Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: UK’s Mark Stoops wraps up Florida and previews Eastern Michigan

MARK STOOPS

“OK, as I said after the game, just a very, very disappointing loss. It’s heartbreaking to our team, to our fan base, to a lot of people. It hurts because our team has invested so much and we’ve worked extremely hard to get in that position, to win that game, to play quality football, and to come up short hurts a lot of people. But I am very proud of this team. They’re very resilient. They’re very tough. We’re really playing the game the right way. It start with out preparation, our attitude, our mindset. Very proud of the team that way. They really work hard during the week to put themselves in a position to be successful on Saturday. It’s been like that all year and in the offseason. And again, it takes an awful lot of work by those players to put themselves in a position to play the way they do.

“There’s thing that we all can do better, starting with myself, that hurt, that we have to accept responsibility for, that we have to do better. It starts with me. Again, if our team continues to play with that kind of edge and attitude and work and prepare the way they do and continue to get better then good things are in store for us as we move through the season. So, we’ll be excited to get back on the field and begin our preparations and put this game behind us because we really don’t have time to sit and dwell on it. It was a long 24 hours, that’s for sure, very difficult to get through, but today is a new day and a new week and a new opportunity. So, it’s exciting to get back to work and can’t wait to get in there and get going with our players.”

On his opinion of the late holding flag after watching film: “You know I really can’t comment on that. I’m in a no-win situation there. There’s nothing for me to say about that. It was called, unfortunately. I know I’ve turned in seven or eight that I need an explanation that weren’t called for myself. From our side.”

On if he thinks they might have tried to chew the clock too quickly: “I don’t really ever second guess that. With Coach Gran and our offensive staff, I think they really have a good feel for that, and it’s difficult because you always can second guess yourself after the fact. We all do. I do more than anybody with defensive calls or things we can do differently. In different situations I would surely like to do things over in hindsight, so believe me we beat ourselves up quite a bit. But I have great trust in Coach Gran and Coach Hinshaw and what they do offensively. That’s a tough call because earlier we took points off the board when we threw it three straight times because we couldn’t block them. We took three points off the board because we went incomplete, sack, sack. So, you know, I bet you on that situation we wished we ran it three times. (Smiles). So it’s hard to second guess, and I never would. I have great confidence in what they do. We’re not always going to be perfect.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said Monday he couldn't comment on the late holding call in loss to Florida. He has asked the SEC office about several calls.

On the what the procedure is supposed to be to make sure a guy is covered from the sideline: “The procedure – it’s hard to say. Obviously, that can’t happen. There’s no excuse for it. That starts with me. Now I got two guys that the ball cannot be snapped unless we have leverage on both sides of the ball. That’s on me. I can’t believe it happened, but it did and I take responsibility for that. So, that cannot happen. We have plenty of people that can watch and look for things. That shouldn’t happen, and it did.

“With the second one, the one on the goal line, like I said the communication, there’s a lot of things that go on. It’s very loud down there, and we can’t try to sub at that point. We tried to switch personnel and the two corners got confused on who was coming out and who wasn’t and again, that can’t happen, and again, that’s on me. I cannot let that happen.”

On if Derrick Baity being injured figured into that: “I don’t know. It always factors in, but it still can’t happen.”

On how much of it was a full staff issue: “I’m ultimately responsible for all that, so that’s the way it goes.”

On if he beats himself up more over the loss because of how close UK is talent wise to teams they’re going against now: “Yeah. Yeah. I feel the same way. Sometimes on Sunday, you beat yourself up either way, but yes, it is extremely difficult because we worked extremely hard to go out and play like that and then to have any play that hurts you from winning, hurts you personally. That’s the deal with the head coach that every offense, defense and special teams play is ultimately under your control and anything that you do to take away from winning hurts you great deal, so, I said that last week that it was very important to myself also. I haven’t been here for 30 years, but I embrace the history and the passion of our people. And we have to be able to shoulder that. That’s just the way it is. These kids don’t but I do. These guys, they weren’t even born. They’re just here trying to compete for the Big Blue Nation and fight their hearts out and they’ve done that. We’ll do our best to put them in position to be successful.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said Monday he takes the blame for the defense failing to cover receivers who both scored touchdowns in Florida's 28-27 win over UK on Saturday.

On if he has or has to set up stopgap measures to make sure something like the uncovered receivers won’t happen again: “I do. Yes. I do. I do, yes. I do and that is in place and that’s on me. If they see. We have to have somebody specifically looking. When it does happen, and listen, I’ve coached for a long time and I’ve been responsible for defensive backs as my primary group — I’m old now, so you guys probably know better than me, what 30 years? I don’t know. A long time. It’s never happened to me before, but it’s happened here. And I know it’s happened too many times. That’s three times. So it’s inexcusable. In 30 years, it’s happened to me three times and it’s happened to me three times here. So that’s on me. That shouldn’t ever happen again. I’ll have two people watching the edges, the perimeter of the field and if we’re not in position, somebody better he hitting me over the head and I need to call a timeout. I try to manage the game as best I can. We work hard at it and that cannot happen. And it’s a shame because it can’t happen period. Point blank. We’ve put things in there, but it is a shame because the players and the team played exceptionally good football for a big portion of that game. That’s the good news. That’s how far this team has come.”

On turning corner: “Much like we do each and every week, get right back at it. We cannot enjoy the wins too long and you can’t dwell on the losses. We’re here because we all cover this and we’re here in Lexington, Ky. But take a good look around the country. Fifty percent of us lose every week. Take a good look at the SEC. There’s a lot of those guys are good friends of mine. And believe me, it’s brutal. And we’re not alone, but it is where it is. I accept that; I embrace it and I enjoy it. I can’t wait to get back to work today. And I’m sure the team’s going to be the same way.”

On how much maturity plays into focus this week: “I think it’s a big piece of it. I really do. That’s just the mentality of this group. I think this team believes it. I just read something this morning about communication. What you say is about seven percent they believe, your body language is about roughly — a big piece of it. And your belief, whether you believe it or not is a big piece of it. What you say means very little. The way you carry yourself and how you go about your business and what they believe is all of it.”

On some of the players he’s seen step up after a loss: “Quite a few. That’s the great thing. Quite a few. Quite a few guys really stepped up. It was good to see growth in so many ways. I tried to offset that last Monday, about the atmosphere and focusing and seeing what we need to see and not looking at the big picture. There’s many things we can learn from that environment where we need to execute better. The next time we’re in that situation we need to play better, all of us. We’re constantly striving to improve in that area, but I also saw great leadership. I saw frustration and guys wanted it so bad that there’s frustration in there. And then I saw the guys regroup and become player-led. The leadership came from the players. That’s great to see. That’s growth. None of us are perfect, but there’s a lot of guys. The guys you would normally think with Courtney (Love) is a guy that automatically stands out. I think all of the guys, Nick (Haynes) is always a great leader. Stephen (Johnson). The nice thing is you’re seeing more and more of them.”

On the 50th anniversary of becoming the first black football player to play in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky's Nate Northington is asked about racial progress and the current NFL protests.

On not being able to teach that: “We’ve worked for five years. It’s finally become a player-led team. That’s something we grind on 24-7. It’s their team. But, yeah, we constantly have to teach them to be player-led.”

On if he thinks the snaps have become mental: “We’ll continue to work all options. Obviously we know we can’t have that. I think, as I said after the game, it was very hot. He was very sweaty. There’s times I think where his grip is an issue. We’ve gotta continue to look at all options. Maybe look at Drake (Jackson) a little bit this week too and see if we can move Bunchy to guard a little bit. We’ve gotta continue to tweak that and try to be as perfect as we can be.”

On injury updates for Jordan Jones or Derrick Baity: “No. No update at this point.”

On if he sees Sihiem King improving each week: “We do. We said that, we wanted to, even in the South Carolina game we had situations where we wanted to get him in the game more. The way it unfolded on a couple series, the way we were backed up it didn’t go that way but you see what he can do. We talked about it all camp. I was really happy for him to get in there and get some opportunities and do well. That’s a great lesson for some of our other players because these guys work hard and frustration sets in because they want the ball. They want to play. He’s a guy that’s earned our trust the way he’s gone about his business this past camp, this past year. When he went in there he produced. If you want to play, make us not play you. If he does things like that then we have to get him in there. That’s the good thing.”

On any conversation in the locker room about how eager the players are to get back: “Not this past week. No. Today’s a new day, and so we will be in there and I have no doubt the guys will respond. But, no. I haven’t seen them since I left that locker room the other day and that was a locker room that was filled with disappointment. Those guys left it on the field. That’s for sure.”

On if he thinks the team will come in ready or if there will be disappointment still lingering: “I’m sure there will be disappointment when they walk in the door today. But that’s why we will watch the film and get back on the practice field. We’ll kick the dust off us and when we walk out of here today we’ll be focused and ready to go. The coaches already had an opportunity to do that because we have to come in on Sunday and get to work. You don’t have much time to sit around and pout. That’s over and the players will feel better once they leave today and see the game.”

On what impresses him about Eastern Michigan: “Very well coached. Very sound. Just a very good football team. They have some impressive games this year, you know, winning on the road at Rutgers is a big win. I really know and watch Ohio and the fact that they took them to such a close game and really had an opportunity to win that game is impressive. We all saw what Ohio U did against Kansas. These are good, sound, tough football teams. I like the way they play. They’re just very sound. They know what they’re doing, they know what they do. They do it well. They don’t try to be too cute on either side of the ball. They just play good, sound, fundamental football and their players play really hard.”

On how much of an emphasis third down efficiency is: “It’s always. It’s always an emphasis. Its always a big point on whether you win or lose games is how you play in critical situations. We need to get back on the right track of that.”

On how important Charles Walker is to the team: “He’s always been important. He’s just such a good football player. He’s reliable. He makes big plays and it doesn’t surprise me.”

On how much more the wildcat could expand: “There’s always some things you could toy with with that. And that’s the nice thing. It’s just formations. Most of the plays are plays we run in some form or fashion, but it’s a lot to a defense when you start looking at different sets, different formations, different personnel groupings and what you’re doing with it. There’s still some things we could get going. But when you play in games like that, the last two alone, those are tough, hard-fought yards. And they’re very difficult. The wide open space is hard to come by in these games. If we can get loose and get going, there’s some creativity there that we just gotta get rolling. Those are tough yards against Florida.”

On what makes communication so difficult during crowd noise: “Well, for defense, we talked about it all last week and we need to continue to get better at it. We are going to practice with some serious crowd noise defensively to help us, make us communicate better with our hand signals and different — not just the two plays that everybody thinks. That’s not communication; that’s a mistake that, again, I take, that can’t happen. But that’s not communication. The errors in communication are on our fits and when they’re getting yards and we’re doing things that are wrong in our rotation and knowing where it’s unbalanced and where the safeties are coming down. Those are communication issues that are happening on the field that you may or may not understand what’s going on there. Everybody knows when a guy is not covered. So that’s totally different. But it’s very hard when it’s that loud. It’s total chaos out there for those players. They’re changing personnel. They’re shifting. They’re motioning, creating new sets. There’s a lot of things for those players to be dialed into and sometimes we were very good at it and sometimes we weren’t. It’s an urgency to communicate. So we’ll continue to get better.”

On the official’s hot mic in the press box catching him telling UK staff they only had 10 guys on a kickoff: “I didn’t even — that’s news to me. It seemed like we had 11. Every time we’re on special teams, obviously we’re counting every person on that. I’m sure Dean [Hood] wouldn’t have allowed us to run down there with 10. And again, it’s difficult with that because there’s a lot of guys that go down and they’re injured or hurt, winded.”

On 50th anniversary of UK’s Nate Northington breaking the SEC color barrier, seeing that statue of him and three others: “Just honored to be a part of it, to be a small piece of it, and to have Nate back and to recognize Nate and the other three gentlemen. That’s wonderful for the university of Kentucky. I’m proud just to be a small part of it. Our players love seeing them and having them around and being a part of our program. We’re proud of Nate and everybody that’s been a part of this and recognizing them. It’s been a big year with the 50th anniversary and he’ll be at the SEC championship game and here this week, and we’re proud of him.”

On walking players and parents past that statue now: “It is (nice). And it’s wonderful for us to embrace that piece of it and the recognition of them and the positive recognition we should be talking about. It’s tough times right now and it’s nice for us to be able to recognize them and to be able to discuss that.”

On when they realized Charles Moushey was so good at covering kicks: “[Laughing] We’ve realized it for a while, because he is super fast, and he’s taking great pride in it. That’s the great thing about something we constantly talk about: Not seeing too much, doing your job. He embraces that. He embraces his role on the team and he’s a difference-maker. He’s had a big impact. He takes great pride in what he’s doing.”

On C.J. Conrad’s hot start: “Yeah, C.J.’s been really doing a great job. He’s playing well, making some big catches. He had another one (called back). Of course we covered him up on the formation, that other big catch that set us up in the red zone. But he’s really playing well, doing some good things, and hopefully we’ll continue to hit him and use him. He’s fighting through some things, too. He’s banged up. He’s beat up a little bit right now. So hopefully we’ll get him a little bit of rest this week, but he’s beat up pretty good.”

On spreading passes around: “It’s important and we need to continue to do that. We need to improve. Someone was asking me about just the pass game in general: When they’re in certain sets, Florida covered us pretty good, and we gotta create some space for Stephen and our quarterbacks. So we’ve gotta get some outside receivers that are getting open.”

On anyone who stood out positively in the loss: “Well, I think Charles obviously is a guy we talked about. Defensively, Darius West played a very good game. Mike (Edwards) played well, too. He had a player or two he (would like back). But he’s one of the guys I was discussing afterward as someone was asking me about fatigue late in the game. He’s a guy that just plays a lot of snaps and plays so hard and is so valuable to us. We’ve got to find a way to kind of get him a little bit of rest here and there because in those critical games like that when the game is on the line you’d like to have him a little bit fresh there. But offensively I think Siheim played very well. Benny had some tough yards as well. Obviously Stephen did some very good things. There’s plays there too that he will see that we left some on the field and that’s about just being efficient and running the offense. I think early he may have pressed, he threw some down the field, I think, they way they covered we had no shot. We were covered and we had some easy throws that were built into the call that we just got to execute, that are just simpler routes, bubbles and things that are there and, so, but like all of us, seeing them and getting better.”

On why was Florida able to run so effectively:Some of it was fatigue, some of it was in a certain sets we weren’t fitting, we weren’t getting it lined up exactly right. We were a gap off, you start getting soft, it starts creating issues. When that stuff starts happening then breakdowns start happening and so there’s things we could get fixed and will. The nice thing is for our players, they’ll come in and look it and the light bulb will go on and say, ‘OK, we can fix that immediately.’ And so that’s the good part of it, we’ll get it fixed quickly and we’ll move on.”

On watching film with team, how will they split this up:You know, we, interesting you brought up, because we did it a variety of ways, it depends how we feel and we were just discussing that, defensively. And we discussed it last night as well, it was late and I was like, we were all tired and obviously beat up, I said, ‘let’s discuss it tomorrow.’ We discussed today, this morning. So we do it a variety of ways, sometimes like getting, a lot of times, I like getting all the defense together because there can’t be issues. You can’t panic because there are yards. I like everybody to see and trust, if we just do our jobs that there’s a fix. Immediate fix, so it don’t create to other problems. But again, with this team, i don’t worry them. They don’t hit the panic button, they don’t flinch, they don’t, you know what I mean? We can separate and honestly get to the root of our positions and really dig in fundamentally to get better position-wise. That’s what we will do. We always come together and go over a few things as a group, obviously as a team, and then offense and defense as a unit and then we separate into positions. So today, to answer your questions, primarily position. Maybe five, 10 minutes as a group. So that’s how will do it.”

On if he takes any solace from the last drive: “I do feel good about that and I really had great confidence that we would do that, as long as we got the protection, which we did. They got good protection. Again, they got good cover guys so predictable pass can be dangerous and I was very proud of the fact that we have some options. Even the one where just barely their defender got in the way to Juice, that was designed well, that was a big chunk play that we were inches off of completing. And then obviously Charles was a big play and I thought it was a great call for us, the operation was perfect, the way we converted. We were in field goal range, that’s why we ran the ball. And it was perfect because they were set up with two-high matching, with a match coverage underneath with two safeties, so the box was perfect for us to run the ball. Alls we really were looking for was five yards maybe and we split it and whatever we got, what 10 or 15? Couldn’t have worked out any better.”

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