Jen Smith on UK Football

Does Mark Stoops worry about a letdown now that Kentucky is bowl eligible?


“Again, very proud of our team, proud of our effort to come back and be able to finish that game off and get the win. Just like I expected, we got a great effort from Tennessee, but our players responded. We need to regroup and get back to work here this week to play Ole Miss.”

On if QB Stephen Johnson (shoulder) will be available: “He will be. But not today — today or tomorrow.”

On if the players realize how significant it was to fans to beat UT: “I think they do. With all the information out there now at the fingertips at all times, you can’t help but hear that, you know? I think the days of not — being isolated, the things we preach sometimes, during good times and in bad just concentrating on ourselves and being isolated and all that, is easier said than done. With all the information out there, all the credible media like yourselves, there’s a lot of coverage, there’s great exposure. They get a lot of information. And then you put on top of that all the people that think they’re journalists or reporters and just talk about it all the time, there’s an awful lot of information out there.”

On moving Lonnie Johnson ahead of Chris Westry at a starting corner spot: “Lonnie played well. He’s doing some good things. He really is. We don’t just say that when we talk about competition and earning your way. That’s not lip service. And that’s nothing against Chris; we need to get Chris playing well and playing better. It’s not that he’s played poorly; it’s just that Lonnie played well.”

On saying early he was hard on Johnson because he saw potential and if he sees the coaching paying off: “I have. I have. With experience comes confidence, too. You get your confidence from your preparation. He’s really worked hard at it, he’s gotten experience and he’s playing more confident. Lonnie has a toughness about him that I really like. He brings an edge and an attitude, and it’s a difficult spot. We’ll be challenged this week, that’s for sure, with these wideouts and the way Ole Miss plays offensively. It’s going to be a real challenge. But I just like what he brings and he’s getting better.”

On saying a couple years ago he thought Chris Westry was a future superstar: “I don’t know, did I specifically identify him or not? I think I just said the group — there’s some superstars in the group. Like I always tell you guys: I’ll just keep it real bland and then there won’t be anything you can use against me in the future. You love to use something against me (grinning). But I still think there’s some superstars in that group. I do. But we’ve got to do a better job and they’ve got to do their job and together there’s still a lot of potential in that group.”

On being bowl eligible this early and if he worries about a letdown: “A couple things: Number one, I never want to get back to — we all remember how difficult it is and it wasn’t that long ago when we were scrapping to get six wins just to go. So I don’t think you should ever just take that for granted. I think that’s when a lot of issues start popping up across the board in your program and the culture of your program. So we never want to take going to a bowl game for granted. We know how difficult it is and how quickly things can go the other way. But yes, we definitely want to take it one week at a time. So six is important and we acknowledge that — always have — and it’s really important to get back and play well this week. Because again, we all know how quickly things can get flipped. It’s really about us and our mentality and our team and our standards, and hopefully we’ll play this week the same as we did last week with our preparation.”

On Ole Miss wide receivers: “Very talented. You know, I’m so caught up in the one-week season that I’m in all the time, but it could possibly be the best group, more than like the best group, we’ve played all year. Just very talented players. They’re explosive. They’re big and strong. They make competitive plays across the board. Every play, virtually every play Ole Miss has is a run or pass [two-way option], so if they like the numbers, they toss it up and let their players make plays. So it puts a lot of stress on you.”

On if Rebels offense has changed with new QB: “No. If anything, it gives you a few more options with his legs. Shea obviously can as well, but he was definitely wanting to throw it. But Jordan can hurt you with his arms or his legs. I didn’t see any step back, and that’s no disrespect to any player; it’s just a blessing to have two players like that. I think they have two great players. So the narrative of, ‘Oh, you’re playing a backup quarterback,’ throw that out the window, because we’ve all seen backups come in and play better than the starter a lot of the time. And I’m not saying any knock on Shea, because I think he’s one of the best players in the league. I just think what this guy can do, what Jordan can do with his arm and his legs and what they do offensively, I think there’s going to be zero drop-off.”

On if he sees the offensive line continuity coming together: “I do. I do. I felt good about that. We talked about that last week in here. Some of you observed that and asked if continuity was the issue, and I acknowledged that. I think it was. It is. The fact that we played all three guys on the interior for the entire game did help us. With playing three tackles, I think that helped us as well because of where we’re at at that position. Those guys are banged up. I don’t know if they can handle every snap, so we were able to unload some of their pressure and split those reps up at tackle, and that helped us.”

On if Nick Haynes is available: “He would’ve played had Drake (Jackson) not been able to come back into the game. He would’ve played.”

On what happened to Drake Jackson: “He got a mild leg injury.”

On if Jordan Jones looked like his old self: “Definitely. We saw flashes of that in Game 1, and I think he was much more consistent in Game 2. I think he’ll get better as the year goes on here. We needed both of those guys, because Eli (Brown) did some good things as well. And Eli, he can’t handle every snap right now as banged up as he is. So, it was good to have both of those guys.”

On Jordan Jones saying the time away with injury taught him how important the game is to him: “Definitely. He’s constantly growing like all of us. Jordan’s getting better. He’s growing up each and every week. We need his energy out there, that’s for sure. But we need the focus that he has right now. We need that all the time and I think he’ll be much better player if he continues to look at it that way.”

On how important was it for Benny Snell to have a big game: “I think it was real important. I think everybody’s starting to realize that. I think certainly y’all realize that. I talk about that all the time, needing to run the football. You have to be able to do it. We all know we want to throw the football effectively, and we will, but you have to be able to run the ball. And certainly that opens up a lot of options, and that helped us. It was important for Benny to get on track. And I think, just like I sat up here last week and talked about it, you saw that. Benny played his best game by far. He was much more detailed and much more accurate in what he was doing, both in running the football and his protections. I think the offensive line was more consistent, and we had great play out of our tight ends. I know they didn’t catch the ball, and we all want them too. But again, with only having that many snaps it hurts everybody’s touches. We will complete more passes, we’ll get the ball to receivers, we’ll get the ball to tight ends when we’re running a lot of plays. And that was a combination of things. Obviously when you turn the ball over four times, two of them were first down, and the other two I believe were going for first downs and we fumbled them. One of them was, or Drew (Barker’s) would’ve been real close, maybe second-and-1 or whatever, but they were big gains. You’re talking about a lot of plays right there we left on the table just with putting the ball on the ground. That’s a lot of plays, because you could see when we didn’t turn the ball over, we had some very effective drives. Overall, still too many possessions we’re under three (minutes). I think we had six possessions on offense that were three-and-outs or less. Two of them were one-and-outs — fumbled on the opening play. And that kills your number of plays right there, and it puts the defense in a terrible situation because you have to defend so many plays. So, we just need to get that fixed. To sum it all up, if we can take care of the football, we really would’ve played a complete football game.”

On if there was a theme for the fumbles: “It concerned us going into it, we address it, we talk about it, especially on a cold night. That ball gets dry; it gets slippery. We talked about it. We emphasized it. Obviously coach (Eddie) Gran and our offensive coaches have done a great job all year of teaching that and emphasizing that, and we got to get back to it. We will address it, we’ll talk about it, we’ll stress it and then we have to move on and have the confidence that we’ll take care of the football.”

On Stephen Johnson’s worse completion percentage over the last three games: “I think it’s just like everything that you hear me talk about all the time. It’s a lot of pieces to it. Is it protection, is it drops, is it getting open, is it on Stephen? I think it’s all of the above. I think Stephen will take some of that and maybe missed a few reads, a few throws. Receivers can certainly catch it, they can get open and we can get better protection. So it’s always putting it all together.”

On how they did on the competitive plays he wasn’t happy with after Mississippi State: “Better. Much better. Made some competitive plays defensively. Offensively there was a couple big catches that were huge. Tavin (Richardson) had two that were great, great plays that we needed. Those were difference makers. Lonnie (Johnson) made a great play on a competitive pass. We had better coverage across the board.”

On some of the challenges he faces as head coach this season: “No different than everyday. It’s always a challenge dealing with young kids and a bunch of guys in your program you have to have ready to play. It starts with mentally being focused and ready to prepare for a great week and getting them to play better each and every week. I think we’re going to hit that stride. I really do. I feel like we’re going to play some much better football and more consistent.”

On the last time he was on a team that had four fumbles and still won: “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of things like that, but it’s probably been a long time. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a game where I’ve been minus four (in turnovers) and still won.”

On what Quinton Bohanna did well against Tennessee: “I was about to say everything, but I don’t want that to be used against me (laughter). Let me rephrase; he did well in all phases. He executed his assignment on blitzes and certain techniques that we needed to be better than we were a year ago. He executes some things and had some awareness. He was physical. He played with great effort. He did some good things, very good. Made tackles. There’s been more production out of that position than we’ve had in awhile. He’s done some good things. He’s actually our player of the week defensively within our own team. He’s our defensive player of the week.”

On if he anticipated Bohanna could help them so much as a freshman: “I think he has probably exceeded my expectations for his first year. I knew he was going to be a very good football player. He’s played well as a freshman. That’s a tough position, as you know. Playing nose in this league, you’re getting banged around pretty good.”

On how big it is to have a guy like Bohanna for four years: “We needed it. Very grateful that he’s here. I love his attitude. Our players like him. He’s got a great demeanor about him. He’s very focused. He’s on a mission and I just like the way he handles business. If he continues to progress, he has a chance to be a really good player.”

On if anything about Bohanna jumped out to him on film: “Without getting overly technical, we all know the basics. You have to be firm up the middle, but there’s some techniques and executing movements that he’s quicker. He’s quick on his movements. For a big body to be quick in his movements is important, but he’s also very stout and disruptive. Without getting overly technical, when a nose is just playing a zero and he’s not moving, it’s very easy to get doubled and bounced out of there. Then they climb and they can get both the nose and the person up the middle, whether it’s the mike or the will, depending on 3X1 or 2X2. So basically up the middle, you’ve gotta be strong at the point of attack. He’s not getting bounced around.”

So is Jordan (Jones) able to make a lot of tackles because guys in front of him are doing what they were supposed to do?: “Basically. In general a lot of times that happens. Tennessee does a nice job, and they hurt us early in the game on the perimeter as well. Some of those guys inside the gaps get very big. You have to be able to run and get flat. They create space. They did a year ago to us up there. We did a much better job this year, in particular after maybe a quarter, quarter and a half. In the second half we really did a good job. If we don’t give up the 4th and 25 or whatever it was, shoot, they get about 118 yards in the second half. We gave up 86 bad yards at the end that we should’ve taken care of.”

On having seven sacks against Tennessee: “Well, we felt like we can pressure them a bit in our four man rushes. We felt like our guys had a chance to create some big plays and they did.”

On Rich Brooks calling the fans fickle and if that’s a fair assessment: “Why you gotta go there John? (laughter). That’s just a low blow today when everything is going so nice. I love our fans. I want them passionate. I want them expecting to win. Obviously if you have no opportunity to win, we’ve been there before. I don’t wanna go back. Like I said before, we take it serious. We want a product on the field that everybody is proud of. We’re trying our best. Our fans are passionate and very good. Name me on fanbase in the country that doesn’t have some people that question everything you do.”

On the difficulties of turning teams over: “We do need to do a better job. We did a really good job early in the season. Going two games without a turnover is not good. We’ve gotta create some turnovers defensively. I cannot believe that (Jarrett Guarantano) held onto the ball a couple of times. The one time when Lonnie had the sack, I can’t believe that ball didn’t come out. They did a nice job, maybe later when it was loose it could’ve been that they recovered. Anyway, I’m just trying to refresh my memory whether it was a ball on the ground or not for Tennessee that they recovered. Sometimes with fumble recoveries it’s luck. You have to fall on it. It’s 50-50 when the ball is on the ground. Some of it is luck. Some of it is taking it away. Just like I said, with Lonnie’s hit, it was a great hit, blindside. You’d love to see that ball come squirting out. You have to give him credit for protecting the football there.”

On if he got any clarity from league office about penalty against both teams: “No. I talked to Steve today, but I better be careful because I can’t ever discuss things we talk about. But I had no issue with anything. I thought they handled that — I said that after the game — I thought they handled it well in trying to keep…None of us want to see anything get out of hand. I’ve got to do a better job. We’ll address it today. I think they were just trying to make sure they kept the game without getting out of hand as far as players getting in disputes and fights and all that stuff.”

On if officials saw or heard something that made them think that decision was warranted: “I don’t know. I don’t think so, other than the fact I didn’t like there was a bunch of guys getting together right there. You don’t – None of us ever want to see any melee. There’s no place for any of that. It’s a heated game, it’s a rivalry game. It needs to be handled the right way on the field, and I think they did the best way they could.”

On importance to team to see Stephen Johnson sprint from locker room after injury: “As I said after the game, you just have to admire Stephen and his toughness and his determination. It doesn’t surprise any of us. I think he was kind of mad that he had to go in (the locker room), but he certainly — We had to make sure we checked him out. We felt like it was an injury that Jim (Madaleno) had a good idea of what it was, but you have to go in and check it to see to what degree and make sure there aren’t other issues. I had a good idea he’d come back, but I think it does say a lot about him and it does help us and help the team. The fact that he wanted to sprint out there and get back as soon as he could. He didn’t miss very many plays.”

On if he injured shoulder any worse on TD run: “Not that I know of. I’m sure he’ll tell you: He definitely is very sore. I saw him Sunday. He was beat up. He was beat up pretty good. So, yeah, I had my youngest boy with me for an hour at the office Sunday and we were walking around. Went down and saw some of the guys in the training room. Normally every once in awhile Stephen and some of the boys they’ll all go bowling with my kids once in awhile. I talked about going bowling, and then I looked at him and I was like, ‘You better not bowl today.’ He was beat up pretty good.”

On if he was surprised Johnson kept ball on first play back: “It did. But he made clean reads all day. That was the good thing. Some of this year -- Which he has to make a lot of decisions whether it’s RPOs or zone-reads, he has to make a lot of decisions obviously. We would be maybe just a fraction off here or there, as I mentioned. Whether it be RPO, the week before I mentioned some of that where he had a few reads that he missed. He was very accurate this week with making decisions.”

On Lynn Bowden’s kickoff returns: “One was questionable, just got to have better awareness of where he’s at, but he’s made good decisions. He’s very coachable. That’s the good thing about him. He’s one of those guys. He takes the coaching, he understands it. That’s why he’s able to do what he’s done and play receiver right now when he’s never played that position. I think people just think you can line up at wide receiver and say, “Hey dumb you know, get him the football.’ You’ve got to learn a lot of things. Lynn has done an exceptional job and he’s going to be a great player, but he’s very coachable, he’s instinctual. That’s the good thing. He gets it very quickly.”

On how Drew Barker is practicing: “He’s doing good. He’s doing good. He’ll be fine. Drew did fine. Drew did a good job. He made good reads, he made good decisions. I mean, obviously you can’t put the ball on the ground, but that comes from playing and some experience too. Drew is going to be just fine. I honestly had total confidence when he went in the game. The fumble hurt. That hurts your confidence, it hurts a lot of things, but he would have been just fine and I was excited to see him. I knew Stephen was coming back, I wanted Stephen to come back, but it’s always been like that for us this year. Just like when Jordan (Jones) got hurt, I said I’m excited to see Eli (Brown). We have guys that are working and working and working to get their opportunity and we always tell them they’re one play away. That’s a perfect example of it right there. That’s why you’ve got to prepare the right way every week. I’m certainly glad Stephen came back obviously, but I was excited for Drew to see him play. I think he would have done a very good job if he had to stay in there.”

On if fumble was partially a result of Barker not being hit much: “I’m sure that’s part of it.”

On getting players to a place where they expect to win and if UK is there yet: “I think you never take that for granted. You always work at that. It is difficult. It’s just like people assume, well maybe Tennessee’s not having as good a year as they had, so you’ll beat them. No, you don’t just beat somebody twice in 33 years just because. You’re changing your culture those things are very difficult. We’ve talked about them a lot — I don’t want to get into all that — but when you’re changing a mindset that goes very, very deep rooted, like I said, with all the information they have, you can’t take those things for granted.”

On Stephen Johnson’s leadership on sideline and in locker room and if he compares to anyone Stoops has coached before: “Well, I think he has a great demeanor about him and I think that’s earned, not given. And it’s earned by the way he goes about his business, his work ethic. So all that works in his favor and works for him. He leads the best way he can. He’s a strong leader on this team. He doesn’t have to be overly demonstrative or be too loud. He can lead just the way he feels necessary and he does a very good job. Our team really responds well to him. As far as comparing him, I don’t know if that’s fair. He’s just unique in his own way and special. He’s a winner and I think everybody knows that.”

On the import of the run game and defense helping win the Tennessee game: “Well, can’t beat a dead horse here, but I’ve said 80 percent of SEC games if you outrush ‘em by one yard, you’re going to win 80 percent of them. What I don’t want to do is put the ball on the ground four times. I have to overcome that, but we were very, very efficient running the football. Coach Gran, Coach Schlarman, the whole offensive staff, they did a very good job. Let’s just leave it at that. I don’t want to get too technical, but the bind they were putting Tennessee in in the run game was complicated and was very good. Very, very efficient. It was — everybody just thinks it’s braun and running the ball and being physical, and that’s a big part of it — but he had them very much off balance. I think it would’ve been very effective most of the day had we not put the ball in the ground.”

On Ole Miss concerns: “We expect a great game from Ole Miss. They have very talented players, as I mentioned. And they have great pride within their program and without a doubt, who can we take lightly? I mean we know that. No matter who we’re playing, we have ot play our best football or we’ll lose. So we have to play well. We have to prepare the right way. We have to build on some of the good things we did a week ago. I thought the players had great focus. I told you in here I had no reason to believe that the guys wouldn’t have a great week, and that was prior to seeing them on Monday. And they did have a great week of practice. These players have great pride in what they do and now we need to be consistent. We have to have another great week of preparation and have that great focus and attention to detail and worry about ourselves.”

On having experience making plays with game on the line: “I think it’s important to always learn in those situations. I was not real pleased after watching the tape the way that ball was completed at the end and you learn from those situations. They’re hard to — I tell the players all the time, every two-minute drill, every situation all the time in football — you can work it as many times, thousands of times and it’s always different. Just like the way the last plays played out for them I think they got 86 yards in nine seconds. Fourt-and- — what was it 20 or 25? — Fourth and 25, they convert. I was so made they converted and then I looked at it on film and it was an unbelievable throw and catch. It dropped in there by inches. I was pissed Jordan got backed up and made a play on the ball, it kind of floated a bit on that. They convert on that, then he scrambles for 13 yards and then he throws that Hail Mary. We need to play those situations better. The one play, again the one on Jordan, the ball just dropped. A remarkable throw and catch and then the run you can live with because it’s burning time. And then the last play, we’ve got to do a better job. We were in position. We executed exactly how we play. We talk about getting on the point and disrupting the receiver so they don’t have a free release. We’ve just got to play the football better.”

On Drake Jackson: “I think it’s been real important. We’ve all talked about that in here and kicked that around with injuries. Nick not being at 100 percent and Cole getting hurt, we had to shuffle it around. And as I’ve told you as we’ve touched on all year, that we’d find the right mixture and it comes from experience and playing guys and fooling with it. And he got better.”

On Dodgers or Astros: “Ohhh. I have no clue. I don’t know. I did catch a few innings here and there and it’s been a heckuva a series. I really have no interest in it I mean as far as who wins.”