Kentucky-Mississippi State Postgame Quotes

University of Kentucky Football Media Conference
Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mark Stoops

COACH STOOPS: And our coaches, from the beginning, and I know it didn't go how we wanted it to all the time, but I really felt very well prepared for this game. I felt like our players were. I felt like our coaches were, and I think they did a heck of a job.

We didn't always execute to perfection. We seemed to like putting some drama in things, but we were really playing some good football and turned it and had a chance to really separate ourselves; and we get the stripped scoop again to put more pressure on our football team.

But once again, we showed that resiliency, and we showed that toughness, and all that stuff I talked about is starting to pay off in the off-season with being physically tougher, mentally tougher, and being able to bounce back from adversity. That's what I'm most proud of.

Again, I felt like we were very well prepared. I felt like our staff did a great job. Our players have been so much fun to coach. We've had a great couple weeks. They are a fun group to work with and we are going to take another step. We're excited about it and ready to move forward to the next challenge.

Q. What did you think after Dorian dropped that pass in the end zone?
COACH STOOPS: I didn't quite see it. I didn't know if it was a drop or not. I heard everybody screaming like we got it and then not, but what are you going to do on the next play? I was hoping he would come down with it, but I just saw it bouncing around back there.

Q. Where did that rank as one of the craziest games you've been a part of?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it's right up there. It seems like we have some of those but it's right up there. Yeah, it is up there.

But I was really proud at the end. We practice that play every week, we're nine seconds -- and our players know if there's no timeouts and under three, we have to snap it. We have the play that we go to and we have to get down right there. If he runs around, the game is over.

So we run it, hit the dig and get down on the ground and call a time-out and hopefully make the field goal and it worked. It worked this time. So proud of our coaches. They are prepared for that play. They work it every week. Again, it was nice execution there.

Q. Austin missed one early, comes back.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he absolutely did. I had a lot of confidence with him in that last kick, I did. I was good with it either way because I felt like our team, our players played their hearts out; I know our coaches coached their hearts out.

And I have a lot of confidence, I've been telling you guys that I felt like Austin was getting real close to being an elite kicker, getting back to like he is. He did miss one early but I have a lot of confidence in him.

Q. What was it like when they picked the fumble up --
COACH STOOPS: I can't talk about that, what goes through my mind right there (laughs) no, but --

Q. What did you say?
COACH STOOPS: Well, you have to bounce back. You have to. And that's what we've been practicing and working on and they have done that. And we went right back and put a really good drive together. And I knew we had them on the field for a long time.

So the one bad thing about a scoop-and-score for a defense is you have to go right back out there and, sure enough, they get the big momentum boost and they go right back out there, but out offense drove it down. We only got the three, but it was a big drive.

Q. What did you actually say to Austin after the game on the field?
COACH STOOPS: I think we both just looked at each other and I don't even know what we said. Just, you know, I gave him a hug and probably told him I loved him.

Q. It's been a tough year for him last year.
COACH STOOPS: It was a brutal -- absolutely. He's a wonderful kid and he works hard, and he's healthy, and our team has a lot of confidence in him. He just told the team that he was just proud to be a part of it and get it for them.

Q. What did you say to Stephen (Johnson) at half-time and can you talk about Marc McWilson?
COACH STOOPS: Stephen at halftime, we told the whole group to just go back to executing and play with poise, get the opening kickoff and go score. And we felt like we did not play very good in the first half. We were playing fantastic defense for awhile, but then we got the short fields and the change of possession, I would like to see us do better on that change of possession but two short fields and we are really playing -- I don't think they had a first down for a long time.

But we knew with the mistakes that we made with the special teams and with the fumble, and you're down one possession and didn't play very good, and certainly not very well on offense; but again, we were moving it. Everybody throws the stats in my face when we lose, but we did have a bunch of yards and were controlling the game and that does pay off sometimes, late, and hopefully it did here.

Q: On Boom Williams struggling early, then having success late
COACH STOOPS: I think you can't say enough about what he did, and all of our players. We've talked about being selfless all week, and doing whatever we can do to help this football team play better.

So when you're in the game, it's not about you being the best player out there but it's about making the team play better. And Boom did that and he made some big plays late in the game, and that was good to see.

Q. Jeff (Badet) had some huge --
COACH STOOPS: He did. And again, we've been -- Jeff and I talked Friday, must have been Friday, and we were in my office and that's what we needed, him to stay the course, stay patient. We've had our struggles with throwing the ball but that opportunity was going to come and when it comes, you'd better make it and do it and he certainly did.

Q. A bunch of wrinkles in the offense today; was that through the bye week you planned that?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it was trying to build on some of the success that we had with some of the plays and take it to a new level. Some of it worked a little bit and kept them off balance and it helped. And we did have two weeks. And we needed to create some plays.

Q. Since you drew it up like this, how does the plan, the adversity -- what does that do for a program?
COACH STOOPS: I think it gives us an opportunity to take it to the next step. We'll see what we do with it. We'll challenge our team. I just did right there about -- you know, I'm so proud of them, and I love them, and I loved coaching them throughout this whole game and throughout the whole season.

We play early next week, and you know, it's about sacrificing this week, getting home, getting some rest and let's get back to work.

Q. Your conference play, almost comes down to the last few minutes of every game. What does that say about how the team has finished in close games?
COACH STOOPS: We're proud of the way we've finished these games. They are never easy. We are not built that way to run away with games, and you know, our league, the difference in wins and losses is as tight as any league outside of the NFL.

So you're going to have some tight games, so you'd better win some.

Q. They were giving up about 136 yards on the ground -- you got 262. Were you developing the mind-set to run the ball?
COACH STOOPS: Definitely, and again, we were in very good control for a long time. And then -- well, -ish (ph), I should say in the second half. But when you're grinding on people and you're getting all those yards and you've got them on the field for a long time, it can pay dividends for you late in the game. It did today.

This game could have went either way. We know that. But if we don't turn it over, we're in pretty good control, also. We have to be smarter about that, and that situation right there, an extra yard or trying to get too much, is -- that can't happen. Get down, use the clock, go to third down, try to get the touchdown, and if nothing else, we get three and we're in good shape.

Q. Ryan Timmons had a couple big plays for you.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, good to see. I think all of our guys have been fun to coach, and you know, waiting for their opportunity. You know, we weren't built to just throw it around and have all that fun that you like to see. We have some playmakers about you we're learning to grind it out and we have a lot of good players, and again, it's about being selfless and when it's your time, you have to step up and make some plays.

Q. You admitted -- Marc McWilson, when he made that play --
COACH STOOPS: Big time. Big time. I tackled him. I hurt him (Laughter).

No, I'm so happy for him. He doesn't realize how much potential he has sometimes and that's why I'm hardest on him.

Q. Once again, you didn't flinch. That seems to be a common mind-set right now.
COACH STOOPS: I'm from Youngstown, Ohio. We don't flinch.

UK Student-Athletes

#99 Austin MacGinnis, PK

On how he was feeling seeing the game-winning kick go through the uprights…
“It felt so good. It felt like relief. It feels so good to get over the hump. We haven’t beaten Mississippi State since I’ve been here, so it felt really good to get the SEC win.”

On putting the first quarter miss behind him…
“You always have to put any kick behind you. Make or miss, it’s always about the next kick. If you’re thinking about the last kick, you don’t give yourself a chance.”

On what Coach Stoops said to him after the game…
“He was telling me he was proud of me, that everyone had faith in me and they trusted me. He was glad I made the kick.” 

#15 Stephen Johnson, QB

On how they ran the offense…
“Being able to run trick plays and to score touchdowns really helps our offense. It really opens things up and not make it so one- or two-dimensional.” 

On how he felt before and after the kick…
“Before, I don’t know. My stomach was everywhere. My mind was everywhere. And after, I was filled with joy. I am still in shock. This is a great feeling.”

On his confidence in Austin MacGinnis to make the field goal… 
“Oh, absolutely. He does it every day in practice. I knew he was going to make it regardless.” 

On him and Jeff Badet’s offensive chemistry in the second half…
“All week we’ve just been practicing and trying to get better. In the first half of the season, we really weren’t connecting like we were supposed to, but we definitely connected today. Getting a little extra practice really helped us this week for this game.”  

#15 Marcus McWilson, S

On how it feels to win a game the way they did… 
“It’s definitely a great feeling. I’d say emotions are still high for me, and I’m sure they’re still high for everybody else. They made plays, we made plays and we were able to keep our composure. Today we were able to make a little bit more than they were and come out on top. I’m grateful for this win, but now we’ve got to focus on next week.” 

On the interception…
“You know, I studied film. I knew the routes that were coming and knew what I was going to get. I was able to make a play on the ball, get to the end zone and help our team get up. Again, excitement there was just crazy. I was caught up in the moment and loved it.”

On how tough Coach Stoops was on Marcus and how it motivated him to be better…
“I definitely had to except the challenge myself and be the player he expected me to be. I had to hold myself to a higher standard and above the standard he even holds me to. They tell us that all the time that a coach is someone that takes you to a place that you cannot get to on your own. So as he pushes me, I push myself, and my teammates all push each other to keep it going.” 

#26 Benjamin Snell, Jr., RB

On the moment he shared with his family after the game…
“It was just me crying and my dad saying, ‘It’s ok. You did it.’ I’m just really emotional about this game because I just love this game. Everybody on the team loves it. Putting all the pressure on just one guy and him being able to make that play and win the game is just amazing. We just fought so hard and he pulled through. So, I had nothing to do but cry. I was so happy.” 

On what a big win like this can do for the team going forward… 
“It’s going to give us a lot of encouragement and a lot of good behind us. In the past years, this would be a turning point that would go downhill. This time, we’re keeping the winning streak and keeping things alive now.”

On the atmosphere after Mississippi State made the late score…
“We sighed. We weren’t down, but we knew that it was time to execute. Offensive coaches got in our ear, Coach (Eddie) Gran got in our ear and it was time to drive.” 

#34 Jordan Jones, LB

On what this game means to him…
“I’ll be the first one to tell you, we’ve come a long way. Last year, even the year before that, it was almost like people would just quit and give up after we were down, but today and the past few weeks we’ve proven everyone wrong. Just fighting, it’s been a dog fight.”

On defense keeping it close the first half and offense keeping it close in the second half…
“We work off of each other. If offense is doing bad, the defense is going to pick the offense up. If defense is doing bad, the offense is going to make plays.”
On difficulty tackling Nick Fitzgerald…
“He’s a big dude, I’m not going to lie. He fought for every yard, and he’s a humble guy, too. And he’s a pretty good quarterback, but I don’t think it was that hard to tackle him, at least for me.”

Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen

On feelings on the end of the game based on how the second half played out…
“We just needed to make a play, and credit to them for making the play. I feel bad for our guys. We’ve lost three games this season on the final play of the game with a really young team. But opportunities are there for us to make plays. We just didn’t make enough of them.”

On Nick Fitzgerald driving the field for the last touchdown…
“It was a great drive. The guys showed a lot of character, especially with overcoming a penalty. We had horrendous penalties upon us during the game that just really hurt. But we were able to overcome it, make some plays and take the lead. But you have to give their kids credit, they made a major play at the end. A 51-yard field goal is a heck of a kick by that kid.”

On momentum change after fumble recovery…
“Again, our guys showed a lot of character. We were down by 10 and ended up coming back to take the lead. We just fell short.”

On Nick and the offense on last minute drives…
“Some of the guys made some plays. Fred (Ross) didn’t have a big night, but was able to make some plays during key moments of the game. Nick also made some plays at key moments of the game. We had a lot of penalties and holding calls that we can’t let happen. I just feel bad for our guys. It’s tough on young football players that are working to improve and build themselves to lose three games on the final play of the game. It’s tough, but we’ll see what we’re made of coming back from this.”

On difference from first to second quarter…
“Offensively, I’ve never seen us play that poorly, fumbling the ball and fumbling snaps. I wish I had an answer. I’ve never seen us make that many mistakes and errors to start a game off.”

On playing young guys early in the game…
“I like to play a lot of guys, and sometimes we get into the games and don’t rotate enough guys early enough. I want to play guys early in the game so they can get into the course and the flow of things. It’s hard to throw a guy in during the third quarter, and that’s their first time getting a snap that day. I love playing the young guys, but I don’t think we’ve done a great job of doing it throughout the year. The coaches focus on getting guys in that are going to make plays, but I just want to make sure that everyone that’s going to be playing is able to get in the game early.”

On team recovery from this loss…
“That’s the challenge. We’ll see how they bounce back. When you have a lot of young football players, how they respond to this is really going to be huge. Their mindset, how they come to practice tomorrow, just them as a team in general. Here’s the thing about football – we get to play another game next weekend. This same group of guys get the opportunity to go experience the feeling that Kentucky just experienced with winning a football game, but it’s only going to happen if we shoe up and work our tails off, continue to improve at every position and have a mindset to face adversity, make plays and be a better football team next week than we were this week. If we do, we have the opportunity to get a win. The guys are working and improving so they deserve that feeling.”

On Darryl (Williams’) condition…
“I don’t know exactly, but I think he was moving his fingers and toes during the injury. Besides that, all we know is that he was alert. I appreciate Mark (Stoops) coming over to check on him. In the giant picture of life, its just a football game and when stuff like this happens it brings you back to reality. I made sure that our guys knew that he was alert and I believe that Mark told his guys the same. It’s tough for anybody to witness that. It’s a scary situation for everybody, so hopefully he’ll be okay. Our prayers are with him.”

On what was working well with the run game during the first half…
“After the start we had, that’s pretty amazing because we started minus 25 yards per carry. To be honest, we just executed. I don’t know that anyone made any spectacular runs where they broke a bunch of tackles. We just executed well and moved the ball.”

On motivating Mark McLaurin during fourth quarter…
“I just told him to keep going! He came to play four quarters of football and there was a lot of football left to be played at that moment. They had been making great plays the entire game and then we finally made a play, which reenergized everyone.”

On their current record being more difficult for older or younger guys…
“It’s difficult for everybody. We’re 5-2 because of three plays and that’s hard for everyone because of how much work everybody puts into it. We’re 5-2 talking about how great things are, and it feels like the world is collapsing in that locker room. Our guys are competitive. They want to win. So, they work so hard and I just feel bad for them. But we have some good, young leadership on this team, and I’m sure that they will continue to grow and respond the right way.”

Mississippi State Student-Athletes

#7 Nick Fitzgerald, QB

On attitude on the sideline when down 10 in 4th quarter …
“Well, we were down 10, there is still a lot of football left to play. We knew that whatever we did, we had to do whatever we could to win the game and there was nothing that we could do less than that. Defense came up huge. Put us right back in the game by three, then we get another big stop, we get the ball, we drive down and have a great drive, score and just needed one play, one play short.”

On being able to lead the team during the last offensive drive …
“Just a good combination of pass and run. Just keeping it myself sometimes, running backs had great blocks and receivers running great routes, it was just clicking that last drive.”

On rejuvenating sideline …
“We weren’t down by any means. We knew that we were still in this game and that we still had a lot of time left in this game. We really thought that we were going to win the game. When (Ross) scored the sideline had extra energy. It was a great play and just really put us back in the game.”

#22 Malik Dear, WR

On change in second quarter …
“We just came out slow in the first half, I mean, everything that was happening in the first quarter was just on us. We had just got in a huddle, sat down and talked about it, understood that all the mess-ups and all the errors we had, it was past us now so we just started running the football and they just brought out success.”

On dynamics of run game …
“It is very dynamic, we just have to get the passing game going so we can get even better runs, even bigger explosive plays.”

On the losses …
“This is actually my first time experiencing things like this, I mean, it just makes the team stronger. As a team we just have to come together and overcome all of this, all of the losses, and just get ready to go to work tomorrow.”

#41 Mark McLaurin, DB

On the defense’s mindset on the final drive… 
“We knew we had to come in and make a stop. We had to go all out to draw a line and stop them.”

On what went through their minds as Kentucky lined up for the 51-yard field goal…
“Coach just told us to make a play, and to be honest the kicker made a great kick. So, there was nothing we could do about it. It hurts knowing we fought so hard and we knew we came back, but for that 51-yard kick… It hurt watching that.”

#8 Fred Ross, WR

On losing the past three games in the final play and what needs to change…
“Maybe it’s just someone at the beginning of the game not making a play they needed to. Losing by one play just means we needed to make one more play.”

On how he bounces back after these losses… 
“We just have to come back to work. We have a lot of young guys in the locker room and I don’t think anyone in that locker room has their head down. We just want to get back to practice on Monday.”