Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops says ‘our fans deserve better’ after Southern Miss loss

A full transcript of everything Coach Mark Stoops had to say after Kentucky’s 44-35 loss to Southern Miss on Saturday night.

Very difficult because the same thing happened the last time we were in this stadium a year ago. I thought we were way beyond that and we weren’t. So, I give a lot of credit to Southern Miss. They did a heck of a job. They out-coached us and out-played us and it hurts a great deal to our team and to our fan base, to our administration, to everybody. I accept that fully. I don’t know if I’ve ever in my career, ever wanted to apologize for a game, but that’s a tough pill to swallow right there, and I do. I didn’t think I would ever do that. That’s a tough loss and our fans deserved better. And I’ll tell you this, we’ll play better.

I know the criticism that comes with it, I can handle that. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like through all the ups and the downs that we will. We’ll get in a barricade and get to work in our complex and go to work. I know everybody has every right to question what we’re doing and we’ll stay the course. You saw how we can play and how we will play. We made plays on all sides of the ball in that first half and the guys knew what they were doing. We were executing, played with urgency, made plays, and did some very good things. We cannot let one play, or any play, and the momentum punch us in the gut and take the wind out of us. And that’s where I thought we were beyond that. Because you’re always going to face adversity in games and in a season.

And at the end of the first half when we gave up the home run, that was a punch in the gut that we had to respond to — get it behind us and move on. And that’s exactly what we talked about, and we didn’t do that. We come out in the second half, and if I’m not mistaken right there, a ball hit us right in the chest for our fourth interception that set us up again and we drop it. And that’s just one play that sticks out in my mind, but there’s so many. Again, we’re going to go back to work and I know this football team is capable of a lot. And once again, I apologize, because our fans do deserve better and that’s not acceptable and I get it. And we’ll get back to work and I know this team will respond and we’ll do some good things.

Q. On the sideline, did you see guys pressing? Did you think that the confidence went away?

I did. We talk about it, we work on it, you don’t want to overdo it. But that was all we talked about this week was good thoughts and believe in what you’re doing.

And I’ve always told the team that with all the hard work that we do, that gives you an opportunity. And if you don’t do that, you have zero chance to win. So, we have done the work to give ourselves an opportunity to win and it didn’t happen today.

So, we’ll get back to work. And we talked a lot about that. We talked a lot about when adversity hits, how are we going to respond and keeping the faith. You can’t play this game in fear. You can’t coach in fear, and there’s no place for it. You got to have faith and you got to put the work in and go and that’s what we’re going to do.

Q. Obviously, they ran the ball well in the second half. Did they make any sort of adjustment at halftime?

We have got to play better. They did a heck of a job. That goes without saying. Coach (Shannon) Dawson and all that he’s gone through, I am happy for him. Obviously, I want our team to play better, but he did a heck of a job and they kept us off balance.

It’s a team game, as you know. When one side is struggling, we can’t let them double us up in time of possession. That can’t happen. So once again, I believe we only got two first downs in the second half. So, it’s both sides playing equally bad football. We are not capable of beating anybody when both sides play bad.

Q. Have you ever been in a game where your offense looked so good for one half and so bad for another half?

No, no, I haven’t. Not like that. Because our guys knew what to do, they knew where to go with the football, they made plays, we were sharp. Momentum is a big thing. We’ve got to learn to handle the momentum shifts and come back and make some plays.

Q. When the defense is on the field for most of the second half, what does that tell you about the depth that your team has going forward and their abilities just to stay in?

It’s not good enough. Nobody is. We’re not good enough to be on the field that long and that’s two-fold. That’s, defense has to do their job to get off and offense has to do their job to move the football.

Q. Have you ever had a team that was on the field for 95 plays? The defense.

Yeah, I have, I would imagine. I don’t know. I’m sure I did. You get in some of those games. But it’s tough. Again, that’s two-fold. That’s the defense’s job to get off, so they don’t have as many plays and we have to control the football and get some first downs. When it’s spinning, when the momentum’s gone, that’s where you have to play good on both sides of the ball. And we obviously didn’t do that.

Q. What did you see when Drew was really spinning there and finding his guys. He threw some balls early that were about as well as he could throw them and what changed?

A lot of it comes to protection and comfort and getting off balance. That’s what they had, balance. They were able to run the ball and get some aggravating yards and staying ahead of the chains.

The third down, we got off balance on third down. They did a nice job. We blew up a screen or two in the first half and then all of a sudden they come in and they hit us on one or two screens that I remember on third down that really hurt us.

We’re pinning our ears back and coming and they hit us with a screen on third down in a couple critical situations that we got to do a better job.

Q. With all the work you’ve done with these kids and their confidence do you think there still is a problem that when something goes wrong their confidence just goes away?

Well, it was evident today. It’s hard to deny that today. That’s where we have got to just continue to work and we’ve got to continue to believe and it’s a good group. It’s going to hurt and they’re going to go through some tough times and everybody’s going to question them.

They have got to man up and get back to work and accept that. It starts with me. That’s what I told them. I’ll do my part and I’ll get back to work and the staff will and they have got to do their part.

But like I told them, we’re a good football team. They know what to do, they know how to play. Our coaches know how to coach. We’ve just got to get back to doing the good things that you saw in this game and you’re going to see it again this year. So, but that’s what we’ll do.

Q. How do you approach the fact that all those naysayers and people outside the locker room are going to question when we come back in two weeks, how do you deal with that?

I understand it. The attendance part hurts, because I do feel an obligation. I want our fans — there’s so many good people. I walked in today with Talbott Todd and I want to make guys like that proud of our program and our team. And it hurts. It does.

But it won’t affect me in the job that I do. I understand it. People do a lot. It’s not easy to come to a football game. There’s crowds and people and you got to get here early and it’s a long day and there’s a lot of other things they can do. So, we need them. I ask them not to bail on us, because this football team’s got a lot of good games in them. But it does hurt. And when you get it teed up and you got a big game like that and you’re playing very, very well and you lose it, you understand that it comes with the territory. You have to accept that criticism and know the truths of it and know the things that you got to just put your head down and go to work and that it will come together.

Q. When you and your staff are selling a vision to prospective recruits and your recruits, how much harder does tonight make that case?

It definitely hurts. Yeah, it doesn’t help.

Q. You termed your secondary future superstars, after tonight, do you think they lived up to that expectation?

No, I don’t think they did. We saw some phenomenal plays, when we were playing good I think you saw, I think all of us enjoyed when the game was going one way, because you saw some guys making one-handed interceptions and you saw the length and you saw some good plays. Then you saw it all go the other way. So, I can’t put it all on them, that’s for sure, but no, I don’t think that we played exceptionally well in the secondary. I thought we played very well at times and then a few plays that are just inexcusable. The screen and go that went for I think the last touchdown is absolutely inexcusable. We cannot have the same mistakes that we have had for a while and that’s not OK.

Q. Can you give an injury update on Blake McClain after that hit and did Dorian Baker not play?

I really don’t have an update on Blake yet. I can’t comment on that. I don’t know what the situation is. Dorian was questionable on his hamstring. He had a hamstring and hopefully he’ll be back this week. He was close.

Q. What about Josh Allen?

Again, I don’t have an update. I saw him with a bag of ice on his shoulder, so.

Q. What wasn’t working for the run game on offense tonight?

Well, when we settled back down and were down six, then we got to some big sets, and we ran the ball very effectively. And they weren’t in big sets, they were in 11, but that’s what they were doing to us. They were getting, three, four, five, keeping you off balance. And then we go to 12 and we do that. That’s where we were getting some yards, getting some runs, and we get the holding penalty and then the rest is history. It put us back behind the chains.

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