Jen Smith on UK Football

Don’t look at Tennessee’s record and underestimate how good Vols are, Stoops says

MARK STOOPS

“OK, just like I mentioned after the game, didn’t play very good in any aspect of the game. We need to get back to work this week and get some things corrected and play a heck of a lot better than we did this past week.”

On if he’s OK with players voicing frustration on social media or if he wants it to stay in house: “Of course we want it to stay in house. We’ll get it corrected. Very easy fix. We had a discussion yesterday. We’ll talk about it as a team today and it’ll be gone.”

On how that discussion goes: “About like you’d think.”

On Landon Young’s status and how the team is health wise: “Landon is better today. Better than he was yesterday so that’s a good sign. All the tests that come back have been very good. He’s feeling better. He definitely took a very awkward hit. It could’ve been a lot worse. We’re grateful that it wasn’t more significant injury. We’ll see. He’s day to day.”

On if there’s anything he could’ve done better to prepare for Mississippi State: “Certainly. There’s a lot of things that we could do better. The preparation and mental aspect of it. Structurally, there’s things I could do better. There’s things the coaches can do better. There’s things the players can do better. Certainly. With the benefit of hindsight, we all could be better. Have that opportunity. As I said, you don’t always see that. It doesn’t make it OK. It’s not all right. The fact of the matter is there’s very few teams in this country that can go out and play very, very good football 12 weeks in a row. The good teams, even when they don’t play well, they still win. They find a way to win. In our league you see some weird scores. Sometimes it’s fun -- you know, everyone just points out the bottom line. But it’s not always that easy for us. We don’t compare things. Nobody likes to lose like that. I know our fans don’t and we certainly don’t. But it doesn’t always correlate. It’s a very tough league. It’s very physical. You see scores sometimes that pop out at you. You take a good look at Mississippi State and what they do at home and how they play at home and what they’ve done this year. They’re impressive. It’s a tough place to play. I give credit to them. We certainly need to do our part to be more competitive and play better, that’s for sure. Felt like it was until about three minutes to go in the half. It was a very close, hard fought game. Three point game. Then it got away from us.”

On how he assesses Tennessee coming into this game: “If you look at games, they’ve played Florida close. We played Florida close. They played South Carolina close, we played South Carolina -- they had an opportunity to beat South Carolina. We all saw that. They had a couple of cracks. One play goes one way or another and they beat South Carolina, who is a good football team. Same with Florida. Florida is a better team than people give them credit for. They had a good opportunity to win that game as well. We know what Tennessee can do. I know the way people pile on people when they’re not doing so well. I know how that goes. I’ve been there. We can’t control any of that. We’ve gotta control how we’re going to play. I expect Tennessee to come in and play exceptionally hard just like they did this past week against an exceptional Alabama team. We expect them to come in with great pride and play very well, much like we did a year ago.”

On what he takes away from the Mississippi State team: “As I mentioned, without getting too specific, we all accept the responsibility. We’re going to move on after today. We’ll have a team meeting and watch the film. We need to make competitive plays. We’re not making enough competitive plays right now.”

On both sides of the ball? “On both sides.”

On what he means by competitive plays, 50-50 plays or winning blocks: “Sometimes they’re not even 50-50, sometimes you have an advantage and we’re not making plays and that’s not OK. In the secondary, we’re making very few competitive plays. When we’re in one-on-one situations, to my count in that game, we lost all 10. From 10 one-on-one situations, we lost every one of them, so that’s not acceptable. Same thing with our offensive guys they’ve got to go up and make competitive plays. I think the one that stands out to me is late in the game when Lynn Bowden went up and caught the ball in traffic when Drew threw a nice ball and he got it. Outside of that, I don’t know that we made a competitive play.”

On cornerback issues and growth: “Well, we’ve just got to get it straight. We have — and I don’t want to — we need to do a better job coaching them and they’ll respond. I don’t want to just act like they haven’t all year. They have at times and certainly Mike’s made some good, competitive plays; Derrick’s made some good competitive plays. We didn’t last week. We’ve got to get back to making some plays.”

On any updates on health of Mike Edwards: “No.”

On what happened on that drive three minutes before half and what caused momentum loss: “Because it was, we were fighting uphill to that point. Mississippi State was still playing better than us, but it was 10-7 and we had the football. That’s what I mean by that and you can tell sometimes you need to just get out of the half and regroup and keep it close, so we didn’t have an opportunity to do that. There’s never one play in any game that makes all the difference. There’s quite a few plays and I tell the team constantly: How do you know what any one play makes a difference in a game? Some are more obvious than others. Maybe an interception, a turnover or what ever; it’s never any one play or one series or one drive. That was a critical moment in the game, but that wasn’t it.”

On losing momentum going into halftime being a trend: “What are you talking about? In this game? (In a few games, reporter replies.) A few games we have and a few games we have stole some momentum. You definitely want to. I don’t think there’s anybody that wouldn’t understand how critical it is going into halftime, the last 2-3 minutes of the half is critically important going into it and coming out of it. We certainly lost on both ends this past week, but there’s been other times when we’ve stole some plays, too.”

On bye week creating rust and his feelings on bye weeks: “It is what it is. You’d like to come out of there better than we just did. You know, our players were sitting there probably in hindsight that I didn’t do a good enough job. They’re 5-1 and we all know there were things we needed to improve on and we tried to rest them, stress those things and improve on them. But we didn’t come out and play as good as we can and that’s ultimately on me. So I’ve got to get them ready to play. I believe in this football team and I believe in this staff and we’ll get back to work. It’s 5-2. It’s not a good showing. It’s not acceptable and time to put it behind us after this press conference, and I’ve got to go and meet with the team, and we’ll put it behind us. Can’t wait, really, to be honest with you to get in that meeting and get on to our preparation with Tennessee.”

On what he saw from Stephen Johnson and that not being one of his best games: “It was not one of his better games, but again, it’s always everybody together. That’s why you win and you lose together. It comes down to protection; it comes down to making competitive plays for him. Even on the interception, there was some miscommunication, a mistake by somebody else — not a miscommunication, a mistake — you know, so it falls on the quarterback’s shoulders all the time. Stephen, I have no worries that he’ll get back to work. He did some good things. He needs to play better and he will. We threw the ball a heck of a lot more in that game and that’s, again, that’s a recipe (trails off).We’re 9-1 in the last 18 games when we outrush the opponent. We’re 3-5 when we don’t.”

On if Benny Snell and C.J. Conrad are healthy: “Yeah, they’re healthy. C.J. needs to play better. I mean, I think we threw it to him on the second play of the game and he dropped it. When you get opportunities you make them. Benny, the carries were definitely low, but I think the game dictated that a bit. Like I just mentioned prior to your question, you were probably loaded for your question, but that’s not the recipe. We all know we have to throw the ball, but you have to be able to run the ball too. We have to have balance. So Benny running the ball and pounding the ball, we need to be more efficient. We’re trying to find that. We know that we need to. We’re not built to drop back and throw the ball all over the yard. Whether it’s protection, catching, all of it. Not just the quarterback, in general, you have to have balance. Eighty percent of SEC football games are won you outrun your opponent by one yard. Does anybody not understand the importance of that? (laughs). Or do you just need to get into another business? (laughs).

On if he’s confident he can still run the offense that way with this offensive line: “Yeah, I mean that’s not the end all, be all. We need to be efficient throwing the ball, and I think we are at times. We’ve been very good. Stephen’s been accurate, and we’re leaning on some freshmen receivers. That’s not a business you want to be involved in all the time. We need to find that balance and have some sort of physicality about us. So yeah, we haven’t been as efficient as we need to be. Do we feel certain we can find that? Yeah. We have to be more efficient than we’ve been. There’s no excuses. We just have to get better in a lot of areas. Running it and having some balance is critically important. That opens up some of our RPOs and throws and things like that. Cause even in this past game we missed some RPOs when we handed it when we should’ve thrown it. Those are some of the plays maybe that go to the tight end as well and other receivers. We’re just a little bit off.”

On if his players are on board with that offensive philosophy and one of the social media posts saying they should throw the ball more: “Nice try. (laughs). Nice try. We’ll all be on board after today’s meeting.”

On what about Tennessee gets his attention: “They always have good players. Butch (Jones) has had a lot of success for a lot of years. I know they’ve had some tough breaks this year, but he’s obviously a very good football coach and they have very talented players. They’ve been going back and forth with the quarterback and made the switch. I see a very talented young guy there, and they have playmakers. They’re still a big, physical team. They’re an SEC-looking football team. You look at them across the board, I know they’ve had a couple bad games but they’ve played some very good football at times and they’re very proudful players and a very good looking team.”

On how he thought Jordan Jones played: “Little rusty, but he’s still active. He’s still productive, which is good. It’s good to have his production back and his energy. He did some good things. Hopefully he’ll clean up some things as well.”

On if the team will be able to bounce back on their own or if they need the staff: “Yeah, there’s always a group effort in that. There’s always a team effort in getting things back. I’ve certainly spent a lot of time in the last day and a half getting prepared for that. We’ll see. Every team is different. We certainly handled adversity very well as a football team last year — much worse adversity than this. And they responded the right way. Hopefully we’ll have the same character within this group. I have no reason to believe that we won’t, but I believe it will. Adversity kind of reveals a man to himself. So we’ll see how we respond.”

On which players helped keep things positive last year: “I think it’s a group. There was a group of them. The same way, I think we have good leaders. I have not reason to believe we won’t respond and bounce back.”

On if players have already had conversations about Mississippi State performance not being acceptable: “Yeah, I’m sure they have. I’m sure they have. There’s no reason for them to panic and call a team meeting on a Sunday or do all that. Everybody knows what to do. They’ve been educated and they’re a good group. They’re tight. We just got to address some things like you always do. Win or lose, you’re always trying to improve and get some mistakes corrected. We’ll do that.”

On if physicality can be taught or is just a matter of maturing: “A little bit of both. Certainly, size matters and strength matters, but there’s also getting some things cleaned up. There’s definitely areas we can get better, yes.”

On if teams have keyed in on deep passes: “Of course. I think the basics of looking at us certainly coming off a year ago were, ‘Very effective running the ball and getting you sucked up and throwing shots off of it.’ That’s one on one. So, we’ve been fractions off on some of that this year. So, we need to make them, whether it be the receiver go up and make a great catch, getting open or just leading them a yard or two the right way. Just been a little bit off. It’s not just shots, it’s not just home runs. There’s intermediates. We’ve been effective at some intermediates, and we’ve been effective at times on first and second down.

“When I talk about physicality and balance and running the football, again, that’s common sense 101, but also I understand very clearly that you’ve got to take those shots and be aggressive as we have. Just like this past week, again, third-and-1 I OK’d aggressive, going after it and it backfired. But you’ve got to live with it. It was calculated, I OK’d it and we wanted a shot. We knew you got to hit some shots to win, and didn’t happen.”

On how much time he’ll spend planning for his message to the team on a Monday: “More than usual. I admit probably more than usual today. I could very easily go with my gut five minutes before a meeting. I don’t know. I don’t want to say – That’s just been my philosophy through all the years. There’s always some calculated messages in there as well. Definitely spent a little bit more time.”

On if Monday message to team is most important of the week: “Usually, yeah. A good portion of it.”

On Quintin Bohanna moving up depth chart: “Quintin is just active. He’s active, and we’ve got to get more production out of that position. I felt like Naquez (Pringle) did some good things. Naquez was really banged up last week, and for the past two weeks he really didn’t practice much. He came in and did some good things. And Quentin is just playing better and he’s active and his movements are quicker and we’ve just got to get more production. We can’t get single-blocked at the nose guard position all day and have winning defensive football. Can’t do it. We’ve gotta get more production.”

On if UK needs to simplify schemes or if he’s comfortable the team is picking up things well enough: “I think there’s a balance there that you have to look at. We always do. We look at that and critique ourselves very hard. It’s a fair criticism, whether we try to do too much or too little. You’re always just trying to find that right balance. We need to do better than we did this past week. So we look at that, whether it’s two weeks of to prepare and maybe try to do too much — we’re always trying to find the right balance on that.”

On MSU’s QB touchdown runs: “You always have to give Nick [Fitzgerald] credit because he is a very good football player. I have great respect for him. I sought him out after the game just to shake his hand and congratulate him, because I think he’s a really good player. Disappointing, those two plays. The first one, we had it stopped — finally — at the point of attack where we had worked on some things and we had it stopped and got cut out on the backside. Not very smart football IQ. Where the back was set, there was an indicator and we knew, but we got weeded out and it’s very disappointing. One player, instinctively, you’d like to see him have a little bit better instincts and not run up field. The other one was a mistake by a young guy that was — it kind of puts a black cloud over the [game] when everybody just wants to look at the stats and just look at the score.

“It stinks, to be honest with you, because you were in a defense really overloaded to take that away and just made a mistake. But those are things that you learn as a freshman and you get better. But very easily corrected, that one. The fourth-and-1, it also really ticks you off because you had it stopped at the point of attack. We always talk about football IQ and I felt like we did take a dip in football IQ this past week and I think that comes from that midseason mental strain that you have to be clued into. There’s a physical part of it, coming off the bye and all that, but then mentally you have to be really, really sharp or you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. And I think our football IQ wasn’t where it needed to be this past week.”

On if that’s a hump players have to get over: “It is, and that’s our job — that’s my job, to get them to have that focus that we need.”

On how long it took him to step back and say, ‘It’s all good. We’re 5-2 and we’re not that bad. We’re a lot better than we were’: “I haven’t gotten to that point yet, no. That’s not really going to happen until we get out there and play a game, as far as me sitting back thinking it’s OK, because I never think it’s going to be OK. But that doesn’t mean you hit the panic button. We always do — we’re our worst critics and you always look at things, whether it’s a very good game or you win or you lose, you’re always trying to get better and making sure you had the pieces in place to be successful. That comes with the territory and sometimes strategically there are things that we can do better. You need to own those, accept that and try to get better. And there’s parts of it psychologically or whatever it is, you gotta get them right. So I’m excited, to be honest with you, about today and this week. I embrace it and I’m ready for it and I certainly wish it was coming off a victory and a better performance, but I can’t change the past.”

On if it’s impossible to check if team is mentally drained as evidenced by lots of teams laying eggs: “Yeah, you’re right. I’m glad you just brought that up because I wanted to bring that up with the Mike Leach, some of his comments (Laughter). I did want to bring that up. Had some notes on that. (Marks line off notes on paper). But, you know, it is true. It’s hard to see, but sometimes if you see it you can talk and try really, really hard to overcome those things. The bottomline is you’ve got to be brutally strong, you know, both mentally and physically to endure that and to handle that all the time. I think all of us fight that, and there’s a few college football teams that are brutally strong, mentally and physically. The other 120, you know, it’s hard to overcome. It’s hard as coaches, you try to combat it as best you can.”

As part of the coaching fraternity, do you have sympathy for Butch Butch: “Without a doubt. I don’t really want to get into it because then, you know. It’s sad, it just opens doors. You know, but without a doubt I do. I have friends all over this conference, you know, and so it goes with the territory. We’ll just keep it in the fraternity, because if you say anything, honestly, in two weeks you’d just be using it against me. It just is what it is. We’re all big boys, we can handle it, but it doesn’t mean you like. We’re friends with people in the business.”

Anything about Tennessee that suggests their better than the record: “Without a doubt, just look at some of the common opponents. South Carolina is playing very good football. You know, we played very good against them, but they did, too, and could have played even better. There’s some opportunities missed there, and still have an opportunity to win that game and just missed. Same with Florida, so you know, sometimes again it’s real easy for some people to want to look at scores and say it should be this or that. It’s different every week, just like you were talking about (Cutler), it’s just, you don’t, teams are just, sometimes it’s a few plays or sometimes you just can’t tell. It’s a long season, and sometimes the teams are hitting on all cylinders or get a couple breaks or pull away late and make it look worse than it was. Nobody likes to lose 45-7, but again I feel like, you know, we didn’t play very good and we deserved to get beat, but there were definitely some plays that could have pulled that a lot closer than that. You know, so you know, you could either choose just to look at the bottom line or look at reality. The reality is, they have a bunch of good football players and Butch Jones is a very good football coach and they’re playing hard for him. So they’re going to come in here and play hard.”

Mississippi State home games: “Well, it’s, what are their home scores? It’s 49-0, 37-7, 35-10 and 45-7. It has an affect, I think we all know that. It’s a great atmosphere and I give them credit for it. I’m not complaining. I’m crediting them with a great atmosphere and they played very well there and very energetic. You hate to be on the opposite side of some big plays and gets everybody going. It’s a great atmosphere but that’s what you embrace about playing in this league. The challenge of going into places like that and playing well.”

Do you know why State’s cowbells were once disbanded? “I have no idea. That’s above my pay grade. I don’t worry about it.”

On concerns about players being too wound up for Tennessee: “I’d rather say whoa than giddy up. I hope they’re too wound up.”

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