Mark Stoops Press Conference

Kentucky Football Head Coach Mark Stoops

Opening statement … 

“Again, very disappointed, just like I said postgame. It was a disappointing loss. Obviously, it was very tough on our team and on our players. They really put their heart and soul into that game and put it all on the line. We all know it was very important, there was no denying that leading up to the game. That is the good that I take from it, is that the players really put a lot into it. They were not particularly happy with the way that we had been playing and went into that game and put a lot into it. We had a great week or preparation and really played very well at times in that game. Again, the game comes down to wins and losses in critical situations and there were plenty of those that I am sure we will get into. In a nutshell when you have the ball first and goal and get zero points from about six-seven inches away, that was the start of a night that was very frustrating for all of us. Not getting that ball in the endzone then the second opportunity when we got the ball on the two or the three yard line and again come away with nothing. It is very difficult. Defensively, we felt like the guys played probably as solid as we have played all year with the exception of maybe one other game. The guys played really well. We gave up 14 points and really weren’t even on the field for the pick-6 touchdown and giving it to them on the two or the three (yard line) that is hard to overcome that. The game comes down to a few possessions and again the good that comes from it, I thought our players played as well as we had certainly in November since I have been here. To play that fast and play with that much energy and do those things. Their defense was very good as we know and the offense moved the ball quite well and really did some good things. The turnovers stalled us and then a couple of possessions inside the redzone stalled us. Defensively, we played an outstanding game really. We gave up one big play, really, the deception play. We got deceived and tricked and gave up that score. Outside of that the defense played really well.”

On Drew Barker being the starting quarterback …

“Yeah, Drew is going to start this game. It was good to get him some more reps and some more game experience. He went in there on that first possession and gave us a little spark and moved it down the field for a touchdown. That was good to see. You know, we have been talking about it for a while. A lot of times it comes to players around him making plays and doing things (to make it easy) on the quarterback. But it is time for Drew to start. That is the bottom line. He has done some good things and earned the right and he is going to get the start this week.”

On if Drew Barker is going to be the starting quarterback the rest of the season …

“I am not for sure. He is going to start this game.” 

On if he worries about the defense getting frustrated … 

“I really don’t. I mentioned it to them. When we went in there you saw the pain in some guys and saw that hurt. Quite honestly, I was glad to see that because we need more of that. We need guys that are very upset and that invest a lot and play to go win and when we don’t win we are upset about that. I absolutely have no worries about it carrying over into this week. I think we need that fire and need that motivation and inspiration. I was glad to see it and glad to see the passion all the way through the game with some of our guys and we need more of that. That is what we are going to build on.” 

On Patrick Towles playing more in the second half last week … 

“Honestly, we felt like we wanted to see if somebody could get hot and spark us. When we did that with Drew he went in and did some good things and it sparked us and gave us some life and he came back and made a few mistakes just like all of our guys. We were trying to find that balance and we have been going back and forth. We have been talking about this for a long time with the quarterback situation and Drew is going to get his opportunity and if he takes it and runs with it then we will know from there to answer your question about the following week. He will have that opportunity so we will see where it goes.” 

On if anything jumped out at him after watching the film … 

“Well, you are always upset about the missed opportunities. That stays with you for a long time and that is still there. We have been working hard on trying to be good in critical situations like fourth down and third and shorts and all those things. We have even put another period in practice the last couple of weeks to just work on critical situations because so many times you can play well – just this past week – where we did so many good things in the game and it comes down to a couple of critical situations that you don’t execute and you don’t win. We need to make those plays and we will. I know the frustration is there and believe me it is all fair. It is fair criticism and I completely understand that. But we have to keep on getting better and make those plays to win games. The good is the team played fast and inspired and did some better things. The bad thing is a few plays still make a difference. We need to be good enough to overcome anything bad that happens.” 

On how close Sihiem King was to breaking the kickoff return for a touchdown …

“Very close, very close. He had one-on-one with a little bit of leverage from the kicker, but he was very close. It was a good return and well blocked and we had him one-on-one with the kicker and we would like to win that.” 

On his message to the fans …

“Well, I completely understand the frustration of the fans. I want them passionate. I want them to care. I want them to show up and support this team. The tickets are bought and we need them in the stands. I have said it over and over again, I want to deliver. I wanted to win that game last week just to give people more hope and inspiration and get them here and cheer for these kids. Our players played their tails off. That was good to see and I know that the Big Blue Nation loves that and loves it when we play with great passion and energy. They did that and we are going to do that again this week. We have two games left and it starts this week with Charlotte and I promise you the team will come out inspired and ready to play. I completely understand their frustrations. I also am not going to let our team and our coaching staff – we understand where we are going, what we are doing and where we are headed. I know a lot of the good things we have done too. I know it’s been a long time since we have been to a bowl game and all those things, so we know what we are in for but we are going to hunker down and get back to work and get better.”

On if the film matched what he thought after the game …

“Yeah, we did some very good things and played some good football. We held them to one touchdown that they tricked us on and we moved the ball against them as well as anyone that has played them this year just didn’t convert on the short yardage plays that I mentioned. Those situations are pretty bad because we didn’t get it in the endzone. Again, I think we played some very good football outside of a few critical situations that decided the game.” 

On Cole Mosier and Alex Montgomery … 

“Yeah, Cole got hit in practice and had a head injury late in the week last week. And Alex unfortunately did get another significant injury in the opposite leg that he hurt two years ago. He injured his knee.” 

On if the game plan will be different with Barker as the starter …

“It will be a little different than it was this week, but very similar to the game plan that I have had with Patrick and that is giving him the opportunity to go play through the ups and downs. This past week, as you know I said that going into the week basically that we had a plan and it was different, this past Saturday against Vanderbilt it was different because Drew was ready to go. In all the other games we have had since I have been here the starter started and he had a chance to go play the whole game, unless some drastic things happen. Drew will not have a short leash, he will have the opportunity to go out there and play through the ups and downs and play throughout the game. Whether Patrick gets in or not, I can’t answer that. I don’t know. He will prepare like he will, I can tell you that.” 

On the team’s last non-conference game and learning a lesson from that … 

“They better. I anticipate that our team will come out very hungry and ready to play and put a lot into it just like the Vanderbilt game.” 

On if he senses that Drew had the buy in in the locker room to rally the guys …

“I do, I do. I feel that he is waiting to show some leadership and get this opportunity. He has been anxious like he should be. As I said throughout the year, I really like the way he has been preparing and practicing and getting ready and I told him a long time ago that he needs to worry about himself and be the best quarterback he can get because sooner or later – and we were over in my office and I pointed at the stadium – and said, ‘you are going to get this opportunity in here and what you do with it is up to you.’ I told him yesterday that I know it took a little longer than he anticipated to truly get the keys to the car, but he has them now so let’s see what he can do with it and I’m excited to watch him play.”  

On the two missed scoring chances at the goal line and what he saw … 

“We lost yards on the first play and that was frustrating, and I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but I was frustrated throwing the ball on second down. That is what I saw. In hindsight, I would have told Shannon to run the ball four downs in a row. Pound it, pound it, pound it. We were very close on third down to squirting it through there. On fourth down we were so close we went with the sneak and it didn’t work. That is what I saw, we didn’t get the movement. But if we had run the same play that we ran on third down, if we run that four plays in a row we definitely score. We are getting the movement and getting a block.” 

On Boom Williams being in during that stretch and if Mikel Horton would have been a better option giving his bigger size … 

“Quite honestly, throughout the course of this year, Boom has been as consistent as the other guys in the goal line situations. Again, and I don’t like to throw players under the bus, but later in the game we had a situation and third and one and had a one-on-one and we lost with another one of the backs. And we lost that one-on-one when we should have got the yard. I think a guy that we need to look at is Jojo in short yardage to kind of get to where you are going with that. There have been inconsistencies with all of them, but moving forward I want to put Jojo in that situation.” 

On giving Drew his first start at home in a non-conference game … 

“It’s certainly easier to put Drew into a situation to play a non-conference opponent at home than on the road in the SEC. It certainly does come into the equation, but it has not been the determining factor. I have always told you and it’s been true, that we will start the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win. Now it is Drew’s turn.”

On the Vandy deception play that led to the touchdown … 

“We got deceived too late. That is what happened. It is a trick play. We didn’t see it quick enough. We got tricked. Until it was, ‘oh shoot there is a guy running down the sideline,’. We got tricked. It is where they hustle a bunch of guys off and one hides, literally bends over and hides on the sideline. You can’t see it from the press box, where they were at, you can’t even see him hiding down there until the last second. We got tricked. I owned that right after the game. We got deceived. We got tricked. It’s a trick play. The official told me afterwards, ‘I’m sorry coach but it is legal because of the way they did it,”. They tricked us. It was fair play, a legal play.”

On all of Drew Barker’s reps coming on the road … 

“I didn’t even really pay attention to it until you pointed that out. It’ll be good for him to get some home reps. He needs to. I’ve said it over and over again, we’ve been trying to work him in there. It has been tough because the games, early in the year the possessions were so tight. It will be good for him to play.”

On the deception play … 

“It was legal. It was legal. I would be crying sour grapes if I said anything. It was a legal play. It was a deception play that worked.”

On if a losing streak has hurt recruiting … 

“There is always a concern and certainly if you lose some games it doesn’t help you in that front. I feel very good about it. I don’t know what all I can legally say, but I feel very good about the nucleus of this group. Very, very good. If you look across college football, there is going to be some, and when some happens let’s not panic, we will be okay. We are recruiting quite a few players right now. So I feel very good about the nucleus of what we have recruited.”

On learning as a head coach and regretting in-game decision making … 

“First about the learning as a head coach. If you coach for 30 years as a head coach, you are still learning. I bounce quite a bit off my brothers who have been head coaches that I am very close to obviously, (Bob) has been doing it for a long time and he is still learning too. I stand by the decisions we make. I own them. When I make a bad decision, I am not trying to hide from them. You hope one decision doesn’t determine the outcome of a game, sometimes they may. I am never going to put that all on the players. When I address the players, that is what I start with. We will coach better. We’ll make better decisions. You’ll play better. We’ll get this done. We are all in this together. Any mistake that I make, I am not afraid to own it. In hindsight, again, I prefer to punt the ball. I had great confidence in our defense to stop them and that’s why I did it. Very different than a week ago. As you could tell by the way the Georgia game went, we had to do something. This was different. This to me isn’t in the same category. I did have great confidence in our defense to stop them. Worst-case scenario I felt like the most we would give up would be three. And I believe, in my heart, if we don’t get deceived we still do that.” 

On if Boom was hesitant because of the elbow injury and his status vs. Charlotte … 

“A little bit. I think certainly he was coming off of that injury. Give him credit, he played with a significant injury. He had a significant elbow injury that he came back with, toughed it out, and tried to play. I’m sure he was hesitant a little bit. It probably was painful for him. Boom should be good to go, barring any setbacks. He’s fine, didn’t get set back during the game.”

On how he feels the two quarterbacks have handled the competition for playing time …

“Both quarterbacks handled it very well, they have been very supportive of each other all year”

On what the officials told him regarding the touchdown that was overturned …

“I didn’t get ahold of Steve Shaw, the head of officials. I’ll touch base with him today. It’s my understanding that, when you’re facing the opposite direction, your whole foot needs to be in, is what I’m understanding. Whether they have any latitude in that rule at all, I don’t know. Clearly, his toe was in, but I believe the rule states that when you’re facing the opposite direction and not going in that your whole foot needs to be in. Game of inches.”

On the maturation of Barker throughout the season …

“I believe he’s further along, as you would expect. I feel good about him right now because of the work he’s put in throughout the year. I know he didn’t get as many game reps as we would like but he’s gotten quite a few practice reps and he’s been getting more and more confident and more and more comfortable. I definitely feel like he’s at a point right now in which I’m excited to see him play. ”

On how encouraging it was to see Jason Hatcher play well against Vanderbilt… 

“Very encouraging. It was great to see him out there, it was great to see him at full strength. You could see the impact that he makes and I love the energy he played. He was one of the guys that you could tell the hurt was there in the locker room after the game, and it should be when you invest that much and put that much into it. I saw a side of him that I haven’t seen in a long time, if ever. That was the leadership, the inspiration… [He was] really playing with that passion and energy that you’d like to see everyone play with.”

On how Ryan Timmons handled his demotion on punt returns… 

“He was fine. I liked the way he handled it because he came up to my office and sat down and wanted [the spot] back, wanted to know why [he was demoted], and I told him. I gave him my answer and he was good with it. Any competitor would want to get back out there, and I like that. I told him that, after he muffed the one, which again nobody wants to see that, but any punt returner is going to have one of those, it’s going to happen, so we’re not trying to crucify him. I think he did a pretty good job most of the year with catching them, It’s the decision making after that, with catching the difficult ones, or running up and catching balls that are short… I thought we made progress in that area of making sure we fielded all punts… Because that field position kills you a bunch, all that hidden yardage when you let a punt drop and you don’t fair catch it and it rolls for 15 yards and pins us inside the 10 [yard line].Those things have hurt us from time to time. I have confidence in Ryan, he came back on the offensive side, made a big play, and made a good catch to get in the end zone. He missed a tough catch that would have given us a touchdown early but he’s battling. To credit him a little bit, it was one of his better games he’s ever played at wide receiver and a lot of that is unseen. It’s the things he’s doing away from the ball, how he’s running his routes, how precise he is, blocking; all those things, it was one of his better games, so that’s great to see. We need to build on that because I still really believe in him and we need him to be a playmaker and a big part of this offense. He still has some games left this year and another year.” 

On how he feels Dorian Baker performed, specifically when it comes to blocking and finishing routes… 

“The block, I was upset about the block as well, but that play was either a pass or a run so he got caught a little off guard. I saw it on the field too and was about to chew him out but he got caught a little off balance.”