Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-Mississippi State News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Oct. 17, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops


Opening Statement …
“Good to be back in a game week. It was really good timing for our bye. I felt like we used it wisely to heal up and look at all areas we need to improve on and continue to build on all the things we were doing well. So, I felt like it really came at a good time. Our players seem fresh and recharged and ready to go. I am looking forward to getting back on the practice field this afternoon and ready for another big night game. Looking forward to the challenge of playing Mississippi State and being at home for a night game. It should be a beautiful weekend and I am really looking forward to this game.” 

On what he learned about his team during the bye week that he didn’t already know …
“Well, again, we just went back and looked at all areas and things we needed to improve on. As you know, we had been doing that. We looked at that throughout the season at the areas that we had been falling short. We were dissecting that pretty good. We continued to work on the areas of weakness for us and again build on the things that we are doing well. I am not going to get in on the exact specifics that we did, but we did a lot of work and had good physical practices last week and also had the weekend to freshen up without having a game. That just helps with the wear and tear on our player’s bodies.” 

On an update on quarterback Drew Barker …
“The update is that it is about the same. No big jump one way or the other.” 

On if he still has hope that he will play this season …
“I am not going to rule it out yet. The doctors are not ready to make that decision.” 

On if Drew still doesn’t need surgery …
“Not at this point. I will let you know, certainly if that is an avenue that we move towards. I will let you know.” 

On if there are any younger players that are starting to make their move into the two-deep …
“I think, we obviously have talked about it quite a bit, defensively certainly a lot of those guys with the inexperience are getting better. The practice time was really good for us. When you are game planning so much you feel the pressure of working all the scenarios and sometimes it is good just to go out with young guys and fundamentally really work them to get them better. The game time and the experience helps because you are always seeing new things and the game moves so fast, again it is a combination of things with experience and seeing the plays during game. But also fundamentally just working hard. That area, it is hard for us, just when you are game planning so much and playing offenses that are so multiple you have to find that time to continue to develop guys.” 

On how happy he is to not see Dak Prescott this season …
“Well, I caught about 10 minutes of that game in Lambeau yesterday (Dallas at Green Bay) and definitely we talked about it. I just have great respect for him and playing him I always thought that he was just so underrated. I talked a lot about that in this press conference last year and I think I said he should be a Heisman Trophy candidate and I think most people laughed at me. But I just had great respect for him and knew what he was doing for that team.” 

On how different Mississippi State’s offense is without Prescott …
“Well, they are still difficult to defend. They have always been multiple and Coach (Dan) Mullen has always been difficult to defend because of the things that we constantly talk about with the quarterback run game and the pressure that they put on you and the stress that it puts on defenses when the quarterback runs the football and spreads you out and still has playmakers across the board.” 

On MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald …
“Just a guy that is big and strong and can definitely throw the ball and can run it. It is just reps and him getting more and more comfortable.” 

On rebuilding Stephen Johnson’s confidence during the bye week …
“I hope so. We had a good week and he looked good and looked sharp. Mentally, he had a weekend to decompress for a moment and take a step back and recharge a little bit. I am anxious for another good week of practice and see how we move forward.” 

On if the team is more confident with recent wins …
“I do. I definitely believe that our players realize, just by taking a step back and watching a Saturday, which we don’t get a chance to do a lot, just to sit back and watch all the football games and football teams and you realize that a lot of people’s margin for error is really small. And on any given Saturday things go different ways and I think they realize some of the good things that we have done. Not just with the coaches, but everybody constantly harping on the things that we need to improve on. We do some things well and we need to continue to build on that and they realize that we have a good opportunity if we continue to progress and continue to get better.” 

On if he feels really good about the team …
“I feel better and I feel good. We feel like we had a break with a good bye and we are ready for the last half of the season, starting with Mississippi State. I feel like our players and our coaches we know that everything has to be earned and you have to continue to work at it but we are up for that challenge and excited for this week.”  

On if it is motivating for the team that they are still in the middle of the SEC East standings …
“It won’t be if you don’t take care of this week really and you cannot look that far ahead. We are really focused on this week, but I think our players do realize that if we continue to take care of our business then we will have a good opportunity this week and it is just week to week. That is where our focus needs to be and to dissect it even more, what are we going to do today? How are we going to work today to prepare ourselves for this Saturday?” 

On De’Niro Laster’s status and possible return this season …
“Not right now. He has an injury that he will be out for a couple of weeks.” 

On the team worrying about itself …
“I think that our kids understand that if we handle our business that there is opportunity for us week to week. It is so hard to look at that big picture. Six weeks is so far from here in the football world. We are worried about today. And I know that gets boring sometimes to talk about, but that is what we are focused on. I do think there is some truth to that and yes, if we handle our business today and the rest of this week, but let’s go take care of business this Saturday and then we will worry about the next one. As you know and as you can see, it is a real struggle week to week for a lot of people.” 

On when he sees Vanderbilt winning at Georgia and if that validates what he is saying …
“It doesn’t surprise me. I know what kind of team (Vanderbilt) is and maybe some other folks do that don’t watch the film that we do. We know, just because they don’t have a lot of wins that is a good football team and we knew that. Again, after that game, why I was positive is because I felt like we were really playing very well and had a couple of bad breaks and were playing some good football. We had the scoop and score (by Vanderbilt), which is very unfortunate and puts a lot of pressure on you, but until that point we were playing extremely well.”

On how fans look at THE College Football Playoff and that week to week outlook …
“Yeah, I think a lot of people – and I am not concerned with the CFP because we have so much work to do here that I really don’t pay any attention to it – but what I do know is that a lot of people that are going to vote and take care of that do look at the week to week. That is the difference now between the polls maybe back in the day. I think that they look at who is playing well right now and all of that. Again, that really is not much of a concern of mine. But I am concerned about our team and our attitude as we move forward into this week and the rest of the season. As I was alluding to a little bit there with Alan (Cutler) and your question, as you look back and watch all of those teams and you just see that it is tough and anything can happen any week and there are not a lot of easy victories in this league.” 

On getting to watch some football during the bye …
“Yeah, I did. Coach (Eddie) Gran and myself and Lamar (Coach Lamar Thomas) got back from South Florida on Saturday morning and I had an opportunity to spend it with the family and watching football. I had a good day on Saturday. I enjoyed the day off.” 

On Mississippi State’s defense …
“No, they are the same. They are multiple. When you go play them, they always look good on film, but then you go play them and it always jumps out at me that they are very long and athletic. They always are. They are very multiple. They are playing quite a few different coverages and doing some different things. They play both fronts. They always have some good-looking players that play hard.” 

On any similarities between Vanderbilt’s defense and Mississippi State’s defense …
“No, I think if you look at Vandy, they are always going to do some different types of zone pressures and different looks and maybe a wrinkle here and there, but a lot of it is the same. There are only so many things that you can do coverage-wise. You always have to be ready for that, yes. I think it always simplifies things when you are able to run the football. There is only so much you can do in the back end if you are running the ball. Hopefully, we will continue to do that and take a little pressure off of Stephen. Of course, as we have talked about, we want to be able to have balance and throw the ball and a great way to do that is to continue to run the football. That opens up a lot of windows. Stay in front of the chains and take your shots.” 

On getting Stephen Johnson’s sharpness in practice to translate to games …
“I think a lot about what I just talked about. Comfort level is a big part of it and you are more comfortable when you are staying ahead of the chains and your offense is hitting on all cylinders. When you are able to run the ball and when you are able to throw our RPOs (run-pass option plays) off the run game. You know, our RPOs don’t work if you are not running the ball. I think that is a big part of it and just having guys step up and having that balance and making plays when they are available and making plays when he needs to. All those things. I think there was an effect from the week before when we played Alabama. Because you don’t have any time against them, if you have noticed. So the next week as you are coaching it and working on it and protecting the ball, he rushed a couple, but that comes from experience and playing. Again, I have said this a couple of times this year when I am talking about the offense, but I think some of it will be an easy fix. You know, just settling in and having the comfort level and experience and some of it we will continue to work on.”

On how comfortable coaching staff is with Stephen Johnson as QB for rest of the season…
“I’m very comfortable with him. He’s going to get better and better as we go along. Look at the things he’s done to help us win. He’s 3-1 as a starter, right? He’s made some very critical plays. Maybe it doesn’t always look pretty as far as throwing the ball but when he’s doing the things – decision-making and with his legs – to help us win football games that’s what it’s all about.”

On much of the run game’s success has been, in part, because of Johnson’s threat of running…
“I think that’s definitely a piece of it. Again, you go back and our last football game we rushed it for 259 (yards) or something against Vandy. Not very easy to do.”

On how much the ability to run the ball has helped the defense...
“Quite a bit. It’s been a much better team effort. We talked about that, about how when the defense was struggling, no excuses, but it certainly didn’t help going right back on the field 30 seconds later. That’s not going to help anybody. So the balance for our team is much better. We need to continue to push special teams because we’ve played very well (in that area) but our last outing wasn’t our best so hopefully we’ll get back playing at a very high level on special teams.”

On defensive tackle Matt Elam’s status…
“He’s back this week. He’s supposed to be back out (at practice) on Tuesday.”

On how much being able to run the ball helps the entire team’s toughness and physicality...
“Night and day (in mindset). To survive in this league you have to have some toughness and physicality about you or it’s not going to be pretty. We’re still going to continue to push that and try to have balance in our program, be able to throw it like you need to, but you have to be able to run the ball.”

On the reasons for running the ball better…
“It’s been a combination of guys growing up and you’ve seen the running backs with the exception of Benny (Snell), his addition has really helped with his style. Our other backs have gotten older and more mature and O-line has matured. Our inside guys have some physicality about them and some experience. All the things that go on inside with the caliber of players that we play is a lot, it’s not just simply big guys in there going one direction. People don’t realize how quickly things happen to O-linemen and how quickly they have to respond. Our guys have been around and are playing good football and growing up.”

On O-Line depth…
“That helps quite a bit and the depth that comes in are some other big, physical guys. It’s nice to be able to bring them along and let them play 20 snaps a game and not 60 and be ‘The Guy’ because they can come back and look at the film and they’re doing some good things. The game moves very fast in there.”

On team dealing with success…
“I think they’ll deal with it very well., they have no choice. They know they need to continue to play and that’s what we expect. That’s how we expect them to play with that kind of effort. Defensively, across the board, it was very nice as we watched film and they see the energy they were playing with, how fast they’re running to the ball and that’s contagious.”

On whether this team is his toughest since arriving at Kentucky…
“Yeah, I would say so. Let’s put it this way, I’m proud of the way this team has responded. They’re a fun group to coach. There has been a lot of frustrating pieces that we don’t need to rehash, but the way they go about their business, the way they work, the way they care, they want to do well. You heard me say that even after some difficult times, that I was confident we would get it fixed because of their toughness and attitude. I feel like we have a lot of good pieces in place and some pieces we need to develop. That’s the way it is. Heck, look at the (SEC), I think every coach would say that except for one.”

On Jordan Jones’ style and its effect on teammates…
“It’s very contagious. It’s fun. He’s a big piece of that in practice because every day he’s like that. There is not one thing that’s fake or phony. He loves the game. He plays that way on Saturday and he plays that way on Monday. I love seeing that. He’s a guy that has really grown because he makes an enormous amount of plays but there were some things he needed to fix and not play as loose and he’s tightened up on that and is playing a lot better as a true sophomore.”

On coaching the youth on defense…
“That’s why it’s so important for us to start playing better this last stretch because you know they’re going to get better and better with every opportunity and with some depth and some strength.”

On whether any redshirts or guys lower on the depth chart stood out during the bye week…
“Nobody that was redshirting that we’ll pull, no.”

On whether the redshirt could still be pulled off QB Gunnar Hoak…
“We have his blessing and the blessing of his family. They know (the situation) very clearly and are all for it. His father was a football player and understands it and is all for it, so if we feel the need to play him then he’ll play. If its looks like Stephen (Johnson) has a significant injury then he’ll play. I just like to be very clear with (the family). They’re fantastic people and very supportive. Whatever is best for the team they’re all for.”

On how Hoak has looked in practice…
“He’s looked really good. We’re very impressed. He’s getting better and better with every snap. He seems very poised, but I think it’s fair to say that at that position you have to get them in a game to see how they function. He shows everything that you want in a quarterback right now. He can move a little bit. I don’t think he’ll be running zone read with him all day or anything but he can move around a little bit.”

On safety Mike Edwards…
“You’ve heard me say every week how solid and impressed I am with Mike. He very, very rarely makes the same mistake twice. It’s always fun to be able to communicate with a player like that. Some guys you’ve really got to lean on, show on film, show on the board, show with a lot of reps and some guys, like Mike, you show one time and they’ve got it. It’s always fun to coach guys like that.”

On how influential Drew Barker has been with the other quarterbacks…
“He’s been very supportive. He helps any way he can. I’ve been proud of him that way. It’s hard and he’s worked hard to get the position he did and it was a very quick start so I don’t know how the ending is going to go but he’s doing whatever he can to help and I appreciate that.”

On defensive back Blake McClain’s play…
“I like the way he’s progressing. I wish we had him another year and redshirted him that first year but we didn’t and couldn’t. He’s a versatile guy and has experience. He’s played both nickel (back) and free (safety) and you’re not seeing nearly as many mistakes out of him as we have in the past. That position takes some savvy and you have to be crafty. It takes a lot of reps. That’s something that we looked at because we’ve got so many reps invested in him in nickel that in critical situations I like to put him back there. That takes some time.”