Mark Stoops Previews Mississippi State

Monday Press Conference Quotes from Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops


Opening statement … 
“Looking forward to this week’s game vs. Mississippi State. It will be another great challenge for us.

To recap the Auburn game, much like I said in the postgame, I think we did some really good things and there are things that we need to get corrected. It is a game of inches and we were just a few plays off. We have to go back to work to find a way to make those plays, that is the difference in close games. Overall, I was pleased. We were very efficient offensively, did some very good things and moved the ball well. We hurt ourselves on a few drives, the interception early in particular set us back, but we were really moving the ball well. Defensively, we need to get off to a better start and part of it maybe was the tempo. We need to get lined up more efficiently with a better sense of urgency. When we did (get lined up better) when we settled in we did some very good things. Again, overall, tough hard-fought game. A few plays away from coming out on the right end and we have to find a way to make those plays happen.

Looking forward to this week’s game, it will be a great challenge going to Mississippi State. They are a very good football team that is used to winning a bunch of games and led by an incredible quarterback, who has great leadership skills. He is very talented and can run. He is very durable and throwing the ball exceptionally well this year. A good experienced football team. I believe I saw of the 22 starters that they have on offense and defense, 21 of those guys are juniors or seniors. So they are a veteran team that is used to winning and we will have a real challenge on our hands, but we are excited to get back to work and excited about this opportunity this week.”

On Melvin Lewis’ status …
“Melvin will get operated on tomorrow and he will be out for the season. So we need to try to win a few games down the stretch here and give him an opportunity to try to come back and play one last time (in a bowl game) for the Blue and White.” 

On the team’s kicking game …
“I don’t know what the reason is, we just have not been effective enough in the kicking game with Austin (MacGinnis) being hurt. It really put us behind the eight ball with Miles (Butler) having to do the kickoffs. Then with the punts, we have not kicked the ball well enough. You have heard me talk about that for several weeks now. In a close ball game, it hurts you.”

On if he thinks Melvin Lewis could come back and play in a bowl game …
“Yeah, I don’t think he could play (the rest of the regular season). It’s normally about a six-week procedure as I understand. So he is getting surgery tomorrow and we are not counting on him for the remainder of the regular season.”

On if Matt Elam is ready to step up and be the starter in Melvin’s place …
“Yeah, Matt will be ready. I thought he did some good things and this is a great opportunity for him and he needs to step up and play.”

On sitting 4-2 and having a chance to win every game so far …
“It is not a moral victory, but the truth is, like we said going into the season that we are a better football team. I think our body of work through the first half of the season makes that pretty evident. We are very disappointed that we didn’t beat the two teams we lost to in Florida and Auburn. We had our opportunities, but we just need to continue to build and get better to find those ways to win those games. I like the attitude of this team and we are getting better and better. In certain ways, we played as good as we have this past week and we need to build on those things. There are certainly a lot of mistakes and a lot of things we need to improve on.”

On depth of the defensive line with Melvin being out …
“Yeah, Adrian Middleton will work in there and Tymere Dubose will work in there a little bit as well.”

On Matt Elam’s development …
“Yeah, I think that is a big part of it was that Melvin was a senior and playing really good football and being a leader for us. I think Matt, this will be a great opportunity for him and Matt will do well and rise to the occasion. I thought he did a nice job Saturday, coming in there because Matt is very close with Melvin and they are very tight off the field as well. Matt really looks up to Melvin and Matt was disappointed that he got hurt. But he will step in and do a good job.”

On if Austin MacGinnis will handle kickoffs this week …
“That is the plan. He is working towards being able to kickoff this week.”

On Dak Prescott having not thrown an interception this season …
“Yeah, it shows you a quarterback that has an awful lot of poise, an awful lot of leadership and a lot of experience. He knows what he is doing. They are really big at wide receiver too. They are talented and experienced and bigger guys. So we have to rise to the occasion and challenge these guys and make competitive plays. That is part of the difference in last week’s game is they made some competitive plays on us. We certainly had a lot success throwing the ball and had a lot of opportunities, but they contested some balls in critical moments and we have to continue to do that.”  

On the run play during the final drive and if that is aggressive/confident play calling …
“There was one other call in the game in a similar situation that we didn’t run the ball. It’s like I said after the game, it is always easy to second guess. The people that say would you do anything different, I mean, I think most people would be lying if it didn’t work, right? Certainly, if you could let me do that play over again, of course we would call a pass (because the run didn’t work). But time wasn’t an issue in that game, downs were. We lost a down there, time didn’t necessarily hurt us. I think we had a lot of time to finish that game off. It is understandable to get some criticism over that and we can handle it, that’s fine. But I support the call because – I have said this all along – whether it is a situation where you are dealing with time right there or anytime in the game, if you can play with two safeties and play two deep and roll up on our receivers then you have to be able to run the ball. We have done it before and it worked. Had we popped that run for some good yards then I think all of you would be sitting here writing about how much of a genius he was.”
  
On having eight players on the field during Florida’s final punt …
“Yeah, we messed that up. I messed that up. I take responsibility for that. We had a situation where I thought they would go for it and we were talking about them going for it. Then we went to punt safe and there was confusion on that with our personnel and different packages as you know with big and nickel and a bunch of different packages. We had a package in the game trying to get them off and I should have managed that better at the time out and just subbed one person for one person. Put the returner in there and left a punt safe with that personnel grouping in the game. That is my fault and it could have cost us. Luckily, we had so many guys running off the field we weren’t going to get caught with 12. We’re fortunate, but that is a coaching error that I have to do a better job with.” 

On if it is easier to get the guys to bounce back after a loss …
“I believe it is because we can’t sit there and feel sorry for ourselves. Look around and watch college football. That was one of the only days I have ever had to sit around and watch a bunch of football games and there is heartbreak across the country and you have to respond and bounce back and go to work. I believe our team will do that. Like I said, I thought we did a bunch of good things in this past game. And there are a lot of things we need to correct and get better, but our team is excited about doing that and learning. We are in a learning environment, all of us are all the time, no matter how many years we have been doing this and we are constantly striving to do the best we can. I believe our players will take that same mentality and get back to work.” 

On facing Mississippi State … 
“I think so. Again, it is just maturity as a program and maturity as an organization. We are getting better. The guys understand that. We will all respond better and the players will bounce back. They are resilient. We’ve got a great opportunity this weekend and a great challenge. I believe it will be the greatest challenge we’ve had all year. It is going to be a great environment against a very mature, good football team that has an unbelievable guy back there taking snaps and a great coaching staff and a group that is used to winning a bunch of games. It is going to be a real challenge for us. Believe we are double-digit underdogs. It is going to be a fight.”

On his quick assessment of MSU … 
“They are mature. They are physical and they have an unbelievable leader in their quarterback. A very talented player and a great leader.”

On the end of the Michigan State-Michigan game … 
“I couldn’t believe it. I turned it. You know there are so many games going on it is hard to keep track of all of those games. I had turned it. I couldn’t believe. I saw a highlight from another game and it was hard to imagine until I saw the highlight. What was I thinking? Probably much like you or any other spectator or fan watching that, just a terrible way for one team to lose and just a very exciting way for another team to win. I have friends on both staffs.”

On if you share key plays from other games with your teams, i.e. Michigan-Michigan State ending … 
“Sure. I think you always do. You are silly if you don’t. There are so many different situations that come up in games. Who would think to talk about that. That at the 50, or the 45, if you bobble it, eat it and run it. Because that would have left them one snap. I guess, it is my understanding that Michigan State must be down a kicker, or not kicking it well, cause they went for it a bunch of other times. To know all that in that situation for that punter, I don’t know. That is where you guys (media) are the experts. It is really easy for you guys to do that. The rest of us haven’t really figured it all out yet. We are trying.”

On MSU’s toughness to fight back after trailing La. Tech 14-0 in first quarter Saturday … 
“Tells me they could run off 45-3 the next part of it. None of us are going to play our best ball, all 12 games, all 60 minutes. They didn’t bat an eye and they came right back and kicked butt the rest of the game.”

On if playing MSU competitive in past will help on Saturday … 
“Not much. I think our players will understand that and know that. We’ll talk about it briefly. It doesn’t mean much. We have played with them. Hopefully our players will just stay confident and just work on the things necessary.”

On if kicker Austin MacGinnis can return to kickoffs … 
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”

On Mississippi State … 
“Typical of them. Bunch of big, very athletic big guys. They have a lot of length and maturity. I’m not sure I didn’t go back and look at them, I will at some point this week, but I noticed they played 23 freshmen, whether it be special teams , offense, defense, just getting in there, but 19 of them are redshirt s. I know a year ago when they had all those fifth-year senior guys. That is a good recipe he has going on because he is redshirting a bunch of guys and developing guys to bring them along. It is nice to be able to do that when you get some depth in your program. Coach (Dan) Mullen has done a great job. They are a mature, athletic, physical bunch and that is really the same every year. Last year they had a little more experience on the defensive side of the ball, but still the same looking players. Very good looking, very athletic guys.”

On if freshman linebacker Jordan Jones could play this week … 
“Jordan should be (good). He had an ankle and was not available to play last week. We will see where it goes.”

On the play of JUCO transfer DE/LB Courtney Miggins … 
“He is getting better and better, we have to continue to bring him along.”

On the play of senior DT Cory Johnson …  
“Yeah, Cory has done some really good things. Even last week, because he wasn’t able to practice all week. And he went in there and really did some good things. He’s been very productive.”

On the play of sophomore WR Garrett Johnson … 
“We had a good idea going into the season that he was going to have a big year. You heard me talk a lot about him in the preseason and we thought we had a special player all along. Even his first year. He is really starting to make some really good plays.”

On Auburn’s Will Muschamp talking to Garrett Johnson postgame … 
“I don’t know what he said after the game to him. I know Will and I talked before the game and we were just talking. I’ve known Will (for a long time) and have a lot of respect for Will and think a lot of him. We were just talking about some things and he mentioned that to me too. I don’t know what he said or what was on air.”

On ‘missing’ on a player during the recruiting process …
“There are great evaluators in this business and great developers of talent. Anybody that says they have never made a mistake is a liar. Because we have all made mistakes, both good and bad. Taking guys that didn’t pan out and passing on guys that went on to be first-round draft picks.”

On any players that stands out that he ‘missed’ on … 
“Oh, there are a few. There is one in particular when I was at Florida State and I ended up playing against him here the first two years at that other school. He went on to be a first-round pick. Pryor, Calvin Pryor. Which we offered him at Florida State and then we got other guys before he committed and we didn’t push it. He turned out pretty good.”

On if they knew Garrett Johnson could be this good … 
“We knew all along. It is one of those situations that as you are going through recruiting, and as you know, just holding guys all the way through and keeping the ones you have and signing them in February. We knew all along. We thought we had a great player. We were very happy to have him on our team, commit list and then when we signed him we thought we had a good player. Last year, his freshman year, you’ve heard me talk about it and of course he had the big game against Florida last year. He has shown flashes. But now he is just a true sophomore. That is what we are talking about. You just look at Mississippi State and again, 21 of 22 starters are juniors or seniors – and I have no idea how many are redshirt juniors and seniors and I am sure some of them are – and that is when you are building a program. That is the good thing for us that we have some sophomores that are not freshmen. We are still playing some freshmen. They are true sophomores, some of those guys on offense, and they are growing up. I believe we are playing three guys on offense, consistently, that are juniors or seniors. That is good for us in the future as we build. Defensively, we have some older guys but we feel like we have just as much talent that is younger.”

On what makes Garrett Johnson good … 
“He can run and catch. Those guys that can get open, then when we throw them the ball and they catch it. I like those guys. The yards afterwards, the whole deal. Seriously, he has the whole package. Part of that is instincts and understanding how to alter routes, sit in holes and beat one on one coverage, all those things. We feel like he is the whole package. He can run, he can catch and he has good instincts.”

On a key personal foul penalty on the first Auburn drive … 
“Chris’ was just frustration. That first drive was frustrating on all of us. There is no place for that. It is just silly. You are very much not tolerant of those fouls because they are selfish most of the time. Some of it is aggressive play and some of it is being silly and not very smart and being selfish. We addressed that. Overall, we are growing and everyone is going to get some.”

On if Boom Williams is going to work on catching passes out of the backfield this week … 
“Yeah, he usually catches the ball better than that. The wheel route, he kind of got off balance and stumbled a little bit. Even Dorian’s (Baker) drop, once they stumble a little bit it sometimes takes their concentration off the catch.”

On how much he addresses injuries, news around college football … 
“The only thing we talk about that I like to address is when coaches make changes that maybe they weren’t planning on. Mistakes off the field. That I point out because just constantly trying to educate our players on doing the right things. Injuries and all of that. They see it and it is part of the game. Just like Melvin’s. Yesterday I went and saw Melvin and it is hard. It is really hard to see you lose a guy like that, or to see Georgia lose a guy like (Nick) Chubb because Melvin has worked his tail off. He has overcome a bunch of adversity, he cares so much, he has worked his tail off, he is playing great football. He is a big part of the heart and soul of our defense and to see him, and what that means to him, it is very difficult. All of us have to move on very quickly. But it is still very personal when it comes to a guy like Melvin and losing a guy like that.”

On if the desire to get Melvin Lewis into a bowl game could motivate players … 
“I don’t know. That is not something that I will spend a lot of time discussing. But I think personally, if it motivates our guys then so be it. I know a lot of our guys care about him and rightfully so. Like we do as a coaching staff. He has been a terrific story. I certainly don’t want that to be his last game for us.”

On if Melvin Lewis can still be a leader off the field … 
“Yeah, definitely. His presence will be missed on the field and off but the good thing is his presence will still be there off the field. Once he recovers from this surgery he’ll be out there and he’ll inspire guys.”