Jen Smith on UK Football

Kentucky’s coach prepping team for a ‘very hungry’ Vanderbilt on Saturday

MARK STOOPS

“OK, excited about getting back to work this week and getting into a game week. Thought we had a very good bye week. Used it to heal up a bit, get some rest and get a jump on Vandy, continue to build on some of the things we’re doing well and work on some areas that need improvement. Excited about this opportunity here this week against Vandy.”

On who benefited most from the bye week from a health standpoint: “I don’t know. Obviously Drake Jackson, he’s a guy that needed it after the A&M game. It would’ve been hard for him to play this Saturday. He’s one that jumps out, but there’s quite a few guys that are banged up as you can imagine halfway through the season. Naasir (Watkins) is getting better. That’s good. He has a chance — I said last week that I didn’t think we’d have him this week, but I think there’s a good chance we’ll have him available here this Saturday. That’ll be good for him as well.”

On if he watched football on Saturday: “I did. I watched some. It was a wild weekend, that’s for sure. But it was good. It was good to sit there and be stress free for a day (laughter). I really enjoyed that.”

On watching other coaches stress: “Yeah, exactly. It was good to sit back and watch other people. But that’s the one day we get to do that. Our staff, they needed it. Our guys have about one day off from mid-July to December 21st. That was Saturday. Better make the most of it.”

On if he watched the Vandy-Florida game: “I watched a good piece of that. I was with my son and a bunch of his friends for a birthday party with him. In between that stress (laughter) I was watching some of that.”



On what impresses him about Vanderbilt: “Vandy is a team that’s really well coached. I have a lot of respect for Derek and what he does and how he coaches. You see a team that’s very hungry, that plays very hard. Well coached. They’re just looking for that breakthrough. They had a great opportunity to beat Notre Dame and then had a great opportunity against Florida. Two very, very good football teams. You see what they’re capable of. Vandy is a good team. They’re hungry. They play hard. We’re going to have to play very good football. You know that’s my message every week. It’s about us and what we do and how we prepare and how we respect the game in our preparation, no matter who we’re playing. It starts today with having a very good Monday.”

On if he lets himself look at the SEC East standings yet: “No. The team is going to hear that today. With the bye being at the six week point, right in the middle of the season, we’re going to be one week at a time. We know that. I’ve said that all year. We’re going to try to go 1-0. We’re going to try to win this week and put ourselves in a position to win this week. We have six one-week seasons left.”

On if he heard John Calipari talking about the football program during basketball media day: “I heard bits and pieces. Of course I have a great relationship with Cal. I could joke about it because how many questions do I field about that (laughter). But I always appreciate his support. He’s always been good. We have a great relationship. He’s always supportive and helpful and vice versa.”

On if Calipari has been giving him advice: “He’s getting excited about the things in the future and I’m like ‘hey coach, one game at a time.’ (laughter).”

On tightening up the wide receiver spot on the depth chart: “Akeem (Hayes) got hurt. He got hurt a little bit there. Clevan is redshirting and Akeem got hurt. That made us explore Tavin inside, which is fine. It’ll give Josh (Ali) some opportunities outside, and possibly looking at some more roles for Zy’Aire (Hughes) like we had talked about. Tavin’s good inside, and you got Bouvier and Lynn in there. So the three of them will handle the inside position, along with Tavin playing some outside.”

On worries about tailing off in the second half of the season: “I don’t look at — I look at last year’s game immediately after the bye week. I did look at that. And look at the science behind that, the sports science behind what we did. So yes, I am making some changes there. There’s some things that were brought to my attention with how we played and what we did rep wise, and things like that. As far as the rest of the season, we’re going to do what we do. We’ve had some strong finishes, too. You forgot to mention that.”

On Josh Paschal: “Josh is doing good. He’s doing very, very good. We’re very encouraged by Josh, his recovery and what he’s doing. So maybe I’ll have a nice smile on my face and good update here in the next couple of weeks. We’ll see, but he’s getting better. The procedure that was done to his foot is healing. And that’s what he’s dealing with right now. But he is doing some light running. He is progressing with some body weight stuff right now.”

On if the outside receivers are running good routes: “I think they’re like much of the team — there’s things they could do better. So I don’t want to single them out and cast any blame on them. There’s a lot of things and a lot of people who could do things better. We’re all in this together and they’re a piece of that.”

On reevaluating Terry’s performance during the A&M game: “Terry will learn from that experience, and he’ll get better. And we all, once again, are going to look at what we can do to put him in a position to be better and what the players around him can do better. We can coach better. There’s room for improvement for all of us, and he’s not immune from that. He certainly did somethings in that game that needs corrected, that maybe he will get corrected.”

On coaches being reluctant to pull a quarterback because of the fear of hurting their confidence: “I think to say that the quarterback position is not different than the other positions, is in my opinion simply not true. It is different. As far as me worrying about him and his confidence with any of that, I have no concerns with that with him. That’s just how Terry’s built. He may make mistakes but he will really not get rattled. He’ll learn from it, he’ll grow, he’ll get better. That’s just the confidence that I have in him. But it is different. We talk about it more often. We’re always talking about who’s starting, because it’s different. I told you earlier in the year, I believe that. I just don’t believe in having a quick trigger and pulling somebody there once you make your decision. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have some opportunities this season with quarterbacks. You don’t know how things are going to play out.”

On Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn: “He’s explosive. He is extremely fast. He’s a guy that, he’s just a good player. He really is. He’s really fast and explosive. I talked to a few people that played him and they said as fast as he looks on film, he’s faster in person. So that means, that you definitely could feel him on the field.”

On if Ke’Shawn Vaughn was on Stoops’ radar during recruiting: “Yeah, he was. He’s a good player.”

On if having veterans on the team helps the team not look ahead in the season: “It’s important, it’s very important. Our guys have been around, they have experience, they’ve been through this, they understand what’s in front of them and not to get – not to look too far ahead, and really we can’t look further ahead than Monday. We have had some work on Vandy and we did some good against good against last week as well just to play fast, but we did get a jump on them a bit, so we’re further along than a typical Monday and we should be able to go out there and play faster than we would on a typical Monday as well.”

On if his this Monday is different for him since they’re coming off a bye week: “It is. We will spend some more time looking at last week’s practices as well. Thursday’s practice, some of that film was cut early because of coaches going on the road recruiting, so we’ll watch a little, some of the practice film from last week.”

On if Stoops spends time looking back at the first half or spends time looking ahead of the season on the bye week: “Both, about equal. We spent a significant amount of time doing a self-scout, yes. Things that we did during this year, trying to look at what opponents are looking at, how predictable we are. Defensively we’ll look calls we’re making on first, second down and what they’re seeing, things that are hurting us, areas where we could improve. Same thing offensively. Again, I’ve said it over and over, it’s true, continuing to build on who we are and the good things we’re doing and then continue to try to find the answers or ways to be creative, to create some plays. We did a good amount of self-scout and then we did very slight implementation. May do some new things and things that we do have — a way of things that we could look at that we could possibly build into the future of this season. It’s harder to just put every — you can’t do that to your kids. You have to put them in position where they’re comfortable and play it fast. There’s always new wrinkles, but we can’t put it in all at once.”

On if anything surprised him when he did the selfscout: “I think there was some really good things in there, I’m pleased with some areas. Certainly if you look at it from going into this season, there was some improvement in certain areas, yes. Again, you’re never satisfied. You’re always looking for ways that you can do things better and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

On if he saw Za’Darius Smith’s three-sack game. “Just a bit. Just shot him a text this morning and congratulated him. He’s had a really good year, great game. Just saw some highlights.”

On how he’s seen Smith develop since he coached him. “He’s a great example of a guy that just comes in and just – he’s a real man about things. He just came in with a mission. He came in from junior college on a mission to improve every day, a lot like Josh Allen if we talk about Josh and many others, I don’t mean to single them out. He’s there to get better each every day and he practiced like that when he was here, he’s gotten better you can tell in the NFL and he’s having a great career. Just proud of him and the way he handles his business. You can tell, I talk to him often and you can tell he’s a pro. The way he’s taking care of his body, the way he’s developing, he looks huge. He’s playing very fast and playing good. Just happy for him. Same thing with Bud (Dupree) really Avery (Williamson). Avery is having a heck of a year as well, a lot of our guys playing very good in the NFL this year. I don’t really watch a lot of NFL to be honest with you, we’re working on Sunday’s but you do try to catch a bit here and there.”

On if the success of Smith, Dupree and Allen help recruit the edge rusher positions: “It does. It should. Those guys have been very, very productive here. So, it helps.”

On who other than Allen is playing well on defense: “You know, the group is playing well, and it would be hard for me to single out certain guys. I think it’s obvious some guys have gotten attention. A lot of the secondary, all five of those guys are playing well. Darius (West) has had a lot of production. Mike Edwards plays so hard, he’s so knowledgeable, he’s seen so many things. He’s so instinctual. The corners are covering well. They’re playing good as a group. The inside backers have played well. The d-line by committee, we’re playing quite a few guys on the defensive line. They’re staying fresh, they’re staying healthy. There’s a bunch of guys playing there. The outside backers are playing an awful lot of snaps. Josh is awfully hard to take off the field. He’s so productive he doesn’t want to come out. He’s in such great shape. Then Jamar (Watson) has really come on and played well the past couple games.”

On if it’s gratifying to see DBs live up to their early hype: “I’m just happy for them. I think they really got to a point. We played so many of them as true freshmen as well. That was something where you just wish you didn’t have to do that all the time unless they were completely ready, because I’d certainly like to have a couple of them back, Chris (Westry) and Derrick (Baity) have them back for another year and see what they can do because they have a lot of upside to them still. But I’ve been happy for the group. I think they’ve worked extremely hard and have just matured and have seen a lot of football.”

On midseason All-American honors for Josh Allen and Bunchy Stallings but not for Benny Snell: “Just pleased. I didn’t really know that or pay much attention to that. Again, if the team has success the individual accolades will be there at the end of the year. I’m sure they’re really not worried about that. They’re worried about playing good and they’re worried about playing good for their team and helping their team win games. But that really doesn’t matter halfway through the season to us. I’ve mentioned it before: I’m very proud of the way those guys are playing individually, but I could go on and on.

“Josh has played — I think he’s the most dominant player that I’ve seen. Of course I don’t see everybody, but he’s been one of the most dominant defensive players in the game this year. And Bunchy has had the individual recognition as he deserves, SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice. Kind of anchors that group. It shows his versatility jumping in and playing so well at center. He’s extremely athletic and he’s been a great leader, so I’m very happy for him and what he’s doing. Of course Benny is rock steady every week. You know what you’re going to get, and we need him to have a strong game here this week.”

On if a bowl game counts toward the four games for a redshirt: “Yes. You can play in the bowl game as one of your four.”

On why Darius West is so respected by his teammates: “I mentioned this briefly last week: I just think with Darius, he’s kind of one of those guys that when he talks kind of people listen to him. He doesn’t talk all the time, and when he speaks he has an edge about him and an attitude. So, they’re probably downright frightened when he gets serious and he gets that edge about him and that competitiveness comes out of him. I’m proud of him in that he has redirected a lot of his energy to a positive way this year where he’s been very mature in his preparation and kind of fighting through moody days or down days and been more consistent. It’s showing up on the field. I think his teammates know that. He has an impact about him. He has a physicality and a suddenness about him where he can make some explosive plays. He’s very twitched up. He can thump you.”

On how West’s perseverance in coming back from leg injuries affects that respect level: I definitely think so. Definitely think that was a big piece of it for him even mentally last year coming out of that, coming through that because he has such competitiveness in him. He had to fight through some of that and just that fear, just wanting to stay healthy and wanting to just get out there and play. And that’s what I’ve always said about him, he just needs to play, just needs the reps, just needs to see it. It’s hard to simulate all that that goes on in a game in these practices.”

On timeline of early signing period compared to last season: “Yeah, we’ve modified it a bit. It’s always different year to year. It’s always different individually with what the kids want. With the early signing period — last year being the first year — we had a lot of kids committed and we still kind of wanted to spend time with them in December because they could come in and watch bowl practice. We could spend 48 hours with them and when they come in in season, and we play a night game, I’m walking out of here — you guys keep me in here 12 and then I gotta go do radio and TV, so you get out of here so late, it’s hard to spend time with the families to really get to know them, make sense? But so last year we tried to do that and had a great December weekend and I think it worked out well so close to signing period, but I think as you go through here, too, I think things are moving up. It can’t help but change the calendar on their commitments and when they’re committing and when they’re taking their visits and all that. So you’re seeing more and more early visits. We’ve had more. I’d say — I’d have to check with our guys — we’ve had more official visits, but I’d still say we have 50 percent of our visits more left to bring in at a later time.”

On if the pitch is any different now: “No, I don’t think that really changes much, just so if a player really is interested in making an early decision, then you better get your visit in because you don’t want to miss on an opportunity. That’s where to me it goes on an individual basis for each individual recruit and where they’re at and when they’re going to make their decision. A lot of our kids can get here unofficially and that’s good because they come in for a game and it’s a quick weekend. So if they do that to come spend time with us, it’s really nice because later we can spend that two full days in December and bring them up and really spend some quality time with them and for them to get to know us. Just individually. But it is different. It’s along-winded version of saying, ‘Yes, it’s different.’”

On if he sees situations where Chris Oats and Kash Daniel could both be on field together: “Yeah, we can. Well see how it goes. Jordan’s really playing well and staying healthy, which is really nice to see with Jordan for the most part. So we’ll see, but we can rotate them as well because Kash is one of those guys. Kash plays physical and he gets banged up as well and Chris is really doing some good things. You always see DeAndre (Square) in there as well to spell Jordan and get some reps. I think it’s just important for the development of your team as well when a guy’s playing good. There’s been times you’ve been so afraid to rotate guys because there’s such a significant drop. You’re not seeing that as much and I’m constantly, obviously, you’re here to win every game and worry about this week, but you’re also worried about the development of your team and where you’re going next year.”

On trends in costly punt returns at Texas A&M: “Yeah, just some of our angles and the way we’re pursuing to the football and getting in there and cutting it off. There are things we could do better and it’s been addressed. There’s also been things at the line of scrimmage, our releases and things we need to do better.”

On potential to use kicker Chance Poore: “Yeah, there’s an opportunity there. I’m not sure when or where, but yes, there’s an opportunity, yes.”

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