Jen Smith on UK Football

Going into Louisville game, is Stoops satisfied with how Kentucky’s season has gone?

MARK STOOPS

“Just like I said after the game: Tough loss versus Georgia. They played some very good football. We had a few opportunities early, did not play our best. We knew we had to execute at a high level and did not do that. So, got to get that behind us and look forward to this week’s challenge with Louisville.”

On C.J. Conrad’s status: “Yeah, unfortunately C.J. will be out for the remainder of the year.”

Including the bowl game: “Yes, yeah. He has a mid-foot injury, a lisfranc. Will require surgery tomorrow morning.”

On how they feel about backup TEs: “We fill good. Unfortunately, Justin (Rigg) got hurt in the game too. He’s in a boot. He has an ankle injury as well, and Greg has played in a cast on one wrist for about two or three weeks and the last couple weeks the other wrist has been in a cast during practice. So, hopefully he’ll be healthy this week.”

On if Nick Haynes is an option at tight end: “No, we tried it just a little bit for field goal and a few certain things, but we’ll move him back inside.”

On importance of medical staff to program: “They’re a major part of it. Jim Madaleno does a great job and his staff, and of course all the doctors, Dr. Johnson and his crew, they’re phenomenal. We see those guys often. Jim comes up every day and gives us the injury report and does a wonderful job. And of course our strength and conditioning people do as well.”

On how Louisville is different than last year: “They’re still a very good football team. Really, when you have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback back there behind center it puts a lot of pressure on you. He’s a fantastic football player. He creates plays all over the place. He’s a dynamic guy. He does a very good job. I think he’s throwing the ball – He’s always thrown the ball good in my eyes, because he’s always been so dangerous. He’s got such good touch on it, but he’s definitely you can see from experience just sitting back there and distributing the ball when he has time. He does an excellent job there. Of course he ad-libs and designed run plays, whatever it is, he can put a lot of pressure on you.”

On who will play Jackson on scout team: “We’re going to look into that. We have a few guys in mind, but I think we may go with (Charles) Moushey a little bit today. He’s involved in the offense some, but he also comes over and helps us when we need the speed at wide receiver. He helps us there. He’s such a good team player. He has an active role on special teams. I may talk to him and see if he’ll come over and do that. Zy’Aire (Hughes) did that last year as well, but he’s not been 100 percent healthy last week. I’m not sure where he’ll be right now, but Zy’Aire helped us as well.”

On how Lamar Jackson has improved: “I just think like any quarterback, just like any player, just experience, just more reps and seeing things. It’s just the normal progression. He was excellent a year ago, he’s excellent now. I think where you see the growth is just the poise maybe in the pocket and the time to distribute the ball.”

On if it’s fair for fans to say UofL game determines how season is viewed: “Don’t trap me into saying what’s fair or not fair. You know I don’t go there often. What’s fair or not fair, that’s up to the fans. They have every right. We all have high expectations. That’s a good thing. So, I’m not disappointed with that.”

On UofL players other than Jackson to watch: “Just they’re a good football team. They‘re good across the board. They’re good on offense and defense and special teams. They’re well coached. Of course Lamar is a big part of it.”

On changes in UofL defense with new coordinator: “Yeah, to some extent. They’re similar in some ways. So, they’re both very multiple, but very similar to what he was doing at Mississippi State…

“To follow up with (earlier question about what’s fair), I think it’s a good thing. I saw somebody — I think (teams spokesman Susan Lax) tweeted that it’s the best finish we’ve had back-to-back in the SEC. And I’m disappointed about that as well. I think everybody — I said that last week. We had one more opportunity to get an SEC victory this past week and that didn’t happen, but I am proud of the way we’re continuing to improve.”

On Jordan Bonner forgoing senior year: “Jordan is done. He’s medical at this point.”

On if there are seniors he wished he’d redshirted earlier in their careers: “Yeah, yeah. I think so. You always look at those guys, and if you see a senior that’s a true senor you obviously wish they could come back and play another year. I think maybe Charles Walker is a guy that jumps out at you right away. But anybody that has some eligibility, of course we’d like to have him back. But yeah, I think Marcus (McWilson) is definitely one of those guys that I just think he had so much more football ahead of him. And I think in the right situation even in the NFL, if he can continue to hang around and get an option I think he’s a guy that could play some more. We certainly would like to have Charles back. That’s for sure.”

On if he feels better not having to make as many of those decisions to play freshmen: “I do feel better about that. I feel, as we look at some of these guys that are redshirting this year, and we thought about playing them. At this point of course I’m glad that we were able to save quite a few of them. Because that’ll pay dividends five years down the road for sure. And even, a lot of times, there’s two theories on that. If you get some guys some reps you think it helps them as a sophomore. But sometimes redshirting helps them because they do get that extra lifting, they get some extra time with coach (Corey Edmond) and those guys. And it kinda, it helps their bodies a little bit more. So, especially for the big guys, I think it’s really good to redshirt them.”

On status update for Mike Edwards or Quinton Bohanna: “Mike’ll be fine and Quinton should be good. Hopefully, we’ll see. He had an ankle but it wasn’t a high. It’s a regular ankle so hopefully it’ll be OK.”

On his senior class: “Yeah, just really appreciate those guys. They’ve been really a joy to coach, and as I’ve mentioned countless times in here throughout preseason and throughout the year, that the leadership on this team is very strong. And it starts and ends with the seniors. Those guys have been very good and instrumental in some of the positive steps that we’ve taken. And hopefully younger guys will learn from that, and continue to grow and push the program forward.”

On what it says about Nick Haynes that he’s still picked as a captain: “Yeah I just think, I think he just deserves that. I think that’s who he is. He’s done a lot for this program. He’s sacrificed a lot, and he’s not at 100 percent health, but he’s still a very good leader and a captain.”

On what legacy Stephen Johnson and Courtney Love will leave: “Yeah I think they just, it’s hard again to describe exactly how much they’ve done for us. They’ve both been such great leaders and very impactful. Very good football players, but more importantly what they do off the field has probably been their most significant contribution because they’re both just really special people.”

On if there’s anything they’d do differently with Matt Elam: “I don’t wanna get into the what ifs with that. It is what it is. Anytime anybody didn’t reach their goals, as a coach you always wish you could do as much as you can for any individual.”

On what the game will do for the vibe of the program win or lose: “It’s, you know, losses are difficult in any time. So anytime you’re playing the last game of the year, sure, it’s important. I think it’s big because it’s important to our players, it’s important to our fanbase and it’s a rivalry game. There’s a lot at stake. Eight wins, I don’t think it’s been done in what, 33 years? That means something to me. I think as I’ve mentioned in here many times, you keep on trying to knock down as many doors as you can. The fact that we had back-to-back .500 wins in the SEC is again, we want more. It’s easy to look back and get the what ifs, it’s human nature. I understand that. But I am proud of some of the things we’ve done, and getting eight wins is another step forward.”

On if he’s ever coached a player like Stephen Johnson who came from relative obscurity to become face of the program: “No, I can’t say that I have. I definitely have been around guys that have come out of nowhere and been All-Americans, first-round draft picks and Thorpe winners and things like that. I have done that. I coached a Thorpe winner in Antoine Cason that nobody recruited and was a great player for me at Arizona and so on. But, you know, I’ve only been a head coach for five years so I can’t say anything about quarterbacks. Certainly as a quarterback, I haven’t been around it. Just appreciate Stephen. You could go on and on. He’s definitely, as we’ve mentioned, he’s a leader and he’s a winner. He’s done a lot of good things and we appreciate him.”

On Stephen’s health: “Yeah, he’ll be fine. He’s fine. He’s like Gumby. He’s good. He’s good.”

On how the team has improved from Game 1 to now: “I think, you know, we’ve been more consistent. I think our approach, the way we prepare, the way we’ve played. We all wanna play better every week. We’re striving for perfection, but I just think their mentality. I think we’re still more mature each and every year, we’re getting more mature to be able to handle the schedule. We’ve improved that way, just the way we’ve practiced and the way we’ve gone about our work for this entire year. I haven’t had to alter schedules and taper things back. That’s a good sign for the future because your guys are mentally and physically able to handle more and more. Doesn’t mean there’s still not a lot of things that we need to get cleaned up, and we’ll continue to do that, but just physically and mentally, there’s growth. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

On how the play of the young defensive linemen in recent weeks gives him hope going forward: “It gives us a lot of hope. It does. I’ve been very impressed once again with Quinton. He’s definitely going to be a very good football player. He’s very big, but he’s sudden. His movement about him, he has the explosiveness you really like. Same with T.J. (Carter), he’s a guy that unfortunately we did have to play as a freshman. As soon as the season is over he’s gotta get right in the weight room. He’s gotta eat and lift and just grow and mature, but very talented.”

On what Stephen Johnson has revealed since he’s been here: “I’d be lying if I just sat up here and said you knew exactly what you were going to get. That’s not true. We do a lot of research. We work hard to get to know these guys. Stephen, we recruited probably less as far as time than a lot of guys. We’re fortunate to get the player we’ve gotten. He has probably exceeded expectations as far as some of those intangibles that you’re looking for. For a guy to come in and be a junior college transfer and have the type of leadership that somebody in here was just asking about, is definitely something special.”

On how his players handled the atmosphere at Georgia and what it would take to get that kind of atmosphere at Kroger Field: “Obviously it’s a great environment. You go into a place like that with the tradition and the players that they have, they’re a very talented football team as I mentioned after the game. For a good portion of this season they played like the number one team in the country. They had one hiccup in there. We got them a week after that and I’m sure Kirby (Smart) had their full attention all week. They played very good in a very hostile environment. The parts of the game that I was disappointed with was you know you have to play and you have to execute at a high level. I don’t feel like we did that all the time. I feel like there’s technique issues that still – the game is a fundamental game. We all have to scheme and draw up a lot of things and all that, but you still have to fundamentally play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. I think we took a step back at times in that game. Also, some missed opportunities. Some mistakes. That can’t happen. We start the game playing straight up. Playing pretty good. Get a stop, get an interception, again, we get three points and the mistake on the blocked punt, that can’t happen. That’s a big mistake. That’s a big momentum swing right there. To go in knowing you have to play a very good football game and making mistakes like that does not help you. You get behind and some bad things started happening. I’m rambling there but the bottom line is we did some good things but I think we did take a step back in certain areas. We need to get that cleaned up.”

On how the team has been able to bounce back well: “Again, I don’t think that’ll be an issue with this team. I really don’t. We’ve never just shelved a game. We don’t do that. We’re going to be held accountable and everybody is going to look at this all together. The good and the ball. We’ll do that again today, but we will do it rather quickly and move on because we’re able to do that. Everybody can take their mistakes by group. We’ll look at it, but we’ll move on pretty quickly and get onto Louisville. I don’t anticipate at all that there’ll be any kind of fog or hangover or anything with this team, just because that’s the way we’ve responded all year.”

On Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel: “And Swift and number seven. You asked me, I’m not sure, I don’t want to make an outlandish statement but I don’t know if I’ve played a more talented group of running backs. I don’t know. I can’t recall, let’s put it that way. They are exceptional players. They play very well and they complement each other very well.”

On the secondary: “We got beat on some balls that we couldn’t, but again you have to credit Georgia and what they do. The stress they put on you with their run game and off their pinch sets, and some of the playaction and things they do off that, it’s very tough. It is. It’s difficult. Certainly we could do some things better. But they put you in some binds. To win some one-on-ones against some very talented guys.”

On Garrett Johnson: “I think that’s a great point because Garrett sometimes flies under the radar. He’s made tremendous growth off the field, on the field. I really appreciate Garrett and the way he’s gone about his business. He’s reliable. A lot of his catches throughout this year are critical third downs. He still could make explosive plays. He’s been steady. He’s really taken a lot of steps to be a leader in the wide receiver room. I’ve just been impressed with him and I really appreciate him. He does fly under the radar sometimes because he’s a very good football player.”

On Louisville’s wide outs: “Like a lot of the guys we’ve played: very good and explosive and can make plays just like most teams we’ve played. So it will be much the same.”

On if he wants to see Louisville game moved back to beginning of the season: “I really don’t get involved. I put zero thought into that, so I really don’t care to comment on that because I really haven’t thought about it. It is what it is. That’s above my pay grade.”

On Russ Yeast and what he’s seen from him at Louisville: “He stepped in and played when their corner, No. 10 (Jaire Alexander) got hurt, so he’s done a nice job, but I don’t think there’s any doubt they’re glad No. 10 is back out there.”

On the deep ball and if teams are scheming to take that away this year more: “Yeah and we still need to try and connect on some, we really do. It was nice to see Blake (Bone) catch one explosive play this past week, but they have. When you’re running the ball like we do, you know that’s what you want to do: You want to run and take your shots down the field. They’ve been cutting them off and playing them much better, yes.”

On if Lamar Jackson should be a Heisman Trophy finalist: “Without a doubt. Without a doubt. I said it in here in my Monday press conference last year that I thought he was the best player in the country. And certainly I don’t watch everybody all the time and I know there’s some guys playing some exceptional football, but he absolutely should be in New York because you’d be hard pressed to find a more talented guy than him.”

On moving on from last week: “Like most, you’re constantly learning. That’s why you can never just put one on the shelf. You learn with every opportunity and I think or players, our football IQ is improving, but it needs to be higher. That’s what we constantly try to emphasize and watch on film and just continue to grow and understand all situations. Again, you hear me talk about it, the game is difficult sometimes when you play people. The matchups are tough. You understand the conflict you’re in. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some one-on-one battles. You understand that, but then there’s some things you can’t take a step back on with football IQ and understanding a lot of different situations and that’s where the teaching and the coaching just never stops.”

On Benny Snell and yards after contact: “I saw a lot of tough yards. I really did. You have to admire how hard he’s run the football. He ran the ball and he’s been running the ball like those yards are personal to him and I appreciate that about Benny. He’s been getting some tough yards. And he’ll be the first one to tell you that obviously he’s getting some good o-line play and tight end play and so on, but he’s also running exceptionally hard.”

On recapturing some momentum going into offseason: “It’s important. Again, the last game of the year is important against our rivals. Today, yesterday, they’re long days, long weeks after a loss. Nobody likes to lose and the fact that there’s a long time between our bowl game and this game, it’s important. It’s important to our fan base. Again, y’all have heard me say that every time I’ve spoke to you since I’ve arrived on campus. I didn’t deny that this is an important game.”

On Thanksgiving week for football: “Yeah, we’ve kind of had the same routine for a while. Normal Monday, normal Tuesday, then Wednesday our players go to our coaches’ house each position coach for Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night and spend time with their families and then Thursday after we’re done with practice, we have a big Thanksgiving dinner together as a team and a coaching staff. Then they’ll get done a bit earlier than normal on that Thursday and then they can go home and sleep it off or they can go back to one of their coaches’ houses and eat again. Good news is we come back Friday and have a run through so we can run some of that off.”

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