Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops on Kash Daniel’s suspension, Josh Allen’s play, UK injuries and more

MARK STOOPS

“Just to wrap up with last week, I was really pleased with the start of the game this past week. The team did some really good things. In particular that first half. As I mentioned after the game, there’s always opportunities that are left out there. We will focus on those things. Even early in that game, the first third down of the game, there’s a mental mistake. It’s a conversion. The next possession we could’ve got a clear touchdown, we get a procedure and another procedure, cost us four points right from the start. That’s where we talked about handling the situation.

“I think our players were very excited to play out home with a sellout crowd and play well for our fans and for ourselves. We really let the situation get the best of us a little bit in certain situations. It pops up a little bit with players trying to do too much too soon, instead of just playing the game. But then there were other parts that were just as good of football as we’ve played since I’ve been here. For a good portion of that first half we did some very good things. So I’m very pleased with a lot of things you can build off that. That first half in general there was some mistakes. We left four points on the board with the false starts and then the third down miscommunication early, where we felt we had a good play there as well. But then the rest of the first half, that was some really good football. Very, very proud of the team and their effort and how well we played there for a good stretch.

“Second half, again, everyone is talking about scoring. And that’s true, we definitely want to put our foot on the gas and continue to play well in that second half. But I thought the opening drive of the second half was a fantastic drive. We had them completely off-balance and really threw it, mixed up the run, running it and throwing it. You look back on it, if you take a six-minute drive and take three points right there, I think we’re all happy with that. We just missed the field goal. Miles (Butler) will make that the next time. We had the opportunity to get a little bit closer there as well. Even on the third down play, if Terry (Wilson) goes to his last option and just checks it down. Even if we don’t get the first down, we’re getting some more yards and putting it in a more manageable situation for the field goal. So I thought it was a very good drive.

“Then they come back and they hit the fluke play where Lonnie (Johnson) misplays the ball, and it gets tight there for a bit in the third quarter. But the way our defense was playing and the way our offense was controlling the ball, we almost felt like they could go back to that. It was a big piece of it. The long drives, I mentioned it after the game, just took up so much time. We needed to get some of those stops. We had an opportunity to get stops there and get off the field. Again, to wrap it up, I think there was a lot of good things and a lot of things that we could do better. And the team will be excited to see those things today and ready to improve.”

On if he left some things in the toolbox that he might have used ordinarily: “Well I don’t know about the toolbox. There’s always game plans for certain games. You’re constantly growing, adding a few things here and there, new wrinkles.

Update on Naasir Watkins: “He’ll be out for a while. Just like I thought, he’ll be out for several weeks.”

On if this type of play was what he had in mind when thinking about what this team could accomplish: “It was. I was really confident in that team in what we were doing, our approach and the way we’ve been going about our business. I knew we had some good players that were really working hard and focused, good leadership. My thoughts weren’t on record. My thoughts were on the preparation of where we were at through the summer and getting ready to go.”

On Josh Allen’s play and him coming back this year: “So happy for Josh and our football team. Josh made a very detailed decision. He put a lot of thought into it. He and I had many conversations. I gave him a lot of information. And he most definitely would be on an NFL roster this year. But he decided to come back and make a difference for the rest of his life. He’s playing some incredible football. Really, I know statements get blown up and get headlines so you have to be careful not to get crazy with it, but he is play some outstanding football, as good as I’ve seen. With all the things that he does and how versatile he is and how hard he’s playing and how dynamic he is. With his pass rushes and doing good in coverage, he’s just doing a lot of things good.”

On what went into his decision to come back: “No, I’m going to keep that between Josh and I. And just say he put a lot of thought into that. And there’s a lot of information, and I thought he was very mature in how he went about making his decision. So I’m happy that he’s playing the way he is for him personally.”

On the secondary: “Really pleased with the secondary. Really doing some good things. Really stepped up to the challenge and holding each other accountable. Competing at a high level. I thought the corners really played well again. The safeties did as well. All of them, across the board they’re doing some good things. Playing really hard, competing.”

On Darius West being a leader: “He definitely has a strong mentality and he has a great passion and desire to win. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that there’s things he’s focusing on to continue to play better. He’s got some opportunities to make some interceptions there in that game that he’ll make. He’s feeling good. I’m proud of him and pleased for him and the way he’s playing.”

On where West has improved the most: “Just experience. Just playing. Knowing the situations and experience and getting more reps.”

On if he knew Jimbo Fisher before being hired as defensive coordinator at FSU: “No, I did not know Jimbo at all. It was a weird scenario. We got in touch with each other and I went down there, I think my last game we got done playing at Arizona, we just beat USC at USC. Got on a plane the next morning to talk to him. Just went down and met him and his staff and talked with them for a day, day and a half. It worked out. Ended up having a real good stay there. I really enjoyed my time there.”

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops talks about how he first went to work as defensive coordinator for Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. The two coaches meet again Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, when Stoops and UK play Fisher and Texas A&M in College Station.

On his impressions of Jimbo: “Let me go back; we did know each other. But it wasn’t one of those guys where we just kept in contact all the time. I knew him from probably 15 years earlier, 20 maybe in the South Florida recruiting circuit, running into him down there. We did have some relationship. But when I went to work for him, he was a guy that really, for being a first time head coach was really, extremely organized. Very, very talented with what he was doing.”

On if he took Fisher to a UK basketball game: “I didn’t bring him. He came but we met up here. He had a mutual friend, I think with him and Coach Cal.”

On what he learned from Fisher: “There’s many things. I can’t get into the specifics but absolutely. I talked about that for years. This is the first time we’ve played each other but you guys have heard me talk about him and credit him back for a lot of things for every year I’ve been here. I’ve learned different things from him and there’s no question.”

On having him on the opposing sidelines: “It won’t be any different really. I get fond memories, like I told you before, going back to practices because they were intense and fun sometimes, competing with him. I have really good memories of coaching under him. I say that because clearly it’s not easy. There’s some hard times. I was there from day one when he took that job over. Believe me, it’s tough going through that. A lot of tough, competitive days and long hours and steady grind, but I look back at it with fond memories and learned a lot.”

On if it’s strange preparing for a conference opponent they haven’t faced in six years: “Yeah, it’s a little different. You always get some crossover once in a while, but A&M, definitely for me is definitely new and fresh. Definitely not very familiar with them. It’s no different than playing a non-conference opponent though. You just look at it and we attack every week and just look at it and see what we’re going to do and little tweaks. What we do is what we do for the most part. We’ve just got to apply it to their offense. I’ll say this, he has a lot of offense. He can be very multiple and go a lot of different directions.”

On if he sees the wrinkles he expects when watching A&M: “Some things, but we all evolve and change. There’s some things, and again, I respect his mentality of how he goes about calling plays and the way he attacks defenses and the way he coordinates.”

On how useful it is to have someone like Eddie Gran who has been under Jimbo to help this week: “I don’t think any of it really matters. The fact I was under him doesn’t really help either. We’re new. It’s been years ago. Everyone evolves. We’re much different than I was defensively. Yeah, we’re very different defensively from when I was there.”

On if they can appeal Kash’s suspension: “No. I didn’t even think about it. I support the call. I have to because, again, the way the rule reads, and I didn’t even question it at all, if it’s called on the field and they review it, if there is any contact at all with the facemask then it’s going to be upheld. I support the call.”

On how the young players stepped in for Daniel: “They played well. They did some good things. Chris (Oats) will get another opportunity this week and Jamin will get some reps as well. Chris and Jamin will play the mike. I’m excited to watch them play. Just like with an injury, we never want to see that. Don’t want to see our guys getting ejected and disqualified for a half either, but with that being said, it always gives the next man an opportunity to go in there and see what he can do.”

On coaching up those freshmen on the road: “Oh yeah, there’ll be a lot of coaching up (laughter). How do you get them prepared for Kyle Field? Good luck simulating that.”

On what he expects from a Jimbo Fisher-coached team: “In general, I expect to see a well-coached, tough, hard-nosed football team. That’s Jimbo. Jimbo is very detailed, but he’s tough and hard-nosed and his teams usually reflect that.”

On if South Carolina did something to make it harder to run the ball in the second half: “A little bit of both. When you get off schedule, things change a little bit. The first drive (of third quarter) was phenomenal. Then you come back and you credit them. They definitely won some one-on-ones where we won in the first half. That’s part of it. There’s things that we can do better. There’s some execution issues, holds, there were some missed assignments, things that we can clean up.”

On if he can still use the chip on the shoulder with UK climbing polls: “No, we don’t need that. We didn’t need it last week. We knew South Carolina was going to be a hungry football team. They’re a good, well-coached team that we had beaten for several years. You knew they were going to come in with an attitude and an edge, and we didn’t need any extra motivation last week. We needed to play a little bit cleaner football and we could have put that game away a lot earlier than we did. It’s going to be the same way this week. We have great respect for A&M and Jimbo, as I just mentioned, and playing in that environment. It’s gonna be a real challenge for our players, but we don’t need any extra motivation. We want to try to get a win. We’ve got to be able to handle that situation, handle that environment, handle the fact that it’s a big game on national TV and then we’ve got to get down to executing and playing good football.”

On if he still thinks Watkins’ injury is not major and what he’s seen from Darian Kinnard: “I’d mentioned it. It is what I thought after the game. It’s going to be several weeks. However many, I don’t know right now, but he’ll be out for awhile. Darian will fill in, and he’ll backup both tackles to start with. We’ve been real close to playing Darian anyway. Again, when he gets an opportunity to go in there and play, we’ll be excited to see how he does.”

On if Kinnard has played yet: “He has not played in all four (games) yet. Yes, he has (played). Yeah.”

On Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond: “Good player that’s getting better with every opportunity. Still a young guy, but he’s getting better. Has played a lot. Good dual-threat guy. Always puts pressure on you. He’s getting better and better every week.”

On how Terry Wilson has progressed this season: “Just, again, just comfort level with the offense, what we’re trying to do. He’s managing the games very well. He stood in the pocket and threw some good footballs, and then there’s time when he had the time to maybe go back to one more. So, it’s like any quarterback, until you get in there and get those game reps it’s hard to simulate all that, but he’s doing some really good things and he’s really managing the game well.”

On comparing Benny Snell and Trayveon Williams: “They’re just both very good backs. Every back has their own little unique style or maybe one guy may be fast or physical. But these two are just very good football players. They’re both competitive as heck, and both of them can hurt you. You better play great team defense against both of these guys.”

On if he expects teams to try to take away Wilson’s running ability to force him to throw: “I mean, I’ve told you, you can’t get more people than they’ve put in the box against us. They always are going to load up the box. They have to. They’re always going to load up the box against us.”

On if playing at Florida will help prepare for environment this week: “It’s a new situation, a new week. Again, how are we going to handle that? I expect our team to have a really good focus this week and ready to get back to work. That’s been the attitude of this team that they’re always learning and growing and they’re not satisfied with what we’ve done. We’ve got to continue to stay hungry but stay hungry in that preparation. Like I said, I felt like we missed a day or two last week and that’s a missed opportunity and we can’t do that. I think they understand that. They’ll be back and focused and ready to go this week.”

On if Sihiem King will still practice in case he’s needed: “Yeah, he is. Yeah, he will, but we’ll go to other options before we go to that.”

On saying Kentucky could play a lot better: “There’s no question. We expect to, and I think our players know that and understand that. We left a lot out there. Again, with every opportunity you learn from it. Again, going back and playing at home and having an opportunity to get a fifth win, a sellout crowd, how are you going to play? They were excited, but we could handle certain situations better just starting with got the ball on the 1-yard line. About to roll in there to go up 7-0 and have two false starts. That in itself is not acceptable.”

On satisfaction of fans buying in and believing: “Well, greatly appreciate that and rightfully so because the team has proven that. That’s what we needed to do. I’ve always accepted that. The team needs to play how they’ve done that. They’ve always been a hard-nosed, tough, disciplined football team and competing as hard as they can. I think if you’re a fan, you can always respect that. We’re going to continue to try and do that and play that way. We greatly appreciate the support. I failed to mention that — I did the week before — but I forgot to mention that first thing in my press conference, but that was a fantastic environment. And again, thanks for that support because it makes a difference. That was nice to play on a beautiful night and have a sellout and have everybody enjoy themselves.”

On if he’s rethinking his kicker plan with Chance Poore after misses by Miles Butler: “Well, I haven’t been rethinking it, but the plan is you still have four games right now, so that’s the nice thing. We’ll see if those opportunities pop up. But Miles, we have a lot of confidence in Miles, he’s going to do a good job but we still have that opportunity on some longer field goals to use Chance, yes.”

On if he worries about putting Poore in cold at a clutch moment in future: “I’m just trying to pocket those four games right now. We put a lot of pressure on him in practice and he works all the time. We expect him to step in and hit that 55-yarder for a game winner. No problem. That’s why we recruited him.”

On Calvin Taylor’s development: “He’s gotten better every year. It’s really nice to see because players get down on themselves, they get disappointed and they all want to play. There’s a guy that’s taken years to develop himself and when he goes into a game, how are you going to play? It’s just a matter of playing, it’s going into a game and playing well. He’s really worked hard and is maximizing his ability by the way he’s approaching the game and the way he’s working. It’s taken years to develop him and he’s producing. So I’m very happy for him and I appreciate our coaches’ efforts on developing him.”

On if he’s ever coached a 6-foot-9 lineman who’s able to be that effective: “No, not that tall.”

On how Taylor gets his pads down: “Well, I mean, just practicing. Flexibiliy, he can bend. If he wasn’t athletic enough, he wouldn’t do it. So there’s a lot of times you see a guy like that and think he could end up at left tackle, but he’s athletic enough on the d-line. Don’t let the offensive tackles hear me say that.”

On how much defensive line improvement helps rest of defense: “Definitely. You’ve heard me say that for years and it’s a great point. It all goes hand and hand. There’s times when guys have been open and the d-line affects them. Certainly when it’s two-minute situation, predictable pass, things like that. When they have all day and they’re comfortable back there, they can pick you apart. So it all goes hand and hand.”

On what Josh Allen is going up against: “He’s double-teamed a lot and there’s certain things we can do to help free him up, help him get some one-on-ones, but again, in two-minute, predictable pass, they can chip him, they can put a tight end there, they can use a back, they can do a lot of things. They can slide the protection his way, give the tackle more help. And so they’re doing many things to (stop) him.”

On if Allen’s ability to be in coverage helps UK’s defense disguise some things: “It does. It’s hard to drop him in predictable pass. First, second down, it’s part of our defense. But it does open up zone blitzes and things like that, but most of the time, we like to let him go. We were a little undisciplined; our defensive line. Just as a whole, as a group, there’s some things we’ve got to tidy up. This game was one of the worst ones we’ve played all year as a group with just discipline in run gaps and trying to do too much. It’s not for a lack of effort. They really want to make plays, but the defensive line has to be a very unselfish group. They’ve been playing very good. We’ve all been bragging on them. That gets to you sometime. They might be out there making plays and we get a little undisciplined and again that’s not for poor intentions. Their hearts and their minds are in the right place, we just have to be more disciplined and we got a little fundamentally — we fundamentally didn’t play the game the way we thought we should — in this game from a defensive line standpoint.”

On Calvin Taylor and Josh Allen being late adds to their classes and how important those last players can be: “It’s very important and to your question earlier about Jimbo, I mentioned that before about Jimbo and I’ve (been) quoted before one of the things we’ve talked about: one through 15 is pretty darn important, but what are you going to do 15-20, the guys you add last to your class. And that’s a great example of it right there. That’s something Jimbo always talked about back then as well, just finishing it and getting the right fits and things, maybe some fliers and stuff like that.”

On if flexibility is just as important as size and strength: “It’s most important for defensive line to be able to bend and flexibility and have some twitch about them. (Taylor is) definitely different in that. He’s not exactly overly twitchy, but he makes up for it in his size and strength.”

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