Jen Smith on UK Football

What about Mississippi State’s offense has Mark Stoops most concerned?


"It's been a good off week. Our players needed it. We needed some rest. Got healthy, we were able to do some self-scout, get ahead on Mississippi State, so it's been a good week. We're gonna need to play our best here this week. That's for sure."

On who benefitted the most health wise from the off week: "I think the whole group, honestly. We were banged up. There was probably a few guys who wouldn't have been able to play last week. So, I think that's helpful. I really don't wanna get into specifics on those guys. But there was a couple starters that probably wouldn't have played last week. So, that's good. Overall, we were wore down and beat up a little bit."

On if Jordan Jones practiced and is on track: "Yeah."

On how rested he is as a coach: "It's nice. It feels good because not only the half-day off you have on Saturday which is nice, that's the first one since the beginning of July which is always nice, but I think just mentally last week and going back and looking at yourself. We're in there working everyday of course, but just scouting yourself and looking at the things you did good, the things you did bad, what areas you can improve. And, obviously, game planning for Mississippi State. But just I think the mental stress for a few days was definitely good for the whole staff."

On if Eli Brown did enough to earn a bigger role even if Jordan Jones is 100 percent healthy: "Yes. He definitely did. It's nice because both of those guys, and Eli realized real quick cause I've been talking to him about it, he realizes when he has to play that many snaps he's gotta get more physical and put on some weight and lift some more weights and all those things, and he has. He's really, this past year, he's really trying to take it to another level, and he's playing better. You could tell going through a schedule like that that you have to be physical and it's good to have depth. It'll be nice to have both of those guys."

On if playing on the road has been easier for this team specifically or if he's always seen that as a coach: "Yeah, I think you've seen that from time to time. You have to embrace the challenge whether it's at home or on the road. And sometimes, I felt like as a coach through the years that it's good sometimes to load up and get on the road. As I told you playing the Missouri game after their bye, I knew that it was probably better for them at that point to get on the road. Sometimes you feel like that. We're playing good football and we have to be able to play well at home or on the road.

On the challenges of defending Nick Fitzgerald: "He's dual-threat as we talk about all the time. But, also, I think he's so physical. He's a big, strong guy. Can throw the ball, can certainly handle designed quarterback runs. So I think he's a very tough runner and puts a lot of pressure on you."

On what he’s most pleased about at the midway point: “Bottom line is we’ve won five games, which is very good. We are doing very good in turnover margin, and I think the team has found ways to win when maybe the other side is not playing its best. Finding ways to win and putting yourself in position to win football games is the bottom line. I think this team has done that very well.”

On if Fitzgerald puts particular stress on any one position or player: “It always puts stress on the back end because you have to play with numbers. Especially quarterback run game and designed quarterback run game – not only just pulling the ball down and scrambling, but designed quarterback run game puts a little pressure on the entire defense. So I think you can see that in the back end at times. It depends on what coverage you’re in and what you’re doing.”

On if they narrowed in on ‘easy fixes’ for pass defense during bye: “Yeah. I mean easy fix in I’m looking at what happened, the structure of it. Again, you’ve heard me say a lot depending on who you’re playing and the personnel that you’re playing against they’re going to put you in a bind, they’re going to put you in stressful situations you have to be able to win. It’s just fundamentally breakdowns, that’s what I mean by the easy fix. Maybe easy in theory and hard in application at times, right? That’s a cornerback’s life.”

On how Courtney Love’s servant leadership translates to wins: “As I’ve said to many times: Does not surprise me with Courtney just because of the type of person that he is and the type of leader that he is. Very unselfish. He’s just a special guy. He comes from a very difficult situations, made the most of it. He’s overcome a lot. I think any time you have a player like that it’s ultimate respect whether it be from the coaches or from his peers.”

On how much they may need to lean on freshmen in second half: “I think you always hope those guys get better as the year goes on, and you want to get them some quality reps. You’re starting to see that. Lynn (Bowden) is one guy that jumps out at you. And really all the receiver position. Isaiah (Epps) is doing some good things. So we’re getting better. I’d like to see those guys play a few more snaps as we go.”

On if bye week was good to evaluate where they are vs. other teams: “I think it was enjoyable just to sit back and have a half-day off. Most of our coaches were on the road. Some of us got back Saturday afternoon. Some guys got back Sunday. I think for our players it’s good just to have the day off. I don’t know that it means anything as far as where we’re at. “...Our players know enough by now to know it is a one week season. Let’s just take care of business and do the best we can this week. You can’t look ahead. If you look ahead you’re going to get knocked down real quick.”

On clarifying comments on his call in show about negativity around the program: “I just don’t -- I don’t need to get into that but I don’t have the same problems he does. I think we all know that (laughter). That’s kinda what I meant by that. But I will say he does a phenomenal job with that. They have a bullseye on their chest every week and he does have to combat that, and he does have to combat his players hearing about how good they are individually all the time. There’s a lot to it. We have a guy or two here or there we’ve gotta talk about that, but not the same issues.”

On offensive line improvement being what he wanted during the bye: “Yeah, we did. I think we’re starting to find a good mixture the way we have it now with Drake playing at center and Bunchy playing more guard. I think that helps. I think Nick’s situation and his health is a big key to us as we move forward. Trying to get Nick, his weight and his strength back up.”

On if it was a big week for Nick Haynes: “It is important for him. I went to see Nick this weekend and spend some time with him Saturday afternoon. He looked rested and feeling good, but still one thing to be rested but put on weight that is necessary is hard.”

On other players looking up to Haynes: “Yeah, definitely. Nick is one of the leaders on this football team and has a lot of experience at offensive line. He’s played a lot of positions, he’s very versatile and I think the players have great respect for him, both on the offensive line and at all positions. I think he’s very helpful and been very unselfish throughout this process.”

On what Drake Jackson has brought to the center position: “He’s brought consistency. He gives us depth. He gives another number. Fundamentally he’s doing a very good job.”

On Drake’s challenge this week with Mississippi State: “Just by the way we play in general, there’s time the center gets some protection and help. He will have a challenge as the year goes on because we play some very talented defensive linemen. I think all of our linemen will tell you that. Welcome to the league. But he’s done a really good job. He’s responded well. The great thing about Drake is he’s always been a fundamental football player. He’s getting experience now. He’s been consistent in his snaps, but he’s a fundamental guy. Really, that’s what you need on the offensive line. Obviously size and strength and athletic ability is very important, but also it’s a technique game there.”

On what makes Mississippi State’s defense so effective: “They’re disruptive. Todd (Grantham) does a great job. They’re multiple. They’ve always been athletic, just big and long and good-looking players and again I think Todd Grantham does a very good job with them keeping you off balance.”

On how much it helps Drake Jackson to get video of himself on video in a game: “I think it’s real important and that’s always the case when guys get into games because we see him in practice all the time and how a guy responds in a game-like situation is always a bit different. And so there’s no replacing game reps. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he gets, the better.”

On Luke Wright updates: “Yeah, just the same as I gave you last week is that all the reports that are coming back have been positive and things look good, or are looking better. Everything has been steady since that episode he had on the sidelines so hopefully he’ll continue to recover well. They’re checking to see whether he can travel with us this week.”

On secondary response: “Yeah, I think it was good. A good week for us last week, No. 1 to get a little bit of rest, to get their legs back up underneath them so we can play fast and finish this season strong. I think it was good fundamentally to look at some of the issues we’ve had and try to get them corrected and it was also good to look at some fastball work against our offense to go good against good to get the speed we need to in practice, and so it was overall very helpful for us.”

On tempo was an issue for UK defense: “Oh, there’s no doubt it caused us some. There’s no doubt. That’s why teams do that. There’s advantages and advantages to a lot of things, but that’s definitely one thing that’s caused us some issue at times, yes. So.”

On if it makes him feel any better that Missouri did the same thing to Georgia this week: “It didn’t make me feel better at all, but I was basically saying, ‘I feel your pain.’ That’s a great defense and a great team we all know and to see them strike that fast, that early is helpful or it’s very difficult. What helped them, what helped us at times is the offense can get going as well, possess the ball a little bit and keep them off the field, that’s what makes a difference when you’re playing a high tempo. And it’s just a difference of philosophy obviously. There’s teams in the Big 12 that are very, very hard to defend. Missouri’s a lot like that.”