Jen Smith on UK Football

On the four straight three-and-outs, secondary problems, snap timing and more from Stoops

MARK STOOPS

“Very difficult loss, it was a tough one on all of us. We were disappointed with the outcome. I was pleased with our team’s effort and execution for a large portion of the game and obviously there’s quite a few things we need to do better. We’re excited to get back to work, go down and compete against Vandy, on the road and try and get that seventh victory. We’ll get back to work today.

“As far as with Matt Panton, I know y’all are interested in that. He will be suspended for this game and he will not participate for failure to meet the standards and the expectations of our football team.”

On how backup punter Grant McKinniss looked: “We’ll see. He’s kicked it good in practice and he’s worked hard, and so I’m excited for him to get that opportunity. I think that’s one of the unfortunate situations with this, is with Matt’s actions, you know, Grant is the one that has to sacrifice because we could have saved his year and gave him a redshirt year. But with the situation the way it is, he’s our best option. Every game is important, I talked to Grant about that, and he is willing to go do whatever is necessary to help the football team win. We appreciate Grant for his unselfishness in this situation. We have a few kickers that we’ve worked in that situation as well. Miles has been the guy on the road a lot of times. Miles has been prepared to do that.”

On the secondary problems: “There’s a variety of things. There’s a couple plays. You know, we talk about it often, the disappointing things for us as a football team, the fans, everybody is, is that there’s always a few plays that determine a game. You don’t ever know which ones they are. Every play is important, but there are some that stick out and that hurt and that’s the same way with the secondary. There was, you know, some plays that we need to play better. You can’t give up big plays and expect to win. I think with Ole Miss, the pressure that they put on you, the situations that they do with some of their RPOs, they were efficient. They were getting some aggravating yards, but we were still OK. We were getting good stops, we had an opportunity to win, in all phases, offense, defense and special teams and there are a few plays, the big plays that hit you for TDs that are hard to overcome. So those stick out and we need to play those better.”

On the four straight three-and-outs: “Well, yeah there are. Out of the four possessions, one was a complete drop that was first down. One was an errant throw and then two, you know, I think we would do some things differently, yes. So, you know, I mean, that’s what’s difficult. If you take those out and the offense was extremely effective and aggressive and, you know, really kept Ole Miss off balance. We threw the ball, oh, I don’t know exactly what it was, 37, 38 times to 33 runs, so we were pretty close to 50-50 and effective in throwing the football. We’re efficient on some RPOs. You know, one drop, one errant throw on two of those four.”

On whether this is offense UK thought it had to begin with: “I think it’s getting — definitely what I think we all would like is that that kind of balance, but certainly being able to throw the football and being efficient in the passing game helps. That’s also the byproduct of being able to run the football, as well. So I think now that we’re running the ball effectively, it’s opening some things up. So you have to be able to run, we’ve talked about that, but we are, we’re starting to be efficient in our run game and keeping people off balance and, you know, that’s what makes it difficult.”

What stands out about Vandy: “Just, like always, just a good football team across the board. Play hard in all phases, sound in what they do. They keep you off balance, offensively. They’re good at what they do and a lot like us, grinding out drives, grinding out yards and first downs and taking their shots when they get opportunities. Definitely like to be efficient with the football, and defensively, you know, just like always, play extremely hard and won’t give up a lot of big plays.”

On whether Vanderbilt mirrors Kentucky in the way they grind out drives: “Don’t put words in my mouth. Offensively, they’re like us in that they are efficient in what they do, pick their spots when they take their shots. They like to keep you off balance. They run the ball so effectively and they’re so multiple in their formations. And then they boot and play action to give them time to take their shots.”

On the play Jordan Griffin made before the last play and how he has progressed: “Yeah, it was close. I’ll tell ya, it was close to getting an interception there. The quarterback did a nice job of, I don’t know whether he read the way Jordan played that or not, threw it flat and away from him as opposed to high and to the back of the end zone, I think Jordan has a good opportunity to intercept that. You know, Jordan’s like he always is. He’s solid, he works hard. We need to get him involved. He’s had some opportunities where we continue to move him around different positions cause we trust him, and need to continue to work with him and get him on the field.”

On whether the depth chart changes between Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry is meant as a challenge: “Sure, I think that’s part of it. Like we always say, nothing will be given. It’s earned every day. We live by that. In previous weeks, even though it didn’t say “or,” Lonnie had played just as much if not more. It’s the same way this week.”

On Stephen Johnson mentioning he might’ve rolled an ankle in the second half: “I didn’t notice anything. I saw him. He looked completely fine to me.”

On how Lonnie Johnson played overall: “Overall he did some good things. I thought he competed, had some good coverage. The 60-yard TD pass obviously can’t happen. We’ve got to get some things cleaned up. He just got a little high on the route, got a little impatient, got on top of the route. The receiver came back underneath him and then it’s little things. It’s his eyes go back to the quarterback for just a fraction of a second and it slows you down. And those are just technique things that we’ve gotta continue to iron out.”

On how he decompresses after a tough loss: “It’s the same way. I’ve always talked about that. Sundays are hard. Sometimes Sundays are difficult. There’s no doubt about that. But I felt better when I went into the office early yesterday and got back to work and looked at the film because, and I’m not saying this to give a silver lining or anything like that, but when I watched the film and see some of the good things we’re doing and position we’re in, that wasn’t always the case around here when I’ve been here. I don’t know what it was like prior to me getting here. But since I’ve been here, you can’t always say you’re just a play or two away, and I know that’s not good enough, I know we want more, please don’t misquote me. That’s not what we’re hunting. We’re hunting victories. But I like the way this team plays and I’m excited to get back to work. So once I get in there yesterday, get in there early and watch the film and see the issues and know there’s things we can get fixed, that’s the good and the bad. I know that’s the frustration. I accept that, it’s not OK. But I also know that we’re a couple plays away from having eight wins.”

On the good things he saw when watching the film: “Oh, there’s a lot of good things. Offensively we were completely very affective in keeping them off balance. You know, unfortunately we had to settle for two field goals early, and I’m not gonna sit here, and I’m not saying this to criticize, but we had a great play again with the tight end. That’s a touchdown. You know what I mean? I’m not gonna make any excuses, but we had a touchdown and he got tackled. Unfortunately we only got three out of that drive, but we really had them off balance and did some good things. Defensively was better than you think. I know what the numbers look like. There are things we’ve gotta get ironed out and fixed in some coverages that we will, but again, we’re a play away from sitting here feeling a little better about yourself than you do. So, that’s the good part. You look around the league and I know it’s easy for people to act like just because of records teams aren’t good or this or that. That’s not the case. Don’t go tell that to the rest of the teams. Everybody fights for every game, every victory, every win or loss, and it’s a grind. I know sometimes people just look at the bottom line and just dismiss people because of their record, but that’s not the case when you look around this league. We’re right in the middle of the pack as far as wins and losses with people above us and below us. We wanna keep on working our way up, and we’re a couple plays away from being in a lot better position.”

On whether he asked the league for an explanation on C.J. Conrad’s play that wasn’t flagged: “I did. I haven’t heard back yet and you know I can’t tell you anyway. I’m not sitting here criticizing it. You saw us hit C.J. on some of those plays and we had another one there.”

On what’s causing the three-and-outs: “I think you’ve gotta give teams credit. They stopped us. Again, one of them was a dropped pass. One of them was an errant throw, amongst other things. Honestly, the one early, one of them — I’m not going to get into specifics, but the one where we were in good field position, we had a good run play that was set to get in an explosive run. We missed it by six inches. It was a gash. They made a nice play. They essentially made a play when they were blocked.”

On whether being a DB coach in the past makes him more disappointed in the secondary: “It is to me, sure. You’re asking me and I’m giving an honest answer. Sure, it’s disappointing to me.”

On whether he’s satisfied with the play of the interior defensive line: “Yeah, at times. We can do better. I think there’s things we can do better. There’s still some missed opportunity on negative yardage plays that we missed a few that we could still make. There’s a big difference, as we all know, in second and 10 and second and five, or second and three. There’s still some plays out there that we’re leaving.”

On how Lonnie Johnson responded after the game: “He was very upset, as you’d expect. He’s a competitor. The last one, the one for the touchdown sticks out. I can live with it because I felt the fight and saw him in position. He’s gotta finish it all the way to the ground. We’ll talk about that, but he was in great position. He was fighting for the ball. Sometimes you get put in tough positions at the cornerback spot. It was a great throw and a great catch against a super talented receiver that’s big and strong. I like the position Lonnie was in. I’d like to see the result and the finish better.”

On whether there’s any option to take a pass interference penalty on the last touchdown: “Of course. You want to be as physical as you can depending on the time. If you get the PI there they probably still get two more opportunities. But I like how physical he was and I like the fact the officials let him both play. There wasn’t some ticky tack call there either way.”

On whether the margin for error is still where it was early in his tenure: “I don’t know. I’ll let you all decide and write about that. I think we’ve won some games where we hadn’t played perfect football. We lost some games where we haven’t played perfect football. We’re constantly striving for that. Hopefully we’ll get closer and closer.”

On whether being smart in the classroom carries over to performance on the field: “Yeah, I definitely think there is. I think there’s examples of the contrary as well. I think there’s examples either way. I certainly have respect for Coach Mason and what he does and their players. I’m sure they respect ours as well.”

On Vanderbilt’s offensive challenges compared to Ole Miss: “The tempo isn’t quite the same. I think their style of offense isn’t really the same. There is some differences there. They’re not as much (QB) run game. Even the last drive of that game, the one quarterback draw that they ran, it hurt us. That play, that’s the one where the ball came loose, but the draw itself hurt us in a critical moment. As you know, we’re sitting there trying to cover those guys and they’re spreading you out and they hit you with the Q draw, it’s effective. That was a very critical play. I think they’re just dinking and dunking and working their way down the field. We had a couple incompletes, a couple stops. We’re still in decent shape right there. That draw hurt.”

On whether this team has a killer instinct: “I didn’t understand the beginning part of that question, but with us, I think, again, we’re not much different than most college football teams. You’re dealing with kids that have a long season, that deal with a lot, that are 18-23. Panton is probably the oldest guy on our team. They have a lot on their plate. Again, you’re not going to always play consistent football and the best football. You’d like to, you strive to, but take a look around college football and see some of the scores out there and if you’re anything like me some of the scores surprise you. We’re not much different. There’s probably one, two teams in the country right now that I’ve seen that have been as consistent as you want them to be, and if you ask their coaches they probably haven’t been as consistent as they want them to be as well – they’re just super strong. So, we have to be able to overcome that. There’s not anything – play-calling, either side. I feel good about the way our coaches had them prepare. I thought offensively we were aggressive and kept them off balance. Again, we don’t want to hit that lull or those parts of the game. We’ve got to compliment each other also. When you’re playing a team like that we all know – certainly the offensive coaches and players know – that first downs are important and getting drives and field position are important. It’s not like we weren’t trying.”

On whether he’d taken an 8-3 mark in close games three years ago: “I’m going to let you state that, but that was well said. I’m agreeing with you, but I can’t. I’m agreeing with you, but if I say that it will be used against me because we want to be 11-0. No, we all know — That’s where I say that’s what you have to take. The kids have to have confidence and know and look at the film and see the good things we did and understand it’s always like that and correct the mistakes and move on to the next opponent because that’s the way it is. Media and fans and people have to sit there and do your job or as a fan just sit and wait and read what you all so beautifully write. But you have seven days to stew on it, whereas as a player or coach it’s right back to work. We’ve got to get onto the next opportunity and the next game. That’s what makes it exciting for us. It will be a good week that way. Can’t wait to get back to work and get these guys ready to play. I’m sure they will be.”

On whether bouncing back from a tough loss at this point in the season is any different than Florida or Mississippi State ones: “No, I don’t think so. I don’t. I don’t. I think our team was prepared to play the game last week. You always look at things as a coach to just find that edge, that attitude. It’s hard for me to define what edge means, but just to have the right mentality to go play the game because we are not a team that can sit there and take a breath. We’re just not. This coaching staff, we’re constantly trying to push, constantly trying to get them ready, and we have to play that way. We have to play with great discipline. We have to play with a great attitude, and we have to play hard. Our players do, but we have to take it to another level.”

On combatting Vanderbilt’s run defense after WKU had -6 rushing yards last week: “We’re going to do what we do. We always try to game plan, get new formations, give them new things to look at, but we’re going to do what we do.”

On any backups or young guys pushing for bigger roles: “I think you’re constantly seeing the wideouts playing and getting some touches. Defensively, just the guys that you’re seeing play.”

On how interior linemen did vs. Ole Miss: “They’re playing pretty solid football. There’s things we could’ve done to finish a few things. A few blocks and left a few yards on the table that we’ll address and look at, but overall, they’re playing consistent and playing some good football. They’re grading out fairly high. I just think there’s some things we could do better.”

On whether this team plays better when it plays with sense of urgency: “I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think we have to play with a great sense of urgency.”

On not milking the clock before the snap on the final drive: “Listen, if there’s any one thing I’ll get critiqued for, it’s by milking it too much. Not the other way, so let’s not even go there. I’ve taken plenty of darts for slowing the game down. I’ll continue to take the darts that way. I think there is a balance there, though, and we didn’t think about going into four-minute offense with eight minutes to go in the game. But we were methodical in our approach and sometimes that’s when we’re at our best when we’re methodical: Coach Gran and the offensive coaches are taking a good look at their play sheet and seeing what plays we’re going to go to as opposed to some teams that just go tempo and want to beat you with basically just the tempo. It’s not so much the game planning and that’s effective as well at times. That was partly the issue again Saturday. One of the touchdowns they scored, we didn’t have a middle third guy. He should’ve been sitting right on the ball. Should’ve been sitting right over the fourth element. When they put quads to the field, the guy’s just standing there, basically could’ve hit him in the head. But the tempo was effective in that way, getting your eyes violated. But I think our team offensively late in the game much like you saw the week before, you saw this week, we take the ball — what was it, 95 yards? — and we’re very methodical. We ripped off some big chunks. Had we just grinded it out, there would’ve been a lot less there and believe me, there’s nobody that’s more conscientious of the clock than I am. There’s also an element of when you’ve got them gassed and making sure you get it in the end zone and counting on your defense to make a stop. Believe me, I’ll get criticized both ways and I understand it, but I am very conscious of it.”

On whether part of that was being in the wildcat formation and wanting snap to be part of the surprise element: “No, we were good. We were good. We considered getting a timeout for Benny to catch his breath, but we talk about it, we think about it. We have time when it’s a methodical approach like that, but I didn’t want to because I felt like we had a touchdown. And we did on third down. So the second down play, that second-and-1 and we went for zero yards, I wasn’t really disappointed about that because I knew it could be another 40 seconds there. So I felt pretty confident we’d get it in and certainly we were going to go for it on fourth down there. So we felt like we had them off balance. We felt like the wildcat and the package we were in, we were big enough physical enough that we would get it in there one of those three chances. And we were killing some time, sure. I think their approach would’ve been different if there were 10 less seconds there, too. It’s easy to say after the fact that they wouldn’t have had those 10 and that’s not necessarily the case. Their two-minute offense changes as well, so let’s put it this way: There was definitely going to be enough time for them to have plenty of time for a two-minute offense. We were going to have to make a stop. We were going to have to stop them.”

On Snell’s ability to play well when gassed: “Yeah, I think it’s definitely a credit to Benny. He’s a strong guy. It takes an awful lot for him to get wore down that way. But also from some of the testing we’ve done with him in the offseason and all that, he is amazing the way he recovers. He does that anyway. He has an ability to recover very quickly with his heart rate and some things.”

On the importance of confidence in those late-game offensive drives: “I think it’s a big, a big deal. It’s definitely a confidence issue. There’s never any panic. I think there’s great confidence and I definitely think across the board offensively that we’re going to find the right plays. I think it’s a combination. Certainly Stephen his calmness — and we’ve talked about that before — and his ability to make plays under pressure is a big piece of that confidence. But I also think when you’re keeping people off balance and there’s plenty of time and the offense. And that’s the big key in the two-minute is having the option to run it or throw it. With us, that’s a big part of our offense because Benny can rip off some big plays there as well. It’s the same with (Ole Miss) in their two minute. Unfortunately there was enough time for them to run the Q-draws and certain things that keep you off balance.”

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