base offense or base defense. We’re going to throw everything at them and see who can do it and who can’t and who can get ready. I think the fastball stuff is fine. I think if you get into Georgia Tech too quick, then it gets stale. You know what I mean? Coach, he’s been great about it and he’s talked to a lot of people and he’s got a great plan for us as we go forward.”

On his appreciation for Georgia Tech’s offensive system: “You know, it’s like anything on offense: It’s about execution. And what they do is they execute what they do and they do it well. When you’re doing this, they do that. When you counter back, he counters back and he’s really good at it. So, you got to respect what he’s done, where he’s been and how they’ve done it.”

On any redshirt players he’s particular eager to see in good-on-good situations: “I think some of those young offensive linemen — Drake (Jackson) and (Luke) Fortner — and Justin Rigg and some of the receivers that are out there. A.J. Rose. All of them at the end of the day. I really want to see because they’re body – Coach Ed has done a great job of getting their bodies different, and they’re faster. You can see a little bit more twitch in them. So, every single one of them. Been looking forward to having some fun with it to see how they’ve grown, especially mentally.”

On if it was hard to get players back on track after a break: “It was a great practice. I thought the tempo was fantastic. We got in and out. It was fast. We were ahead in every single period, and that’s a good thing. So, I think they kind of enjoyed it. They hadn’t seen us in two weeks, so not a lot of butt-chewings. They were ready for it.”

On players missing them: “Yeah, yeah. Absolutely they did.”

On biggest growth from Boom Williams this year: “I think the way he’s running the ball, the tough yards. He’s now hitting that thing and he’s not going side-to-side as much. He does that sometimes on his own because of his vision, and it’s been great and he’s gotten us some unbelievable runs and touchdowns. I think he’s improved on his pass protection. We’re not there yet, but he certainly has gotten better, I think, as a north-and-south runner, one cut and go.”

On how much it helps to have Jojo Kemp as a senior leader for young players: “He’s awesome in that room. Love Jojo. Jojo went through a lot of stuff this year in missing three games or so and then coming back every time and having some good games after he was hurt and missed some time. I think he’s that rock in that room. So yeah, he’s been real valuable to us.”

On what he attributes Kemp’s attitude to: ”You know, he’s a senior that’s hungry. The guy is all about team. He’s wanted to go to a bowl game. I think he’s worked so hard to get to that. The room’s good, too. They’ve had to sacrifice for each other. We talked about it at the beginning of the year, you gotta be humble and you just can’t — there’s only one ball, and I think they’ve handled that well. At times it’s rough because they all want it, and I get that, but I think they’ve handled it well. Because you can create a bad cancer in a room. It can get really bad. That has not happened and it will not happen, and he’s a big part of that.”

On if there’s any recruiting benefit to playing a bowl game in Florida:I think so. I was just down there the last couple weeks and everybody is really excited about BBN. A lot of good talk, a lot of – people are really excited. So yeah, it doesn’t hurt at all.”

On what a bowl game does for a program, especially one that hasn’t been in a while:I think right now it’s about this practice that we’re getting right now. You’ve got these young guys that you got a chance to develop and get better, and then these seniors got a chance to go out. Guys that are coming back, you’re going there to win the game and you got a chance to go forward into the winter conditioning. And it’s huge to have some momentum and that confidence. So I think they’re huge. And at the same time, they get the opportunity to go and enjoy themselves for their hard work.”

On what he needs to see the offense get better at this week: ”Alignment, assignment and technique. So, where to line up, get there fast, be perfect on your first step, be perfect on everything that you’re doing so you can play faster. It’s all about the fundamentals. Hand placement, everything, and those are the things that we’re gonna coach the heck out of today.”

On how much of the offense is back in after simplifying things earlier in the season:We’re about full throttle right now. Yeah. We’re picking and choosing based upon the defense, but yeah, there’s nothing that we can’t run with (Stephen Johnson) in there right now. So that’s a huge positive for us.”

On the process of getting Stephen Johnson to Kentucky:Coach Hinshaw and I, we just started scouring and found him and we watched film, and Coach Hinshaw was like a bulldog. Once he knew that was the guy, and there really wasn’t a lot out there, he got after it. He talked to a lot of people that touched Stephen, and I think he did a fantastic job of trying to get him up here and get him up here in a short period of time. It wasn’t to my credit. It was to Coach Hinshaw.”