Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: After win over South Carolina, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops previews Florida

MARK STOOPS

“I was pleased with our performance this past week. I thought we played exceptionally hard. I thought they showed great poise, great toughness. We really executed well in critical situations in a tough, hostile environment. I really believe that was the difference in the game: short yardage, goal line, third downs. Our team did some good things. We’re excited about that win and we’re excited to get back to work. It’s very short-lived and we’ll have our hands full this week. We’re excited to be back home and playing a great Florida team. We’ll be excited and ready to go.”

On if there’s an update on Jordan Jones:“Doubtful. I didn’t even put him on there. Like I said last week, it would be a stretch. If something changes I’ll let you know.”

On what he thought of the players stepping in for Jones and what Eli Brown’s status is: “Yeah Eli was just cramped up. He went in and took an IV. I’m not even sure how many plays he missed. I think he got back pretty quick. I was very pleased with the way Eli played. I said that really all camp, I think he’s just been much more consistent with his work going back to last winter and trying to gain weight and get stronger. He really had a good fall practice camp. As I told you, I guess Thursday, I was excited to see him play. He needed the opportunity to get quality reps and he didn’t disappoint us. He played very well.”

On how much Boogie Watson played:“Yeah, Boogie just played a few plays and he did some good things. He’ll get more as we go. Jamar’s been a great team player. We’v been bouncing around. As you get so deep in game plan and things change he’s had to play quite a few positions and we appreciate him being very unselfish because we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a good football player. Just like Saturday he went in and helped on a critical stop in a critical situation. Jamar’s done a great job. He’s gonna be very good. He’s helping us fill some holes right now and play where we need him. But he’ll settle in and help us.”

On if there’s an “I told you so” moment after telling fans not to panic and beating South Carolina: “No. Absolutely not. It’s not about that. It’s just about, I try to speak the truth. I tell you the way it is, what I’m thinking. There wasn’t any panic in our building. We knew we were doing some very good things, we knew we had a good team, we knew we had to improve in certain areas. Name me one team in the country who’s not that way. I think our team, like I told you, they care. We believe in each other, and really that’s all that matters. Our guys are working hard and we’ll have another tough challenge this week. The minute I tell you ‘I told you so,’ believe me, sooner or later I’ll lose. I know that. I’m smart enough to know I’m not the smartest guy in the room.”

On why his team is built to withstand rocky starts like South Carolina: “Well, I think it comes from years of training and preparing and building the culture that you want. I think you’re seeing great leadership from our team, and that doesn’t surprise me. Emotion is big in this game, but it’s daily. It’s not on Saturdays. It’s the will to prepare to win. That’s what we’re trying to instill in our guys. Our guys, it’s about the preparation and getting in position to win games and having the confidence that you’re gonna do it. That doesn’t mean you’re gonna win every time, but that’s what we’re striving for. We’re trying to be perfect, so the minute bad things happen, we’ve been there before. Just get back, regroup, fix the problems and move onto the next play. Our team has that mentality and I love that about them.”

On how he prepares for the suspended Florida players who may or may not play: “Yeah, I have no idea. We just prepare for what they’ve done on defense and on offense, what’s on film, what they’ve done last year and a lot of things. We’ll just prepare the best we can.”

On if having Florida later in the season helps: “Yeah, I didn’t even think of that to this point. I’d like to believe we’re better right now in game four than we were in game one. I hope we’ll play that way. I think our team has made progress each and every week. Hopefully we’ll put our best game together this week because we’re going to need to play our best.”

On Will Muschamp calling him: “I really don’t want to comment on that other than to say Will and I have a great relationship. He called, and again I don’t want to get into it, but the bottom line was that I respect Will and told him I did not need a phone call from him. I know what Will stands for. I would stand for the same way. We’re not going to accept that and we’ll move on. It’s no big deal.”

On if it’s possible to get too excited for a game like this: “Definitely. We’ll talk about that and we’ll address that.”

On how he manages players getting up for this game but not focusing on the 30-game losing streak: “You know, honestly I haven’t addressed that before. It’s never been my approach. These guys haven’t been here for 30 years. We’ll see. I’ll go with my gut on how much we’ll talk about that or if at all. Again, generally I don’t ever talk about -- like last week beating South Carolina. You all asked me, but we don’t talk about that. The fact we’ve beat them couple years in a row, that doesn’t matter. Every year is a new year. This is a new team. That’s always been my approach. Every week is a new week. I’ve never addressed it before. I know these guys hear because the media, social media and everything that’s out there. There’s so much information now. It’s not like you can hide it. They know what’s going on. But I have great confidence in our team that that won’t affect us at all. If it gives somebody a little bit of motivation, I hope it gives them motivation on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I want them getting motivation to prepare. If that does something for you, then good.”

On how often he hears from the community about beating Florida: “I’ve heard a lot of things.” (Laughter)

On if he senses how much it means to the fanbase to beat Florida: “I do. I do feel the importance of it. I’ve always accepted that, as I’ve accepted rivalries and all the negative streaks that you all are so good about telling me about. All those things. But it’s true. I take it personally. I do. I care. I care about our fanbase, I do care about the history, even if I wasn’t here. I want to make our people happy and supportive of our team. Past players and all the tradition, the whole deal. It’s important. That’s part of what motivates you everyday to get up and do the best job you can.”

On how much he’ll remind the team of the Florida loss last season: “We do watch that because that’s very recent. You can’t make the same mistakes again. Obviously we’ll have to watch that game film, which, again should be no problem with motivating us because we did not play very good.”

On Florida QB Feleipe Franks: “I think he’s very talented. Very good arm talent. I really think he can throw the football. I thought in the Michigan game they had some big plays there and credit Michigan. I thought their defensive backs made some really good plays on the football that were some fantastic looking passes down the field. I think he has a lot of arm talent. That was very evident with the last play you all saw (against Tennessee), just the arm strength and being able to throw that football the way he did. I’m sure that’ll give him some confidence moving forward. I think he’s got a lot of talent.”

On the atmosphere at South Carolina and if he hopes the atmosphere at Kroger Field will be similar to that against Florida: “I hope so. I hope our fanbase is energized. I know our team is looking forward to that and being back home, being in front of them. Again, we all take it serious to put out the best product we can for our fanbase. They’re a big piece of what we do and we need their support. They make a difference. Playing at South Carolina and playing in that environment, they make a difference.”

On how important it is to be more competitive with teams in the division: “It’s very important. It’s very important. There’s always the steps that we need to take to push forward. We don’t dodge those. We embrace those challenges and we’ll do the very best we can.”

On the biggest difference on rush defense: “There’s a lot of things that are different. It always starts with technique. You’ve heard me talk about that. I think Derrick LeBlanc has done a great job with the technique part of it. I think Matt House has done a great job with the structure of the defense with our positioning on the football. We were determined, as I’ve mentioned many times, to get some things fixed. It starts with just the overall structure and position on the ball. It comes from experience. It comes from guys being around, it comes from strength and depth. There’s a lot of things that go into it. But the number one thing it starts with is pride. The guys have a great sense of pride about them to do things the right way.”

On if he takes pride in seeing the rush defense improve so dramatically: “Darn right I do. I do. There will be challenges ahead just like this week. But it is what it is and we embrace that. We’re going to try our very best every week and I appreciate our team’s effort to get things fixed. We’re going to go watch that film for hours again today and see the good things we did and the bad things. Try to get some things corrected as we move forward.”

On if Derrick Baity last game was how he envisioned him playing all season: “Yeah. I thought he played a very good game. We’re going to need him to play better. There’s still explosive plays that are happening in the pass game that we’ve gotta get corrected. Some of that is going to happen when you’re playing as good a run defense as you have. People are throwing the ball so well. I thought our defense really did some good things. We’ve got a few big plays we’ve gotta get eliminated.”

On defensive tackling: “That was a big point of emphasis also in the offseason. You’ve heard us talk about that. Strength and technique is a big piece of it but yes, we didn’t want to get pushed around. There was too many yards after contact last year. There was too many third and mediums, third and shorts. Now when we’re in position they’re second and long or third and long. That’s a big difference. Or even second and seven instead of second and two. Just being stronger at the point of contact. I think part of that is strength and conditioning, I think it’s technique and I think it’s position on football. But we’re better on third downs because we’re better on run defense.”

On why Stephen Johnson slid on his long run: “I think he was just getting tracked down. Probably about to pull a hammy.” (Laughter)

On if he can think of a point last season when he knew Stephen Johnson was a leader the offense needed at that point: “I don’t remember a specific moment but I just think over time he got everybody’s confidence. Everybody believed in him. He’s a winner. The bottom line is he’s a winner. He’s making plays when he needs to by any means necessary. I think everybody believes in him.”

On if Stephen Johnson turns into a different guy on the field: “I think he’s gaining confidence as he goes. It’s been documented that he’s a terrific young man. He represents us the right way. He’s a great human being and I think everybody respects that about him. His play, I think he’s just getting more and more confident. The more he plays, gets looks, and we play better around him, there’s still a lot of plays we’re leaving out there that he’s putting us in position. We need to make some plays for him.”

On there being no obvious mistakes the wide receivers have made: “Yeah, there’s mistakes that they’ve made, but I’m pleased with them. No. 1, I think they’ve been very unselfish. It’s easy to want the football in this day and age and all they have to hear and listen to. It’s constantly about them. And they’ve been very unselfish. I just love their work ethic and their attitude. You can just see that on the sidelines. If they have to go block four, five, six plays in a row, then they’re gonna do that. They’re gonna do whatever they have to do to help us win. I really appreciate that about them. I thought Juice (Johnson) made some big third down catches this past week and I think Chuck (Walker) had one as well. I thought Coach Gran did a nice job giving us some other options on third down and getting some people off man-to-man on us with some rubs and different ways to create some space. Stephen delivered it very well. Juice made the catch, turned up the field and got a tough first down. Overall they’re doing good. They’re doing what we’re asking them to do. I’d like to see us make the deep one down the sideline that Kayaune (Ross) had an opportunity to make. We need to stay inside and stack that defender a little bit better and make that catch for Stephen. It could’ve been a touch more on the inside but I think we can make that catch.”

On if Stephen could’ve made his catch out of the wildcat:“Yeah I’m gonna have to talk to him about that (laughs). That’s a walk in the end zone. He lost it in the lights is what I heard on the field. We’ll see.”

On what it says about Lynn Bowden that he played in pressure situations: “Yeah I think that’s what helps build character, being in tough situations like that. We believe in him, we trust him and we need to keep on finding ways to get him the ball. The more and more opportunities he has, the more comfortable he’ll get.”

On what changed for the offensive line:“Just continuity. Just the opportunity to go out and play. As I said early after Game 1 and Game 2, we all remembered we’re gonna get better as we go. It’s much different in camp. You get in the games, you’re seeing new pictures, new things, new players — it just takes some time. Again, I don’t know of any team in the country that doesn’t make some mistakes early on. You’ve gotta be good enough to overcome your mistakes and there were some things we weren’t far off of in Game 1 and Game 2. Again, I keep on pointing out, it was the same way last year. And we got better, and better and stronger as the year went on. Hopefully that’ll be the same this year. I know we were better in Game 2, but Game 3 was the best we’ve played. Those were tough yards. I though our offense did an excellent job of moving the football and keeping them off balance. I thought we had some very, very good rush yards. And again, getting into those situations that I was just talking about, when you’re off balance and you’re getting those aggravating 5, 6 yards per carry, those are tough. Those keep defenses off balance, and I thought we did keep them off balance. I don’t know if I said it in my opening statement, but I just think overall, I want to credit the coaching staff. I really think they did a good job — this whole season, but this past game — I think Dean Hood did an excellent job with special teams. Eddie did a great job keeping them off balance. And Matt House had a great game plan, made a couple adjustments and did some really good things. The whole staff. It was a good effort and hopefully we’ll build on that. We got a lot to do this week and we’ll have a real challenge this week.”

On a third running back: “We do (need one). It was tough this last game, because Sihiem [King] really did some really good things and we need to get him some more touches. It was a little — the way the game played out, it was unfortunate for him, because when we were backed up, we needed the big guy in there and sometimes when we were going in we needed the big guy in there. But Sihiem can create some big plays and he did. The third-down catch he made was a fantastic play — two third downs, actually — and then the sweep, he made a great run. So Sihiem’s doing some good things. He’s going to get some more opportunities. He’ll definitely be a guy we’ve got to get involved more.”

On Florida not looking as scary as the past: “You’re crazy. I’ve watched them play and they’re the same Florida team. They’re a very, very good football team. Don’t you put words in my mouth. But again, like always, it’s really about us and our preparation and how we play. Our team heard that all last week: All we need to be is the best version of ourselves. We need to worry about us and how good we can play.”

On Florida’s offense: “You see the playmakers on their field. You really do. They’ve only played two games. Unfortunately for them, I’m sure they wish they had the opportunity to play Game 2, but you see playmakers. You see explosive guys all over the field. I saw some very, very good passes that were well defended in Game 1, and Game 2 they had one that was six inches away from being another explosive play, that was a touchdown, that you have to credit the defender from Tennessee, the phenomenal play that he made to punch that touchdown out. But that was another one right there. I’m not going to count on those kind of plays; I’d rather defend it at the front end. So they’re explosive, they’re good, and they are ready to score a lot of points. You can see that. They’re the same Florida team: they’ve got explosive wide receivers, physical, great running backs and Felipe has a lot of talent, great arm talent. So we’ve just got to do our job.”

On commonality with this defensive group breaking through like his defenses have at other places: “In certain regards. I think I feel very good — I have a lot of confidence going into the game — that again, I feel good about the way the guys are preparing, the structure of things that it’s not going to be (trails off). There’s going to be big plays in the run game and the pass game. It’s going to happen, but I feel confident that whatever happens, we can get it corrected and move onto the next play. So that feels very good, feels different in that regard. I feel like we have guys who take great pride in the way we’re going about our work and each yard and each first down. You’ve got to have a mentality that those yards and those first downs are personal and I’m starting to feel that from this group.”

On teammates picking up Baity after that first touchdown: “There’s a lot of good things going on within the team that way. And also, on the other side of that, I saw some things happen where there were some mess-ups and I saw some guys where it was personal to them that mistakes were happening and jumping on guys in a good way of like, ‘That’s not acceptable.’ If you’re playing corner, yeah, you’re going to get beat every once in a while. By the way, that wasn’t all on him at all. We were in a three-deep zone right there. So anyway, I saw it both ways. Guys are going to make mistakes and everybody’s human and we all accept that and we’re all in this together and we move on and I also see a great sense of pride that when nonsense is going on and things we can control is happening, the guys are not accepting that. And that’s growth to me.”

On what that “nonsense” is: “I don’t want to get into all that.”

On team thriving in underdog role and if he worries about that chip falling off shoulders: “No. Not worried about that: losing the motivation at all. We’ll stay on them this week and we’ll see how it goes. It’s about staying consistent in our preparation. I have no reason to believe that this team won’t do that.”

On winning over fan base after a couple of games where UK came close and failed in the past: “Well, I’m not going to say my chips are all in. It’s not ever the case. It’s always one-week seasons to us. So but on the other side of that, I don’t deny that it’s a big game at home and that I desperately would like to win for the fan base included.”

On Randy Shannon defense at Florida looks different than previous one: “Not much. Not much. Not much different. A lot of carryover, maybe not as much odd front. But I had the opportunity to work with Randy. We were together for three years at Miami and a very good coach, great person. I loved working with him. He’s done a great job with them.”

On Austin MacGinnis’ import: “Yeah. Very important. As we all know, the pressure kicks he made a year ago. He’s been resilient; he’s been consistent and, again, if he’s made any mistake or been off, or done anything, he’s bounced right back and delivered the next time. I have a lot of respect for Austin. He’s a tough guy and he’s been great under pressure.”

On residual feelings about Florida after working at places like Miami and Florida State: “No, it’s always been a rival, but as I told you during my years — and I’ve said this before — at one time it was ridiculous how much on the winning end I was on that. I’ve got to get that going again. At Miami, I don’t think I lost to any Florida school. When I was at Florida State, I don’t think I lost to any Florida school and so on. Now with — the only thing I see when you play a team like that is good athletes. A lot of good players, very explosive.”

On if he expects to hear from Steve Spurrier Sr. this week: “No. No. I talked to Steve Jr. already this week, but not senior.”

On slow starts offensively: “Well, play one was a great success Saturday. I thought we had a well designed play and it was there. We executed it perfectly. Play two was also a very ell designed play. You have to give credit to Skai. Skai Moore is a very good football player and he made a very good play. I think structurally we were set up right and I think he made a very good play. You have to give credit to him. Stephen needs to see that or put more air under it or go to a different guy, go to a check-down. But he made a good play. Then the snaps and some fumbles. There’s some things we’ve got to get cleaned up for sure. And we’ll continue to work at that. I think we are getting fewer of those things. I think they had more pre-snap penalties than we did at home. That’s a good thing for our offense and for our team.”

On if snaps were better overall on Saturday: “It was. It was much better. It was better overall.”

On Mike Edwards: “Yeah, the same. The same as he’s been and that’s consistent. He’s a consistently good football player. And very rarely does he ever make the same mistake twice. He has a way of applying things from practice and carrying it over from the practice to the game field. He has a very good feel, good instincts, playing very good. I thought Darius West also played a very good game. With more and more reps, I think he brings a nice physicality to the game and really played hard. Overall, all the guys did. That was one thing we talked about last week was matching their intensity. I know our guys did that.”

On Mason Wolfe playing more: “Mason did a good job. Nick (Haynes) in that heat and excitement needed some rest and it was nice to rely on Mason to get in there and give us some quality snaps. He ended up playing — he was actually in on the two long touchdown drives in the first half — what was it? Whatever it was: A 13- or a 15-play drive for touchdowns he was in. Those were his series and they went long, so he ended up getting some really quality snaps.”

On Wolfe being a guy who was recruited and developed well: “Yeah, definitely. He’s a guy who’s got great size; it’s important to him. He’s getting better with every opportunity. He’s waiting his turn. Now he’s getting a hot and playing good and I think he’ll get better and better as the year goes on.”

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