Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football Press Conference
Commonwealth Stadium
Oct. 3, 20016


Mark Stoops

Opening Statement...
“Like I said after the (Alabama) game, I thought we grew in certain areas. There were improvements in certain areas and we need to continue to work in others. Looking forward to a big challenge this week and a great opportunity to play Vanderbilt. We’re excited and ready to get back to work.”

On addressing turnovers from the QB position and changing approach…
“We’ll just continue to stress it and work it. (QB Stephen Johnson) has got to feel comfortable and execute and feel loose, but be smart as well.”

On challenge of Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb…
“He’s a very good player. Very good vision, strong, breaks tackles, so he’s a complete back.”

On Vandy’s defensive effort in close loss to Florida last Saturday…
“They played really hard. They do a good job. Florida missed some opportunities and was playing with a backup quarterback, but Vandy will do that (to a team). They’ve got some very big guys in the front of their defense. What sticks out to you, too, when you think about Vandy on defense is how mature they are. I believe they have five fifth-year seniors starting and five fourth-year juniors starting and two juniors so that’s a pretty veteran group. The two big boys inside are big guys with some experience.”

On areas he was pleased with the growth of in Alabama game…
“I just think as you go into an environment like that – we weren’t pleased last time we went into that situation (at Florida) and we didn’t handle it very well for whatever reason – we go into a situation like that against the No. 1 team in the country and it’s extremely physical, extremely talented and very well coached. Our guys competed. I thought we did the right things, were in the right position, guys were executing for the most part. There was a drive or two that are not okay and we need to get some things fixed and play with greater urgency, but I thought overall we had guys in the right position, guys were straining to make plays. We weren’t just blowing assignment because bad things were happening. We got lined up and made them beat us. We didn’t beat ourselves. We got some stops and had some chances. It’s a game of inches sometimes. We had a chance to go 10 if we hit that pop pass to (tight end) C.J. (Conrad) that was open but they’ve got some big guys that jump up and knock (the pass) down. You’d like to see us execute that. Your margin for error is very slim and you’ve got to make the most of your opportunities. You’re not going to have a lot of opportunities. Even though offensively it doesn’t appear like we did very well in looking at the bottom line or statistics. You’re just fractions off. We had a screen play that was set (for a big gain) and they made an unbelievable individual play. We’ve got be a little more disciplined on our splits, get out on them quicker. We had very tough yards at times, especially when we had the looks we were anticipating. We made good yards and blocked some very good people for some efficient yards. It’s not like we were pushing them around or anything like that but we had some efficient yards. There were some really good things in there, things to build off of.”

On Alabama saying it was most physical game they have played this year…
“I heard that from a couple of their guys actually, that it was the most physical game they’ve played in (this season). That is a compliment to me because this game is about being physical. I thought our approach was right, play the game the right way. Go out and line up and do what we can do and play the best we can. Certainly there are areas where we can and will do better but the fact that they said that it was one of their more physical games is a testament to what we’re trying to do as we try to move forward. We have some older guys on offense and some maturity. It wasn’t one of Stephen’s best games but they were a big part of that. They pressure you, cover you and they’re in your face so it makes it very difficult for quarterbacks.”

On defense’s growth the past two games…
“Night and day, really. We’re growing and getting better. It comes like that. You’d like to have five fifth-year seniors and five fourth-year guys playing but we have some inexperience that you have to figure out what they can do and execute. That’s all of us. That’s coaching, it’s not on them, but together we’re figuring it out and making some improvement and I think you’ll continue to see that.”

On biggest difference in the defense…
“Execution. Guys are straining, but not beating themselves. A big part of it is doing what you do and getting better at it. You always have to have some changeups and we have those, you can see where we’re doing that in games with stunting and moving and pressuring, but we’re executing those pressures better and keeping some people off balance. It still comes down to being tough, executing and playing with good technique because, as I’ve said probably every press conference, when you have plays designed and have people in place it needs to be 2nd-and-long instead of 2nd-and-2. You can’t just go out there and have guys in position and constantly not make the plays. I think our position on the football is getting better. There are still some things on the perimeter that we need to get ironed out. You know a team like Alabama is physical inside, I was pleased with some things we did in the interior of our defense, but they got some things on the perimeter where they have some very big people blocking and running. We did make some adjustment that helped us on some of that. You could see it last week too, just missed tackles and that’s the most frustrating part.”

On Vanderbilt loss in 2015…
“I never single (any game) out, but does last year’s Vanderbilt game hurt? Absolutely. It bothers me and will probably bother me the rest of my life. But this is a total new year.”

On Coach Nick Saban praising UK after the game…
“I was happy (with the game plan) and that’s where I say, even offensively, if you just look at the numbers and say we did good things it doesn’t look right, but we did. We had some plays and some yards. We had some tough yards at times. I thought our guys competed extremely hard. I thought we had some things schemed up very well that we’re fractions off on, even critical third downs, that we’re close and we just didn’t execute that we’ll get better at. Give (Alabama) credit too. They play very aggressively. I thought on both sides of the ball we had a good plan. Defensively, we made them work hard for their yards. They hit some late (plays) with an All-American on a freshman but overall we strained, worked hard and had guys in good position.”

On WR Dorian Baker’s status…
“I do expect Dorian back at full strength this week. He’s been very close, just wasn’t able to practice all week last week and get the reps but I think he should be out there 100 percent and ready to go today.”

On depth…
“That’s the nice thing, we did play a lot of guys and rotated offensively in particular, which is nice. Defensively, we had a good rotation going but it was still a lot of strain on our secondary. They hit shots down the field all the time, but I thought our secondary matched some things up extremely well, but we were running all over the field and really straining. There are things we can do better, certain sets where we need to be tighter, and that’s a mental and physical thing we can get cleaned up.”

On OL Bunchy Stallings’ play…
“Bunchy is doing a lot of good things. He’s a physical guy but he’s very athletic and quick-twitch for a big guy. He’s been doing some good things. I’m pleased with Logan (Stenberg) as well. He’s a big guy. Inside, it takes some experience because there a lot of things that happen very, very quickly inside. Experience really helps you. We have a nice rotation in there with some guys with some strength.”

On LB Eli Brown…
“Eli is getting a lot better. He’s executing the defense a lot better. He’s not like a fish out of water so much. He’s learning to play within the system. He’s always had great talent. He can run. He needs to get more physical and you can see that. He can run but he needs to put on some weight and lift.”

On UK linebackers…
“I feel like we’ve got some good guys there for the next couple of years. Eli will really get better and give us some depth. Jordan (Jones) is really playing well as he’s getting bigger, stronger and more durable. He plays so hard and is being more disciplined. He still gets a little loose here and there but he has really good instincts and plays extremely hard. Kash (Daniel) is doing some better things as he comes a long and Nico (Firios) went into the game and did some good things as well.”

On safety Mike Edwards…
“Another guy I’d like to single out is Mike Edwards. After watching the film he really did some very good things, we really has very good instincts and plays very hard. He’s playing at a high level. Very pleased with how he’s playing.”

On LB Jordan Jones …
“He’s just (become more) disciplined. He’s one of those guys that’s just wired very different. He means so well. He brings unbelievable energy every day. He loves playing football, loves practicing, loves it all. It’s experience, reps, all those things. He’s a true sophomore. Talk about a guy that if you could have redshirted him last year as a true freshman he’d play for a long time as he gets bigger and stronger. He’s got a lot of good football ahead of him and is getting better and better. It’s him being accountable and dependable also to his teammates, that he’s playing more within the structure of the defense.”

On whether Jordan Jones’ style rubs off on teammates…
“There is no doubt. You see that passion in him running to the football and showing up all over the field. You watch it on film and there are some pretty good looking plays out there where guys are flying around like that. Mike Edwards is playing a lot like that.”

On younger defensive players starting to figure things out more…
“There is no doubt. There’s no doubt that we’ll get better with every rep, with every practice, every game. They’re getting better. Fundamentally, understanding the structure of the defense. We’re not beating ourselves as much.”

On how much Stephen Johnson can improve…
“There isn’t any doubt (he will improve). He’s a very conscientious young man. (Alabama) is a tough group to play against. You need help. You need protection there too. I thought our wideouts competed at a much higher level than they had. It was more about protection and being able to get them the ball, but our guys worked hard to get open. We had some good plays and connected on some and we missed on some. Your margin is small against (Alabama). They make things very difficult for you.”

On Johnson’s fumbles and balance of knowing when to extend a play or just take the sack…
“There is a balance there. That’s where we could not have coached it any more than we did a week ago and it will be the same way this week. This game, the big determining factor will be turnovers. Vandy has done a nice job with that. They’re giving up yards but have done a nice job with turnovers. They’re ahead in turnover ratio and we’re last in the league at negative-seven. We stress it and coach it. If you turn it over and not play good defense that’s a recipe to get beat by anyone. That’s a big piece of it with Stephen. He has to know who we’re playing and where we are on the field. That was pretty clear (the second fumble) was not okay because we were in field goal range right there. Then as a play caller you try to trust your quarterback that he’ll throw it away or run it but you know only get so many opportunities to try and score but it backfired on us there.”

On OL Cole Mosier’s health status…
“I expect Cole to be back out there (Monday).”

On challenges freshman OT Landon Young has faced and investment in his future…
“There is no doubt that he just saw one of the most difficult situations he’ll ever be in. He’s a true freshman and did some good things and got beat some. That’s going to happen. That experience, you can’t replace that. He’s a great kid. The nice kid about him is it won’t faze him, he won’t flinch or lose confidence.”

On learning about the difference in margin for error…
“You look at yourself and compare yourself to the very best. Nobody is happy (we lost to Alabama), it’s all about wins and losses but you look at yourself and what we did on all sides and the good things we did and you have to build on that. I believe our players will. That’s what we have to be to play in the SEC and at a high level, it starts with a mentality and a physical nature about you and keep on getting players. (Alabama) had a lot of very good looking players. Their young guys, they’ve got a lot of big, strong guys. I was very pleased, and it goes unnoticed, last year I got a question about the special teams every game and (this year) I haven’t been asked about them. We were positive yardage again against Alabama and that’s pretty impressive. We met all of our goals and won just about every phase (of special teams) and plus-35 yards against that group is not easy to do. We’re punting and kicking the ball a lot better. You have to do that. (Special teams coach Matt House) has done an unbelievable job. He has great passion and energy and is very detailed.”

On seeing kicker Austin MacGinniss make a pair of field goals…
“It was (good) to see. He’s been kicking well in practice, feels good and feels strong. His kickoffs have been good. His placement good. It’s been nice to see him make some field goals.”