Jen Smith on UK Football

‘We’ll have our hands full.’ Everything Stoops had to say about UK’s trip to Florida. And the streak.

MARK STOOPS

“I thought we did some good things. After watching the film I was really proud of a lot of things we did this past Saturday. It’s always good getting the opener under your belt and getting that victory. It’ll make it much easier to be hard on our players this week about certain aspects of the game that we need to clean up and get better. Looking forward to this week’s challenge going down to the Swamp and first SEC game and division opponent. We have a lot of work to do. I was pleased with many of the guys efforts this past Saturday. There’s quite a few things we need to get cleaned up.”

On what he thought of the quarterbacks Saturday: “Both guys did some really good things. Both did some things that you would expect for their first time playing. I really enjoy having both guys. I’ve talked about that all camp. They both did some very good things. Again, I appreciate Gunnar stepping in a difficult situation and making some plays and putting it in the end zone. That was really important for us at that point to go in leading after giving up four turnovers in the first half. That doesn’t happen very often. That was a big touchdown for him and really sparked us. It was also good to get Terry back in the second half and to play well.”

On the defensive performance: “I was really pleased defensively. I felt there was a couple situations that are easily corrected. We need to get those corrected. One of the scores that led to one of their longer pass plays of the day really should’ve been a short gain. We need to get that tidied up a little bit and leverage the ball, make the tackle. They’re punting or going for it on fourth or whatever. I’m not exactly sure the placement, what yard line they were on. But that one is a play that sticks out. Also the penalty, as I mentioned after the game, that extended that drive. We’re off the field there. Both scoring drives we had opportunities to get off the field and tidy up a few things and we’re there. But overall their effort was very good. I thought we were very sharp in our communication. I thought our tackling was pretty strong for the first game. Overall pleased.”

On how Kash Daniel handled everything he was responsible for: “Kash played like he’s been playing. To me, he didn’t stick out like a first time starter. I haven’t looked at him that way because he’s been playing like that all spring, all camp. Really didn’t look at him as a first time starter until you pointed that out to me right there. Because he’s just a guy that’s been around, been in our system and working hard. Another great example of a guy that had to earn his way on the field. Keep on working, got himself better and now is playing at a very good level.”

On how left tackles performed: “They did a good job. The one that sticks out to everybody, Naasir gave up the pressure and the hold early. After that I thought they both did some very good things. Both, as you would expect, fundamentally need to get better. Because as our competition steps up and this week the little things will catch up to you. But their effort was good. Their assignments were pretty spot on. Couple here or there, but they played winning football. We just got to get some technique things cleaned up with them as we face better players.”

On any lingering injuries: “No, we’re in good shape. We came out of there in pretty good shape with injuries.”

On his thoughts on Florida: “Very good. Only having one game with Coach Mullen being there, obviously we go back and study Mississippi State quite a bit and been watching a lot of that. With the opponent they opened with they didn’t have to tip off too much of what they’re gonna do. But we don’t expect them to vary very much from what he did at Mississippi State. We’ll be prepared for all that. We broke them down in the offseason.

They’re a good football team just like you’d expect a Florida team to be. They’ve got some difference makers on defense, at all levels of their defense. They have some disruptors up front. Their linebacker is a really good player. Their secondary, shoot I think they gave up three yards. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. That’s pretty good. They’ve got some very good players. Offensively, doing some good things just like you’d expect from a Florida team. You’ve got some speed at wide receiver. Very good running backs. Their quarterback played really good this past week. We’ll have our hands full.”

On what surprised him about AJ Rose: “It didn’t really surprise me. I had been seeing that. As we’ve talked in here many times, he’s been more consistent. He’s been playing that way. He has the talent. Once again, we have to clean up a few issues. He gave up a pressure that we believe was going to lead to a very, very big play. Those are things that this past week, this last game we felt like there were five opportunities for big plays. We gave up a bit of pressure here, different guy every time. It wasn’t like just the offensive line or just the running backs. Overall they did some very good things. But when we have an opportunity to make some big plays we were given up just — we need just a fraction more protection and we have an opportunity for some big plays. AJ was one of them.”

On AJ and Benny’s relationship: “They are very close. That’s a lot like our team right now. I think that was evident with those two. Benny certainly helping him. As I’ve mentioned about AJ is just him looking himself in the mirror and improving on any of his weaknesses. He has the talent and he’s playing very good football. He’s playing better and better. The protection things well come with some playing time as well. I think also, to your point, I think the team is a lot like that. I think there was zero panic on the sidelines Saturday. No finger pointing. Everybody is just going to move on to the next play. That’s what the team did. I was very pleased with that.”

On the hardest adjustment in pass protection for new players: “Yeah, one of the pressures that we got cleaned up, at first glance really looked like (AJ’s) but really went to one of our tight ends. Getting that communication straight with different looks and with movement. If you remember last year, early on, the nuances we were struggling a bit in the run game. The communication and even with some protection, this year was much cleaner in that way. So we’re still further ahead even with the young left tackles. But there’s some things on protection that we’ll get sealed up. There’s going to obviously be a lot of one-on-one situations that we have to win throughout the year that are tough matchups with very talented players, but there’s also some protection things that we can just get cleaner. So, one of them was that way with a communication between a tight end and a back. Another one was just I’d say the speed and the physicality of the guys coming at him is much different that he’s been used to outside of practice. And we don’t ever truly go full-go where they can cut and things like that, so it’s just the speed of the game. He’ll be fine.”

On if he senses a different vibe around Florid program with Dan Mullen: “I would have no idea. I don’t pay attention to what’s being said down there outside of this week with injuries and things. I watched the film and look like a very good football team. It doesn’t surprise me. Dan’s a very good coach.”

On Feleipe Franks: “He just looked much more comfortable. I think they gave him just enough reads and quarterback runs where he was comfortable in his decisions. Threw some very accurate passes. He’s got some good weapons to throw it to, so he just looked like a year older. Very comfortable.”

On if players can understand the significance of ending the streak: “I think I never dance around that question. It is important to us for that reason, but we can’t focus on it for that reason. We need to focus on it because it’s this year. It’s an SEC team, it’s in the East and we want to win some football games. They’re next on the schedule, and that’s truthfully what it is about. These guys cannot worry about 30-some years and all that. They really can’t. Winning is important to our team each and every week, and that’s the approach we’ll have.”

On if he will talk about last year at all: “Well, yeah you really don’t go back to last year because it’s a new staff. Obviously we’ll watch the film. We’ll go back to last year and Mississippi State, and we’ll watch quite a bit of that.”

On if team draws confidence from playing Florida close: “I really don’t ever really dance around that. Like I said, it is what it is. Our players read and they understand what’s going on. I could tell them to stay off social media and reading articles, but that’s not going to be the case. So, again, our concentration needs to be on what we have to do this year. Once again, when I’m back up here in several weeks and you’re asking me about the South Carolina (winning streak), I’m going to say that means absolutely nothing to me, last year. So why in the reverse should it really matter? It’s about what we do this year, how we play, how we prepare, are we making plays at the right times and those things.”

On if he expects to have a shorter leash with QBs: “No, if you’ve watched me, if you’ve covered me for the years I’ve been here I really don’t believe in having a short leash for a quarterback. Again, within reason. I’m not going to sit here and tell you how everything is going to play out, because I don’t know.”

On if he expects growth in QBs from game one to game two: “I do. I do. I think there’s some things that are easy fixes, but there are that are going to be a work in progress. We have to get on that quickly. The last time we broke in a new quarterback two years ago, our turnovers were up and last year Stephen did a great job and our team did a great job and our turnovers were really down outside of the one game where it go contagious. That can’t happen again. I know we’ll concentrate on protecting the football.”

On what he saw from DL: “I felt like we played quite a few guys, kept them fresh. I think in the first game some of that popped up. I thought our team was in really good condition. If you watch games and at all this weekend it’s hot and guys are cramping up. I felt like our team was really strong and in good condition. It does help to have some depth at defensive line in particular. So those guys, I thought did some good things, we were able to go deep. We’re looking for some impact plays, but if nothing else the defense was very, very sound and everybody was taking care of their primary responsibilities. We got a chance when you do that.”

On Bouvier’s decision-making with punt returns: “I thought he did a good job. Like I said, early in the game there were some really difficult punts to field. Later, there were some equally difficult punts and he did a good job of securing those for us. Obviously he put one on the ground later too, and that’s what I talked to him about on the field and again today I’ll talk to him about it: At that point, he did a great job, he saved us yards by fielding it. Get what he can and get down and not try to do too much. He probably already saved maybe 15 yards in hidden yardage right there by fielding that ball, so at that point we’ve got to be aware and get down. Take what you can get and get down. We’ll work on that, but that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that kid put the ball on the ground, so he’ll be fine.

“But I thought our special teams really did a great job. I want to say we gained in the neighborhood of 60-some odd yards in special teams in hidden yardage. That’s a big factor. We’re looking for plus-15, so that was significant.”

On if anyone stood out he wasn’t sure about going into opener: “Well, I think you have to go to the left tackles because they had a lot of pressure on them. I was really proud with the way they played. We expected them to do that and we expect them to get better, but they played winning football and they had a great attitude.”

On if E.J. Price has grown since briefly quitting the team in spring practice: “Yeah, he is. He is. He’s just doing a very good job. Yeah, it’s hard for those guys. People go through things, and he’s gone through a lot. He’s come through it. You take away somebody’s hope and you take away everything. So, I think getting on the field and having some positive things happen to him, he’s been good.”

On if there’s any way to prepare guys for the swamp: “Is there anything you can do? No, no, nope. We prepare. The things we coach them to do and concentrate on their assignments and little things. That’s not a cliché. You know I’m not a big cliché guy, but it’s very, very true if you do the little things right over and over and over big things will happen. We have some unbelievable clips of this past game where if we just do the little things, big plays were going to happen instead of negative ones. So, that’s the beauty of having this film and getting it corrected and getting on with it. No, when you’re in that environment you have to embrace it, but you have to concentrate on what you have to do.”

On recruiting in state of Florida: “I was at three schools down there. I coached at South Florida, Florida State and Miami, so I’ve been there for years and a lot of good players. What’s it like? There’s just a lot of players playing football. They’re outside working. Some good players, good coaches, good programs.”

On the Nick Saban comment controversies and how Stoops doesn’t react poorly to those types of questions: “Well I don’t think I can get after you like he can. I could but I don’t know how that’s going to go over. I know seven days later, I’ll have a big bull’s-eye on my chest. But I did relate to the remark. I thought it was very poignant in that I don’t want to talk anything negative on any of our guys, including Danny (Clark). So people try to get you to ask what one guy’s doing, it’s insinuating that the other one’s not doing that. So I can relate to that and just want to be very positive about our guys. And what better example than this past Saturday for us? With the way Gunnar went in. Again, that’s a very big moment. It’s a great teaching moment for our team and for our young guys because he could’ve gone in the tank or moped or cried or complained or pointed fingers, but he just worried about himself and preparing and went in in a difficult situation and performed. So I’m proud of that.”

On common themes with the turnovers: “Interceptions are going to happen. Fumbles we have to avoid. Benny took a shot right on the football. He had it tucked. So he was carrying the ball the way we teach it. He just took a really good shot right on the football. We got that one back, but just being loose with it. We’ll emphasize that again, but we’re not going to panic about it. Like I said, we have to get it under control, again from our experience you go back two years, if we turn the ball over like we did that year, then the results are not going to be very good.”

On Central Michigan, turnovers and if that showed up on film they watched: “They did a much better job, some of their ball carriers from the year before, we were watching them and they were loose with the ball and we emphasized that to our defensive guys. They did make some improvement in that area. You know what? I can go back years, heck, I think my first year here. Was it first or second? Jen you’d probably know. First or second year we led the country in fumble recovery. Now were we really that physical? Or were we fortunate? Let’s be honest.”

On if turnovers are luck a lot of time: “That’s what I’m saying. We led the country in or one of you can look it up and correct me, but we were very, very high in fumble recoveries and believe me we were not that physical of a team. We were fortunate to get the ball. When the ball’s down there, at that point, it’s 50-50.”

On UK’s response to turnovers against Central Michigan: “Offensively? You talking about defensively? Yeah, I thought the defense did a great job of holding us in games when we were turning it over because four fumbles in the first half. We had 10 points, defense wasn’t on the field for seven and held them to zero yards and a field goal on another. So I think that was really big, but also having each other’s back, yes. Then the offense coming back and putting points on the board, keeping the energy and went into halftime, and again, no panic, make the corrections. And again, I thought we played a very good second half.”

On if he likes playing coaches over and over or going against new schemes, coaches: “Yeah, I guess so. You know how it is with me. It is what it is. I don’t dwell on it or worry about it one way or another. Just approach each situation with what it is. They’re good coaches, but we know we just have to continue to do our job and concentrate on what we’re doing. We don’t worry too much about what others do other than the games and plan it and try to get the ball moved or stop them. They’re good coaches and we have a lot of respect for them.”

On taking crowd out of game in 2014 and if he talks to players about that part: “We do, but we more worry about us. And so if you’re going to use history as an example, the last time we went down there, we didn’t start very fast and we didn’t start very good on Saturday. So I think that’s one point football-wise we’ll communicate right away is getting a fast start because you do let it get away from you and let the fans get involved and let them get aggressive on both sides of the ball, then things can get out of hand real quick. You see that in a lot of those environments, if you watch some of these places, when the fans are going to explode, you can’t give them that opportunity. So I think getting off to a fast start is important.”

On percentage chances when getting off to a fast start: “I don’t know whether that would change the percentages or not, but your other point about running the ball is definitely a factor. As I’ve mentioned many times, the teams that outrush are going to have a higher percentage of winning. It’s not guaranteed but it’s important. But you’re also playing a very physical team. So you’ve got to have some balance. So I think if you just look at last year’s game against Florida personnel-wise, you talked about that, the scheme, but just personnel wise, I thought coached did a really good job of keeping them off balance early, on early downs.”

On DeAndre Square in first game: “He did very good for his first game, a lot like we had been seeing him. We really wanted to get Chris (Oats) some more reps, but DeAndre is doing some good things.”

On if anyone else on offensive line caught his eye other than left tackle: “George Asafo played extremely good. He had a really good game. George has been a solid player as you know for years. He was named a captain by his teammates and went out and played a very good game.”

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