Kentucky-Southern Miss Postgame Quotes

University of Kentucky Football Media Conference
Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mark Stoops

MARK STOOPS: Finishing games. 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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. You ever been in a game where your offense looked so good for one half and so bad for another half?
MARK STOOPS: 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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. You ever had a team that was on the field for 95 plays? The defense.
MARK STOOPS: 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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 pining 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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 perspective recruits and your recruits, how much harder does tonight make that case?
MARK STOOPS: 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?
MARK STOOPS: 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 okay.

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

UK Student-Athletes

#19 Kayaune Ross, WR

On getting in the end zone tonight…
“Got to move on. Next play. I’m not really focused on that right now. I’m just focused on the next game.”

On the offensive struggles in the second half … 
“It felt like our energy was low, but I also saw a lot of things that were good. It just hurts knowing the kind of team that we have, what type of guys that we have, but we just have to come in tomorrow and get our bodies right. I’m going to watch film and break down the game to fix it.”

#18 Stanley Boom Williams, RB

On what went wrong in the second half …
“A lot went wrong in the second half, we know this one will hurt, but we have a big one in The Swamp next week.”

On only having 13 carries …
“It’s a team game, we have a lot of playmakers out there and they made some plays. When you do get the ball you just have to do the best you can and make a play. That’s the motto that I go by, no matter how many times I get the ball I just want to try to do something with it.”

On scoring so quickly and causing the defense to be on the field longer …
“We can’t have any excuses, we still need to go out there and play. We need to watch film and see where we can improve.”

#56 Kash Daniel, LB

On his debut …
“It felt good to make my college debut. I was glad to get out there on special teams for a couple of plays.”

On making an impact on special teams …
“There are certain things I need to get better at on kickoff and punt return. I’ll need to watch some film on Monday.”

On the pregame atmosphere … 
“The atmosphere was everything. I was excited to be here and to have this opportunity. A lot of guys would kill for this opportunity. I’m just blessed to be here.

On where the team goes from here …
“It’s time to go back to work, can’t dwell on it. Need to get back in the film room and get ready for Florida.”

#7 Drew Barker, QB

On the second half … 
“They just had long sustained drives. Sometimes I guess it can kind of take the wind out of your sails. I mean, it was a good learning experience for us. It’s really a tale of two halves. We’ve been preaching ‘finish’ all year. We just got to keep working, put this one behind us, learn from it and you know we got a big game coming up against Florida. A division game, so you know, we just have to get ready for that.”

On if USM made a defensive adjustment …
“Yea, maybe a little. I mean, I feel like it was just more of their long sustained drives. They had just kind of took our momentum away from us. And then I had three turnovers in the second half. So that’s all my fault. But, yeah I think it was more of the long sustained drives really.”

On where they were mentally offensively when they were up 35-10 …
“Yeah, when things are going good everybody is really happy. So the spirits were good and we just got to translate that into the second half. Take that, just come into the locker room at halftime, refocus and go out there like the score is 0-0.”

#11 Tavin Richardson, WR

On what it felt like starting this year as supposed to sitting out last year …
“It felt good, it was a goal of mine. It made me stay focused through this whole entire week. I had a lot of aggression and was ready to play Southern Miss.”

On what it felt like being in an actual game this year …
“It felt good. I missed it, I missed it really bad last year. So it felt really good being back.”

On getting a big catch right off the bat and if he had butterflies... 
“Yeah, there were some butterflies. I know the coaches kept preaching to me and they were just like ‘practice, have fun’ really.”

#11 J.D. Harmon, CB

On his performance …  
“You know, to be honest I just put my faith in God and you know if you give it to God, He can do amazing things. And I put my trust in my team, the coaches. You know, that all the hard work we put in in this offseason and stuff like that can put us in a good position to make those competitive plays. So all the glory goes to God and my teammates and the coaches.”

On if the team lost confidence when Southern Miss grabbed the lead … 
“Confidence is one of the things that I feel like we’ve earned it from all the work that we’ve put in. But, at the same time we left a lot of plays out there. And I mean, the only thing we can do now is look at the film, make the corrections and get ready for the next one. This game doesn’t determine our season whatsoever. So after we make these corrections, we’ll get ready for Florida and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Hopson

On how big this win was for his entire coaching career … 
“It’s a big win. I mean, that’s the reality of it. I’m just real proud, just the fight and the determination that our players showed. They never stopped believing and we gave our best in the middle areas and the back end in the first quarter, second quarter. We gave up a ton of big plays. And they just kept digging and kept fighting. It was just a great win.”

On  4th down at the ½-yard mark …
“I felt like we had the momentum and I felt like I got a little bit of belief, you know what, (if you can’t get that ½-yard) you don’t deserve to score and that’s the reality of it. So even if they stopped us, they’re still on minus field with a long way to go. And I think at that time it was a four-point game so I thought it was a wise move.”s

On the touchdown right before the half …
“That was huge. Big play by Isaiah. It was big because that gave us a spark. Coming out and getting the ball in the second half, we talked about that. I said if we get this score we’re right back in this thing. And that’s what they did. At the end of the day we came out second half and committed to playing southern Miss football and the guys really answered the bell.” 

On the halftime message to team …
“I felt like other than some mis-execution on giving up big plays I felt like we had moved the ball on offense and I felt like defense had pretty much done a pretty good job other than five plays and those five plays were huge plays. And I thought we were just beating ourselves with missed assignments. Those guys came back and played a stellar second half.”

On Nick Mullens struggling in the first half …
“Ito and George, they played hard-nosed Southern Miss football. They were tough, they were physical and that’s something that I was proud of how they played. I thought the offensive line was physical. I thought our defensive line was physical. I was just proud of how the guys played.”

On the importance of George and Ito setting the tone on offense …
“Both of those guys are physical running backs and they both played a heck of a football. They did. You know, we could sit here for an hour and I can keep saying over and over that was a great ballgame. It was fun to watch. You saw the guys eyes at half time and you could tell there was a lot of fight left in them. There was never any doubt that we’re coming back. That’s something that’s a joy to see.”

On coach Dawson’s thought when they were down 35-10 …
“We basically were saying the same thing. We talked a lot. We were actually moving the ball. We got in some minus yardage situations early in the first quarter. We got into some 2nd & 15s and that’s something you can’t do, especially against a SEC football team. You can’t put yourself behind the sticks and I think we did that a little bit in the first half. That’s one thing in the second half we didn’t do.”

On Dawson knowing the UK team …
“He knows about it because he coached it, but I always felt like that was a loss because they know him too. I don’t think there was any advantage there one way or another. At the end of the day you give the credit to the players and the assistant coaches. They did a great job preparing the guys and the players. They played their hearts out. It was a joy to watch.”

On being down 35-10 …
“The one thing you try to talk about is continuing the fight. And to me that’s what this football program is built on.  When they interviewed us at halftime I said we weren’t going in to surrender, we’re coming back out in second half. And I think that’s something that, again, that’s Southern Miss football. (Our players) fought for 60 minutes. They played physical football and, as a coach, you’re just proud of that.”

Southern Miss Student-Athletes

#94, Dylan Bradley, DL

On having doubt that Southern Miss would come back …
“No, we had to go inside the locker room at halftime and dig deep inside each other and decide as a team to see what we have and what we have to do to come back out and play fast and play all types of football. The first half wasn’t too good for defensive wise. We gave up four big plays. We did pretty good, but the four big plays hurt us and they were up (18 points) and the second half we came out with mentality, which was what we have been preaching all fall camp and summer training and winter training. Just fight. Fight until there is no more time on the clock.”

On Kentucky being bigger than Southern Miss …
“Well, I don’t think about that. I don’t look at the people that we are playing against. I look at the scheme that we’ve got and our game plan. I go into this game with the same mentality every week. I don’t care if you’re SEC or ACC, whatever conference you’re in, in my mind you put your clothes on just like I do. Our mentality, we talk, and that’s just something we believe in. We can play anybody on the field no matter who they are.”

On being the best game you ever played …
“Yeah, I started my senior year with a bang. I helped my team win and that’s the main goal. None of those stats would be even really important if it weren’t for my teammates guiding me around. The back end did their job to holding them up, which freed me up to make plays.” 

#9, Nick Mullens, QB

On your mindset of the start and the finish of the game …
“Honestly, I don’t know if a lot changed. I just had a pretty tough stretch. Those mistakes are easily preventable so it’s a matter of just focusing, relaxing out there and not turning the ball over. My mindset didn’t really change. Just relax, focus, and make the next play. We never stop believing. Coach Hopson preaches fight, fight, fight, attack, attack, attack, and so that is what I did.”

On how you played in the first half …
“Terrible. Sometimes you just have to relax in the moment. Those mistakes are preventable, so that’s a good thing to know moving forward. But, if we protect the ball then we will have a really good year.” 

On how well you work with Coach Dawson …
“He is awesome. I love Coach Dawson. He is a great coach. We communicate a lot more with the way we get plays in and stuff, but I kind of knew going in, you just have to feel each other out and embrace the change. But, other than that I am so proud of him. He did a great job tonight. The coaches deserve a lot of credit, all the credit in the world. They put us in positions to succeed and so we are thankful for that.”

#32, Xavier Thigpen, DL

On blocking the punt...
“It was too early to determine, so when I got to the sideline everyone was congratulating me. I said, ‘Don’t congratulate me yet. We’ve still got a game to play. There’s still 14 minutes on the clock.’”

On communication issues and difficulties...
“ That’s all [coach] was talking about all week is ‘communicate, communicate, communicate.’ So the communication was good it’s just we had a couple busts, which is normal as a defense and offense too. I mean everybody is going to bust, but overall we have great communication on our team. “

On halftime pep talk to make a comeback...
“ We went back out and we said, ‘It’s 0-0 and we’re going to play the game out like it’s 0-0.’ We said, ‘We’re going to get what we deserve and third and fourth quarter is ours. Let’s finish them.’”

#25, Ito Smith, RB

On how it felt to have a hold on the ball so much throughout the game...
“It’s something I just work on. I work on catching out of the backfield a lot. So I’ve been catching balls constantly, and being a running back you know you’re going to catch the ball. I mean so I just practice that, and coach trusts me. That’s all there is to it.”

On mindset going into halftime...
“Before the game coach told us that nothing was going to be given to us. We had to earn it. At halftime, that’s when adversity had struck. We knew that we needed to go back out and overcome it. We got the win and we did it.”