Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Coach Mark Stoops after Kentucky’s 33-18 loss in TaxSlayer Bowl


COACH STOOPS: First, again, thank you to all the folks from the bowl and the bowl committee. It’s been a remarkable week. It’s a first-class bowl game. On behalf of the team and our administration, once again I thank you for everything that you guys have done. It was a great environment. Beautiful stadium to play in. Gorgeous day.

I’d like to congratulate and give credit to Coach Johnson and Georgia Tech. They played better. They executed in critical moments. They deserved to win the game. So I congratulate them.

As I just told the team, we’re extremely disappointed with the way we finished in losing this game. But I’m very proud of them. That’s a great group to coach. There’s a lot to build on. I’m very excited about the future.

I thank our seniors. Very, very few in numbers, but they’re very good quality young men and quality players. We’re going to miss them.

I appreciate the way they kind of set the tone for us throughout the year when adversity hit. They were always very steady. Without that positive leadership, you’re never going to build your program. I know we’ve taken very monumental steps to push this program further.

We return a whole bunch of football players. They deserve a little bit of time off right now, then we’ll get back to work when we get back when the second semester begins. But I’m proud of this team, their efforts, everything that we’ve asked them to do.

We’ll continue to build, become a stronger program. I’m excited about the future. I can’t let one game get myself or this team down or take anything away from the good things that they did.


Q. Obviously you were upset there at the end of the first half. Explain what happened and the explanation you got from officials.

COACH STOOPS: The only thing I was upset about, I was getting conflicting reports. The bottom line is, he was inbounds. They later told me he was inbounds. I couldn’t understand why they were waiting at that point before they reset it to three. This was one second left. It was like a timeout or something.

I mean, he was inbounds. I just didn’t understand why they just let them have as much time as they want to set it up and kick an extra point.

I believe there was just some confusion. Maybe some of them thought it was out of bounds when he was inbounds. They later told me he was inbounds. I just couldn’t understand why they would, with one second, give them as much time as they wanted to line up.

I thought if you’re inbounds, you got first down, the clock winds. I just wanted clarification.

Q. Were you upset with Georgia Tech’s blocking when you got a couple guys injured?

COACH STOOPS: No, not at all. I was upset with somebody saying something to me. I have great respect for Coach Johnson, but nobody else over there is going to say a word to me.

Q. Stephen went virtually untouched against Louisville. He was under pressure a lot today. What was the difference?

COACH STOOPS: He was under a lot of pressure. We were disappointed. We had some shots. We didn’t get good protection, we really didn’t. We didn’t protect well enough to get the ball down the field.

With any quarterback, if you’re affecting the quarterback with pressure, mixing up looks... They did a nice job. They played well. We needed to protect better. We were just off on shots and plays with pressures and coverages.

As I mentioned before, you know this game’s going to go quick. We are methodical in our approach. They’re methodical in their approach. Turnovers were going to be key. I really thought that set us back early with the scoop for a touchdown, getting behind. That’s very hard to overcome against Georgia Tech.

You have to play keep-up. You have to score. Possessions are limited. You got to score points earlier than we did.

Q. Two critical plays, failed fourth down conversion, goal line. Then the third-and-four from about midfield at the end, blitzed off the corner.

COACH STOOPS: I thought the fourth downs were very critical early. We missed some short-yardage opportunities that we’ve been very good at this season. That was critical.

They converted a fourth down. We didn’t. Those are critical plays. I don’t regret going for it on fourth-and-one driving because I know we needed some points. We could have always done some different things, got a bigger set, taken our time, done that.

Late in the game, our guys were getting antsy. We had to get aggressive on the perimeter. They were milking us through the middle, they were getting soft. We were putting our guys on the quarterback and the dive. We had to handle the perimeter. We told them to be aggressive once they saw the option get away, not to blitz it.

We have a call that we do that, but that’s in desperation on the goal line. Just made an aggressive mistake. It was just a mistake.

Q. Obviously first-time experience for these players in this program. What do you think, now that the game is over, that you will learn from the experience that will help you in the future?

COACH STOOPS: I think we learned a great deal from this experience. It’s definitely a lot to build on. Our players got a good taste of the post-season, not only with being in the post-season, but being in this bowl game that I have great respect for. The history of this bowl, the people that played in it, it’s significant. I’m very proud to get here. I’m proud of this team.

I think as we get a taste for this, we will want more. They know that we can win, we’re capable of it. We can play with anybody we line up with. We just got to get better and build on it. I’m sure we will.

Q. Mark, talk about how critical the short-yardage play was deep in their own territory.

COACH STOOPS: That doesn’t surprise you because they execute so well. There was obviously some risk there. But they wouldn’t do it if they don’t have great confidence in getting six inches, eight inches, whatever it was. Coach Johnson, they do that a lot. We’re anticipating them going for it on fourth down. That’s what they do. It’s very difficult to stop that for a yard. They got it.

Again, it takes them executing, takes guts to call it. They did it. Certainly was critical at that moment.

Q. You talked a lot about discipline going into this, you needed that on defense. How do you think the guys did that with the triple option, especially with the penalties?

COACH STOOPS: The penalties I have to look at. I know the one on the punt was silly with Kash. Some of the other penalties, it’s a blur to me right now. But overall, discipline, with the execution of the triple option, I was very pleased with. There were some mishaps, but they put a lot of pressure on you. We had some stops.

You have to score against Georgia Tech. When you beat them, your scoring. But certainly we can do better. I thought we got soft inside. That’s, again, where the pressure of them executing, keeping you off balance, getting those three, four, five yards. That’s why you know the game is going to be short.

First downs, they execute. You have the ball on the ground a couple times. I wish when the ball was on the perimeter, we had great support where we had pitch covered, two or three guys on the quarterback, the ball is loose, we just didn’t get them. That’s key.

The ball was on the ground. We didn’t get it. They did. That can certainly help you. But I thought overall we defended them okay. Certainly we can play better. I’m not sure what the total yards was, probably mid 300s. But I’d like to play a little better, be a little more stout, in particular on the D-line. Some of those yards I just felt like we could be more stern.

Q. Why was it so flat starting out the third quarter?

COACH STOOPS: We missed on some opportunities. That gets aggravating. You can’t go three-and-out against them because, again, the possessions.

We just were not playing our best. Give them credit. They did some good things. We were just slightly off. When you’re not getting a whole bunch of plays, a whole bunch of possessions, you have to make the most of what you get.

Q. What did you think of all the fans that showed up? Anything you want to say to them?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I thought it was an absolutely incredible environment. So pleased for our team and for our fan base to see that kind of support. It’s just fun to be a part of.

I’ve said it a long time, I feel an obligation to put a product on the field that our fan base is proud of. We’re going to build on this. We need the stadium filled. We have a bunch of good players that it means a great deal to play at a high level for them because they feel the effects, they feel the positive energy. How can you not? You walk around this city this week, you walk around our hotel, our luncheon the other day, our fans are exceptional. I thank them for coming. I wish we’d have played a little better. I promise you we’ll get back at it and we’ll have a very good football team next year. I thank them for their support. They’ve been phenomenal.

Q. Moving into spring, will there be an open competition at quarterback?

COACH STOOPS: We just got done with this game. I mean, every position, we compete every day.

Q. You mentioned there was some off-sides, Coach Johnson was talking to you. Can you elaborate at all?


I will say this. I care about my players and I’m going to check on them. I didn’t accuse anybody of doing anything illegal. I have great respect for Coach Johnson. I will talk to him. We have a great relationship.

But, again, nobody else is going to say a word to me.

Q. Any updates on Boom about the draft, what’s going to happen moving forward?

COACH STOOPS: We had a conversation with he and his parents. We’ll continue to look into it.

Q. The decision to go for it deep in Georgia Tech territory versus going for the field goal?

COACH STOOPS: I felt like we needed the points.

Q. Obviously it didn’t work out. They took the ball and went for a long drive. Momentum swing there or was that unrelated?

COACH STOOPS: I think it was a game we needed the points. They had it deep in their territory. It was fourth-and-one. You know, you can always second guess that.

Backed up 10 or 15, converted it. We missed it. Good for him.

You can always second guess it. I don’t regret that decision one bit. Does it hurt us? Yes, it probably did. I would have liked to have converted it.

Q. I know it might be difficult to think right now, can you talk about the success that this season was and how you can build for next year, the right way this program is going right now?

COACH STOOPS: There’s an awful lot we can build from. I’m so proud of this team, these players, everybody. We’ve come a long way. If you think it’s easy to build a program in this league, then you really don’t know much about football.

We’ve come a long way. I appreciate our players because when it was 0-2, the criticism we got was deserved. You have to be strong enough to overcome that. Our players were. Our team was.

We had adversity. It’s just how you respond to it, whether it’s injuries, different things, bad starts, bad breaks, bad play, bad coaching. You have to overcome it. The better you are, you know, you’ll overcome things. Our football team has come a long, long way. I’m very proud of them.

They’ve improved. Again, they set the tone for the future. We have I want to say 36 of our top 44 back. That’s good for us and our future. We’re excited about it.

Q. When you look back at this season in a couple weeks or months, what is going to stand out the most as far as what you’re going to take away from it more than anything?

COACH STOOPS: I don’t know if there’s any one thing except the resiliency of our team. If you have listened to me in the off-season, as we were talking about building this program, it went back to me talking about capacity, just our players maturing, being mentally tougher, being physically tougher, being able to be in the weight room longer, being able to have our off-season program be more stringent, more difficult, longer and harder. They handled that. Two-a-days longer and tougher. That’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to continue to push forward. We have to.

So I have no doubt that our team will. I know we learned a lot about ourselves here. I feel good about the staff that we have in place, where we’re headed. We’ll take a great deal.

Q. After you cut it to 26-18, you had the kickoff, what was supposed to happen?

COACH STOOPS: We miss-hit it. I wish Austin could have kicked. Austin, to his credit, fought through some things this week with his leg. It was not the same injury, something that he had carried over from the Louisville game. Nothing major. Nothing we need to pry into.

Miles just miss-hit the ball. So we felt like we had three timeouts left. I was conversing with Coach Eliot, whether we’d kick it deep with the timeouts and stop or go for the onside. We wanted to see what the look was. We tried to hit the dead spot. If you get a funky ball, you can get the ball. If not, you’re going to pin them on the 30 if you kick it deep.

Anyway, with the way Austin’s leg was, they may have gotten to the 30 anyway. Tried to get to the dead spot, but he just miss-hit it a little bit.