Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-Georgia News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Oct. 31, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops


Opening Statement …
“Again, very proud of our team and our effort this past Saturday. I was most pleased with our preparation. I felt like the guys really had a tough mindset last week and was confident. But we were prepared and extremely disciplined. We did the little things, even with the early game. I found out later we had an early morning stretch when they came down there, and they were energetic and fired up and had music going. The guys were genuinely excited to play the football game. I actually heard earlier they were in the hallways on their floor, talking and getting each other up and getting each other ready to play. I am proud of that. Just the mindset that they are starting to listen and buy into the things that we are talking about. Again, that starts with everything throughout the week, not just on Saturday. I felt like our coaches did an excellent job of having them prepared and our players were ready to play and really played a very good football game. If you take a few plays away from there, it was one of the best games that we have played in a long time, I believe. I am proud of that. It will take the same kind of preparation this week as we prepare for Georgia. I have a lot of respect for Kirby (Smart) and the way they play. We will have our hands full and it will be a great challenge. It will be an exciting opportunity for us. We have not won five conference games in a long time and we will have an opportunity to do that this Saturday. So I am looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to getting back into meetings with our players today and get back on the field with them as we start our prep for Georgia.” 

On the fans meeting the team at the airport following the win and what that meant to him and the team …
“I was excited for our players and our program and the fans. I have never denied the fact that I feel an obligation and want to put a product out there that the fans are proud of. I have said that from day one and I have said it every opportunity that I have had. I am not going to use the word pressure, but you feel an obligation. You want to deliver for those fans that have been starving for a long time to have a successful football program. Believe me, we work every day around the clock to do that for them.”

On seven different receivers making a reception Saturday and if that is sign that Stephen Johnson is growing as a passer …
“I think so. I think Stephen is getting comfortable and it was nice to see us start the game with a nice throw and loosen him up a bit. Then the way the game unfolded, we had such success running the ball and doing the things that were necessary to win the game as far as controlling the clock and running the football. It just unfolded that way. But we do have confidence in him throwing the football and he did throw it well Saturday. The opening play of the game was good to see. For sure, the 3rd and 7 – the deep post to Jeff (Badet) on the touchdown pass – was a huge play for us. There was a lot of them in there. It is good to see. The great thing is and I have said every week, is there is so much room for improvement. Not just with him, but with our offense and defense and special teams. I think there is a lot of things we could get better at.” 

On Stephen Johnson getting comfortable with the long pass plays …
“I think he does and throws it well when he has time. You saw that Saturday, when he has time he sits back there and delivers it very well.”

On the offensive line … 
“Again, we knew we had good players and you are starting to see quite a few of those guys have a lot of game experience. They have grown up well. And not all of them, we are mixing in some redshirt freshmen and mixing in some true freshmen. It is easier to do when you have other experienced quality players around them. It is nice to see that rotation right now. It keeps those guys healthy and keeps them healthy down the stretch. They are playing extremely physical. That group is playing selfless, they come to the sidelines and sit there and talk to each other and make adjustments. They talk about the things they are seeing and ways to improve and adjustments to be made. That really can be said about all of our position groups. Our team has played that way.”

On the offensive line being the most important group to playing well …
“That and the defensive line, I think. Again, y’all do your research on it and you can probably trace that back to my first press conference and every one in between. You have to be strong at the line of scrimmage at both sides of the line scrimmage. You are starting to see our defensive line do some good things, I am very proud of them. I was very proud of their effort on Saturday. We talked about getting a rotation going, we talked about developing depth, we talked about while they are in the game playing extremely hard and playing passionate because with a tempo (offense) sometimes you have a tendency to not always get alignment and execute your technique because you are playing so many plays. We challenged them all week that whoever was in the game was going to play extremely hard and extremely fast and if they were tired they were going to come out and the next guy was going to go in. You are starting to see some depth there as well.” 

On Adrian Middleton’s play …
“I saw him playing, again with the technique, but more importantly I think you are seeing him play with confidence and be very fast and physical. You saw him finishing some plays behind the line of scrimmage. In the past, you had seen him back there disrupting but not always finishing. So I saw him make a lot of growth. I am very proud of him and how he has grown and his effort. He is a guy that, you know, he is developing and coming along and really starting to play much better.” 

On Naquez Pringle …
“He played extremely well in this past game. He played extremely well. He was very physical, very disruptive. It doesn’t always pop up on the stat chart, but he commanded two guys to block him quite a bit. He was very strong at the point of attack.” 

On Benny Snell’s carry limit and if he might carry it more …
“No, you don’t know, it depends on how the game unfolds. We didn’t have Jojo (Kemp) in this game, like I said. We could have used him in an emergency situation, but with the cast on his hand it wasn’t very smart on us to use him because of ball security issues until he is a little more comfortable. Even hopefully this week, the pain will be much better this week compared to last week in that hand. But Benny, he can carry the load. Again, we talked about the capacity with Boom and he can handle it more as well. It was a nice combination this past week.” 

On who the third back would be if Jojo Kemp cannot play …
“Sihiem King was set to play in this last game and had a few things not happen down the stretch he would have been in there. Really wish we could have got him in there. That was the plan to get him in there.” 

On the team’s disappointing showing against Georgia in the past and moving past that … 
“I was very disappointed – I don’t know, I hate to go back all those years – but I felt like we really didn’t play very good and they really manhandled us those first two years. Last year, we had some difficulties moving the football and I probably made the frustration move of going for it on fourth down when we were only down seven, but again, we weren’t moving the ball so at some point you have to take some risk, whether it was a good risk or a bad risk. At some point you have to try to make something happen. I tried to make something happen and it didn’t work and we ended up losing the game. I am not for sure we would have won if I would’ve punted it, but anyway. We need to find a way to move the football. They are very good defensively. This is a very talented football team. I say it every year, when we play them, they are an absolutely good-looking bunch. I know by Georgia standards, they are maybe not playing to the level that they expect and will under Kirby as he builds it and gets it going. But they still have some awfully good-looking football players that are big and physical and can run across the board. They probably have three backs that will play in the NFL. They always have good players.” 

On when the light came on for Naquez Pringle this season …
“Well, I think, there is a lot to be said and credit to Jimmy Brumbaugh and what he has done with him. The same happened with Melvin (Lewis) if you remember back then. A lot the same way. He just improved. That is what we talk about when we develop our players and get them to fundamentally play better and fundamentally play within the scheme and you are starting to see that by him.” 

On the importance of a good crowd on Saturday …
“Well, I think it’s very important for us to see the stadium filled. I think that our players would love to see that happen. Our fan base, there has been a lot of loyal fans to us. We just need more and need people in there to fill it up. I would love to see it filled. Again, I make no bones about it, when we see it filled I expect our team to play at a high level to make those fans proud. Believe me, we are going to go to work today and have a great week of preparation to put ourselves in position to win the game. It will be very important for us to play well.” 

On Charles Walker faking fair catches …
“Well, he is just doing his job. (Laughter) Yeah, he does a good job in a lot of areas. He is a disciplined football player and he does a lot of things correct and that is just one of them.”

On how big he has been to help with field position …
“Yeah, it was. I was second-guessing myself a bit after we were up 21 and they punted it and pinned us about the 10 and they had the offside and I was debating whether to make them re-kick or not because you hate to have a penalty or muff the ball or something like that. But thank goodness, they punted in the endzone and it worked out better. I don’t even know what your question was.” (Laughter)

On taking the next step and if it’s helping in recruiting …
“Again, I haven’t denied that. I think it is very important for us to show the results on the field. We know what we do behind closed doors and the progress that we are making. But it is very important to show it with the bottom line and I have never denied that. And that is the same with recruits, yes. I think it certainly helps you take it to another level and I certainly hope it does.”

On if the success moves the needle for some recruits … 
“I do, yes. I do.” 

On the team’s punting …
“We will continue to work on it. My therapist tells me, if I was playing golf with somebody and he was missing putts, I wouldn’t be screaming at him to make the putts, right? So I probably shouldn’t be saying anything to Grant either. That is from my therapist. I am kidding, that is my own mind. We have to just stay the course. You know, he will get it done. He will be fine. I really believe that. He is stressing, I am sure he wants to deliver for his football team and he will. He will get back out there and practice this week and he was hitting them good in practice like week. So he will, he will come around.” 

On finding a balance from getting on Grant McKinniss and coaching him …
“I am going to be me. I don’t feel the need to be one way or another, just myself. If I feel like they need to be challenged, then I challenge them. If I don’t, then I won’t. It has never been an issue with me. I am going to go with my gut in coaching and I have always had good results. So I am going to continue to do that.  Saturday, there are things that we could have done better, defensively, throughout that game and late in the game. We are going to continue to coach all the way through. We are never going to stop coaching. You really can’t with young guys. You have to continue to harp on things and continue to coach them every second you can really.”

On a specific example of the way the team is carrying itself now …
“I don’t know, there are so many things that have changed. You know, it starts with a lot of things. But their commitment level, the way they are practice, their belief system, discipline, there are a lot of things they are doing better. It makes all the difference in the world. I talked about it last week or the week before, they need to see some results. It is good to win some games and win a close game here or there and get paid off for some of the hard work they are doing. All those things help, but it is never going to happen unless you have the discipline to prepare. It will be the same thing again today, it’s either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. It is one of the other. They better have the discipline to do what it takes to put them in position to win.” 

On the offensive line coming together … 
“I told you from the beginning and I’ll say it now, they’re a fun group to coach. They mean well. When you come together, have some depth and see some results, it always helps. I don’t think it’s been hard (getting them on same page). We have great leadership in there starting with Jon Toth and the rest of those guys are smart and good football players and they’re only going to get better.  That’s a beautiful thing.”

On the timing between QB Stephen Johnson and TE C.J. Conrad … 
“It’s just fractions off. I think someone told me that C.J. said it best, ‘don’t worry, we’ll connect.’ They’ll get on the same page. There are some things with the RPOs there that you don’t always see. One, we were off balance and there was a defender in the way so Stephen threw it a little high around the defender. If that’s timed up there is a much better window. One he just overthrew. We’ve seen him miss that once or twice but he’ll get it down and we’ll convert it when we need to.”

On the difficulty of being a first-year coach in the SEC …
“Only in this regard, most of the time when coaches come into a situation it’s not because it was left just perfect, right? That’s a big storyline and certainly true in my case. There were things I could certainly do better. I think most of the time you’re not going into a perfect situation and there are things to get fixed, some easier fixes than others. It’s all different, but none of it’s easy.”

On whether he’s finally having fun …
“I’ve definitely enjoyed myself. I’ve never doubted this team would get better, going back to the midst of some football that was not very pretty that some of it would be easily fixed. I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of it. I’ve enjoyed this group because it’s a close team and they’re to work with and they’re certainly buying in.”

On whether they’ve recruited specific types of kids …
“Recruiting is always part of it. Recruiting character is always a piece of recruiting, an extremely important one, but you have to have the athletic ability too. I think it’s a really good coaching staff and they’ve done an excellent job. The players have worked hard and are fun to coach and they’re not satisfied. That’s a big message for today when we get into the meeting, point out all the good things they did and all the things we need to get better at and then right back to work. We’ll challenge them about not being satisfied because I know they’re not. That’s not lip service. I know they want to get out there and prepare. I can tell by the way we’re practicing and that may be what makes it more fun, when you can go on the practice field and enjoy what you’re doing and give them the constructive criticism they need and they take it and move on. That’s always a good sign. I think our team has been much more selfless lately. They pull for each other. They want to win, that’s the bottom line, winning football games. How does the team function when you’re in the game? That’s where you’re starting to see the depth and the team play well.”

On looking ahead in the SEC race to what’s potentially out there for the team …
“There will be no talk about that. We need to control what we can control and that’s playing Georgia well. Let’s play Georgia the very best we can. We’re in no position to look ahead against anybody. We’re going to do the same things we’ve been doing and try to do them better this week. That’s the great thing, I think we’ve got much better football in us.”

On Stephen Johnson’s TD pass to Boom Williams in the Missouri game … 
“What I like about the play is that I didn’t notice how he got hit but he was really good (on it). That was supposed to be a shovel pass so he was going to flip it to him so if it’s incomplete it’s not a fumble. We knew they were going to pin their ear back and get great pressure and had one lineman on the (linebacker) and we actually didn’t even get that guy blocked. Thank goodness Boom made him miss. (Stephen) ad-libbed and bought time, let (the defense) come to him and dumped it off. He was just playing football it was good to see. He just kind of shot-putted it to him.”

On whether Johnson could have done that earlier this season …
“Actually, that’s the kind of thing he’s done well. It doesn’t always look pretty but he’s made plays to put us in position to win football games. That’s where, I said it last week, I don’t think people give him enough credit.  He’s making football plays when we need him to, whether it be a scramble or a play like that.”

On if he’s thanked (assistant coach) Darin Hinshaw for finding Johnson late on recruiting trail … 
“Haven’t done that yet. Doing his job. (laughs). It’s really good that he found him and I’m certainly glad he’s here. He’s a great kind and he’s got great poise and he’s getting better and better. That’s the good thing.”

On the team’s identity … 
“I said last week, every football team morphs into what they are. I think we’ve done a nice job of finding what we can do well and what our players can handle on both sides (of the ball). Controlling the ball, getting tough yards. Running the football when everyone knows you’re going to run the football will help you win football games and it has through this run.”

On LB Courtney Love saying the defense felt very prepared for Missouri …
“I think we handled the tempo exceptionally well. Everybody we talked to that had played (Missouri) said they’d play as fast as anybody that runs tempo. Our players handled it extremely well. There were one or two plays that I was not happy with and one could have made us pay dearly that we need to get corrected, but outside of that I thought the players handled it extremely well. I thought our coaches did an outstanding job with preparation. We had just enough change ups to keep them off balance and really played well. Courtney probably played his best game this past week. It’s also a testament to developing depth. (Freshman linebacker) Kash (Daniel) went in and played two series so Courtney could rest and played well. Eli (Brown) has gone in and played well at the WILL (weakside) linebacker position. It’s good for our players to get rest. We didn’t play many snaps, which was good. The defense was getting stops and the offense was controlling the ball so it was a great recipe for success and to win the game. The bottom line is winning the football game and we did what we had to do. You take the long (touchdown) pass out and I thought the defense played exceptionally well. The lone touchdown drive in the first half really could have been avoided – and I can’t blame him (Jordan Jones), that was not a selfish penalty at all – a lot of times late hits are selfish, but we were straining to make plays and that was very close.”