Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-South Carolina News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Sept. 19, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops


Opening Statement ...
“Good to get that victory. Not exactly how we had it drawn up but any victory is a good victory. There were a lot of very good things we did on special teams and offense. On defense there are a lot of things that are fixable and some that are a work in progress. We’ll continue to work. We’ll approach this Monday much like we did a week ago and fundamentally work to get better. We have some young, inexperienced players that we need to continue to push that need to grow up in a hurry. Looking forward to the opportunity to get to .500 this week at home versus South Carolina, so a big game for both of us and looking forward to the challenge.”

On Drew Barker’s injury status ...
“We’ll see as the week goes on. I’m in no position to talk about that right now. He had an MRI and will consult with our doctors and some specialists and get to the bottom of it and see what’s best for him.”

On what exactly Barker’s injury is ...
“It’s his back. He’s had some issues that were lingering so it’s not just one hit. If you look at the hit it’s not anything that looks like too much but I think if you put that compounded on some of the back problems he’s had, even going to Florida (it’s an issue). He had a few issues come up in the summer, a couple of things that were bothering him, so some of this is chronic.”

On whether or not quarterback Stephen Johnson will play vs. South Carolina ...
“I would assume so.”

On Johnson’s performance against New Mexico State ...
“I thought he was really exceptional. He started a little shaky the first possession but after that he really settled in and played an exceptional game. He made good decisions. He was really poised. He was accurate on the deep ball. He got the ball on the run-pass option on the bubble screens and where you get the ball down the field to (tight end) C.J. (Conrad), he made very good decisions, was very poised and he was accurate.”

On if Barker is the starter no matter what if he’s healthy ...
“Drew is listed on the depth chart as the starter for a reason.”

On how much Johnson’s ability/threat to run helps the offense ...
“There’s no question (it helps). No doubt it helps, even if it’s just somebody on the back side just lingering a little bit you can get a few extra yards instead of the overlappers. It definitely helps.”

On wide receiver Dorian Baker’s lingering hamstring issue ...
“Any time you get a hamstring (issue) it’s aggravating, period. It’s aggravating to me. It’s aggravating to the player. It’s just a situation where it’s hard to predict hamstrings.”

On freshman tackle Landon Young’s performance vs. New Mexico State ...
“He really did some good things. He’s getting better. It’s really nice to see a young player get better in some areas he’s weak in just a week, from one game to the next, seeing him make that improvement. We know the level of competition will go up for him but he’s certainly very evident to see the talent he has. He’s a smart kid and he’s working at it.”

On offensive tackle Cole Mosier’s injury status ...
“Cole is getting back this week. We’ll see. (The doctors) say he’ll be out there today. We’ll see how he is and I won’t make any decision until we see how the week goes.”

On the play of the tight ends vs. New Mexico State ...
“It was good to see us make the routine plays. It was nice to see C.J. make one or two difficult catches and he really ran the ball nice after he caught the ball. When you put it all together it was the best he’s played, with blocking as well. He can’t put the ball on the ground on the one fumble he had but he really did some good things.”

On changes to defense in second half of New Mexico State game ...
“We did make some adjustments. We’ve got to play better defensively. Some of it is fixable relatively easily and some of it will be a work in progress. Coach Eliot (defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot) made some good suggestions watching it from the press box and some adjustments at halftime that really were helpful. We should have played better than we did. That’s what gets you really pissed. The first play of the second half should have gone for minus-1 or minus-2 and they run it on us and it gets you all out of kilter. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to coach better and the whole deal, but we did make some good adjustments at halftime. Make no mistake, that’s not acceptable defense under my watch. I know what good defense looks like and we’ll work hard to get it fixed, but it’s also not good when you’re not playing good defense to go out there and (the offense) turn the ball over or fumble punts. You call an aggressive call that would have been fine but your corner comes off it with bad eyes, those are the things that should be easy to fix. Cover your guy. It’s not good to get completely out of kilter when you’re struggling and it’s not good to have one-play turnovers. We’ve got to settle in.”

On promising young defensive players ...
“I think T.J. Carter is a guy we have to bring along on the defensive line, that has to play. Adrian Middleton is doing some good things inside and playing better. Tymere Dubose is a big body that we have to get to play more consistently, to play better, to rest guys like Courtney Miggins. We need more depth in there. Our ends are getting good pressure but we’re not doing good with the inside guys. When you rush four you’ve got to get some pressure, you can’t let (the quarterback) run around back there all day and then find an open guy. When you pressure you have to get to them, cover them and watch for screens. There are always issues.”

On defensive tackle Matt Elam’s development ...
“He can do some good things when we’re in an odd (numbered) front and (the offense) is in big sets. (South Carolina) will play in a lot of big sets this week and (Elam) is good at that. When you’re asking him to do things against spread (offenses) it’s hard for him. He’s not rushing the passer very good but that’s not his strength.”

On wide receiver Ryan Timmons’ progress ...
“He made some really nice plays (against New Mexico State). He made some good blocks, being unselfish and coming along and being unselfish, just like we hoped. Just get out there and play. As we get more plays, you get more guys getting the ball and the ball being spread around running it and catching it. You never know who’s going to have the big day.”

On South Carolina’s offense ...
“I think they settled in (last week) and built around that and what they’re going to do with (freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain) and the different problems he can present with running the ball that we always talk about. I see them building around that and when you add numbers you get shots. I can tell they’re gaining a little confidence and continuity in what they’re doing with him and some of the problems that he presents and some of his strengths. They’re going to get nothing but better offensively.”

On how different South Carolina looks with the its new coaching staff ...
“You see what they’re doing defensively is the same as what (coach) Will Muschamp has done (at other stops), just less right now. It looks like he builds a little more each week but you see the core of what they are defensively. Offensively, it’ll be much of what you saw last week and then they’ll build off that.”

On UK’s offensive turnovers ...
“It’s an issue. Any time you’re not playing the best defense you definitely don’t want to be putting them in bad positions. When you score that many points you’ll take it but you know we’re not always going to do that so you need to protect the football.”

On when the staff saw that running back Benny Snell Jr. could make an immediate impact ...
“You probably heard me talk about him all the way back (in camp) when we were talking about young guys who were impressing. He impressed us right from the start. He’s very consistent, physical, disciplined, all the things you’re looking for. He’s really good in pass protections. He’s good with vision and he runs the ball hard. We’ve needed that.”

On whether the offense vs. New Mexico State is how he envisioned the offense looking this season ...
“It is. You’ve heard me talk about but really the game against Southern Miss was consistent (too), the second half was just weird. That whole game we were pretty good. We were certainly moving the ball. Florida was not what I envisioned, but yes, this is what I envisioned but we know there will be much more difficult competition. I have a lot of confidence in (offensive coordinator) Eddie (Gran), but we also have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. We’ve got guys who have been around a long time now so then you can sprinkle in a Benny, a Landon, because there a bunch of good players around them. We’ve talked about the depth at wide receiver and how well they’ve been practicing, playing and maturing. Same with the offensive line.”

On Boom Williams ...
“You could see with his endurance he didn’t want to come out, he wanted to keep running the ball and that’s what you want to see. It was nice to see him bounce back from some adversity. He took an injury, sometimes when you get hit and get these stingers or hit in your neck, it’s very painful. You’re not sure what happened to you and think you broke your neck but sometimes when that numbness goes away you can get back in there if the doctors clear you. The point is, he wanted to get right back in there and that’s maturity and growth.”  

On players that have been standing out on special teams that have gained his trust …
“Yeah, it is nice just to see athletes and more guys and more bodies because that is what is helping us on special teams. And again, kicks, we kick the ball up and cover well. That has been the case the past couple of years, not always perfect, but those guys are running and working and we are kicking the ball better. We need to be more consistent with our punts and we will be. Grant (McKinniss) has a lot of talent and a lot of upside.”

On are there guys that are doing well on special teams that could earn playing time on defense …
“Yeah, there are, but a lot of guys are playing right now. A lot of them out there are guys in the mix.”

On Charles Walker’s fumble and punt return for a touchdown …
“He was distracted and we have to do a better job at the guy who is holding up. Oh, I thought you were talking about the fumble. You can tell what is always on my mind (laughter). You guys have got me all negative. I am not used to this (positive questions). On the fumble, Jordan Griffin has to do a better job of getting out of his way. It distracted him (Walker) a little bit and on the (touchdown) return we were really on a safe concept because the last thing you wanted to do there was let them fake a punt. So we were in punt return, but with a safe call, so you are discouraging a fake punt by getting some hold up. It really is not designed to spring it for a touchdown, you are designed to get the ball back. Of course, you do your normal punt return after the ball is punted. You get to your guys and strain and use all the techniques you are talking about and we saw that. We have been stressing that and working that and as you get more depth and as your team gets more conscientious to the details, they are buying into that. Again, I talked about it after the game that I thought we were close on kickoff return and we had a shot. I am not going to sell out the returner that missed it, but one of our returners missed a kickoff return where if he really stays up in there where we are reading it, it has a great chance to go to the house. We will continue to work on that and get one of those. But the guys are straining and working hard and using the techniques that they need to on the punt return.” 

On if it makes it more complicated to not know if Drew will play Saturday because you have to work two different type of offensive schemes …
“For us facing them? Well, no it won’t be difficult because offense we are always going to pull (plays) and feature what we want to feature. We have a lot of offense that we can pull from. What we are going to feature each week depends on what we are going to see and where we go and again, how much we can handle week to week. We talked about last week as a team being relatively simple on both sides of the ball to execute better. You can see now why I have such little hair because we really have to find all avenues to try to stop people. And some of it is fixable and some of it is football IQ has to continue to get higher and be smarter and some of it is technique and some of it is bad technique comes with personnel and inexperience. But saying all of that, we know it is not acceptable and we know we have to get better and we will. All we can do is get back to work. Offensively, it won’t be much different no. Either guy can do a lot. Obviously, with Drew having a back issue, I don’t think we would put a lot of QB run game in there if he is in there.”

On Stephen Johnson protecting his body on some of those QB runs …
“Yeah, I was a little concerned about that myself after Drew went down. Later in the game, I made it a point that he does not have the option anymore to run the ball. That is it. Because some of it is reads, you are just reading things. So I wanted the reads off and get to some bigger sets and different sets where there isn’t that option. It is concerning because with Drew being banged up wherever he is at with our depth we have to be careful with Stephen and be smart. And I don’t know what happened yet, but certainly when he got ripped down from behind it looked like he broke his leg. I didn’t like seeing that. I am sure that was a legal play, though. I didn’t even have to send it in.” 

On if he told Coach Gran to tell him not to run or if he told Stephen not to run … 
“I told Eddie – so if we are in a certain personnel group there are certain plays it is a read so it is built into the offense, so at that point I didn’t care if we had to call a timeout or get a tight end in the game, but we had to get the read off. So yeah, I told Eddie. And then once Stephen got to the sideline when we did have time between possessions I told him absolutely no more pulls. Then I didn’t want any more bubble screens at that time either. Because he was reading the bubble screen and I didn’t want one of those picked off either. Just run the ball and let’s get out of here.”

On if there is a fine line with that because you have to be worried about depth, but the QB run game is a big part of Stephen’s game …
“Yeah, it is. It is. But we have to play and we know we have to win. We have to do whatever gives us the best opportunity to win football games. So we are going to do what we have to do. You ever hear that saying in Vegas that scared money never wins? Same thing here.” 

On who is the third straight quarterback and what got cleared through the NCAA that allowed Luke Wright to be eligible this season … 
“You know, I was wrong on that. He is a one-time transfer, so he is allowed to play right now. Luke is a third-team guy right now and got us out of that game. He played in that game at the end. We will see if it will be Luke or Gunnar (Hoak), we will get Gunnar some reps this week as well.” 

On if he ever stopped feeling good about his team …
“No, I always felt good about the team. But obviously, you’re concerned that your team has to go play what they are capable of and we still haven’t done that. We have done it at times, but again, the good news is that defensively as poor as the numbers are, there was some play in there that is just absolutely not OK and will get me upset. There are a lot of things that we have to get straight. But there were – finally – six or seven three and outs, which we hadn’t been getting stops, you know what I mean. We were able to get ahead because we finally got some stops. Part of that, again make no excuse, is you cannot have a one-possession interception, fumble a punt and one-play TDs don’t help but I am never going to complain about them. I am saying, when you are reeling, the turnovers in particular really put you in a bad mindset because then you start forcing things and guys get out of kilter. We have to start better. Let the guys settle in a little bit. Defensively, after things start to happen after the first possession or two, you can kind of see what they are going to go to and settle in and make some adjustments and get your guys playing better. It is just like the pinch sets. One that hit us on a touchdown and later we intercept it. So you just have to have time to settle in.” 

On how he thought his secondary played Saturday …
“Not very good. Not pleased. We cannot give up big plays, you can’t. The first touchdown alone was enough to piss me off all week. That is just not alright and that is just one that shouldn’t happen. Then the reverse pass, cannot happen. Just cover your guy. We had it all fit up. That is a trick play where we had pressure coming from this side and had pressure coming the other way and pressure coming all ways, but the way they blocked it we had the extra DB pulling up the reverse. So you are going to tackle them and you are going to be in second down. But you just cannot leave your guy. That is not good. The long play before half is just inexcusable. It has to get fixed. Period. It is not alright. It is common sense. If you are playing four across and a four-deep zone, you cannot go 40 yards deep, I mean, then there is a huge hole between the linebackers and the next man. Then if you do, you better run to them and tackle them. I mean, there is a lot that we have to get straightened out.” 

On anything in particular about giving up big plays late in the first half that has been consistent …
“Yeah, it is. It has happened in particular in two games this year. That is where the secondary has to regroup. If you take a shot and they hit an over route or a deep ball. Then now all of a sudden they are running out of there instead of hitting their key reads and playing football. That is where it is a problem and it is a problem for me too.” 

On where the breakdowns in the secondary are more often coming …
“All of the above. We are getting good safety play out of one (player). We moved our nickel to free and I think with that – I am not saying that Kendall (Randolph) is not playing good – but you lose the experience of your nickel and then you get inexperienced at free and inexperience at nickel. And I am not calling out guys, but as far as football reps you are losing some things there. We have to go back to looking at where we play guys and that is where we need to get better. Marcus McWilson is a guy that needs to play better. I was counting on him coming into the year and Darius (West) got hurt but I thought that Marcus would battle him for that spot all along, but with Darius going down it weakened us. He has to step up and play better there so maybe we can play Blake (McClain) back at some nickel and continue to use Kendall in nickel and dime. He is coming along, but doesn’t have a lot of reps. Our corners, the two young guys, sometimes they are seeing things for the first time still with different plays and different things and all that. Really, they are good press guys. So as people are getting us in pinch sets and doing some things that we need to zone off a little bit, in particular that is not Chris’ strength and we need to work on that for him in playing off. He is a good press guy.” 

On Jojo Kemp’s status …
“I hope so. I hope he is back at full strength this week. We will see.” 

On some things he can do to help the secondary heading into Saturday …
“Yeah, I think, it is team defense. As I mentioned, when we have opportunities to get people into second down and long, you have to do it. It is hard when they are not behind the chains and it is second and medium, third and short or medium. Last week again in the game, two third and mediums and they run the ball on us and we have to be able to stop and mix down you have to be able to run something that is good against the run and the pass. To answer your question, sometimes you get put in a situation where you are trying to protect a guy here or there with what you are doing and it will weaken you somewhere else. You have heard me talk about for a long time, that there is no getting around putting pressure on those two guys outside. But there is no getting around putting pressure on the outside corners. You have to win out there. And you cannot lose your nerve. If you make some mistakes, you have to go to the next play. If you play that position, you are going to lose some battles, but you have to come back and win some. It was nice to see Derrick (Baity) come up and make that interception as well. And he really made a nice play or two and we almost picked it but the QB had to throw it away.” 

On young corners having short memories …
“It is hard because these kids care and they want to do right. With that, they have to grow up. They have to take the criticism and we all have to take the criticism that goes with the territory. Those guys have to understand, if you want to go play in the arena, then deal with it. That is what you are consistently trying to get them to overcome. That is what we did talk about at halftime. We got right in and said, ‘this, this and this … these three things cannot happen.’ There are other issues that we have to get fixed out, but there are some that we can get cleaned up immediately. And they can’t let that affect them the next time. It is just like on the one before halftime. Why were they back there so far? Because in the first game, they threw it over our head. So now they throw it under. So now they have backed so far up that there is now way they are getting it over our head, but then they catch it intermediately and set them up and then we don’t tackle them. We just have to continue to work.”

On Derrick Baity still being mad at himself after the game Saturday …
“Yeah, I know. So was Chris. He was really mad about the first one and was really hard on himself because he means well. He knows and he was up in there trying to challenge the guy and trying to make a play, but we talked about off those sets to get high and let the safety take that one and he should’ve climbed and cut off the safety’s man. The safety’s man could have essentially run across the whole field, there was no anchor point back there. So we let one guy suck up two (defenders) on the back side and then strung our guy out on the front side. So it is just understanding all the concepts and reps. But he means well, he wants to get up in there and press somebody and win a one-on-one. That takes some nerve too. We just have to be smart on when we do it and when we can’t.” 

On the statue unveiling event Thursday …
“Yeah, just like in the summer, we love having them (UK’s pioneers of SEC football integration) around and they always mean an awful lot to us. We always enjoy when they want to, spending some time to talk to our team. We ask them to come talk every year whenever they are here. It is significant. It is significant for our program, our history, the university and state and those individuals. We are proud to be a part of it.”