Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops previews Kentucky’s league opener at South Carolina


“As I said after the game, it’s good to be 2-0. There’s many things we’ve got to get cleaned up. Excited to get back to work this week. We’ve got to get a lot better in a lot of areas.”

On how significant success against SC has been in building program: “Well, at the time they were big wins, of course. I don’t think they mean much going into this game, but there were some good times and some good games. But this is a new year.”

On how he prepares team for atmosphere he expects at SC: “It was good to go on the road week one and get the win. We all know this atmosphere will be quite different. I was really, I guess pretty amazed really the first time I ever played down there with the atmosphere. It was fantastic. Really great venue. It will be a real challenge, but we have to embrace that. We’re going to have to play much better football in a lot of areas. They’ve played very well with two quality wins. They’ve been very sound. They’ve played very clean football. They’re just like us: They’re plus-four in the turnovers. They’ve played solid on offense and on defense, and they’ve gotten the two big kickoff returns that have sparked them also. They’ve played really solid football, they’re well-coached. It will be a real challenge. It is quite an atmosphere, and our players have just got to concentrate on us and embrace what we do. That’s what makes it fun to go into hostile environments like this. We got to be up for the challenge.”

On if he was surprised by that atmosphere: “I had never played there before. It was quite an atmosphere, it was good, it was cool. It’s a neat place. As we make our way through most of the Southeastern Conference – I’ve been to most but I haven’t been to all of them yet with the schedule the way it is – we’ve had an opportunity to be here a few times. At least we know what we’re getting into.”

On areas he’s working on: “There were a lot of things in the game. You heard me discuss it after in the postgame press conference. When you look at it there are the things that I thought. If you look at us offensively, the most common one to look at is the snaps. Listen, there’s two snaps in the game – well, there’s several snaps in the game; there were two that stopped drives. So we only have 11 drives. Six of them go for points or a missed field goal. Five of them don’t, and two of them are because of snaps only. Then you look at the other three and two of those, the opening play of the drives start with penalties. Those need to get cleaned up. And the other one we did not convert or score on was a third-and-three that was late in the game and we decided to run the ball and we came up a half-yard short. So, things aren’t – The sky is not falling, but we have to get those things cleaned up. The snaps, we will continue to work on that. We’ll get those corrected. Nick (Haynes) and Bunchy (Stallings) are very conscientious young men. They work extremely hard, they take pride in their craft. I know they’ll work on that and get that fixed. We’ve got to get the penalties fixed, and we’ve got to be just a little more disciplined in certain areas. Defensively there was position on the football. Our coverages weren’t as precise as they need to be. We need to contest more passes, and we need to tackle better. With the special teams, we took a step back there in kickoff coverage. It goes back to some issues before. All of a sudden you don't get a great kick, you have a guy miss, and there's big returns. We have to get that corrected by this week. We know what we're getting into this week with their kickoff return with Deebo (Samuel) back there. He's a real, real weapon, so we have to get those areas cleaned up. Those are some areas specifically."

On what Deebo Samuel does well on kickoff return: "He's electric, he's a playmaker, he's got great vision. Like any great returner, you've gotta have top-end speed. He obviously has top-end speed to make people miss, but he also have vision. That's when you know you have a very good football player. He does a lot of things. They want the ball in his hands, he's got quick-hand touches, he does things on reverses, little fly sweeps, punt and kick returns — many different ways. Obviously they'll isolate him to get you one-on-one in the passing game."

On if Drake Jackson is a factor at center or if he needs more work: "Just more work. He's gonna be fine. We've just gotta keep on plugging away. If we felt like he was part of the best five then he would be in there. Again, I keep on going back to it, that's development. He's gonna be just fine. He's developing and getting better. That was the same way last year. We didn't have nine players that we trusted at the beginning of the year last year. By the end of the year we did."

On what he sees on film from Jake Bentley: "Just a good, good quarterback. Good strong arm, he knows where to go with the ball. He's getting some playmakers around him and they're getting good balance in what they do. He's a good player."

On Eddie hearing something in the locker room Saturday from the players that encouraged him and if he knows what he's talking about: "Well, I don't know, but I think the whole attitude was, again, nobody's gonna make us apologize for being 2-0. We know there's work to be done. Those players know that. They're consciousness, they care, so there's absolutely no reason to hit the panic button, but you have to have some urgency. We have to get some things cleaned up, and that's just the little things. That's discipline. We have to just be more disciplined and we have to be more consistent. There's things we have to get cleaned up cause the margin to error starts to shrink as you get into conference play."

On if he sensed his players struck the right balance between being 2-0 but not feeling too good: "Absolutely. So we have to get some things cleaned up, and again I think the big word is just 'discipline.' We have to be disciplined in all aspects of it and we have to execute. Our guys care. They wanna be better, they know they can be better and we're gonna work hard to do it. I'm encouraged by that. You don't wanna say the same thing about Drew (Barker) when he went in there. I'm very happy that we inserted him into the game in the situation that we did under some pressure. You have to get those quality reps. And again, his play, I have to defend him just like I defend Stephen (Johnson). It's a lot of people around him. You don't need to go in there and get a penalty on a screen pass and get a holding play, a holding penalty on the first one. And then protection issues. Give him some options on third down. There's not many quarterbacks that are very affective on third and long when you're not getting great, great protection. We got him in third and long the first series, the next series we have another penalty that starts 1st and 15. We have a run, Benny's banged up, we have a guy that hasn't played college football yet and has a run that couldn't possibly be set up any better and we miss it. We bounce it outside instead of hitting it up inside, or it's a huge gain. We get in third and long again, and the same back that's gonna be fine, who hadn't played yet, gets completely blown up on a blitz. We get no time to throw the ball. You know what happened the next series after that? The same thing, 3rd and 10, guess what happens with Stephen? No protection, no throw. We get sacked, bailed out by a facemask. Everybody forgets that."

On how many offensive linemen he’s comfortable playing right now: “We’ve rotated seven guys. We need to get to eight or nine guys and find that rotation. You know we’re working with it. When injuries go down, we have two guys at center that we feel like can play. If one of them goes down then we have different options at guard. We’ve gotta continue to bring a few guys along but we will.”

On Jordan Jones’ shoulder:“I didn’t even know about it (after Saturday). He has a little issue with his shoulder. We’ll see how it goes throughout the week. He’s not ruled out at this point.”

On Jones having a leg issue during the game: “That was just a cramp. I was ready to drag him off.” (Laughter)

On if they’ve decided yet to work Bryant Koback and Naasir Watkins into games: “Yeah. Yes and no. Yes, we’re still contemplating it. We’ll see. Chances are that both will need to play.”

On if the players from Florida have been able to reach their family after the hurricane: “Yeah. I don’t know since the hurricane went through in the last 24 hours, I haven’t been able to touch base with everybody, but we certainly were before it happened. To the best of our knowledge everybody has been safe.”

On what he attributes the improvement in run defense to: “All of the above. It always starts with great team defense. As I’ve said 100 times, it’s a technique game. You have to be very sound technically up front for the defensive line to be successful. We’re still really pushing on that. There were plays Saturday that we could do better. We’re constantly looking at issues and ways to improve them and take some pressure off them. If all 11 guys are in the right spot, generally you’ll have some success. This past Saturday there were some issues we have to get ironed out that are some communication issues. Structurally, if we do it the way we did, there’s no success. You’re not going to have any success. We’ve all gotta be on the same page. We’ve gotta continue to harp on those things and get better.”

On Stoops’ relationship with Will Muschamp: “I’ve known Will for a long time. I have great respect for Will. Both defensive guys. We both look like football and talking ball. He’s a good coach. I expect a very good game but I like Will personally. I think he’s a good guy and does things the right way.”

On who has played well on the offensive line: “They’ve all had moments. The problem is, and you know, just like I described, the five possessions that didn’t go for points or ended drives, there was always one thing or another. That’s why all 11 guys have to be doing what they’re supposed to do at all times. Unless you have somebody really special that can make some people miss, which we do, but you can’t always count on that against quality people. You have to execute. When you don’t bad things are going to happen. These games, our possessions are lower than some. With the way both teams were just running it and being methodical and going about their business and not super high-paced, you only have about 11 possessions. That’s what we had last week. I expect probably about the same this week. We’ll see. You have to be efficient in those drives. That’s why in NFL games a lot of times you don’t see a lot of super high scoring games. They don’t have as many possessions either. We can’t miss our opportunities. We just can't miss our opportunities.”

On Landon Young: “He's playing well. He and Kyle both have given up some pressure that we have to iron out, so whether a running back or an offensive lineman at times, we have to sure up the protection. I think, again, if you look at that, that's not uncommon for a lot of people, so. In predictable pass, our guys will get some pressure as well. That's why you try to stay out of those situations a lot. You're in third down efficiency will be much more efficient on third and medium and third and short than third and long. Again, most people, not everybody, is like that.”

On his message to young skill guys about blocking: “It's a huge part of it. You have to be good. People underestimate that. The running back is not only physically blocking, but assignment-wise being sharp with the protections and everything. There's a lot more to it.”

On Blake Bone: “I just think he's been more consistent, he's been better across the board this year. He's been more consistent at camp, he's been working harder, he's been earning our trust and he went out there and made some plays. Again, you've heard me talk about it, we need guys to step up and make plays. We've got to have playmakers on the field. There's going to be contested passes across the board. When we get into league play there's going to be people on you. You have to make tough catches. Tavin made a nice competitive catch the other day and he was well covered and Stephen made a great throw and Tavin made a really big play. If I'm not mistaken that was after a penalty also, so we were backed up, might have been second and long and he made a big catch, contested.”

On if he saw improvement on 50-50 balls: “There was no big plays in that game. There was one for maybe 24 yards, if I'm not mistaken. So that's one thing we always look at is explosive plays and there wasn't a lot of explosive plays. They were smart in the way they did things. They got in pinch sets to get us off press, to create some space. There's some things in our coverage that we've got to be more precise on that. We have to push our coverage more and get more consistent in that. A lot of the nickel and dime stuff is not just on the secondary. When you see that many passes completed you're not very happy, but the yardage was down, the explosive plays were down. We got to do some things better as a unit.”

On Courtney Love: “Yeah, we have a good relationship. Courtney is just a guy, he's a mature young man. He always has been. He's like that here. He's very solid. Just have to respect him and the way he goes about his business, the way he lives his life and we're truly blessed to have him in our program. He's doing very well.”

Love after Southern Miss: “Yeah he played good. There's things he could do better and he will. There's some plays, there's some things that are popping up that have been, that we've got to get ironed out, that you know, we need to play better.”

On former players who left: “We're always rooting for all those guys. We would be a different team. You always wish you had some guys. If you had Jeff and you had Boom and you had Cole Mosier and Dorian Baker, you think we'd make a few more plays? Those are four guys, and you know. “All you’ve heard me talk about since I’ve been here is recruiting and developing and there’s four examples of it right there — guys you developed and put them in position, you get them older, you get them more mature, and unfortunately you don’t have them with you. That’s why you need a whole bunch of them. And that’s why you see some [teams] that have about 80 or 90 of them. You know why they look like that. Because if you get certain attrition, you just plug in the next guy. And we’re getting much better, but it’s hard to replace those four guys I just mentioned. They all could be playing for us right now, but they’re not here, so it’s the next guys stepping up.”

On watching brother Bob go nuts in the press box as Oklahoma beat Ohio State: “I was going nuts, too. I was locked in as well. I saw him keeping his composure the whole game until that play. I think that was the touchdown that put him up by a pretty good bit. You started feeling better about the game because you always know those games are going to go back and forth and always can, but we were all excited at that point.”

On if Benny will be fine Saturday: “Yeah, I think so. It’s definitely one of those injuries [bruised ribs] that are very painful. You’ve seen or heard guys that have had those and played with them in the NFL, but there will be some pain there. We’ll see how it goes. I have no idea how it’ll go this week. I think Jordan’s is similar. There’s a pain-tolerance issue that we’ll see how it goes and whether he can handle it or not.”

On Eddie Gran saying (maybe jokingly) he might not run Wildcat again: “It’s true [that some years it works, some it doesn’t]. We have to do whatever you gotta do to win games. You’ve heard me say it, but it’s so true. You look at South Carolina and they’re a good example of that as well: They’ve been very efficient and have two quality wins. They’ve just played solid football and they’ve done what they had to do to win. They’re plus-four in turnovers, have two kickoff returns for touchdowns and they’re playing solid in all areas.”

On if Wildcat has been less effective because of the way teams are defending it or because of UK’s mistakes: “I think there’s a combination. Sometimes when you’re getting that and you’re not exactly sure how they’re going to play it and the way people are rotating and different things, they stumble into some plays sometimes. And some of it, like in Game 1, it was a combination of issues: the backs maybe not letting the smoke clear and there are some plays there — just being more patient — and sometimes it was blocking. It’s a combination of all of it.”

On Mike Edwards playing nickel more: “Mike’s just been solid like he always is. There’s some new wrinkles and some experience he still has to gain there even though he’s a guy you’ve heard me say always has great instincts and great awareness. But there’s still some nuances there that he’s working his way through. But he’s still playing very good football.”

On how important USC game is for the rest of the season: “It’s super important because it’s the next game. We never look beyond that. So how it affects the rest of the year doesn’t even enter our mind, to be honest with you. It’s guns loaded and ready to go to work to prepare the best we can to go play a quality team on the road in the SEC. So we don’t need any more motivation than that.”

On already having a road game under the belt: “I think it helps. I really do. I think it helps. This will be quite different. But I think it does help us, just the routine and some of those guys who hadn’t been through it before.”

On D-line vs. EKU: “Again, solid. Not as good, not as sharp, and that’s no knock on them. I think that’s just how we were across the board. Not as many opportunities to defend the run, but we weren’t as sharp as we could be.”

On Stoops seeming happier on if he knows something fans don’t, what makes him so “jolly”: “Let’s see if you say that next month. (Laughter) Jolly. I’ve never heard that word with me. I just feel like this team, they’re fun to coach. They want to get better. Believe me, I was very — they’re going to get coached up this week. I’m not real pleased. There’s a lot of things we have to do better and we will. I don’t know, but I know this group will take it. That’s I guess the only thing that’s different. You’re not going to go in there and just talk and talk and talk without them listening and taking them in and wanting to be better, wanting to improve. You always like that as a coach, that’s why you coach. It’s challenges and we have quite a few challenges and there’s things that aggravate the heck out of you that we have to get cleaned up. And we’re going to start doing that today. I guess that’s why I’m so jolly because I can’t wait to go rip somebody’s butt. That’s the truth.”

On if the spark comes from a specific leader on the team: “I don’t know that it comes from a specific person, just in general. There’s always good — we’ve had all the teams that have been here, there’s been so many great people, great kids — I just think the overall attitude is more consistent that way and that just comes from the leadership and our standards. It’s our standards versus expectations and that’s what we beat them with last week and that wasn’t always the case. It’s not for the lack of trying, we just need to be more disciplined. We need to do things more precise. That’s what we’re going to get to work on today.”

On how much Lynn Bowden is itching to get going: “I’m sure he’s frustrated after that last incident here, but his time will come. It’s about continuing to have great practices. He had a better week last week. He was ready to go. We sure wanted to see him and sooner or later, he’s going to get those opportunities and you’ve got to make the most of it.”

On if Bowden’s ejection had an impact on team: “I don’t think it had a big impact on the team. I don’t. Like I said afterward, I think it was unfortunate. It was just a bad break. There’s things we can learn off that and coach off that, but it was nothing malicious. It was nothing with bad intent. It was not a selfish play. So I think everybody understood that and just move on.”

On if he has a social media ejection policy: “I need to get a little better hold of that. I remember being at Florida State when all of this first started coming up. Jimbo (Fisher) and all of us trying to get a hold of that. It is part of it. Y’all probably know a lot more than I do about that. I’ve got people that are supposed to be watching all that for me, but I’ve got enough things. Just anybody can say whatever the heck they want, obviously. Look at you guys. Anybody can say anything. Just whatever. It’s what the world is, right?”