Jen Smith on UK Football

Here’s what worries Mark Stoops the most heading into Missouri game

MARK STOOPS

“OK, first thing I’d like to say: our thoughts and our prayers are with all the folks in Las Vegas with that terrible tragedy. After watching the film I really thought we did some good things defensively, special teams. Offensively we’ve got some work to do but we’ll get back at it this week.”

On if there’s an update on Jordan Jones and Charles Walker: “Charles is banged up. We’ll have to see. He’s sore today. Jordan, no.”

On the No. 1 focus for the offense this week: “Protection and playing physical. We were not physical in the run game. Protection was an issue. Stephen threw the ball well when he had time. I thought the receivers made some good catches at times. There were other times when we need to be sharper, more crisp in our route running and getting open for Stephen.”

On if he worries about playing down to competition: “Any coach worries about how you play every week. I don’t mean to come off condescending with that, but that’s a narrative that folks want to write about. We’re not always going to play our best football no matter who it is. You have to find ways to win. No, as a coach I never want to believe that, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say all last week I wasn’t addressing playing at a high level coming off the emotional loss. I think we all know that goes with the territory. We tried to offset that Monday of last week. But the fact of the matter is that our players were crushed by that loss. It was a tough one to shake. But you have to. Win or lose, you have to get back to work on Monday and get prepared for the next opponent. Again, we’d be lying if we didn’t say sometimes that was easier said than done, right? I’m glad we got the victory. Again, I thought, after the game when I was in here, it just felt — and it was. It was a struggle. It was a hard fought game. After watching the film I really was pleased. We did some very good things defensively and in special teams. Offensively we’ll get some things fixed. We’ve gotta step up and get back to playing the way we’re capable of. It starts with having a physical mentality.”

On if he thinks they’ve had a game this year where the team was physical running: “We’ve shown signs of it at times, even in this past game. This past game we had options where Stephen had the opportunity to hand the ball off or to throw the bubble. We made some hay, made some yards with the bubble. But there was also some plays that were going to be good run plays there as well. It wasn’t all bad. Certainly we need to play better. We need to have that attitude that we talked about and the physical mentality. We have to find the right mix there with the offensive line. With Drake (Jackson) playing significant snaps, that gave us eight men in the rotation. I hope to use all eight this week. I think we need to get those guys healthy and we need to have a great week of practice. I just think at this point in the season there’s a lot of people banged up and you’re not feeling good. Those guys were banged up a little bit and we’ve just gotta push through it and have a great week this week.”

On if Eli Brown has impressed him: “Yeah. Eli has done some really good things. He’s another guy that’s getting banged up now. Things we talk about a lot with Eli, that’s why he needs to eat right and lift in the offseason and get more physical because he shows flashes. He’s very athletic, but now that he’s playing quite a few snaps he’s getting banged up quite a bit as well. But he is doing some good things.”

On how Drake Jackson played: “He played good. He started slow the first play (laughs). But after that he settled in and really did some good things. He did. He was consistent and he was effective the rest of the day.”

On if he said anything to Jackson after that first play and if it was a nerves thing: “I think it just happens faster. It’s always in practice, preparing for that first game. He was prepared for that exact look with that exact run game and it hit him a little quicker than he realizes.”

On what Jackson’s strengths are: “No. 1, it starts with his attitude, what you’re always looking for. He has a great attitude, a great work ethic, he’s very conscientious, he wants to win for his team, he wants the team to do well. Individual success for sure, but it’s more he wants the team to be productive when he’s in the game. I think that’s always a great start, but he’s been consistent with his snaps and he’s assignment-sharp for a young guy. And he has good leverage. His height and his weight, as he gets stronger he’ll be more prepared for some of the big bodies that he faces. Technique is such a big deal at offensive line, in particular at center.”

On what changed for Jackson in the past two weeks for him to come on: “I don’t think anything drastic, I just think as we were taking a good, hard look at him, which we always do, he’s been in there all camp. But as we felt, the trust factor. We trusted the fact that he could get in there and play productive snaps and help us win games. You really look hard at him the past couple weeks, and he’s been good. Thats not to say that he wasn’t before then.”

On if Josh Allen is at the level of Bud Dupree was: “I don’t know. It’s hard for me to make that comparison right now. Bud was a, Bud was a bad dude (laughs).”

On if Allen is a bad dude: “Josh is a, he’s a bad dude sometimes (Laughs). I’m teasing, Josh. Josh has played really good. About Josh, the nice thing is that he’s so versatile. You guys have heard me say that a bunch. He’s been so good in space as well as just rushing the passer. In that regard, I really feel like Josh has the ability to take it to another level even, because Josh has been very good in space and understanding the game. I think he’s really taken it to another level. He’s been very conscientious working extremely hard to be very detailed in all aspects of his game. Pass rushing, you know he can do that. He loves doing that, and Denzil (Ware). But for a backer, again, I don’t want to get into all that. You guys have heard me talking about it a hundred times, but for big guys like that to play in space is the big key, the instincts to play in space and he’s done that very well.”

On Allen’s first-step ability and if he’s noticed that: “Getting off on the football in predictable pass situations is always the first thing in getting the offensive linemen uncomfortable. And so he’s definitely very quick off the ball, but he’s also been smart. Coach House and Dean (Hood) have done a nice job moving him around as well. He’s played some positions where the offensive line can’t get real comfortable with what he’s doing.”

On what Josh Paschal’s primary responsibilities are: “He’s done a lot of things. He’s done a lot. The long and short of it is he’s played defensive end, he’s played Sam and Jack linebacker, he’s played interior defensive line at times too as a three-technique. That’s the versatility that’s honestly very rare.”

On if they’re leaning toward redshirting Naasir Watkins: “Yes. I’m not making any decision right now, but we did consider it again last week, playing him, and we have a lot of reps invested in some of these other guys. And so, we’ll see what happens.”

On if there’s hesitance on playing Lynn Bowden more: “Yes and no. I think it’s always fair as you’re a freshman learning everything and all the nuances of all the plays is a lot. Because we have our base plays, and then there’s all these adjustments every week, so you can imagine there’s a whole lot of offense at this point. The nice thing is that Lynn is very instinctual and he’s smart so he picks things up. And then as you hear me say, as we get moving and getting a lot of plays – some of these games are very difficult; we had a lot more three-and-outs on offense this past week than we would like. Then as you get more plays and you get moving the ball, there’s more opportunity there. We trust him. He played 20 snaps, I want to say, this past week just on offense alone, and I look for that to increase to 30, to 40, more, and as he’s playing more and understanding more, more touches will happen. We did have some things that we would like to get to him, and as the season goes on you’ll see that.”

On if he’s season strides from Bowden in practice: “Yeah. Yeah, definitely. He’s just a guy that you can see – You see those guys that there’s just something about him when he gets the ball. You see he’s effortless, but he has great balance, he is running fast. And it’s just all the nuances. He’s also very new to that position. I mean, he’s not used to playing wide receiver. We all know he’s good with the ball in his hands, but he’s learning things and blocking. I love his attitude. He wants to do well. He’s one of those guys, he wants to block hard and he wants to be efficient whether he’s getting the ball or not. There’s some technique things that he’ll get better and better at.”

On if it was part of the plan to get all the freshman WRs involved more: “Yeah. We felt like we wanted to play fast. Some of those guys give us a little juice and can get open. I thought Isaiah, he drew the pass interference. He was getting open there. We had one other opportunity for him that he actually — he needs to do better. He slipped up. Had a big play waiting to happen. So, experience is a factor with those guys.”

On biggest concerns about Missouri: “Well, the No. 1 thing you always are concerned about when you play them is their offense and the tempo at which they play. Their quarterback, Lock, is as good as there is. It seems like we’ve been seeing a slew of good quarterbacks lately. He’s another one. He can make all the throws. And I think they have great speed at wide receiver. They have a young talented back, a sophomore back. Both of their backs are very, very good. So they’re capable of breaking out at any time. It will be a real challenge for us this week. I really have a lot of respect for Barry (Odom), and what he does. I know the season got off tough for them, but I can relate to that. I’m sure they had their bye week and had a chance to hit the reset button and want to start this season, their second part of this season, much different, and I anticipate them coming out and playing extremely fast. Backs against the wall, and I know they’ll play well.”

On how banged up they are, and if bye week timing for UK/Missouri could be a factor: “It can’t be.”

On if close battles take a toll on team: “It does, but you drive your car to run it empty and then refuel it, right? So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to run it empty this week, and then we’ll refuel it.”

On if he’s at same spot with Bryant Koback as Naasir Watkins: “Yeah, yeah. The plays haven’t presented. It’s not worth it at this point, because we do feel like we have some good backs and we’re staying relatively healthy there.”

On if he reminds team they’ve done really well so far and still have shot in SEC East: “You must be new. (Laughter). You can’t say anything like that. Don’t you dare say anything like that. (Laughs). Don’t let these guys corrupt you. It’s always one week. It really is. You hear me say it often, but it’s the truth. There’s no getting around the highs in this business are very high and the lows are very low. Somehow you got to get back to par on Monday. So I think we’re in a good spot here this week to have a really good week of preparation and to run the tank dry this week and play exceptionally hard and practice exceptionally hard — to then hit the reset button in the middle of the season. We won’t look any farther than that.”

On how Benny Snell has played: “He’s doing good. Benny had some really tough runs — I mean the touchdown run the other night — he’s still Benny. There’s things he can do better. He and Sihiem [King] both missed a protection. It’s always the O-line. We know it’s obvious sometimes when the O-line gets beat, but two of them were on running backs. And there’s times when he could be more patient. But there was some frustration that set in — I’m not saying just with Benny but just with the team — that we have to address and work around and get better, because you can’t ever panic. Our guys know and they ought to have the confidence to know that you’ve just got to get back on the sidelines, get some things corrected and move forward, offensively, defensively and on special teams. There’s some times when guys want things to happen so quickly and when they don’t, they get frustrated, and that can’t happen. So we’ve got to address some of those things.”

On if he means frustration in this last game or others: “Yeah, I saw it in this last game quite a bit. And I think our players, they felt it on Saturday. They wanted to do better and some things were happening. Sometimes I address that early in the year because early in the year that always pops up. And here, maybe after a tough loss or a team that everybody perceived that we should be doing a lot better [against] and the players, they get frustrated at times.”

On Eddie Gran saying he saw lost focus on the sideline Saturday and if that’s what he’s talking about: “Yeah, it is, whether it’s panicking or frustration or seeing too much as we talked about before — instead of zeroing in on your job and doing the best you can — those are things we have to address and get fixed.”

On how it went this week changing some things about how to substitute and make sure all the receivers are covered, etc.: “Smooth. I mean, it’s never perfect, and there’s never an excuse for that — I’m setting myself up here, I mean, covering all the receivers is expected, but … (laughing) killing myself … but substitution, watch football; it’s not always perfect. That’s where you might take offense to people (criticizing) organization. There’s a lot of things that go into it, and watch games: Again, I point out that those pro quarterbacks (catch the defense) with 12 guys on the field at least once a game. So there’s substitution things, matchups, that you have to work through and it gets difficult. But it was good this past week. Not perfect, I wouldn’t say. There’s times where maybe we wanted to get a different grouping in and we didn’t, so we didn’t have those issues. It’s always — this week will be a real problem because you know there’s no time to substitute. There is no time. You try to put a guy on the field and they’re going to snap it and you’re going to have 12 on the field. So we have to be very, very disciplined this week.”

On JUCO DT Phil Hoskins playing some last week: “Phil, we feel very good about. Phil is going to be a very good player. He’s coming off some surgery (both shoulders) so his strength (isn’t there), but we feel like he’s got the size and he’s very twitchy, he’s very fast, he’s very athletic for a big guy. Once he’s got a whole season — we’ve got two years with him, so we’ll get some strength on him — he’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

On Kendall Randolph: “Thought he’s been very versatile, very good, made a great play on the football the other night. He’s a guy that’s been around. We feel like there’s great value in guys like that, whether you use them at dime, nickel, safety, corner even. He can do a lot of things. He’s another one that got a little impatient and frustrated. We had two penalties this last week that we can’t have and he had one of them. Bunchy had the other, and those are some frustration things that we’ve got to get fixed. But overall, he’s been really solid this year.”

On Stephen Johnson getting hit a lot and if he’s OK: “He is. Yeah. He’s been hit a bunch. He’s been banged up. We have to — he’s got to limit some reps today — we expect Stephen being Stephen he’ll be back out there tomorrow full go.”

On how much C.J. Conrad was able to play: “You know, I don’t have his rep count in front of me. I’m not sure. I want to say he played in the 30s, 30-something snaps, between 30 and 40. He’s been banged up and it was good to see Greg (Hart) have a nice catch. We had C.J. open in the corner, just could’ve been a nice play. We had a couple targets for him. We had a target on third-and-medium, one of the throws that Stephen if he had to do over and go back, he had C.J. open and went down the field for an incomplete on third-and-medium.”

On offense maybe not being on point, but still being 4-1: “It’s very good. It’s good for the program because — and I felt the same way, the same way y’all felt and a lot of fans after the game — you feel frustrated because offense is what everybody looks at. There’s three phases last time I checked and I thought again after watching the film that we played very good on defense and very good on special teams. Offensively we’ll get it fixed, but you’re right, there’s no panic button. You just look at the things and get them fixed. Some are easy. Some are difficult. There’s gonna be games when we’re going to have to outscore people, and heck, just look at the week before, it should’ve been enough and defensively we didn’t get the stop. So we’re in this together. We know that in that building we’re all in this together. It’s a team effort, so if anything, one side just feels for the other. It’s not any type of finger pointing. There’s opportunities every week and like I said a couple weeks ago, you have every seven days to get humbled in this business.”

On special teams import and Dean Hood fostering that: “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think Coach Hood has done an unbelievable job. He has a great demeanor. Players really respond well to him and I think it’s a sign of your team being unselfish. Those guys work hard. Like I said, they have extra meeting time, extra practice, it’s a lot. They take a lot of pride in what they do and guys knowing their role. There are certain guys like (Charles) Moushey that just is on special teams and is such an impact. People, our team sees it all the time, I think fans and media, you pay attention to it when it stands out one way or another. Fortunately, we’ve been on the right end of that most of this year, certainly this past week with the blocked punt. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time, and it’s a big-time, impact play there. Those are game changers. I appreciate what coach Hood has done and all the players and we’ve worked hard at it again, whatever it takes. That’s a perfect example of it there.”

On if Moushey has surprised him and what he brings to the table: “He brings great speed; he’s got great speed and he’s strong and he’s getting better each and every year. He does some good things on offense as well. I think that’s the big thing he brings is he’s brought a great passion, a great desire to do, to make plays (on) special teams and he brings great speed.”

On opponents having two guys assigned to him now: “Yeah, that’s what I told him.”

On if that’s the ultimate sign of respect: “That’s what I told him. That’s exactly what I said to him Saturday because he was all frustrated. They ambushed him and he was getting all frustrated and I said, ‘Hey, hey, now you know it’s coming, keep your cool. That is a sign of respect. They’re going to put two guys. They ain’t going to let you make every play. So we got some things corrected and he beat it the next time. He’s doing well.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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