Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops’ thoughts after Southern Miss and a preview of Eastern Kentucky

MARK STOOPS

“As I said after the game, very good victory, very proud of our team. Very tough, hard-fought game. With that being said, we know there’s a lot of work to do. It’s a lot better going back to work after a victory, so we’re excited. We’re going to get back to work this week and fundamentally get better and get some things cleaned up.”

On Lynn Bowden tweets after the game: “There’s no issue. We’ll continue to manage our players. That’s what they pay me to do. We’ll be fine. Lynn’s a good kid, work hard. It’s not uncommon in general. I’ve been a lot of places with some very, very talented young men and the competitive nature comes out in kids sometimes and we’ll be fine. There’s no issue at all. That’s the good thing about our football team now and where we’re at. We can manage things like that very easily. The other thing I’d like to say, as we talked about, it’s good to get back and get some things cleaned up. We’re going to have to. I’m want to mention EKU. I was very impressed with them. We’re going to have to play much better. They’re an improved football team. They were very impressive on both sides of the ball. Very impressed with the way they threw the football. I want to say they threw it for 320 yards last week against a very good Western team and had a couple opportunities to cut the game to a very close game. We’re going to need to improve and play well. What happened last time. We’ve got Dean up there in my office. That’s why he’s here. They took us, we were very fortunate as y’all know, just to go into overtime and win the game the last time we played them. EKU’s going to be very fired up to come in and play and I’m glad Dean’s up there with me this time. But they were very impressive, they really were. They’re well coached football team and played good in all areas. We’ll have to improve, that’s for sure.”

On run game issues is it line, backs, all of the above: “Combination. You guys know, you’ve listened to me all preseason about hitting our guys over the head with basics, you know, really just hammering them with playing fundamentally better. You saw that with defensive line, an area with run defense. Because of our past mistakes, because of the way we started last year, we had their attention and really hammered it with those guys. You saw the improvement. If you remember from my previous statements going back to things, when I say some thigns are easy fixes and some things are not so easy fixes. There are some things in there that are easily fixed. We had some guys. It’s not natural to the naked eye just to look at it and see what’s going on because you see some things disruptive on our offensive line. But it could be as simple as a guy going the wrong way. It’s pretty important for everyone to go the right way. OK, so when one person goes the wrong way it can make a play look very ugly, very quickly. That should be an easy fix. There’s things like that that happened. There’s other things like our backs were too impatient. I tried to head that off all last week and for two weeks about being patient and doing your job and letting things come to us. Some guys get so amped up they want to make things happen immediately and that’s where the patience of the run game and the running backs will get better. And they’ve been so solid and they’re very well coached. Guys are very amped up. That’s why you see very strange things in game one and so, there were plays there.

“Again give them credit. They are very disruptive, they ‘re active, they’re big, they’re physical, they’re playing at home. But there’s things that we can get corrected and will get corrected. There’s other issues. We’re not as deep as we have been on the offensive line. Certainly we did miss Jon Toth and how steady he was. Just our operation wasn’t real clean early in that game. Talk about throwing you off track, just a snap alone on the second play of the game. Those are things that really stopped us and hurt us — coming up yards short, inches short, and getting us behind the chains. First downs is what it’s all about, giving you more opportunities. And that’s why a lot of guys didn’t touch the ball. You’ve heard me say that in games past when you only have 55 snaps, because we were just coming up on the short end of the stick on third down. That kills drives, and so we don’t get as many opportunities. That hurts in all areas, both the run game and the pass in a lot of opportunities and a lot of touches. There’s some things, like I said, it’s really good to go back to work and learn from this, get better and improve between Week 1 and Week 2. And it’s really nice doing it after a victory.”

On what he saw on the 50-50 balls he talked about after the game: “Well, one was a complete missed assignment. Again, easy fix there. One of the long touchdown passes it was communication and a missed assignment that we can’t have. I mean, it’s whatever it was. I don’t know if that was 42 or 47 on that one, but a 40-something yard pass that just by miscommunication and getting a guy out of position, there’s no excuse for that. That was one of them. The other one was a very poor play on the ball, and the other one was very aggravating because it should be a tackle. If we just tackle, we’ve got 3rd and 15 on the 15 and we all know they were struggling protecting us on third downs. So, I would certainly love to have a 3rd and 15 with the game on the line, 3rd and goal, than a touchdown off missed tackles. That’s inexcusable and things we’ve gotta fix.”

On who stood out on defense that was key in stopping the run: “Everybody. It takes team defense to stop the run, and it starts up front with being strong and being very sound in our technique. I was very pleased with the start of that. I felt like fundamentally that was the best we’ve played in some time. I felt like the guys had the strength and the energy, but they understood. They understood how to play at our leverage points. And again, going back off past failures is our point of attack — guys wanting to do too much, taking care of the primary and dipping their head and doing things. Just take care of your job, and trust that your teammate is doing his. That wasn’t always the case, and so team defense is what it’s all about. I was very proud of the unit in that way. I felt like they really were aggressive. I felt like guys were aggressive, I felt like our position on the football was very good for the most part. Guys played with a lot of passion, a lot of energy and some quickness. All in all it was very good that way. If we can get some of the, you know, the one communication issue and some of the 50/50 balls out there, you really play a very solid game. There were five to six passes that we gave up, almost all the yardage in the whole game, about 190 yard in six plays. Some of it can be eliminated. And so we need to get some work on that.”

On the defense playing well despite quiet performances from Jordan Jones and Mike Edwards: “I think it says a lot for just our team, the team defense. Like I said, I think you’ve heard us just hammering them over the head with sledge hammers about that. Just doing your job, doing it right, doing it fundamentally. There’s plays out there. There’s good offenses. There’s creative guys and there’s going to be new things. Guys are going to make plays and (Southern Miss) did. They’re hard to defend and they inched out or scratched out some aggravating first downs. That’ll be the same this week. (EKU) knows how to move the football. They know how to scratch out and get first downs and move the ball and make plays. They throw it very, very well. It’s kinda the same. Then it’s about us. Like I’ve always said, when we have the right play called at the right time, you can’t miss those opportunities. You have to make the play when you’re in the right position. That wasn’t always the case. I felt like that was real encouraging there.”

On how he thought Stephen Johnson played: “We know we missed some plays. We all can do better in that game. He’s no different. There’s plays that were there. The two plays that we cannot miss are third down throws when they’re open and we miss them. That kills drives. Those were the two big plays. When we did throw it on first, second down and we had a pocket and we had guys, we delivered it very well and made some very nice throws. But there’s other times when he has to deliver on third down.”

On the offensive line rotating or trying to stick with five:“That was the same way last year at times. We have versatile guys. We always will do that. We got thin there for a minute when Bunchy went down. We weren’t as deep as we’ve been. Some of that shuffling didn’t help us in that game. We have to learn to be able to do that because we have to be versatile. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. We always go in with the game plan and things happen. You have to be able to adapt. There’s some things we will get cleaned up there. We weren’t as clean as we have been. We’ll get that straight and we’ll get back to running the ball the way we need to. Like I said, some things were easy fixes and some things that we’ve gotta work through and develop some guys.”

On if it made it tougher for the OL that Southern Miss moved up front every play: “It is difficult for them because what they do and how complex they are with some big guys doing a lot of movements. The stunts, penetrating. That we will get addressed today with just our operation as well. Our operation was a little slow with our communication and maybe overdoing it to some extent. Our guys are very bright. John (Schlarman) does a very good job with those guys and they see things in the way they have to make some adjustments. I trust we’ll get it worked out. It was difficult, and again, give (Southern Miss) credit on that.”

On the health of the team: “We’re in relatively good shape. We’ll see how it goes. I got an update this morning and there’s nothing to inform you all on at this point. We’ll see how it goes throughout the week, but I anticipate everyone should be able to play.”

On how Josh Paschal and Quinton Bohanna played: “Really well. Really well. I really felt like both Quinton and Josh on the front really played some good football. Very encouraging to see. I think Josh is a guy that played a couple of different positions. You could see his versatility for a big guy. He’s very tough to block. When he put his hand in the dirt and rushed from a defensive end position. Some of what we do on third down, he’s a handful. He can also go inside and be a 3-technique. He moves around, he understands things pretty good. Good start. Like I said last week, the load hits him sometimes. But lights come on and he really played good football. He was very sharp in his assignments. Quinton, I want to say he roughly played 15 snaps. Did not show up in the negative in anyway. So it’s not like he got pushed around. He was very active, very strong and he keeps on progressing. I feel very good about where he’s at. We got real thin with some cramps, a couple of injuries when Baity went down, Dort had to go in there and held his own for a few plays. Good to see. Offensively, we’ll get those guys going. Everybody is going to ask questions like you all do, but when there’s only 55 snaps and you have to do what you have to do to win the game. We’ll get everybody rolling at the right time. You never know when that’s going to be. Everybody said you got the tight end involved early this year. Well, we did last year, we just missed it by an inch. You just can’t miss plays. We would’ve got the wideouts involved too if we would’ve caught those bombs. You’ve just gotta keep on working and execute the best you can.”

On what he learned about his team’s character in the first game: “Very proud of them, just like I have been talking about, really. I felt like the team was very united, very unselfish and maybe not exactly real pleased with their individual play at times but happy to get the team victory. So, it’s not so much about how an individual plays. It’s more about how does the team play when you’re in the game. I think our team is starting to have that mentality more. So how effective are we when you’re in the game? That was very evident with all the guys we played.

“I want to say 24 players on our defense showed up with production. Twenty-four different guys produced. I mean, I don’t know, I don’t really always keep that stat, but that jumped out at me because I was looking at things on the plane on the way home. We played eight interior defensive linemen at three spots, and all eight produced. All four outside backers produced. I want to say nine guys played in the secondary. That’s encouraging, and to see not much drop off or no drop off that’s good to see. It says a lot about the development of our team and our program.”

On if he knows how many players were productive in the opener last year: “I don’t. I don’t have any idea. I really don’t always look at that. I knew going into this game – You guys watch TV and you see the cramps, you see the issues. Going into that heat you knew we were going to have to have depth. I was very proud. I felt like our team was in very good shape. I think Mike (Edwards) went in and got an IV, which you could understand. Mike does a lot. Mike went in and got an IV, but outside of that our guys were very good, didn’t have any issues with the heat or no cramp issues. I felt like we were conditioned, but a lot of that has to do with trusting playing some guys with some depth. That helped us.”

On how Matt Elam graded out: “He did good, he did good. He played – that’s by committee right now. That position is by committee. We played three nose guards, and they all did some good things. It’s not always showing up on the stat sheet, but there’s things where they need to take care of their responsibility. That’s a very unselfish spot at times, but we cannot get movement at that position. That’s where things don’t always show up, but in the 3-4, when we’re in the nose there sometimes we can’t get pushed out of that a-gap. There’s some things – I don’t want to get into it all, but there’s some things structurally where we have to be very stout and very physical in there, and we were much better at that this game.”

On how he keeps players from overlooking FCS opponent: “It’s very easy for us to get their attention, because it’s really always about us. It was about us last week. We said that last week. It’s about us and how we play. It’s the same this week, and it’s always going to be that way. We have great respect for everybody we play. We know we’re not a team that you can just go out there and beat anybody. We have to be on point, and we have to play the game. We have to respect the game. It’s about respecting the way you prepare. It’s always about that. It’s not about showing up on Saturday being ready to play. It’s about showing up in the building right now. They’re in there lifting and getting ready for meetings. It’s about our preparation for the whole week. So there’s a lot for us to build on, there’s a lot of good things from this last game and there’s a lot of things we can improve on. That’s what’s so great about it, so exciting: To get back to the opportunity to improve.”

On if it helps there are veterans who played as young guys in 2015 game vs. EKU: “I hope it gets their attention. All I’ve got to have is maybe Dean get up in the team meeting and talk about it, because he probably feels robbed because they outplayed us and outcoached us. Maybe I’ll have Dean talk to the team today.”

On getting Paschal involved when Denzil Ware and Josh Allen are in the game: “Yeah, it’s difficult, but we have a package where they all play on third down and you saw that quite a bit on Saturday. It was nice to get him on there. I don’t have it exactly in front of me, but I want to say Josh may have played right around 14 — or may it was more, maybe it was 24, I’m not sure. I don’t know. But I know this: When he played, he had some production. It didn’t always show on the stat sheet. He had one big hit of course late in the game, but his rushes and the things he does, he’s a big man and he’s very twitchy as I say. He can run and he’s physical. He’s putting it all together. There’s not a lot of dropoff. I will say this: I was very proud of Denzil and Josh because that position. It seems like we talk about it every week. I talk about it. You have to be precise there, but also when it goes to predictable pass and they’re just rushing, they take great pride in getting to the quarterback and not just unselfishly. There’s lanes, there’s discipline, there’s things you have to do within the rushes as well. It’s not unselfish, but they do take great pride in getting to the quarterback and getting after it and that’s what it takes. You should, but also in run game and just pass game, everything they have to do, they played a very good game.”

On how much better Allen and Ware are in pass coverage than they were in years past: “Much. Much better. Much better understanding. Just playing on their feet, understanding the things we ask them to do. They have to be versatile. And it lets us play bigger. When both of them are on the field, we’re bigger. Our edges are bigger, but teams do things — and they started doing it Saturday — when they start spreading you out in 10 personnel. If you’re playing with a back row on a wide out, there’s a lot of room, Shannon does a lot of layering you, of wheeling you. Wheels. There’s a lot of space on that field that you have to be careful with. The more athletic they are, the more they’re handling things, the better they are because then when teams get big, we can play bigger with them in there. It’s just a little bit of a chess match at times with formations.”

On asking a special teams — and asking a positive question: “Why did it take so long? (Laughter)

On how much of a factor special teams turned out to be on Saturday: “Super important. We all know that. It was very nice to see that the special teams made a big difference. And the punting in particular made such a big difference. Pinning that ball inside the 20 (yard line) when you have an opportunity to do that is absolutely critical to do it. What’d we do it five times? Five times and twice inside the 1 (yard line). Those are ways to win games.”

And on Sihiem King’s big kick return: “Yeah, he started cramping up or else we believe he has a touchdown because he has to stay outside. Kick returns have to trust their speed at that moment and he had it. He didn’t trust it, but he was cramping up. So I’m glad it wasn’t pulled. I think if he hits it outside, it’s most definitely a touchdown.”

On where A.J. Rose fits in running back rotation: “He’ll get going. He missed a little bit last week or the week before. Heading into it, maybe just a couple days, nothing major, nothing that I withheld from you. He was just a little bit banged up and missed a few days. With young guys sometimes, that sets you back a little bit. So he’ll get in there and get going.”

On using Benny Snell as an example of a guy who didn’t play early: “Great example. Great example. Wasn’t a factor at all in those first two games and that’s all anybody talked about by the end of the year. It’s a great example and we’ll continue to preach that. We have a good team and they are unselfish. Guys — it’s OK to want more playing time — but like I always tell them: Make us play you by your preparation and what you do during the week and how you show up and practice. Don’t give us an opportunity to not play you.”

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