Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops’ thoughts after UK’s season-opening win at Southern Miss

Mark Stoops: One heck of a victory for our team

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said his defense was responsible for 24-17 win at Southern Miss.
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Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said his defense was responsible for 24-17 win at Southern Miss.

MARK STOOPS

“That shows a lot of character, a lot of guts, a lot of determination from that football team to come out and win that game when you’re not playing your best football. Certainly not on the offensive side of the ball. I’m not worried. I know we’ll get better. We’ll get some things fixed and we’ll go from there. I really was just proud. The improvement defensively was very, very evident. We would’ve never won this game had we not improved our run defense. We certainly did that. There’s some pass plays that we have to do a better job and we will. There were some, what we call 50-50 balls, there were some balls that hung up there that we’ve gotta work on and get better at playing the football and come down with our share. They hit some big plays on those. You take those plays out, I think we really played solid defense.

“The position on the football was much better. Just our run defense was much more stout. I thought defensive line in predictably pass, we were hard to block. We executed some things very well. There were some things that, obviously, we need to clean up on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, again, I know we’ll get it ironed out. There were a lot of things that need to get fixed, and we will. But to win a game when you only run 50 something plays on offense, and I thought they did a nice job, again, at just getting some first downs and being aggravating and keeping the defense off the field. They converted two fourth downs, which was tough on us. It’s basically another possession defensively. But very good victory. I’m very excited. It’s definitely a good place to start and to build from here.”

On Josh Allen and Denzil Ware’s forced fumbles: “Huge. Very, very big. We talked about winning the turnover margin. Us turning it over down in there early was disappointing. We’ll get that fixed. That changes a lot of things there as well. But the defense creating plays there was big.”

On why he thought the offensive line struggled: “Yeah, they did. I think when we watch the film there’s going to be a combination of things. I think there were some times at the point of attack that (Southern Miss) got some push. We’ll do some things to offset that. There’s going to be some things that we already know that our backs weren’t setting it up. We’ll get that situated. There’s going to be some plays, so it’s not just all on the offensive line. There’s a lot of things the running backs can do better with decision making. We were in a big hurry. Again, we tried to offset that. Certainly defensively we hit them over the head with a sledgehammer, some of the early season mistakes that usually happen. We got a lot of those corrected. You saw some on the offense. Some of that is just timing and playing and seeing it. But give them credit. They are a bunch of big guys. They’re disruptive and do a lot on defense. Got some momentum going, but again that’s where our team hung in there.”

On Matt Panton’s punting: “Really big. I thought he really did a nice job, in particular with killing it inside the 20,” Stoops said. “We knew he was very accurate there but he just was consistent and gave us some good roll. You could see some of the things he did. He could roll out, he could hit it high and he could go opposite field, which was nice for us.”

On how Stephen Johnson managed the game: "I think you're gonna see Stephen, you know, early on third down that was a wide open pass that he through high, rushed it. There's gonna be things to clean up from. We missed a couple deep balls. That's not all on him. There was a freshman wideout there. I think if he really runs through it, I think we have a chance to convert it. We'll get that stuff worked out."

On what knowns were learned after this game: "You didn't know that we were only gonna run 50 something plays. It seemed like things were inches off there for a while. They converted one by a half inch and we didn't convert one by an inch or two. It's a game of inches sometimes. Because of some of those scenarios and us not being very good on third down, they had a lot of possessions and we only had 50 something plays. We don't like that. Our time of possession was down for us, and not being able to run the ball was definitely down for us. We've got to get some of those things ironed out. That's what I love about it. It was just a hard-fought tough victory. It was a thing of beauty to me. I know a lot of people are gonna have their opinions, but I loved it."

On how encouraging it was to see Matt Elam make plays: "You know, I'll have to watch it. I didn't notice it. I know this, we were more stout in there. Our movements were sharper, more crisp, and our base defense was more stout. Some of the same plays that were milking us for four or five yards a year ago weren't there today. I'll have to break it all down, but just the running back run plays were pretty solid."

On if the D-Line surprised him: "Well, we've been pounding it. I've been talking about it. We're not hiding from it, you know what I mean? We have to get better. We've got to continue to do that. We haven't arrived. We're gonna keep on pounding them, but that's what I like about this team. They listen, they want to be coached, they work hard, they care about each other, and you know what, that makes it fun. This is never gonna be easy. Next week's not, they're never easy. But that's a victory. I do think the defensive line is making it personal, and they're trying to get better. We need to continue to do that."

On what it says about Josh Paschal to make a play with the game on the line: "I mean, I feel good with him in there like you said. I think in practice this week, as we start doing more, and not playing against our offense, you start seeing some wide-eyed stuff that worries you a little bit. Then there's guys, you put them in a game and let them play. It's unfortunate we didn't get some of the other guys we wanted to. I think our depth did show. I don't know exactly what it was. I wasn't paying great attention to it, but I know we were rotating a lot of guys. Defensively we had to. We wanted to have some juice at the end of the game, and sure enough we needed it. The depth helped us right there. We're really looking fast on the defensive line in predictable pass late in the game. That's what it's all about, pass rush in two-minute situations. You win a couple of those and you have a good chance to win those situations."

On what he saw from the freshmen overall: "I really couldn't tell other than Josh (Paschal). Offensively I didn't notice."

On C.J. Conrad’s performance: “I think with our run game it sets up that pop pass to him. That’s always a dangerous threat. Stephen really converted those nice. You remember last year we were a little off target on a few of those early, and it set up with our run game. So we’ve got to continue to work that and take our shots, but yeah C.J. had some nice catches.”

On what’s the point of emphasis moving forward: “Just constant improvement across the board. Obviously we’ve got to win 50-50 balls. So if they’re throwing it up there and we’re not coming down with the ball then we’re going to have a problem in the long run. So these guys – if they’re just going to throw it up we’ve got to win our share of 50-50. We’ve got to go up and intercept the football. We’ve got to work on that.”

On Bunchy Stallings’ status after coming back in a couple times: “It looked like he was banged up, but he came in. Nick was fighting through this heat and playing, and Bunchy came back in. We’re not at our typical full strength right now on the offensive line, so we’ve got to get going with some guys.”

On if Josh Allen stood out to him: “Yeah. He did. He did. He stood out to me. He’s been really solid. He’s had a really good camp. He’s hard to block on predictable pass. He’s really – instincts are there. You’ve heard me talk for years about the outside linebacker position, all the nuances from it, and you’re starting to see those reps pay off for him because he’s very comfortable out there.”

On Darius West forcing the fumble, playing well: “Yeah, did he? Was that him? I couldn’t tell, but you know what? That is good for him, because he is. He’s a big solid dude. I thought he really played well. So, he didn’t standout to me with any major mistakes as I was watching it live. We got Davonte’s feet wet. The game moves fast, and he did have a couple things that will help him just getting him some playing time. He was a little off on, but he’s been really solid. Between the two of them we need that position to be solid.”

On if he wants the offense to run that much ‘wildcat’ even when it’s not working: “We got to do whatever we have to do to win football games. Hey, last year we threw the ball for 400 yards or whatever in the first half and we lost. So, you know what I mean? Isn’t that what it’s all about. We want to be really good in all areas, but the bottom line is winning games. That’s what you love about a team like this, because that’s where we really have grown. It was tough, but how many times – it’s been the other way around. We’ll just keep on working at it and see where we go.”

On if they would have won this game a year ago: “I don’t know. I hate to say that, but to me I love that kind of a test right here, right now, because this team – you’ve heard me talk about it; it’s been no B.S. I don’t ever act like we’re there, but they’ve been fun to coach. They care about each other, they work hard. They’re really trying to take the medicine we give them, and we’ll learn from this experience. I’ve been very proud of them in that regard. We’ve come a long way in that regard, I know that.”

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