Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops previews Louisville

UK head coach Mark Stoops watches pregame warm-ups prior to the University of Kentucky-Missouri football game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 26, 2015.
UK head coach Mark Stoops watches pregame warm-ups prior to the University of Kentucky-Missouri football game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, September 26, 2015. Lexington Herald-Leader

MARK STOOPS

Opening statement: "OK, excited about a great week. Looking forward to a great football game here this weekend. Pleased with our teams effort this past week."

On how he guards against any pregame altercations this week: "We just have to focus on playing football really. Really not looking forward to any of that to be honest with you."

On how the offensive line performed against Charlotte: "I thought the offensive line did a really good job. We were more physical at the point of attack. Backs hit the hole so overall much better. Something to build on."

On if he’ll talk to his team about the pregame altercations: "I will. I will. I definitely don’t think there’s any part in that. We don’t need to do that, we need to worry about playing football and I will talk to the team about that. It’s about execution."

On how important extra bowl practices would be: "I think it would be very important. We need the practices. I think we’re getting better as the season goes on. We’re developing younger players. We’re getting better. We need the work. As you know, we get to some stretches in the season with the depth of our team, we get beat down at times. With a little bit of time out and to get back and basically have another spring practice would be huge for us."

On how he felt Drew Barker played Saturday: "I thought he did a good job. He looked very comfortable back there. He was poised, he ad libbed a little bit with the flip that he gave to C.J. (Conrad), just things like that. Just playing football. He’s more and more comfortable. He needs more reps. With his first start I was pleased with what I saw."

On Louisville playing three different quarterbacks: "They don’t change much. They do a lot anyway. They have a lot of offense so you have to prepare for a lot of things in general. With our preparation, it really doesn’t change our prep much. They’ve all played quite a bit. They’re very good players in their own right. They do some very good things. We’ll have to be prepared for all of their quarterbacks."

On signing a guy like Jason Hatcher on signing day: "It was important for us to get Hatcher. It was our first year. To go in there and to get him flipped from USC was important. Jason, as you know, had a big game a couple of weeks ago. Trying to get him on track. He’s had some injuries and he had the suspension early in the year, but he’s really coming on and starting to play some really good football. But from a recruiting point of view, it was very important. As you know, we work extremely hard at recruiting. As you go through the course of this season, it's frustrating because people want these recruits to come in and make a difference immediately. But Jason's one guy in that first class that was an impact guy and he's doing some very good things. Now we need a whole bunch more. We made in-state recruiting priority No. 1, and he kind of set the tone with that.

On what has changed for A.J. Stamps in the last couple of weeks: "As you can tell, we've been shuffling some guys around there. What's the difference? Depth. Putting him on the bench if he's not doing good. That's a big part of it. He was demoted for a game or two and second in the rotation, because we do feel like we have some guys at safety that we're bringing along, with Mike (Edwards) and Marcus (McWilson) and A.J. in particular. And Darius (West) was banged up for a few weeks but starting to play better. So I think that's the key thing that you need, is you need players. By rotating some other guys in there and putting some pressure on him, he's responded well. I've been pleased with the way he's played. He's played really well the past couple weeks."

On putting two halves together against Charlotte: "It was very important. It was important for us to play a complete football game. As you know – no mystery. We had a couple struggles. And again, I don't want to keep going back through the year, but there was a lot to build on from Vandy. We just needed to clean it up, and we played a cleaner football game. But we did some very good things at Vandy, played obviously a much better and more complete football game this past week and now we need to continue to build on that and get ready for a very good Louisville team in a great rivalry game. We just need to play our best football here at the end of the year. It's going to be a big game for all of us. It's certainly important for us to go out and play well and to build on the things we've been doing well the past couple of weeks. Hopefully we'll be able to do that."

On the importance of winning a rivalry game: "I think it's extremely important. I've never denied that since I've been here. It's an important game, but this being the last game of the year as opposed to the first, a little different. But we have a lot riding on it, as you know. Not only in-state and with recruiting and things like that, but more importantly, just to build our program and get this sixth victory. We put ourselves in this position by a few miscues late in the season, with the Vandy game in particular. It is what it is, and now we need to go out and play well in this game. It always has importance. I think it's very important to us this year."

On if any young guys that played against Charlotte stood out: "Yeah. It was good. I really thought it was really good just to get a bunch of guys out there and play and just see what they can do. I don't know of anybody right now. We all did some pretty good things. But it was good to get a bunch of guys in there. And it was nice for some of our starters to not have to play every snap, as well. That's a big part of the development process and hopefully playing well here in the last game of the year.

On how much he will talk to the players about a bowl game being on the line this week: "Not much. Our players know that. We’re not afraid to mention it. We will. It’s important for us to get the sixth win, it’s important for us to beat Louisville and end the season on a more positive note. So, we will talk about it, but motivation – it was asked earlier a lot about last year and the tempers and things like that. That goes away very quickly. It’s the team that’s most prepared. It’s about execution. Our team will be motivated to play, and so will there’s. So, I think it’s about controlling those emotions and executing at a higher level. That’s what we’ve been concentrating on: just trying to play better football and do the little things right. As you know, we’re a program that’s growing and getting better and working to become better. This is another great opportunity for that. So, the motivation will be there. Our players care. They’ve been preparing the right way the past couple weeks. Any rivalry game, there’s going to be more emotions involved, and we have to be able to handle that. If you go to last year, some of the emotions really hurt us. When we score a touchdown and we have some guys that maybe aren’t normally on the sidelines run out on the field and get a 15-yard penalty, that kind of stuff we can’t have. Every yard is going to be important. I know we’ve grown, and we’ll talk about those things, but it’s more important for us to be prepared today, to start the week off with a great preparation today through the rest of the week. It’s about our preparation and how we play and the details of the game. So, both sides are going to be excited to play."

On how much of an advantage it is to play this game at home: "It’s a definite advantage for us to play at home. Again, I’d say it postgame after the Charlotte game: I really appreciate all the fans that were here. I saw a bunch of my fans or different people that were at the game and I thank them for being there, because I know it was a dreary, nasty night against an opponent that not a lot of people knew a lot about and they were still there supporting us. Again, I ask for everybody there this week. We need the stadium packed. We need a great environment to root this team on and cheer this team on to get our sixth win. So, we need to use that home field advantage to help us."

On if this is a team UK can run against: "This team is a good football team on defense. I want to say 17th overall nationally in total defense. Somewhere in the mid-40s in points scored, so they’re a good defense, good up front. They’re not as experienced in the back end as they’ve been. They’ve been. They’ve had some really great players that have gone on to the NFL, and they have some very talented players there right now with maybe not as much experience back there as they’ve had. But a well-coached football team. Todd Grantham knows what he’s doing. Terrell Buckley, who I worked with at Florida State a bit, is there coaching their defensive backs with Greg Brown, another great defensive backs coach. The two of them handle the secondary. So, it’s a very well-coached, good football team on defense."

On the part of the defense he thinks has improved most: "I think we’ve improved. We’ve played more sound football. We’ve played with more discipline. We’ve played with great passion. We gave up a few big plays, more than I’d like in this past game. But we’re playing at a higher level and I think just really across the board our secondary is playing much better than they have in years past and the good news is three of the four that are starting right now are freshmen, so that’s a good thing."

On how vital a bowl game and the TV exposure is to building the program: "Again, not to beat a dead horse here, but there’s no denying that it’s important. I think it’s important for our fans, I think it’s important for our players and I think it’s certainly important for our program to get the practices in and to develop your team."

On if he’s seen Matt Elam make progress since Melvin Lewis got hurt: "Oh, yeah. Definitely, he’s getting better. He’s getting better each game and doing some very good things and we need to continue to work on Matt, but yeah, he’s definitely making some progress."

On having enough depth to bench a guy like Stamps and send a wakeup call: "I believe it’s starting to change (to) that. Is it where we want it to be? No. You’d love to have enough depth that once you showed them that pine that they could stand there for a long time. So I think that’s the key. Again, just keeping accountability in your program and having players prepare and play the very best they can — and if they don’t play to that standard, then you gotta move on to somebody else. That only helps. Competition helps everybody and pushes everybody in your program at every position. We’re getting deeper, we’re getting better and we’re going to continue to bring along and recruit great players and develop the young ones that we have."

On Boom talking a selfie with a fan: "I didn’t even hear about that. (Boom did) Thanks, Kyle. (Grinning, but also looking mad.) No reaction."

On U of L QB Lamar Jackson: "Yeah, he’s a very talented young player. Coming out of Florida, he’s a guy that can obviously spin the football — he can throw the ball — but he adds that dimension of ad-libbing a little bit because he’s a very athletic guy as well. He’s a talented player and you see he’s a guy who can be a definite threat when he pulls the ball down and extend plays."

On trying to stay positive even in the face of a some bad losses: "That’s a whole other press conference. You have no choice in this business but to go back to work and to get your team back up and your coaching staff back up and going to work. That’s very easy for me to do because that’s what we preach to the team all the time. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s no secret weapon. You just go back to work to you get better at what you do. You believe in what you’re doing. And you keep on grinding away. We know we’re a work in progress but we’re getting better. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re getting better and our players believe that. They’re fun to coach. And that’s the only thing that makes things dismal and makes things hard to be around is when your players aren’t buying in and don’t want to be there and don’t want to be practicing. That was never the case with us. There’s a lot of things that need pointed out that we all could do better and they need to do better and the coaches could do better, but we’re all in this together and we will. It’s been a good group to coach and a great group of seniors and we’re going to work hard this week to send them out on a positive note."

On George Asafo-Adjei and progress: "Big George is getting better. He played better this last week. As you know, he had a few injuries earlier, midseason, kind of goes through some ups and downs as we’ve talked about. Overall, he’s going to be a great player, absolutely the right attitude. He’s a guy that cares deeply about his teammates and doing the right thing. You put that with the talent, the size that he has and he’s going to be a great player."

On seniors and what they’ve meant to program: "I brought them up because they’ve been a special group. I greatly appreciate these guys. They’ve bought in. They’ve continued to become leaders, even through this last year and they care a great deal. It’s our obligation as the Big Blue Nation to send them out the right way. We need that stadium packed. Our coaches are going to work hard for them, to put them in position to be successful this week. I know they’re going to put their heart and soul on the line to help us get this victory. They mean a lot to myself and this coaching staff."

On Melvin Lewis and Senior Day after surgery: "Melvin will be out there with the seniors. As far as I know, his family is still planning on being here. Whether he’s out there or not, we have that turf field, so we can probably get that cart out there. I imagine that will help him with his little wheelie (cart)."

On Austin MacGinnis’ availability for Saturday: "I hope so. We’ll see. Really don’t know to be honest with you. We’ll see how it feels."

On field position issues this season: "A lot of questions come up, as they should, as people talk about special teams or whatever. There’s a lot of things throughout the course of the year that we need to get fixed and one of the frustrating things for us has been has been just the health of our kickers and actually kicking the ball well. We’ve had our struggles with that and it puts the coverage units in some tough spots. They’ve been better lately. Miles Butler came in and did a great job this past week kicking the ball. I thought he did a really great job on the kickoffs. He did a great job filling in and kicking the extra points and the field goals and so I think we’re getting better. Landon hit some good balls this past week as well. Hopefully we’ll finish strong."

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