Jen Smith on UK Football

‘We’re going to need to play our best football game of the year.’ UK aims for SEC East title.

Stoops: ‘We’re going to need to play our best football game of the year’ against Georgia

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about Saturday’s game against Georgia at Kroger Field in Lexington. The winner will represent the East Division in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about Saturday’s game against Georgia at Kroger Field in Lexington. The winner will represent the East Division in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta.

Everything University of Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops had to say during his news conference Monday looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Georgia:

Opening statement: “Once again, just as I mentioned Saturday night, just very, very proud of our football team finding a way to compete and to win. It’s really gratifying to see all three phases have to step up big late in that game to give us an opportunity to win. Says an awful lot about our team’s character, their heart and just sheer will and determination to find a way to win a football game. So, very proud of their effort and hopefully they’ll give us some momentum, give us a little boost of energy this week as we prepare for a very big game with Georgia. Just like always, we will embrace the good things that we did and look at those things on film and certainly get back and look at all the things that we need to do better and really focus and concentrate on those areas here this week and try to improve. We’re going to need to play our best football game of the year here this week against a very good Georgia team. We’re excited to get back to work today and look to improve for a big week.”

On if he embraces the magnitude of the game with the team or downplays it: “You can’t shy away from it. There’s too much information out there, they know what’s going on, and that’s OK. They’re allowed to be excited. You hear me talk about it all the time: Whatever they need to do to motivate them, that’s fine, but the preparation needs to stay the exact same and our approach. We’ll be consistent in our approach, and we’ll do the same things we do every week.”

On if this game might be one where players are too amped up: “Again, I’m consistent with our approach every week the situation is different. So, situational awareness is something that I address with them every week. There’s always situational awareness, the football keys and then the motivation. So, that won’t change, but obviously the situation is a little different than it’s been. We’ll talk about that, but our approach will be the exact same.”

On if winning in dramatic fashion increases risk of being too amped: “I don’t think so. We need to address issues, and there’s always that. There’s always that bring them down to Earth and being very direct in the things that are not acceptable and the things that we need to improve on. That’s always the same. As far as – I think our players will understand the areas that we need to improve and embrace that. I think they know the challenge that’s ahead of them. It’s really about just giving our best preparation today and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful. So, I think the situation, it is what it is. They’ve worked hard to put themselves in that position, but we just got to stay consistent and be the best version of ourselves we can be.”

On his excitement after the Missouri game and how complete that performance was: “Well, the joy of the game was just how dramatic it was and how unlikely it was at times to pull the victory out. But we were always fighting. It was a fun moment for our football team. There’s no question just with the way it ended.

“But as far as a complete game, no, I think it was far from a complete game for us. I was very pleased to see us make progress in the passing game. I was very pleased to see Terry (Wilson) grow and our offense and the players around him improve because they certainly took away the run game. Unlike a week ago where we talked about we threw the ball for 19 yards and won, here in this game we had to throw the ball for just under 300 to win because the run game wasn’t working. So, that to me is a sign of progress and we’ll continue to build on that.

“Defensively, the second half, it’s a remarkable effort. When I look at drive chart and you see whatever, two, six, nine, minus-6, minus-5, that’s as complete of a half that I’ve been a part with the quality of opponent we were facing.”

On conversation with Lynn Bowden before the punt return: “Well, like I said, Lynn has great respect. He was like, ‘Coach,’ and I’m like, ‘Go, go do it, man.’ What do we got to lose at that point? ‘Go, go do your thing.’ He was like that all day, was very passionate about, ‘Give me the rock, give me the ball, let me do my thing.’ And he was doing it. He was making competitive catches, he was making competitive runs after catch. He wanted it, and like I said, he’s a competitor. At that point, it was nice to see him. He caught that post late in the game at X, like I talked about last week about possibly moving him around a little bit. He was at a different spot, ran under it and made a great catch there. So, no, it was really a no-brainer for me. He didn’t have to twist my arm. He was like, ‘Coach.’ ‘Go, go do it.’ Sure enough about 12 seconds later he was in the end zone.”

At his weekly press conference on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked about the 15-14 win at Missouri. UK plays Georgia on Saturday for the right to represent the SEC East in the conference championship game.



On if Lynn Bowden will get more punt return opportunities: “Yeah, he will. He always catches them. He always works on it. He’s getting more and more confident with that. Some of these teams, some of these games, it’s not about returning because they either put so much height on it or they’re spraying the ball all over the place, just field position and maintaining possession is such a big deal. But when the opportunity is there, we do want the ball in his hands.”

On if they’ve shown enough for other teams to respect the passing game: “I don’t think there’s any question. We have all year. When you put yourself in a position to be 7-1, you get people’s attention across the board. We know there’s always areas everywhere on our team that we’re going to improve on, try to build on. I think that’s evident through the course of this year that we can hurt you through the air.”

On if he’s ever accidentally punched a hole in the ceiling of an opposing locker room: “Yeah, I meant to send that email and my check this morning (laughter). I was up a little higher than I thought.”

On if he knows what winning a close game like Missouri means to the fan base: “Well, it’s a big deal. We don’t shy away from that. The changing culture and what you do and that relentless fight. That’s just a relentless fight day in and day out by a lot of people, to put yourself in a position to play in big games. That’s a culmination of six years of extremely hard work by a lot of people. I thank all the people that have been there. The administration, the past coaches, the present coaches, the strength and conditioning people. Most importantly our players, past and current. There’s a lot of people that put a lot into it. The fan base has been so loyal for a long time. That does mean something to me. I’ve always said that. You know I have. I have at every press conference and every year. The importance of representing the fan base the right way, the importance of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Just constantly working to put your team in a position to do that.”

On if his moment in the locker room after the game was spontaneous: “That was totally spontaneous. I generally don’t get overly excited in there, but just the way we pulled that out and the way the guys were just having fun, we were just -- it was in the moment. We had a lot of fun. You see how much confidence I have in them that they were going to catch me? (laughter).”

On if he was injured in the postgame celebration: “Well, I’m always a little banged up. I feel like I played after games. I’m getting old and I’m always sore. I really do. I feel like I play. Players always laugh at me. I always see them in there in the training room on Sunday. We’re all in there getting worked on.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about Saturday’s game against Georgia for the SEC East title. With UK’s 15-14 win at Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia are both 5-1 in the SEC.

On the hope of the play with Danny Clark running: “Danny has some physicality about him in some of the Q run game, maybe to offset some of that from Terry. We had some of that in the works for a couple of weeks. At the right moment, the right time, certain plays. He can do things off of that. That’s the nice thing. It’s not like a true ‘wildcat’ where you just put — you got a big, strong guy back there where you can do some Q run game but he also has a very live arm. He can throw the football. You could build a little package here and there off of that. As I said last week in this press conference, that Terry was our starter and that we were working hard with the other guys. We had to have the other guys ready to play. I’m glad Gunnar (Hoak) got some reps, some more series under his belt. I’m really glad Terry responded the way he did. It was good to get Danny in there. We wish we could’ve got him in there a little more. Sometimes you get him in there if you rip off a good run or play-action or whatever you do off of it, then you can maybe let him go a little bit. We got the first down, the ball is on the ground, they’re reviewing it. It’s time to go back. We got the first down and put Terry in and go.”

On if Terry’s final drive reminded him of Stephen Johnson: “Without a doubt. Just growth. We went through growing pains with Stephen as well in his first year and first time starting. That’s hard. All of our players, it’s easy when we sit in there in the meeting room and all of you armchair quarterbacks. I’m joking. But you sit there, and even players, you sit there and watch the film. It’s like you do this, this and this. Well, it’s a different deal when you’ve got those guys coming at you and things are moving, things are changing. It’s a hard position to play. Everybody loves the backup quarterback. It’s a hard position to play. You need some reps, need some time. I feel like he responded the way we wanted him to, both in the game and certainly in that last drive.”

On if Terry was greedy on the interception in the fourth quarter: “Yeah, I think he needs to see that. We need to continue to work on that. We need to start hitting the intermediates, hitting some shots. We hit the big shot to Lynn. I think we had maybe seven explosive plays. We need more. Sometimes those are low percentage plays. Listen, who throws the ball down the field as effectively as Missouri? Their shots ended up hurting them. If you watched the game closely, they were attacking. And they were throwing the ball down the field. And in the second half, at least three, maybe four, of those three-and-outs were shot plays. And when they get behind the sticks, guess what, they ended up punting. So that gave us an opportunity. So same thing with us, we needed to hit them. We did. We need to continue to work on that and intermediate throws. But when you’re throwing the ball for just under 300 yards, with our balance, that’s going to help you win some games.”

After Kentucky’s 15-14 win over Missouri, Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen talked about Saturday’s game against visiting Georgia for the SEC East title.

On the growth and when the clutch moments from the team showed: “I think that showed a lot. And what you saw was great leaders really perform. Guys that have been doing it and working so hard and doing the right things and being such good leaders, really just show up. Who you are in the dead of the night is going to show up under the brightest lights. You kind of saw that with some of these people, some of these players who responded and showed up in a really big moment with a lot of pressure on them.”

On when he realized the defense was as good as it is: “I knew we were good going into the year. I had a lot of confidence. In the summer, I said I have a lot of confidence in this team. And I believe that and I know the amount of work that went in for years and years and years to get in this position. So I felt good about them all along. I told you that in the summer. I told the national media that in the summer. I said that I felt good, but you always have to prove it. You always have to go do it, you always have to play. Nothing is ever given to you. You have to go earn it each and every week. They’ve responded. And we still have some big games left, starting this week. So how we respond and how we play, prove it every seven days. The defense will have to prove it again this week, but I really love their attitude, their competitiveness, their desire and their determination to be great, to work to be great. To what they do to put themselves in a position to be good. That’s what I like. Sometimes the outcome we can’t control, but we can certainly control our preparation and the way we go about our business. I really like that.”

On what concerns him most with Georgia: “Georgia’s a complete football team. They are very, very talented. They’re well coached, and they are good in all phases. They can hurt any given play because of the talent that’s on the field.”

On getting impact from some of the players during the game on the sideline: “There’s always going to be a line. Those players know that and respect that. But through time and trust with both sides, that’s how you understand that. We trust and respect our players and we know darn well that they respect their coaches. There’s always, in this business and that kind of competitiveness, there’s going to be people flaring up tempers, and different things. But you can’t be thin skinned and soft. You take it and you move on. Great examples were Josh Allen, jumping him and straightening him out and him responding. That’s what pros do. That’s what mature players do. Darius West, same thing. He’s been a complete warrior. What he did was wrong. He came right over, there no excuse. Same thing with Benny (Snell), there’s no excuse for it. He can’t hurt your team. And we have a team that loves each other, but you can’t do those things. You can’t put your team in a bad spot.”

On what he envisioned when Josh Allen decided to come back: “I did. The stats, I didn’t end up putting numbers on that, like X amount of stats for him or anything like that, but I did expect him to come back and be a dominant player. I truly knew in my heart that he was a first round draft pick. I don’t think there’s any question about that now. But I knew that going into the year, the talent that he had and the ability that he had. So now the only question is how high, because he moved himself way up, just by the way that he’s playing. But he’s not worried about that. What he’s worried about is helping his team win. You see what does and the way that he sacrifices and the way that he plays, it’s inspirational.”

On if the club on Kash Daniels’ hand affected his play: “It does. It did. It just is what it is. It bothers him. Those are big, powerful guys and he doesn’t have the ability to grab, tackle, and things like that. But it’s not going to slow him down. He’s a tough guy. He’s inspirational. You’d have to cut it off to keep him out of there.”

On if he has to play Chris Oats more to help: “There is. I think there is some. I think Chris played eight snaps. You’d like to see him get a few more than that.”

On moving Chris Westry over to the other side on the depth chart: “They’ve been — that’s just semantics for us. Chris has warranted, for y’all or whatever it it, the starting lineup. To us it doesn’t matter, all three of those guys are starters to us. Always have been. But Chris is really playing really good football.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talks about the final 81-yard drive in which UK scored on final play to beat Missouri 15-14 on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

On what he saw from Josh Allen while recruiting him: “Well, when you just first look at it before you know him, you just see the length and the athleticism and the upside that he had. We’re such a developmental sport that you have to project that it’s a couple years down the road, and he came in and actually did better than we anticipated probably in year one and year two. Again, he’s versatile, his background playing multiple positions, changing direction, big athlete. Length never hurts. I told you that I learned from Jimbo (Fisher), it’s not my quote, it’s his, but some of those big long guys, they do more by accident (laugher). When you have length and you have size, it’s kind of take up space and get in the way but obviously he’s taken that to a whole other level.”

On if he would’ve done something differently with those fourth down calls against Missouri: “I don’t think I used the word regretted, but if you give me hindsight I’d change them (laugher). You’d be lying if you didn’t. You couldn’t in hindsight. It didn’t work. Obviously since they didn’t work, probably wrong with the exception of the one where stopped and the way were playing defensively and got the ball right back and got the punt return. I felt we were deep enough there. I knew the three (points) would’ve cut it to an eight (point lead for Missouri), but I just really felt like seven was an important – or eight.”

On if he considers the history of UK football a distraction: “I’m really not going to – they understand that, they know that. They take pride in some things that they hear and see. I don’t really talk about that much. When I have in years past, it’s kind of been counterproductive to me. It’s more it is what it is. It’s this year; this is this year’s football team. We are who we are and you are what you are on film. There’s no getting around some of that, John, it’s going to be talked about. They know that, they know the importance of it. I don’t need to build them up on that, probably more need to calm them down and just again go through the process of what we’ve done to put ourselves in this position, and go about our business and have a normal week. That’s what we need to do, is have a normal week. The excitement is going to be there. Again, I’ve always embraced that. I always feel the fans, they’re fans. They deserve that and we love that, we need that, we need this energy. That’s how you recruit at another level, that’s how you take your program to another level when you have energy like this. It’s going to be in here every week, and that helps everybody.”

On the third down issues: “You can’t just look at it like that, you got to look at stops. We’re stopping people pretty effectively, why don’t you look at points (laughter)? You got to find something. I know it wouldn’t be a press conference (laugher).”

On if he can quantify how much Terry Wilson accomplished in his role: “I don’t know if I can quantify it that way. I know it did a lot for his confidence, I know it did a lot for his team’s confidence in him, it is what it is. Does not surprise me because I just know him and I know who he is and how he responds and things don’t shake him. Players just have to learn to deal with that now, it’s hard. With social media and things, with my own kids, it can be a very very useful effective tool, the social media, but it can also be very negative and tough on young people. It is what it is, so to act like it has no effect, I don’t know. I’m not in every kid’s mind, but I know they have to deal with a lot. They get a lot of pressure on them. To play at this level, you have to learn to deal with it and put is aside and control the things you can control.”

On how big it is having home-field advantage: “I don’t think me sitting up here, saying that it’s just another game would be lying because it is playing for the championship, it’s playing for the (SEC) East. That’s one of you goals at the beginning of the year so obviously it’s a big game, but once again, our approach can’t change. The situation changes, that’s what I always say. Situational, what’s the situation? The situation is the fact is we’re playing for the East. What are the football keys and what’s our motivational piece? That approach won’t change. The situation changes every week: home, away, division game, non-conference.”

On how he evaluates how the receivers except Lynn Bowden are playing: “Obviously we need to improve. I thought Tavin (Richardson) came back and became more like him and played really hard and did some really good things. He had a drop or two and Dorian’s (Baker) play, his drop, obviously it’s inexcusable at that point. It’s third and five against that football team and we have an opportunity to split them right there. It’s a big play and it limits them another opportunity. You can’t do that, you can’t do that. We overcame it this week but you cant do that as you move forward.”

On teams achieving at a high level and if there are any common traits of his best teams: “Well, I mentioned it after the game. You’ve heard me talk each and every week about how much I love and value this team from the beginning, from the summer. That’s the truth. But I also do feel like something changed a bit Saturday: that growth, another step, however you might say it. I don’t know how to put it into words, but I just felt like that truly everybody said that somehow, someway they’re going to do their part to help us win this game. Certainly some guys stepped up a in a really big way, but everybody did. Everybody in there made a difference. I definitely think we evolved another step.”

On special teams stepping up, blocked field goal and if Chance Poore will be kicker: “I’ll stick with Chance again here this week. That’s correct. Special teams were big, but we can play better. We need to play better on special teams. I’ve mentioned it after the game and before the game and everything else, I really have a lot of respect for Missouri. That team, they play hard and I knew they would. They’re hungry, they play hard, they played hard on special teams. They actually outplayed us some. We got the big block, that was huge, and the punt return, but you take those out of there and they beat us in some areas we need to get cleaned up. That’s where sometimes the big plays sometimes stand out, but overall as coaches, there’s things we can do better.”

On Georgia’s run offense despite losing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel: “They just. The same. When you think of Georgia, you know they have talented running backs and certainly with Holyfield and Swift, they’re very good runners. Physical, run you over. Their line is really, really good, really talented, physical. Their backs will run down hill and they can run around you. Swift is electric and Holyfield is so darn tough and gets tough yards, talented. They’re good. Just like you would expect when you’re playing these guys.”

On how preparation changes when you have Fields potentially coming in as a situational QB: “Not too much. We’re always prepared for that. We have packages built in to defend it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s always hard. I have great respect for dual threat guys and certainly one with his ability, but it doesn’t mean it will make it easier, but we’re always prepared and we can get to some of that pretty quick on what we would do. Then it comes down to the difficulty of defending it.”

On Fromm: “You can just see him certainly this past game and throughout the season. This past game, I’m sure did a lot for his confidence as well because he played just absolutely exceptional and looked really, really comfortable and made some really terrific throws to some talented people. So just a guy that’s getting more experience and like most quarterbacks, getting more and more confident and comfortable with every game.”

On limiting Georgia tight ends, a regular target: “It’s not just them. It’s within our scheme what they’re doing, when they’re trying to hit them and when. Again, it doesn’t make it any easier. They’re difficult because they have a lot of weapons. Pick and choose where you try to take away and it gives them options and space. They just put a lot of stress on you in general.”

On if it’s hard to keep process same with such a big game: “No because we always do that, you know what I mean? We sometimes outcoach ourselves. We admit that and say that all the time. There’s always a fine line: Do too much, do too little. We always do the best we can. Give them an opportunity to be successful. As I’ve seen it for a long, long time as a coordinator, I’ve told you that a bunch of times. When it’s wrong it’s on us and that’s the way it should be, but when it’s good it’s on them because they make the plays. I tell them that all the time. That was my favorite call at Florida State. Some of the best defense in the world, ‘You call it. I’m tired of it. Nothing’s working. It’s on you.’ So there’s not a lot of magical calls, but they make them good. They’re playing really hard. Just the way we go about our business, the organization of the week will be the exact same. Sure it’s always a bit (difficult) keeping your kids in check and making sure we’re doing the things necessary to put ourselves in position to be successful. That’s a challenge whether it’s getting the team up or getting them to calm down and prepare, just go about our business and have a normal week. For us that won’t be difficult. As far as the X’s and O’s, there’s always a balance there trying to get creative, do what we do, change things up. That’s every coach in America. We’re always trying to find that right balance.”

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