Kentucky-Vanderbilt Postgame Quotes
University of Kentucky Football Media Conference
Saturday, October 8 2016
MARK STOOPS: I could not be more proud of our team and the victory. It was a hard fought, tough game, just like I said on Monday it would be. I’m very, very proud of our team. We overcame a lot of adversity and that's what you have to do. You have to dig down and make plays to win sometimes. I don't really care how it looks. Certainly I want to get a lot of things cleaned up, but I really am proud. Like I said, I really was frustrated. It seemed like the ball was not bouncing our way again and with the muffed punt, and us not getting that. Our team overcame that. Again, we can't think negative, you can't think that it's not going to happen, you just have to put your head down and go to the next play, keep on grinding and keep on working. I told the team, nobody's going to give you anything, you got to work for what you get, you got to grind it out, you got to have tough victories. I was very proud. I thought we grew in that area. Nobody wants to come out, get a three and out, stop them and then put the ball on the ground and have them run it back for a first down and here we go again. That was not going to happen. I told the team the second I went in there, before I made the adjustments with the staff, I walked right in and talked to the team while the coaches were meeting. That's what I told them, that there was no way in heck that it wasn't going to come down to being a close game. I knew they would hang in there somehow, make a play, get a turnover, make something happen and that's what happened. You would like to see us play a little bit more clean and come out and get the big three-and-out to start the second half, get the ball, move it and pull away, but it didn't happen. So what are you going to do? Are you going to just keep on working and keep on grinding? I was very proud of the outcome, the two-minute drill at the end. There were some things we certainly need to trap the ball better and we were a little hesitant. Guys were a little gun shy on trapping the ball and getting them down, which keeps the clock moving. So were a little slow on that. We'll get cleaned up, but didn't want to panic and pull some kind of blitz or something and have them get something cheap. I wanted to make them earn it and again it got a little close for my comfort there but we had to stay the course, stay patient, and execute and that's what we did. So, very proud of the victory, we really needed the break right now. We spent these past six weeks, it's been as I said before, it's been a tough start, but our guys have stayed the course. We have gotten better. I told you we were getting better, and we certainly have. There's no doubt defensively we have. Offensively we will get back to moving the football. I think when the game tightened up and you put the ball on the ground it gets close, and Stephen was getting a little antsy. He will settle down. I just told him that right now, just relax. You can see on his face, and he's a very good conscientious young man, he needs a little break right now. We'll get back to work on Tuesday. So we'll give them one more day than usual, they will have Monday off. We'll watch the film and get back to work on Tuesday. We'll work hard to get better this week. We have the bye and then another home game, which will be nice. So, we have some good momentum and we’re looking forward to giving these guys a few days off and getting healthy and ready for that last stretch.
Q. After the first two and a half games did you think your defense is going to be able to turn things around as quickly as they have?
MARK STOOPS: I did. Some of it. As I told you, after the New Mexico State game, I came in here and I told you, some will be easily fixed, some will not. It's still the case. Some things we could get fixed quickly. Just coaching them up and getting them in position and I was very confident that it wouldn't look like that. The guys are settling in and executing much better, so I'm proud of them. We still have a long way to go, but we're getting much better and I appreciate their effort, attitude and the way they have gone to work. They haven't flinched and they didn't let even this game, they didn't let the negativity, bad breaks or anything deter them from getting the victory, any way you slice it. We only gave up two field goals, right? So that's pretty good for us. And we'll build on that.
Q. What was your emotions during and after that final play?
MARK STOOPS: I just threw my head set, I was like, I don't know, I was smoked. I was smoked. You always want it to look easier, but we're not built that way. You know what, again, we have had these games before. You guys have asked me those questions and there is a lot to be said about building on games like that. Until we change the performance on the field, when bad things happen, then the result's going to be the other way. Now, when bad things happen, you just keep on staying the course, keep on fighting, love, trust and believe in each other, good things happen. Not always, it doesn't guarantee you anything, but it gives us an opportunity and so in that way it is nice to see.
Q. How hard is it to prepare for that scenario that the defense faced at the end where basically they have four plays to win the game?
MARK STOOPS: For us to get a stop?
Q. Yeah, in that situation you can't really mock that up in practice.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we do a two-minute drill a lot and as I said, earlier that that drive I was a little disappointed. Our guys were a little too hesitant. That wasn't designed to be that soft, really, we had some hard edges and if we have a little better vision and trap that ball quicker, then the clock moves. We can't let them get first downs and get out of bounds. So, there are things we could clean up, but again, I wanted to stay patient even as they were moving it into the red zone with that amount of time. One sack in the game would and we be in pretty good shape and we were close. Also, as you get closer there, if you stay in coverage and don't panic and blitz, and I've done that before. We have went and brought the whole team years ago and in a critical situation they threw it up and that didn't work out real well. So we wanted to stay patient. We did come down and start playing some man free in the red zone, which tightened it up. We wanted to make them earn it and get the ball in the end zone. When you have a lot of guys in coverage, it does get hard.
Q. Did you simplify some things on defense overall?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, we have, we have built on it. I've talked about that for several weeks, I thought it was important to see what we can do, how to go about it, how to structure the calls, personnel. We simplified things and we built on things each week. We really built on it and we had some nice new pressures tonight. One came completely free and we missed the sack, and that was aggravating.
Q. Have you gotten too one-dimensional and if so what gives you confidence that Stephen will settle down?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, Stephen will settle down. We all know we need to throw the ball to win some football games as we move forward, and we will. I talked about that a lot this week, I talked about protecting the football, but I also talked about getting back to a confident and attack mode and moving the ball. We did early, like I said, you hate to when momentum shifts. We have to be able to go to some things and the run game helped us win this football game. If we weren't able to run the ball, it would have been very difficult to win this game. So, I think that, yes, we do want to throw it as we move forward.
Q. Is this one of those milestones when you're going to look at Barker and reassess during this bye week or is it going to --
MARK STOOPS: Not right now, no.
Q. What does it say about Bennie and the staff's trust in him, he carries it 28 times in a game like today. How much has that grown?
MARK STOOPS: Again, you have to give him a lot of credit. I really have a lot of confidence in him and, for being a true freshman, it's amazing, but you love that. As we recruit more and more guys like that, that don't flinch, that will never flinch, look adversity right in the eye and move on and compete at a high level. We have a lot of those guys and we’re just trying to put it all together. We're getting better and better and but he's a tough runner.
Q. Does his presence change the attitude of the other guys on the offense? It seems like you guys have a little more edge in the running game and not just because of him now when you need to get those yards.
MARK STOOPS: It is. He changes a lot of things. I touched on it before, but he's, when you recruit, he's what we thought he was going to be, but it just is a little faster than maybe you anticipated. But that hard nosed, great balance, tough runner, tough mindset, tough attitude, no BS about him. He's here to work, win football games and get better, and I love that. He helps in a lot of ways, but you have to give a lot of credit to all of our backs. Boom had some big runs. He put the ball on the ground, but he had some big runs early. He's explosive, he'll be fine. I'm sure he's probably frustrated, but you put the ball on the ground and we went with the other guys and they got hot. Really you have to give a lot of credit to Jojo, I thought the run when he bounced it and outran him and got the first down was huge. That's a big play. It's nice seeing somebody step up when their number's called.
Q. How much do you think the credit goes to that you're just a more physical football team on both sides of the ball with your running game on offense and the way you were playing on defense the last two or three weeks?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, without the physicality we wouldn't have had any chance to win this game tonight. So it definitely is helping. Now we need to polish it up and start attacking and throwing the ball down the field. We have good wide outs that I'm sure are going to want the ball and we have to get it to them and loosen some things up. But the toughness on both sides of the ball, the attitude and the belief, if you didn't have it, then we wouldn't have won that game. So it's a big piece of it.
Q. (Question about Josh being banged up.)
MARK STOOPS: They have been really working hard. Josh has been banged up and it will be nice for him to have a few days and get healed up. He's been playing through injury, playing extremely hard. We're really thin at that position at the outside backer position. At late, when we go to four down, those guys off the edge, just playing D-ends and rushing, we're down some guys there. So they're really playing a lot of snaps and playing very hard. I’m proud of them.
Q. How much should we credit the defense improvement for you taking a bigger role?
MARK STOOPS: No, I want to be very clear about this, there's no way we would have this success without Coach Elliott putting a lot of this together. I really helped eliminate some of that, some of the pressure of calling the game, because we work well together. We always have. So the structure of it is very good. He's seeing what's going on in the press box and he's making great adjustments. Really, it's easy to call plays when the structure's right and the guys are playing. We’re keeping them off balance but that's a credit to the whole defensive staff. So, we really have done well, but DJ's worked his tail off and is doing the same things he's always done. He's always been successful, it's just helping with me being involved in calling it and he can really see what's going on up there and make quality adjustments. He can know exactly, because, before, if he is so busy doing all that and we don't know exactly what's going on and how to get things fixed, so it's been working well.
Q. Was Elam an injury situation?
MARK STOOPS: He's been injured the past couple weeks. He tried to play last week against Bama, but he's got some injuries. Hopefully, it will be a week or two. I think he should be back by the next game.
Q. What did you see from the special teams?
MARK STOOPS: For the first time all year we didn't -- thank you for that question.
I've been waiting on that.
But, no, I was disappointed in that, because we have been playing really hard and we have to get some things cleaned up. The execution on the kickoff return at the end of the half is not acceptable, so they're doing a couple things there that we anticipated. We didn't make the play and we didn't beat, we lost some one-on-ones that put us in a stressful situation. So we'll get it cleaned up. We'll get it working and I'm confident we'll bounce back and play well special teams-wise.
Q. It's obvious you're more physical, but why? Why the change? You're playing much harder, but why?
MARK STOOPS: Just stay the course. If we didn't need to get better by grinding, practicing and doing what we do then why, I mean why, work the way we do, right? They get better. We were inexperienced and thin at D-line. We fundamentally had to keep on grinding on them to get better. It's not just being physical, it's also execution, and executing their technique. So, it's a big piece of it, technique, not just brute strength. So they're getting better and the structure of everything's better. They're in better positions, and we're making people work for their yards. We're going to continue to do that. We need to continue to get more physical and we need to continue to get more depth.
But also on the O-line, those guys have been around for a while now. A lot of them, and they have been playing for a few years, they're really getting some tough physical yards in there as well.
Q. If your kids are hesitating less than they can be more physical?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I think that we touched on that earlier, maybe before you were working your way down here, did you try to get an extra hot dog up there or what?
I think that with simplifying things, yeah, that's part of it. We have been down that road for two or three weeks with simplifying things, but a big piece of it is fundamentally, like I told you four weeks ago or three weeks ago, if you're calling something, that is meant to stop something, and they're still getting eight yards, I don't care who is calling what, you're not going to be successful. They have to execute and, yeah, they have to play with technique. They have to play with that passion, energy, desire, everything that our fans and everybody wants to see. They're doing that. I think that early on, with the inexperience we were maybe, yes, we were not executing and not playing well. So I think you're building on all that.
Q. You guys were in a storm a little bit as a team three weeks ago. Has there been an element within that locker room on the practice field across the board of sort of us against the world and a rallying in the mentality of this team from sort of what how bad things looked three weeks ago?
MARK STOOPS: I think part of that. I told them in the locker room, after the Southern Mississippi game, first thing I told them, I grabbed them up, I wanted to see the whites of their eyes, and I told them to stay the course. I said, every son of a gun outside of this room right here will be attacking you and me. Put your head down, do your job and go to work, because there's nowhere to run and there's nowhere to hide. You either man up and get better, or you cave. We're still working, but nobody's been hesitant. It's about getting back and getting to work. We knew we had a good football team. We're not a great team, but we're a work in progress. We're getting better and better. I love their attitude and I love the way they work. So we do need everybody back on board. I'll tell you this: It's very hard to get something turned when it's toxic and negative. The criticism, we deserve it sometimes. I sat here and took it and will. When you deserve to be criticized, you take it like a man and move on. But the toxic, negative stuff, it’s very hard to turn a program when people turn that way, turn on the kids and turn on the players. Coaches deserve to be criticized. That's our job. It's part of our job, but the players and getting toxic, negative and being all that, that's not going to help get this program to where we want it to go. I promise you.
#15 Stephen Johnson, QB
On having a bye week…
“This upcoming week we’re going to work on my targets and getting the ball to the wide receivers and just putting it on them and that’s about it.”
On the team finishing down the stretch…
“Our unity is one thing I think is really big. I think we all come together as one big unit.”
On the play of freshman Benny Snell, Jr. …
“Benny is just phenomenal. That dude gets first downs no matter what. I love handing the ball off to him and seeing him work.”
On what the offense’s mindset was on fourth downs…
“We just know that we can finish and make sure that we can extend drives and extend plays. Our offensive line has had that mindset of, ‘We’re not going to be stopped. We’re going to push you off the ball and you’re not going to do anything about it.’ That’s how our mindset was today on those fourth downs.”
On going 3-of-3 in red zone conversion attempts…
“That’s really big. Being able to know you get down in the red zone and score. That’s something you have to do. You get all the way down there you have to put the ball in the end zone or through the uprights.”
#35 Denzel Ware, DE
On Vanderbilt’s last drive down the field and what he was thinking…
“These boys can’t score, these boys can’t score, these boys can’t score. I’m trying to go home and have fun. You know tonight is homecoming and I just wanted to remember this night with a big victory.”
On what the defense has been doing to turn around this season …
“I was very confident and I never gave up on my team and I never gave up on my coaches. We just really wanted to prove everyone wrong because I feel like everybody had lost faith in us. We are going to keep continuing to do this for our fans because at the end of the day our fans are going to have our back no matter what.”
On how they worked together to win…
“We just believe in one another. We took coach’s plan and we just wanted to execute it. Vanderbilt’s offense on that last drive was great. They scared us a little bit, but you know I tell everybody all the time the best 11 players, whoever wants it most is going to win. Tonight we just wanted it more.”
On what was motivating them…
“We just wanted to prove everybody wrong. I just feel like everybody had lost faith in us. Everything we did tonight and this week we’re going to keep continuing to do for our fans because our fans have our back no matter what.”
#41 Josh Allen, LB
On you and Denzil being a dynamic duo …
“Oh yeah, we feed off of each other. Like, when I make a play, Denzil wants to make a play and he cheers me on. When he makes a play, I’m right there cheering with him. So we compete in a way, but then we celebrate with each other at the same time.”
On the defense and how they have been improving …
“We have just been communicating well and running to the ball. We are just trying to step up.”
On being a more physical defense …
“We just have to get each other better. You know when somebody messes up we are going to get on them and tell them to step up. In practice we go hard because that’s how we want to play because when you go hard in practice that transfers to the game.”
How do you prepare in situations where the game could turn …
“Don’t panic, do your assignment, do your job and just don’t get nervous because it’s only a game and you have to make some plays and we did.”
#26 Benjamin Snell, Jr., RB
On putting the game in his hands …
“I was going to fight for every yard. They were trying to get the ball out so, I just had to run smart. I’m disappointed in myself. I didn’t get it in the end zone. I didn’t get to score, but I’m glad we got the win.”
On being stronger physically and edge running …
“I bring all I can. I bring all I got. This offense, I’m just glad to be apart of it. I just bring all I got.”
On Vanderbilt’s last drive …
“I was hurt on that part because I just knew as the game was going on how we were picking up yards against their defense, we were driving them. We had the upper hand and we were confident.”
#3 JoJo Kemp, RB
On the win and how the team held on for the victory …
“It’s our growth, guys are just stepping up, being positive and we just keep working. Our main motto has just been finishing and we did a great job finishing. We just have to keep it going.”
#29 Derrick Baity, CB
On his confidence the team could win…
“I knew we were going to win. We’re weeks away from week one. Our defense settled down and we were going to win.”
On what has changed in the last three games…
“We’re trusting each other. We’ve all just got that trust. Earlier in the season we didn’t even talk to Josh (Allen) on the field. We talked to him with certain communication, but now we talk to him after every play. We’ve just got that trust, that bond and chemistry on the field. We’re all just doing our job.”
Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason
Opening statement …
“Tough loss to a Kentucky team that battled hard. We dug a hole for ourselves early with poor tackling. I thought both teams struggled in the passing game early. It was good to see Ralph (Webb) run hard and do a good job. He winds up breaking the school record for attempts. Again, he’s consistent. He always shows up. I think he does a great job of competing and it was good to see him. Our struggles on special teams put us behind the 8-ball in terms of miscues with the ball. I know it was windy up there. We put it on the ground a couple times and that was scary. Costly another time and we got it back. You also look at what happened with our punting and a snap that moves over a little bit and he grabs it, but that could’ve been treacherous. We’re just escaping special teams, which is bad play overall. We just need to do a better job, whether it’s operation time, continuity between snapholders, or returning and fielding. I know it was a windy day, but we just have to make better decisions. Just looking at this game, I thought the defense got off to a rough start. We had some troubles getting off the field early. I thought we battled back in that ballgame. We caused a turnover, scoop and score for a touchdown. We were back in the ballgame. I think we had momentum going our way and you started to see it churn, but offensive penalties become drive killers. Any time you have penalties that get you behind the 8-ball as you’re trying to gain momentum, flip-field position, or score points, it becomes extremely tough. When you look at our games, we’ve been in every ballgame that we’ve played. The miscues are eating us up. I just have to do a better job of getting this team to function well in those situations because we demanded more and had less of those penalties in the second half. We can’t afford to get behind and play catch-up football. We have to start faster. We keep talking about it with this group. This group has to continue to work. I can demand it in practice, but it has to show up on game day. That’s what you have to show up for. We just have to move forward. I thought we missed several opportunities in the first half for turnovers. We had four opportunities for interceptions that would change that ball game. Period. It just does. We can continue to catch them in practice, but you have to catch them in games. I truly believe that this game could’ve been put out of hand real early if we had made those plays. I thought we didn’t control the line of scrimmage when we needed to. I thought Kentucky did a great job all day of running the football. Late in the ballgame, when we needed to get them off the field, we didn’t. They kept running Wildcat. We used to run Wildcat here a few years ago before I got here. We haven’t run it lately. It’s very affective when you have to play 11-man football and you have to take your safety up the middle and get in the box and help control the line of scrimmage. I thought we got knocked off the ball up front. We have to get that fixed. We will get it fixed. For these guys, we’re going to continue to battle regardless of the outcome of this ballgame. We wanted to win, but we didn’t. We have to get back to work and get it fixed.”
On what he can do to fix special teams in the middle of the season …
“It’s not personnel. It’s decision making. Our punter is a young guy. Just looking at where he is right now and what he’s doing, he just has to be consistent. Our long snapper has to be consistent. We all have to be accountable. We came out of the first three games doing pretty well in special teams. Now you start to hit the comedy of errors and what you have to do is really reel it in. We asked for it this week in practice. I thought we did a good job of being disciplined. You can’t simulate the weather in terms of catching punts. You just have to make better decisions and know after your first one that the wind was swirling and that you have to stay away from the ball. That’s what has to happen. He said he couldn’t get to it because the wind knocked it down twice. That’s just part of understanding, “Ok. Maybe we need to do what (Kentucky’s) returner did.’ He did a good job of just getting away from the football because he felt like he couldn’t field it. It’s just making good decisions and staying away from the penalties because the penalties continue to hound us. Decision making with a football team that’s close is what we have to do better.”
On the close losses and how he convinces his team that the win is going to come …
“I can’t make the wins come. The only things that we can do is put in the work and make the right decisions and play good football, then the wins come. It’s not going to be what we talk about. It’s going to be what we do. We have to make sure that we stay accountable and continue to work. These things are going to fall our way. I’d be somewhat out of it to think otherwise. I don’t believe that. When you’re in ballgames this close, you’re only a good decision or two away from making something happen. Let’s make some better decisions and let it fall the way it needs to.”
#14 Kyle Shurmur, QB
On pass protection issues earlier in the game …
“The offensive line fought hard. I have to get out of some of those situations. We had them picked up for the most part, more of that was me not sitting in the pocket long enough.”
On moving on from several tough losses …
“We’re just going to get back to work. We have this mentality that we’re just going to keep getting at it and we’re going to get back to work tomorrow and we’re going to move on and look forward to playing Georgia.”
#10 Trent Sherfield, WR
On moving forward and hopefully turning close losses into wins …
“I don’t believe in hope. I feel that as a team we need to believe that it is going to happen. I feel that if we just go out every week and keep giving more, something has got to give and we will be able to get over that hump.”
On the team’s offensive struggles early in the game …
“I think it’s costing us a lot. If we could pick up the slack we could help out the defense, but it’s a team sport. We win as a team. We lose as a team. There are some things on the defensive side of the ball that could’ve been fixed and there are some things on the special team’s side of the ball that could have been fixed as well as offense. But, I definitely feel as though the offense could help out by making plays down the field, strain the finish more, and just help out Shurmur.”
On what else can be done to finish off SEC games …
“Attention to detail. All the small things matter and I think once we get that done, we can start to pull away from teams. I also feel that if the offense gives more, defense gives more, special teams gives more, and we all play together we will be a better team. We’re right there, we just have to get over that hump.”
#3 Taurean Ferguson, CB
On the team’s game plan for this game …
“Coach Mason and our defensive coaching staff had a great game plan this week. But, as you can see it didn’t result in a win. I want to thank our coaches for that. They did a great job this week preparing for Kentucky. Ryan White did a great job. He worked on stripping the ball and getting a fumble recovery in practice every day of the week so, he did a great job with that. And my job is to finish the play off the way it’s supposed to be finished off.”
On special teams play …
“Things happen, it’s football. We’re imperfect people playing a game of football so things are going to happen. The thing that you can do is go out there and make sure it doesn’t happen again. As you can see, we fumbled two punts today. We have to let those plays go. The game came down to a close one so, two punts that happened earlier with special teams, we let those things fly by our head and play the next play.”
#69 Adam Butler, DL
On Kentucky running the ball …
“It was a combination of both execution and poor tackling. I think what we have to do better is recognize the run quicker because this team does mainly focus on the run, but they also will do quick passes left or right and it’s important that those guys pay attention to that stuff so they can trigger to that as well as the run. So, I feel like we should’ve made the adjustment to trigger faster throughout the game.
On the team’s mindset …
“It’s kind of turning into frustration, but at the same time we just keep trying to encourage each other. We keep trying to stay positive and lift each other up cause if we don’t then things will just go downhill and we don’t want that.”