Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Kentucky’s Stoops and Eliot talk bowl prep, recruiting, other tidbits


“It’s been good to get back on the practice field. We’ve had a couple weeks off before we kicked it up yesterday and had two good practices yesterday and today. We will go again tomorrow, and then they’ll have a few days off for finals and then pick it back up on Thursday, practice all the way through the 21st. So, it’s been a good start. Been fun. Been a lot of energy out there. We’ve been very busy with recruiting, both last weekend and this weekend, so things are going well. Looking forward to capping off another good day of recruiting here today and sending them on their way tomorrow.”

On how it feels to be able to show bowl practices to recruits for first time: “It’s good. It’s really good. It’s fun to get them over here, especially today. We didn’t have a basketball game or anything, so to spend some time watching practice was good for us. It’s sure good to be out there practicing. That’s for sure. You don’t realize it until you get back out there with our guys. Just to get the opportunity to get back out there and compete and fundamentally get better and work with the young guys, so it’s definitely a big benefit for us to have these opportunities. That’s what we’ll challenge them to continue to get better and move the program forward.”

On if there were any signs of rust: “No, really I was surprised honestly. We were relatively clean. They’ve been throwing and catching it good. Guys are executing it. Good energy, so I’ve been pleased really with having two weeks off.”

On how they are working redshirt players in during early bowl practices: “I think it’s a big benefit that way, to see in particular the big guys and see what they can do, both o-line and d-line, the outside linebackers, the backs, all of it really. Just put it together. When we work them throughout the year they’re simulating the other team’s offense or defense, and then when we scrimmage it’s really basics, which we want to see who can play and do the basics when we work them throughout the year. Then as you get into this preparation, it’s good to push them a little bit, see who mentally can handle things. Obviously fundamentals and just seeing who could get off blocks and who can make tackles and all those things, but I think you can push them forward in this bowl prep just as far as some pressures and being multiple with the pressure that you put them under. So they have to execute and you just see who can respond and who can pick things up. So it’s a real benefit that way.”

On the benefit of a month to teach scout team to imitate Georgia Tech: “Yeah, it’s very hard to simulate that. That’s why when you play teams like this you see it all the time. The first couple series go very fast for your defensive guys because you try to simulate it as best you can. That’s really hard to do, so I think it is key to get your scout teams coached up on it. We have not started that yet. We’ll game plan. We’ve been recruiting and working on ourselves when we practice these three days. We’ll game plan Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and get back out there next week.”

On if it is hard to play UK right now as well because they run the ball so much: “Well, I don’t know if it’s – everybody using deception to some extent. You want to dress things up and try to get people to violate with their eyes and so on, but there’s not as much deception in our offense as there would be with the triple-option or some of the other things. But, I do think it’s somewhat different just with the physical nature we’re running the ball and throwing it off it.”

On progress of Alvonte Bell and Naquez Pringle:“I think it’s important for them to continue to progress. You’re right. We need to continue to get them to have a really good bowl preparation. With Alvonte, he was playing more when we were in the four-down defense. When we were playing more three-down later in the year he wasn’t getting as many reps. We did a bit in that last game, but it’s good for both of those guys. All the d-line, as you know, we’re going to push the d-line to continue to improve in that area.”

On if any of his players were in an offense like Georgia Tech’s in high school: “No, not that I can recall.”

On if this time gives him a chance to revisit recruits that committed to other programs: “Are you peeking in our indoor (laughs). You know we never stop. We’re never gonna stop. We’re going to make it very difficult for somebody to tell us no.”

On if he has any thoughts on how the All-SEC teams are selected: “I was proud. I think it’s a real honor as you know. If you’re making first team or second-team All-SEC you’re up there with the best in the country. I was pleased. I know Jon (Toth) got first team on one of them. Obviously very deserving of that. And there’s a lot of good players across the league. With Jordan (Jones) and some of the other guys that made second team, there’s good backers. I think you’re splitting hairs with first and second team with a lot of that.”

On if he feels like he’s playing with house money and how important it is to win the bowl game: “I think it’s very important to keep the momentum going. Our team has confidence. I think you can see that with the way we’re practicing. That’s what we want, to keep on pushing the program forward.”

On how big of a difference the completion of the new facility makes in recruiting: “Yeah, it makes a big difference. There’s even a few kids locally here that are close by. Their folks haven’t been through it. The prospect has but some of their parents have not been. It’s really nice. It’s a big difference between taking people through this building and seeing the way we used it as opposed to showing it to them on a screen.”

On how his recruiting pitch changes now that he can sell success: “I think it’s important. We know that. I think people want to see the progress, and to beat a quality team on the road with a Heisman Trophy finalist, and probably a winner, was good momentum for us. I think a lot of recruits, that’s why we’ve recruited well. They believe in what we’re doing and it is important to see the progress on the field.”

On if any recruits specifically asked before the year to show them the progress on the field: “No, but I think you know. You know that. That’s always there. I don’t recall anyone holding us hostage or anything like that, but it’s there. It’s important. There’s no denying that.”

On if winning also plays a role in convincing coaches to stay: “I guess so. I don’t know. You’d have to ask them.”

On if Paul Johnson has added anything since the last time he faced that offense: “Yeah, not much. They kinda know what they want to do when you’re in four-down and three-down. He’s had a good idea for a long time what he’s gonna go to. There’s a lot there. Probably very simple to him. He’s been doing it a long time. They’re very well coached and they very clearly know who they are and what their go tos are. If you’re doing one thing they’re going to go to some other things.”

On how he got ready for Georgia Tech’s offense in a week at Florida State: “That was tough.”

And with a job interview in between? “Well, there was no interview. We had already talked during my bye week. But there were a lot of conversations going on. Mitch (Barnhart) and I had come to an agreement. I think it was announced midway through that week if I’m not mistaken. But it was a real hectic time. I know that. Fortunately I had some real good looking players that helped us out.”

On UK reaching the initial bowl ticket allotment: “Very happy about that. Very pleased that our fanbase is excited to go there. I know our players are. That’s a good feeling to know that our fans are buying those tickets and selling out our initial allotment. We need as many folks there as we can get. I know the people down there at the bowl, we were down there Thursday, it’s a beautiful venue. It’s a great stadium. That was exciting. It was just another thing on your ticket to do at the time, but once I got there, saw the venue and started to get around the whole atmosphere, it was exciting. I think our fans are going to be very pleased. It’s a nice stadium. It was a beautiful day the day we were there. That’s for sure.”


On other coaches saying there wasn’t any rust after players got a break: “Yeah, I think I agree with them. The players were energetic. They didn’t miss a step, played hard, played physical, communicated well. The good thing is we got a lot of our young players a lot of reps, got to see those guys play within our defense and that’s what great about bowl practices is the development you have from bowl practices.”

On young players standing out: “There’s a group of them. Kordell Looney sticks out to me. He did some good things. Jamar Watson and Davonte Robinson. A lot of those young guys stand out to me.”

On the progression of Jordan Jones this season: “I think he went from being an athletic guy who can make plays to playing within the defense, too, so he’s more disciplined. He helps us tremendously in his ability to run and tackle. He plays with unbelievable motor and effort and I think his development and playing within the defense is what’s made him an even better player.”

On walking the line with Jones’ energy and wanting to contain it a bit: “It just took reps. Anybody that’s young and inexperienced, that’s hard. So I think the more repetitions he got and the more experience he got, the better he got.”

On what he remembers from 2012 and planning against Georgia Tech’s triple option attack: “Well, we knew that defending this offense was going to be difficult because you never see it. The players never get a chance to practice against it. I do remember that we had to be very disciplined in our assignments. We had to be very technique sound in our practices and our players had to play with tremendous effort because it’s a very tough offense to defend. Those are some of the things we have to make sure we do to prepare for Georgia Tech in this bowl game as well.”

On if there are new wrinkles in Georgia Tech offense since 2012: “They definitely have added wrinkles, but it’s the same style offense, you know the double slot option offense, it’s one that’s been around for a long time and they still do a lot of the same plays, but it’s a difficult thing to defend, and our guys are going to have to be geared up and ready to go.”

On teaching scout team offense how to run that triple option and how key that is: “Definitely. It’s going to be very important for us to be able to execute the look that Georgia Tech is giving us and for us to be able to get the scout team to play and be able to run the plays as close to as possible as Georgia Tech does.”

On defensive improvements and what it says to people who publicly trashed UK’s defense early in season: “I don’t really listen to that stuff and I don’t think our players do either. We just sort of concentrate on one day at a time and trying to get better. When I was at Florida State, they said we were the best, you know what I mean? So none of that really changes our approach or our process or our belief in what we’re doing good or bad. And we just concentrate on one day at a time, one play at a time and right now I think our players are really emphasizing what they need to do to defend Georgia Tech. It’s going to be a very difficult challenge for us.”

On if it’s not vindication, is he at least satisfied with how far they’ve come: “I hope not. I hope there’s no ‘This is the end of the road’ kind of thing. I want to make sure we’re always moving forward and that we approach one day at a time and that we don’t sit back and think that we’ve arrived, you know what I mean? And you also don’t want to believe that you’re never going to get out of a whole either, you know what I mean? So on both ends, I think it’s important that a player and a coach just continues to work on the process and you don’t fall behind on what you need to do each day, no matter what the outside sources are saying, whether it’s good or bad. If you fall behind on what your process is and what you need to accomplish each day, then you’re never gonna reach your goals as a player or a coach.”

On if facing a player like Lamar Jackson helpful in preparing for the discipline it takes to defend Georgia Tech:Definitely. I think that anytime a team has an option in their run game, to hand it off, to pitch it or the quarterback to run it, and you have to defend that, I think it’s gonna help you when you play a double slot option team. So the fact that we had to defend that in the last game of the year, I think will help our kids and that discipline on responsibility and executing your responsibility against those type of plays. So I think that’ll help us, and we can learn from the things we did good and bad in that game, and hopefully we can apply it into this next game.”

On importance of mixing up defensive fronts:Anytime you can confuse the quarterback, you got a chance to slow him down. I think there’s different things that we do every week and can continue to do in that philosophy and changing up what we do to try and confuse the quarterback.”

On Alvonte Bell:Alvonte is a guy that we redshirted last year, a guy that we didn’t even get on the field because we didn’t think he was ready, and he’s a guy that at times has done some really good things for us. It’s good that we have another year with him, because not only has he developed athletically – he’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten faster – but each game he becomes a better technician. Now, he’s making some mistakes that we have to get corrected, but the good thing is with us redshirting him, we have another year to get him there.”

On what he remembers about 2012 ACC title game:I remember that we had to be prepared to play a team that was very difficult to defend, that it’s a team that if you’re not sound and you don’t play hard they’re gonna gas you. You know what I mean? So we really concentrated that week on each player doing his responsibility and each player playing fast and physical, because that’s critical in a game like this when you play such a difficult offense to defend. And those are the same type of things that we’re applying this week as we prepare for Georgia Tech.”

On if he had prepped to face that type of offense previously in his career:Well, we have. I played in the Mountain West and coached in the Mountain West for a little while, so we used to defend Air Force every year. And then I’ve defended Navy, I’ve defended a couple of 1-AA teams that run it, too. So I’ve had some experience in defending these types of offenses, which helped us in 2012 against Georgia Tech, and hopefully some of those experiences will help us this week, too, against Georgia Tech.”

On thinking too much when defending an option offense: ”No, you can’t. That’s a good point. If you’re thinking then you’re gonna be playing slow, so you have to be reacting. So we have to get the players to where they get enough reps in practice that they don’t think at all. They just react. They have to have muscle memory for this type of game.”

On if they will take the ball out of the occasion when defense is practicing against scout team:Yep. We will. We’ve done that before and we’ll do it again. It’s an important part of the preparation, is that everybody understands what their responsibility is and that they execute it.”