Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Stoops on Southern Miss finishing touches, a mostly serene camp, special teams queries

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops discussed the finishing touches before UK faces Southern Miss at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops discussed the finishing touches before UK faces Southern Miss at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

MARK STOOPS

“It’s been a good week of preparation, good Thursday practice. As you know from last year, we do our walk through on Thursday so that’s what it was. We had good film study, good walk through and tomorrow we will come out here and have a run through. We get them lathered up, going fast tomorrow. We won’t be out here very long, but we’ll go fast and put the finishing touches on it tomorrow and be ready to play a great game on Saturday. So we’re looking forward to it. It’s beautiful weather. We’re playing a quality opponent at home, so it’s time to kick off the season and I think we’re all getting anxious and excited to get going.”

On Stoops not having one of his angry, tirade days this camp: “I’ve been trying to stay away from you (laughter). There has not been as many where I just did not feel that. The team knows, y’all generally see me wearing my emotions on my sleeve. I tell you what I’m thinking and feeing and I never felt like it was a kick in where they just submitted to the heat or the pounding of a two-a-day. They’re really handled it well. It does not mean we were perfect and there were a lot of frustrations. That’s what happens with camp to get the kinks out. We’re still always going to work on things all year to be as perfect as we can be. I always felt like the attitude, the energy and the effort has been really solid.”

On a need to guard against overconfidence from secondary: “Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see. I mean, I’ve said it. You’re always a little leery of that when you’re talking about young guys, too. I said they had the ability to be very good players. But I’ve been very hard on them and I was very hard on a couple of them today in the walkthrough. So I’m never taking my foot off their neck. But they’ve got to go back it up, too. They’ve got to go play. If you play defensive back, if you play corner, you’re going to give up some passes. That’s just the way it is. But it’s onto the next play and we have to win our fair share. So I don’t think there’s anybody out here ready to believe that they’re going to go a whole season without giving up any contested plays. I don’t’ think that’s the case, but we’ll see. We’ll have to answer that as we go.”

On how they prepare for possible fakes on special teams from Southern Miss: “We prepare for it very thoroughly and really try as best we can to offset all the different scenarios. There’s many different tricks you can do and you know. We educate our team on all that, whether it be special teams and all the situations that we try to go through today and we go through tomorrow. I tell the team this all the time: It’s almost impossible to give the team as many different scenarios that you all see on a Saturday or a Sunday or even a Friday night. There’s many different crazy scenarios that happen, and we have to be in tune to the game and be as alert as possible and be as educated as we need to be in all situations. We try to put them in as many as we can. And special teams is one of them. They had a whole offseason to come up with a different trick, but we are certainly in tune to all the different things that can happen. And they have to guard against ours too.”

On Alex Montgomery’s status after missing camp: “Yeah, Alex is back. He’s back and getting healthy and has been with us since school started. Getting back out there and working on some routes and getting involved in special teams, so we’re bringing him along.”

On if he worries about rust for a guy like Dorian Baker who has missed practice before the opener: “You never know. The first game is always up in the air. There’s always that question mark with any of us, whether they’re overtrained or they’re undertrained or all that. So, we feel like we’re in a pretty good position and we feel like we’ve got a lot of depth there.”

On if there is one question he particularly wants answered about the team Saturday: “I think there’s a lot of questions as you go into game one. I stated that earlier at some press conferences where there is that excitement, that anxiety, the uneasy feeling and the unknown, because we have a good idea who this team is but I don’t know exactly until we go play. So, there’s a lot of unknowns. You don’t know how guys are going to respond when the lights come on and it’s a real game. It will be interesting to see how our players respond. I believe in them, I believe that we’ve had a really solid camp, and I’m excited to go play. But the first game is the first game. We’ll see.”

On if it helps his players to go against an opponent that comes in with a lot of respect: I hope so. They’ve always been excited to play Game 1 because we’re tired of hitting each other and going against each other, seeing the same color shirt. So, they ought to be excited just to go play anybody but it definitly does not hurt to play such a quality opponent, an opponent that won nine games and has a terrific quarterback coming back with a lot of good players.

On if he’s seen his offense turn a corner in regards to being unselfish: “I have. Thus far. The first game is Saturday so, uh, I believe it comes with educating them and coaching them to do just that and be the way that they are. It starts with the leadership of Eddie (Gran) and the older guys on our offense and myself. So, I feel good that that’ll happen.”

On guys that have stepped up in leadership: “I just think across the board with a bunch. Our team is more mature. We’re not there yet. You’re always dealing with young kids and you’re always dealing with some young players, but overall, we’ve made a giant step in leadership and maturity.”

On the punting game going into Saturday: “We’ll see. You know, we’ll see. I’ve felt pretty good about it at times here in the past too and you just never know. I’ve seen some golfers shoot some pretty bad rounds. I think proably a lot the same with those guys. If they hit it in the right slot and feeling good and sometimes they’re booming the heck out of it. Hopefully that’ll happen Saturday.”

On if he’s surprised what he’s gotten out of Calvin Taylor so soon: “We’ll see how it goes with him. We’ve gotten some out of him but it’s just been in practice situations and he’s been a little inconsistent. So uh, I’ll certainly be excited if he keeps progressing and coming along this year.”

On if expectations have to be tempered against an offense like USM’s: “We never try to temper our expectations. We have high expectations and are always going out there to be succesful and it starts one play at a time. I know that’s a cliche and boring for y’all, I try to give you all the flashy quotes I can, that’s who I am, I mean it’s just, I know you guys got a job to do and I try to give you one here and there, but we expect to go play well. We know we have respect for who they are and what they do but we’re never here to concede anything.”

On if it’s neck-and-neck between the punters: “I’m going to wait to see. Game time decision honestly. We had a good feeling but we’ll see how they’re hitting Saturday.”

On if inconsistent punting creates more difficult decisions on going for it on fourth down:I’ve been pretty aggressive as it was. I’m a genius when it works, right? You guys are really good to point it out, so. (Laughter) But if I didn’t go for it I’d be boring and conservative, so – nah. We’ll see. Hopefully you play good enough football really across the board for me to make those decisions straight up, the way you should if you got a quality team. Sometimes you feel like you’re behind, you’ve got to take some shots and when they backfire, they backfire. So hopefully when you’re a good football team it leads to making those decisions a lot easier.”

On if Eddie Gran saying offensive install is ahead of what he saw at Cincinnati and if that gives him more confidence:It does. It’s been a great rapport. I think it says a lot about the maturity of our players. They’ve been around. They have been through three defensive coordinators and these guys have played a lot of football. I think it says a lot about Eddie and the staff and the relentless work that they’ve done around the clock to get it done. These guys have put in a lot of time and a lot of work. And again, our players have been trained to be put in this situation. It’s taken some time and it’s taken some lumps, but these guys have been around a while now. A lot of these players now on offense have been through a lot of big games.”

On if there is a position he is excited to see what has become of it:Yeah. I think you have to say offense and quarterback play and just consistency. And again, you know that I’ve always – if you look at every quote I’ve said since I’ve been here, I always will tell you that the quarterback needs help. I’ve said it every single time, no matter who the quarterback was. It’s not ever all on him. They have to play well around him and they have to make plays for him. They have to block for him and run and do the things necessary. That’s led to us being inconsistent as the unit, and I think that’s where we’ve made big strides and I am excited to see the whole offensive unit and I’m certainly excited to see Drew take the field a year older and with all the work that he’s put in. I’m excited to see him play.”

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