Jen Smith on UK Football

UK’s Stoops on recovering from Georgia, refocusing team and his take on trap games.

Everything University of Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops had to say during his Monday news conference to preview Saturday’s game at Tennessee:

Opening statement: “Again, just like I said after the (Georgia) game, the film revealed the same thing, that Georgia played better than us. Made plays in critical moments, made us miss, blocked us, did a very good job. There’s many things we could do better and will. I thought our team really came into it with the right attitude and worked hard in our preparation. You have to be — the margin for error against teams like that is very small and you have to play your best football and I didn’t think that we did that. Certainly, we had some mistakes early and it put us behind with the fumble early in the game and then the false start we had down there in a good situation, felt like we had a good play call designed. Made some mistakes and can’t do that.

“Offensively I thought we did some good things. Terry (Wilson) played very well, made some improvements. There’s certainly things he can improve from in that game but he did play well. Offensively we had some good possessions, had some — moved the ball well then got ourselves out of rhythm, behind the chains and stalled out. You can’t do that.

“Defensively, it was the worst game we’ve played all year. I think that’s pretty obvious, giving up the amount of rush yards that we did. Again, you have to credit Georgia for that, a bunch of It. There’s certainly things we could do better. Excited to get back out there today and getting the team motivated and excited about another great opportunity to go on the road here against Tennessee and try to get the victory and close out SEC play. We’re worried about ourselves and getting better and improving in some of those areas.”

On if there are players who haven’t played yet but could play in the final four games: “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s sitting out there that you haven’t seen at this point. If they could help us win, they’ve been in there.”

On what went wrong on Mecole Hardman’s 65-yard punt return: “Fantastic returner. Not in the game plan where we had it placed and we missed some tackles in the open field. Again, part of that is because what he did, just like Lynn’s (Bowden) punt return (against Missouri). When you get a good — when you get a punt and you out-kick your coverage, sometimes it gets those returners an opportunity to get started. When they get started. As you saw in that game, whether it was on punt return or on defense, when they had space, and you create a one-on-one, it’s very difficult to tackle some of those guys. It was a combination of things.”

On if he’s worried it’ll happen again: “No.”

On if there’s less stress since the SEC East standings have been decided: “I don’t know about less stress. I think our team, we have to be motivated the same way again this week and in each and every week, and that gets to be the challenge as you get through the grind of the season and you get late in the year here. Sometimes that monotony sets in and we can’t let that happen. We’ve got to have a great day today and put this game behind us and learn from our mistakes and get ready to go play Tennessee, and getting another conference win is important to us.”

On how he evaluates the offensive line since the bye week: “Inconsistent, like a lot of us. I feel like there’s many, many groups that you can get better. They’ve had some good moments. They’ve been inconsistent this past week. There’s a couple of critical mistakes and again, I think, as I mentioned earlier, a fraction more protection here or there and we have an opportunity for some big plays. Margin for error is small.”

On not being able to get run game going lately and how much of it is on running backs and how much is on the line: “It’s a group effort. It has something to do with the guys on the other side of the line as well. So I think it’s a combination of all that.”

On if Benny Snell is beat up or worn down as TV analysts suggested: “No, I don’t think worn down. He’s beat up. Play as many snaps and run the ball as hard as he does and you’re going to get beat up a little bit. I’ll see him later on today. His ankle is more of a bruise than it is a sprain, so we’ll see how tender that is.”

On how well he knows Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt and what he sees from Tennessee: “I know Jeremy just from crossing paths and just the coaching tree. We’ve never worked together and haven’t spent a heck of a lot of time with him, but you see his team fighting and playing extremely hard and improving. That doesn’t surprise me they’re getting better and better, getting better defensively the second part of the year. You see his characteristics starting to take form and they’re a tough football team, play pretty hard and they’re improving.”

On if he has a time line for how long Kash Daniel and Jordan Jones will have to wear the protective coverings on hands: “They’re definitely going to have to wear them again this week. I wish we could cut them down some, but it doesn’t look like that.”

On how much does it affect their play: “It definitely affects them. It affects us. To what extent — it’s not comfortable for them. I will say this, they did both do some very good things with those on and it kind of surprised me at times some of the plays they made. And there were times you could tell that not having the grip really hurts them.”

On thoughts of switching lineup to make sure they’re not in there together: “There was. And again we did that late in the game when it was heavy run, put Chris (Oats) in there and he did some good things as well. We may have to mix it up a little bit. That wasn’t a good game for DeAndre (Square) being a true freshman and that size. It’s tough.”

On if team has an offensive identity: “I think it’s fair for you to put anything you want on it. I don’t think we look at it like that. I think we know very clearly who we are. And I think, again, knowing certain opponents, you know what’s going to be extremely difficult. Those teams aren’t at the top of college football for no reason. They’re pretty good.”

On Lynn Bowden and difference between this year and last for him: “Experience. With every opportunity, he’s getting better. He’s working extremely hard. He’s practicing more consistently. He’s learning the details of playing that position. We know the skill he has. You’ve seen the skill set. The ability with the ball in his hands, now it’s working harder when he doesn’t have it in his hands.”

On Tennessee being close to a breakout game: “Well, anytime you have the talent at wide receiver that they have, always makes you conscious of those guys and not leaving your corners in one-on-one situations all day with the talent they have and the speed they have. That could open up some opportunities to make big plays in the run game. They’ve had some injuries at offensive line that I’m sure did not help them. So they’re a good football team and getting better with every game.”

On Isaiah Epps’ extra reps: “He’s been working hard. He’s been consistent in practice, getting better. You saw some other packages where we’re getting some other guys mixed in there. Trying to get some spark, some good play out of our outside wide receivers.”

On if Ahmad Wagner’s package is the pass interference package (Laughter): “We’re trying to complete that. But that goes down for 30 yards that he doesn’t get credit for, right? Fish (Zy’Aire Hughes) is getting better also. He brings a different change. He brings some great speed. He’s getting better. It gets hard for those guys because opportunity in practice and just the reps and all that. That’s why experience matters. Those guys are making some improvement. We’ve gotta continue to work them in.”

On Davonte Robinson continuing to come along: “Davonte played very good. He was our player of the game on the defensive side of the ball here this week. He played a good football game. He had to step in and play free, which he’s been working that medium package, the nickel guy. He’s had to split reps and didn’t get as many reps at free last week in practice but stepped in the game and did some very good things. Fought through those pinch sets that I was talking about and shot through and made some tackles, was disruptive. Made a very critical open field tackle that was a difficult tackle. He did some good things. I’m pleased with how he’s playing.”

On how encouraging Robinson’s play is with Darius West missing the first half against Tennessee: “It’s very encouraging. Like I said, sometimes when opportunities, certainly we want Darius in there all the time. He’s a leader and plays extremely tough. But when opportunities like that arrive, it is interesting to see how those guys are going to step in. I anticipate he’ll play very well.”

On this being a big week for leadership and if the leadership to this point has been what he wanted: “It has been. It has been. Guys have been very good. Nobody is perfect. Everyone is going to have some ups and downs, but we have enough guys on this team and enough leaders. You saw that Saturday after the game. I anticipate that the guys will come in ready to go today. I’ll meet with a few of them before team meeting today. I expect great leadership like I have most of the season.”

On if it feels weird to have played for the SEC East championship but still have three games left: “It’s like that. Like I talked last week, the situation is going to change every week. This is a different situation. We’re going on the road. We’re playing Tennessee at Tennessee with our last league game. It’s very important to us.”

On 34 years since winning in Knoxville and if he’ll talk to the team about it: “I will not. No.”

On the thought pattern of kicking deep vs. onside kick when down 14 against UGA in the fourth quarter: “I thought about it for a minute or 30 seconds. Didn’t put — I felt like we had to get some stops. If you kick it and you don’t get the onside kick, you’re putting your team in a really bad spot. You’re down two touchdowns at that point. If you get a stop, a three-and-out, you get the ball back in good field position and you have a shot. Especially because the offense was starting to move the ball at that point. But defensively we really didn’t give ourselves many opportunities.”

On Tennessee’ Jarrett Guarantano growing as a QB from last year to this year: “He’s really good when he’s in rhythm. He’s got some really talented wide receivers. He’s playing more confident with experience and getting better. He’s done some good things.”

On potentially ending the Tennessee road streak and Florida streak in the same year: “I think just beating Tennessee is important to us. Whether there’s a streak involved or not, why would that make a difference to our team? They don’t know anything about 34 years ago. To be honest with you, they really don’t care. They want to win for their team this year. I think that’s very important and that’s motivation for us. For me, to say that, of course I always say that. I acknowledge the importance to our fans, I acknowledge the importance to our state and our community. But to our team, they’re hungry for each other and for this year.”

On Terry Wilson’s improvement: “Again, anytime you have a first-year starter, you’re going to go through some ups and downs. They have to play. They have to go through some failure to learn from those things at times. He’s getting much better, he’s been much more consistent. Again, like I mentioned a couple weeks ago we have to look at ourselves also to make sure we’re putting him in a position to be successful. I thought we had a good plan. We moved the ball pretty effectively at times and just stalled out. Again, as I mentioned, certain things we hurt ourselves with, but it was a difficult team. They’re very good defensively, very well coached. But I thought I saw progress.”

On if he thinks opening QB competition lit a fire for Wilson: “You’d have to ask him. Competition brings out the best in all of us. I think our players are seeing that at every position. That’s always going to be the case here: You have to earn your way on the field. But you also know experience matters and you’re going to go through some growing pains with inexperience.”

On what he hopes team learned from the stage of the Georgia game: “I think you have to learn and grow from every opportunity. Certainly in that game we have to take some good from that. We have to learn from that, and they will. I think that matters. You keep on getting in that position. You have to earn the right to get in that position from a lot of hard work, and we’ve got to continue to do that. I think it’s pretty evident that we need to continue to recruit. Those guys are pretty talented.”

On if Georgia attacked Josh Allen any differently: “They’re good. I knew that going into it. They’re well coached, and they’re smart. They were not going to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They weren’t going to let him change the game, and they didn’t. I think they do a very good job that way with the sets, the way they play, the way they protect. We didn’t do our job. If we’re more efficient on first and second down, get them in more predictable situations, that’s when Josh will have more success. So, credit them and we need to do a better job of just putting them in that situation.”

On if he will talk to his team about importance of voting: “I do not. I mean, I don’t. Right or wrong, I’ve got other things to go on when I meet with them. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of darts about that, but I’m not educated enough on it, to be honest with you, to go put my opinion into it right now. I’m concentrating on other things.”

On if he believes in trap games: “I think certain games set up better than others, but it’s always up to you and your team to put them in a position to be successful and get them right in the mind and have a great week of preparation.”

On if going on road helps by avoiding a lot of hype: “I think we’ve had good concentration on the road. You don’t talk about that because that’s a fact, that’s the way the situation is. We’re in there, we get on our bus, get on our plane and go there kind of united. No distractions. That’s what it dictates and that’s what it is, so therefore we better make the best of it.”

On if he talks to team about what’s left to play for: “Oh yeah. We always look at it as one-week seasons, but it is a fact as you get toward the end of the year and as they’re starting to get mentally and physically beat up that they have to recharge themselves and refocus for these last three games. Therefore, I will talk about it briefly. Just like I talked about first half and second half as you get into this last segment we’ll discuss that briefly and then we’ll get obviously onto this week and the things necessary to win this game.”

  Comments