Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-Missouri News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Oct. 24, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops

Opening Statement …
“I thought that we had great preparation. Again, it wasn’t always perfect. It wasn’t always as clean as we want it to be, but we are certainly getting better in a lot of areas. Most importantly, we are getting better in toughness and grit and finding ways to win. So, pleased with the outcome. The trick now is to get right back to work today. Obviously, the coaches were back to work yesterday. Our players have got to come in and compete and practice with the same mindset. We talk about it all the time, it is extremely important to win on Saturdays, but what are we going to do throughout the week to prepare ourselves to put us in a position to win this game. So looking forward to challenging the players and getting back to work today.” 

On the confidence of the team with recent success …
“Yeah, I think it verifies a lot of the things that we talk about and the belief system and staying the course and never knowing when your number is going to be called. There are so many guys that you could use as an example. Again, we touched on it briefly, I don’t want to get into all the details, but Jeff (Badet) and I had a good heart-to-heart on Friday and then he comes out and plays one of his best games. So that was really good to see.” 

On why he decided to have a heart-to-heart meeting with Jeff Badet …
“I will keep that between us. Nothing major, just to continue to build on the things that we have talked about. We have a lot of players that have to be very selfless. We have a lot of guys that are doing that. Look at our running back situation, look at the o-line rotation, look at the wide receiver rotation and the situation there. You know, finding a way to win. We were talking prior to that, you go back to the game before, there was not a lot of footballs down the field. They had to block and do other things. It is just staying the course and having that preparation and mindset and energy and focus so that when your number is called you are going to deliver.” 

On how Jeff Badet has progressed the last couple of years …
“He has been steady. He has been making progress. We need him to. That was part of the message Friday was that we need him to have a strong mindset and be a leader and make plays when his number is called, whenever that may be. He certainly came up big Saturday.” 

On how much it helps his team’s mindset to finish a game …
“Again, it is big and it helps. The players need to see some fruit from all the labor they have been putting in and they need to see some payoff. That is always the challenge as a coach, you have heard me talk about it, you always see you are making progress. But the players need to – and the fans – everybody needs to see it paid off. I talked about it after the game and I meant it, that I was proud of them whether that field goal went in or not, I was proud of the team. Again, there are mistakes that we cannot make. In particular, a late fumble when you are icing the game. That cannot happen and we have to get that fixed. But you take that out of it and even with the other ups and downs, our team is playing some really good football lately.” 

On Stephen Johnson being able to come back from the fumble and lead UK on the final drive …
“It says a lot because when he came off the field, obviously, he had a bunch of people in his ear, starting with me. That is just it too, we never stop coaching. You always have to coach and get in their ear and help them understand those situations because they all are always different. There are times on the goal line, when we have the option to pull the ball and run it in and there are times when there are not. And even if he pulls it, there are times when that extra yard is meaningless. Another 40 seconds off the clock and going another down and at worst going up 13 is really all he needs to be thinking about.” 

On the coaches picking Stephen back up after that fumble ...
“Well, all of us and it was even with Jeff on Friday’s conversation and Stephen in the moment right there and our team – I constantly remind them and tell them – you are not fragile. You are not a fragile group. You are going to get coached hard. You are going to do some good things, you are going to do some bad things and you are going to respond. That was part of it with Jeff and part of it with Stephen. He can take criticism and understand that you have to teach. But we all said, ‘Now let’s go.’ You have to go back to work. That was a great example of the preparation meeting opportunity right there because we do that drill all the time and a lot of those scenarios. The two-minute drill we have been doing quite a bit with needing a field goal. And we have been doing the second to the last play, we have been doing that as well and it was nice to see the execution of that with the time management at the end of the game.” 

On if he tells the players they are going to get coached hard when he recruits them … 
“Oh yeah. Yeah, they know. They can watch a game and see that probably. They understand that. That is never an issue with my players. They know how I feel about them. That is never going to be in doubt.” 

On if the guys have answered to them not being able to be fragile …
“Absolutely. I think that we are over the hump there. That is for sure. That takes a long time because when you don’t have the success and they constantly hear that and hear that the minute you hit adversity and the minute coaches ride them and bring them to the brink, if you don’t respond the right way it is not going to work. It is never going to work until they respond the right way.” 

On how to move on and get their attention to Missouri …
“Yeah, that will be a challenge right now. That is kind of what I said in my opening statement that that will be the challenge, getting back to work and what we are going to do to prepare ourselves for Saturday, starting today. That will be a big part of it. You know, we play an 11 o’clock game and what do our players have to do, they have to be selfless again all week. They have to prepare and watch film and practice hard and they also have to get some sleep. We got to wake up and play at 11 o’clock Saturday. Most of our guys are still in bed. I shouldn’t say that, they go to school. But we have to wake up and get ready to go.” 

On Marcus McWilson’s performance Saturday being one of his better games …
“Yeah, I do. I think starting early with the third down when he made the tackle in the open field in the man-to-man in open space. That was a big third-down stop. He needed to make that and he went and made it for a one-yard loss. He had really been practicing and playing well. I am encouraged by that. I thought he would play good down the stretch and thought he had really been preparing well.”

On an injury update … 
“I think we are in pretty good shape, honestly. We are banged up, but that is going to be the message to the team too, tell me one team that is not. Everybody is. Again, we appreciate them. Our team has been that way and they are playing banged up and bruised and fighting through it, but we have to. It is definitely getting a concern even with the (line)backers that we talked about last week, guys that are out for the season, it starts hurting you on your special teams and it does start to be an issue. We have to have other guys step up. We fell a little short there again Saturday. We have to have some guys make some plays that don’t normally get those opportunities. We are going to have to have a lot of plays. This team is looking forward to Missouri and the challenge there is they play absolutely extremely fast. They played 112 offensive snaps last week. Yeah, 112. That is two games. Depth is an issue. We cannot let them have 112 offensive plays because depth is an issue. So we have to have more guys step up and be ready to play.” 

On if you can take advantage of the fact Missouri played that many plays last week …
“I think they would look at it as defensive fatigue. Any team that plays that many plays, they want to wear you down. Yes, fatigue for us, certainly. Not so much for them. They will rotate in guys and they have different ways to stress you. They will put in other receivers when it is not going to them, but they are still running off and you still have to play a lot of plays. On defense, we have talked about it, we have to continue to build on what we are doing. But you have to play with an edge about you and an attitude about you and you have strain on 112 plays. If you play 112, you have to strain and play hard on 112.”

On the team maturing and a majority of the players are underclassmen …
“I think it is nice to see it kicking in. That is why we have had more success. Experience does matter. Talent matters and experience matters. We are growing up. I thought we had some really nice plays and the nice thing is that defensively, there is still a lot to build on. We missed some opportunities Saturday and give them credit, they are tough to defend. I said it all week, they are and again it is with that quarterback run game and the ability to throw. We managed the shots very well. We played exceptional pass defense with the exception of that pass interference call, which obviously could’ve been a difference-maker because we had them in third and long and then get the PI. Outside of that, we played extremely good pass defense, but there were some things that we couldn’t played better and will play better with the QB run game.” 

On sitting second place in the SEC East and being able to motivate the team through that …
“I won’t talk about that much because I am really concerned with this game. But our players know that, they see that, they realize where we are at and they also realize how tough these games are. They watch everybody play everybody. We watch a lot of the league and we see the battles that everybody has and the stress that everybody has. So they know we have an opportunity but it is all about this week. It really is all about our focus and preparation on this game.”

On if Kentucky grew during the loss at Alabama …
“I certainly think you always have to look at small victories and look at what you are doing. A lot of times you have to live with the results if your preparation and assignments were right. If you feel like you had the right gameplan and had the right situation and your guys competed and did the very best they could, then as a coach you have to live with results because you have to move on. But you have to analyze yourself and see what you did good and what you did bad and what you would do over. You always have to take small victories in your preparation and in your play. Doesn’t mean you are content with it. You are never going to accept losing, that is never the case. But it is about everything that you can do to win and put yourself in a situation and everything that you can do in your prep and your effort.” 

On Dorian Baker … 
“Yeah, we will talk to him. If there is one thing, he presses because he wants to make big plays and he is capable of making big plays. I do think that he wants to deliver for his team. It was a tough catch, but certainly one that he can make.” 

On Stephen Johnson taking a big step forward Saturday …
“I do (think he took a step forward). I think he threw the ball better. We had some drops in there early and we could have thrown the ball better early. But the early fumble, we want him comfortable. We talked about that after the Vandy game about carrying that from the Bama game. He was trying to protect the ball too much so he was all antsy in the pocket and he didn’t throw the ball very good vs. Vandy. Then we talked about him having the poise and stepping up in the pocket. And then an o-lineman gets beat and he gets stripped. You know, you can’t over-coach that one. The late fumble is inexcusable. But that one, you want him to trust his o-lineman. Because later he did sit in the pocket and he did deliver the ball to open receivers. That you have to build on.” 

On Benny Snell’s progression …
“Yeah, it has been remarkable really how steady he has been. We have touched on that. He has just been so steady for a freshman. He has shown great maturity. He has handled every situation very well. Any mistakes that he has made he builds on them and gets better. He has a large capacity for a freshman.” 

On Mizzou Offensive Coordinator Josh Heupel …
“Oh, yeah. I know Josh. Josh and I go way back. We spent time together, where were we at together? We spent time together at Arizona, but yeah, I have known Josh. He is a good friend.” 

On the characteristics of Missouri’s offense …
“You are seeing a lot of characteristics of a Big 12 offense. They are extremely fast, extremely wide splits at times, they are spreading you all across the field and are balanced. They can run the ball and throw the ball. I think their quarterback (Drew Lock) is coming along exceptionally well. I think he has got an extremely big arm. He is getting more and more comfortable every down and every game. He can throw the heck out of the ball. They put great stress on you with their RPOs and their splits and their run-pass options. You know, that’s a big trait from Big 12 football. So you know, you are seeing that. It puts a lot of stress on a defense. They have several guys that can run extremely fast. They have a freshman back that is emerging that is 220 pounds but has speed like Boom (Williams). They put some stress on you for sure.” 

On if the wide splits are offensive line or wide receivers …
“No, wide receivers splits. That is a trait of some Big 12 offenses also with some wide splits on the offensive line. They can do some of that. But definitely with receiver splits.” 

On how to reverse losing the turnover battle …
“Yeah, especially with our margin for error it has been tough. You were a little late on those coming down postgame on Saturday. You didn’t want to give me any credit. No, I am just kidding. We have to stop turning the ball over, obviously. You would like to see us win the turnover margin, that is for sure. It is unheard of. But we like to put a little drama in it as I said Saturday after the game. We like to make sure you guys get your work. It can’t happen. We won’t make light of it. Our players know, we have harped on it. We are going to continue to harp on it. We didn’t have any turnovers from putting the ball on the ground from a wide receiver or a back Saturday. The one with Stephen, like I said, you can almost live with. The one at the end was inexcusable. So that we have to get straightened out. What we have to be smart about with Stephen is physically he still has some work to do in the offseason with getting stronger and some things like that too. So him having the ball in his hands down in those situations is something we have to be smart about.” 

On the or between Kyle Meadows and George Asafo-Adjei and if that is because of how George is playing …
“Both. Kyle has been very good and has been doing some really good things, but he could play better. And George is doing a lot better things. You have to always give the kids an opportunity and George is playing faster and better at tackle, he is starting to pick it up out there. And Kyle needs to continue to progress. I love Kyle because I think that he has grown. He is one of those guys that we talk about has grown a lot and I appreciate him that way. But you cannot be content with it either because there are things that he could have done better Saturday.”

On an injury update to Drew Barker … 
“No. No update.”

On if there are unique ways he can coach Marcus McWilson because of their long-time relationship …
“He and I still have a very close relationship, and most players I coach, I probably wouldn’t have that personal relationship because I’m very hard on him because I know he can take it. I also know he needs it.”

On the game-winning drive for Stephen Johnson after the fumble … 
“I think it’s a great quality for a quarterback to have. He really does have good poise and resiliency. You have to at that position. You have to at all positions, but especially that one. You have to put everything behind you and focus on the next play. We have seen that throughout games, we have seen it between series, plays. I like the way he is doing things. I said that at the end of the game – that confidence – he would play better, throw the ball better, make better decisions – he has throughout the year. He did that on Saturday and he will continue to do that. Like all players, they’re not all perfect and he’s a work in progress. It was not only that fumble, but there are some things that he did well and things that he can improve on.” 

On where he is relative to where he thought he would be at the start of the season … 
“I can’t answer that. That opens too much discussion. I don’t know. I’ve said it over and over that I was not pleased with the start. I don’t want to go back there. We don’t need to go back and write about all of that. Some of that was not acceptable, it wasn’t good enough, and we said we were going to build on it and get some things fixed. That’s what I like about where we are at now, is that we are able to build right now. The weaknesses are areas that we did not play well, and we can work on those, get them corrected, and the guys will have a focus about them with an understanding that we can get them fixed. There’s always going to be one-on-one situations in games and those can go either way. The players can see the structure of things, and our players are building on them.”

On if this team could be good without the running game it’s had recently … 
“No, no, no. No. No. We could not have had the success, we would not have gotten better defensively, we would not have been able to win those games if we were not physical enough to run the ball.”

On Eddie Gran and what he has brought to the offense … 
“It was because what you see with Eddie (Gran) right now is the talent that he has and the experience that he has. When I hired him from Cincinnati, him and Coach (Darin) Hinshaw, they were super fast. And they were throwing the heck out of the football. But, I know Eddie’s roots and I know who he is and I talked about at length that he’s an experienced coach. We want to play with balance. If we can play fast, we will play fast. If we need to spread people out, we will. At Cincinnati, he had five talented wide receivers and an experienced quarterback. They threw the heck out of the ball. He knows how to run the ball, he knows how to put stress on a defense, he opens things up well, and we have morphed into a team that has found a way to win games – however that may be. I think early in the game on Saturday, it goes unnoticed, but when you start the game with four straight three-and-outs and you have a 15-play drive – even though you’d love to see us end up with three points, you can’t have missed field goals, but if you start with a 15-play drive – the three would have been big there because you’re controlling things. You’re setting things up for later in the game. So, I think that helped even though we ended up going down at the half. We were still in good control with kickoff return issues in the second quarter.”

On Eddie Gran having to change the script of the offense …
“We have, and that’s the sign of a good coach. We talked about that early. He gets it. As I said, even when we were not playing great defense, you can’t do everything or turn it over in two plays. You have no chance. You have zero chance to play defense then. He gets all that. I’m never going to complain about that. We talked about that this morning. If we have big play shots – do it – but we understand with a team that plays that fast and with that many plays, you have to control it some, too, like we have been doing.”

On if the running style changes his recruiting pitch … 
“No. We are playing with a back-up quarterback and we threw it for 300 (yards) on Saturday against a good team. So, we throw it and we spread it around and we run it. If you look at most good teams, that’s what you do.” 

On if the close games emotionally get to him … 
“Well, there is no denying it. Not many people really care about what you’re doing, it’s about the bottom line wins and losses. But, if you’re in this business, you understand that. It’s quite a bit difference with a W or an L. It just is. But, most importantly, it’s gratifying when you see the players buying in and understanding it and getting it. That’s what you coach for. You can see their smiles and their growth.”

On players that have grown and developed … 
“I think there is a lot. The running back room has changed. You have a really seasoned, veteran coach in there with that group. I think that group has really come along and it can be difficult to manage. There is a lot of competitive guys in there and some talented guys. The receivers and the O-Line have been very selfless, so there are quite a few guys in there. You look at Marcus McWilson – he’s been a starter here, played a lot of football and been beat out. I’ve talked about how I’m hard on him, worked hard, got his opportunity and that’s how he can play. What he did Saturday, that’s how he can play.”

On the helpfulness of the bye before the stretch run … 
“It’s always one week at a time. I said last week that we were refreshed and we were focused and we were ready for that game. We are one week removed, even though it was a physical game – everybody is in that situation. Everybody in college football is in that situation right now where you’re banged up and you’re bruised and you’re tired. It helps that motivation to win. We know this game will not be easy. Missouri is a lot better team than their record indicates and they are going to be extremely passionate and hungry to get a victory. We know this will be a real challenge, and we have to go on the road and wake up and play an 11:00 game. We better be getting it first thing in the morning.”

On the Big 12 offensive tendencies of Missouri … 
“There are some. Oklahoma has had their struggles this year defensively, for sure. That’s the way it goes in their league. Last year they were No. 1 in the Big 12, this year, they are probably last. That league is ridiculously offensive. It’s ridiculous.”