Mark Stoops Monday Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-Tennessee News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Nov. 7, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops


Opening Statement …
“Just like I said after the game, very tough loss. I was extremely pleased with our team’s effort. I thought that our coaches did a great job. Our team really played exceptionally hard and we came up fractions off. That is going to happen. But I was proud of them and the work that they did to put us in a position to win the game. On to the next one. We are excited and ready to go for Tennessee.” 

On him saying the team didn’t play with an edge during the game Saturday …
“Well, edge is not about just an attitude. Edge is disciplined and execution in the face of adversity. And we didn’t always have the execution that we needed. I never faulted their effort. I don’t know if there is a team in the country that has worked harder than us the last seven weeks.” 

On the edge problem being offense and defense …
“Yeah, in a big moment … I talk about it all the time. In extreme pressure, your habits are going to come right to the surface. We are getting better habits. We wouldn’t be in position to win that game if we didn’t do some things right and didn’t have a great attitude and effort. But with that disciplined execution in the face of adversity that I talk about, without having an edge … You talk about purposeful preparation our team did that. We were relentless in our preparation. We watched film, we got recovery, we got sleep. They did what they had to do. Exceptional energy. Again, I cannot thank the fans enough. That is what it takes. That is an SEC football game at home against a quality opponent and it was great energy and our team had great energy. The last thing is fanatical focus. All of it is part of the edge thing that I talk about. And the focus in big moments we missed a couple of opportunities. You watch football, nobody is perfect. We gave ourselves a great opportunity to win that game. Our coaches did a great job. It was the exact right recipe to win. Our players did the things necessary, we just got to keep that focus for 60 minutes and continue to put ourselves in positions like this in big games and we will make those plays. Look at where we have come and look how far this team has grown. We have played six games with one bye week in seven weeks and this team has come a long way. That doesn’t come without an edge and an attitude. They have done that. Their effort is right. If I have told you once I have told you 1,000 times that their hearts and their minds are in the right place. Have I not? So when I talk about edge, I am not talking about the effort. It is all those three things that I talk about.” 

On having any concern about the team coming to practice Monday down after the loss …
“I am not. I am jacked up and ready to go, I really am. I am not going to lie. It was a hard locker room after that game. It is. It was not an easy Sunday. But that’s it, 24 hours, man. I am juiced up and ready to go. I am on my fourth cup of coffee (laughter).” 

On if he had to do the game over again what he would specifically change …
“Well, there are things that you could do over again. There are things that I would do different sure. As a play caller, there are a couple of plays that I would call over. I am sure there are offensively there are a few and everything, but again, our coaches had them in the right position to make the play. The recipe was right. Sometimes you make a couple of plays and sometimes you don’t. There are two or three plays in a game that sometimes determine the outcome. I am not saying which ones they are because you never know which ones they are. They could be big or they could be small. If you do the little things right, the big things aren’t so big. So the big moments, the big plays that everybody thinks are the game changers, but what about all the little things we could’ve done right to not put ourselves in that position. There are many plays that change the outcome of a game, you don’t always know which ones they are.” 

On how concerning the dropped passes were during the game …
“It was concerning, but we will move on and get past it. They will make them.” 

On what his thinking was on punting in the second half instead of attempting a 54-yard field goal …
“My thinking was exactly what I said after the game. Pin them, get field position and get points. We didn’t pin them like we wanted to, but we did get them to go three-and-out, we did get field position and we did get seven points on the next possession if you watched it.” 

On Benny Snell’s run for a first down on the final drive …
“Incredible, incredible run. An incredible individual effort there. As we have mentioned for weeks, our offensive line, tight ends, receivers, everyone is blocking and giving great effort and straining. On that play, you have to give him credit, that was a great individual effort to get that first down.” 

On if Benny Snell has a Tim Tebow-style jump pass in his arsenal …
“You guys keep on asking me that (laughter). Yeah, we are always building. Always building.” 

On if Coach Gran has to manage egos with two backs like Benny Snell and Boom Williams …
“You know, we preach selfless all the time and our team has been that and has grown so much and we will continue to do that. Is it always perfect for all these players? No. Was it easy in that locker room? No. Everybody wants … there should be a competitive nature about some people that should be pissed off after a game like that. Doesn’t mean there are any issues. There are zero. Zero. Our team, I guarantee you will be ready to go and they will be ready to go today. If you are competitive person, you want the ball. If you are a competitive person, you don’t like to lose. But we will move on. But yeah, it is always an issue but I don’t see any problems.”

On if that selflessness is a sign of how far the team has come …
“I do. I think it is a big sign of how far we have come. You see all kinds of little things like that and you see it during the game. There are games where maybe one side or the other is not playing well, or maybe one side needs to step up. But there is absolutely nothing but encouragement from each other and we will continue to do that.” 

On Tennessee …
“I see a very good team that is very talented. They have been banged up, but they had the bye week and they came back last week and played like they are capable of. If you watch our league, you have a tendency to see scores sometimes that raises your eyebrows, but again that is just the nature of the beast. We are constantly beating up on each other and dog eat dog, right? It’s brutal. It’s hard. You get beat up and you are not always going to play your best. You are not always going to play with that perfect edge. You have to try to win the game when you are not peaking. Sometimes the score is not always as indicative as your team. So I see a really good team that is very well coached that is coming off a bye. They had a big win last week and probably ready to play some very good football again.”

On blocking Tennessee’s Derek Barnett …
“Yeah, it is an issue. He is a difference-maker. He really is.” 

On Tennessee’s win last week and what that does for them …
“I am sure they were not very happy during their bye week and did what we did, which was hit the reset button, got healed up and got focused and ready to go out and play a big play. I wouldn’t expect anything less.” 

On Courtney Love saying the “light bulb” is starting to come on for him … 
“He certainly played his best game against Missouri. He did some things that, like a lot of us, he could’ve played a little bit better on Saturday. But we will continue to work.” 

On Cole Mosier …
“Yeah, I expect him back. He turned his ankle. It is not a high ankle or anything major, so hopefully he will be back here today or tomorrow.” 

On Jordan Jones’ play Saturday …
“Very good game, very productive game. It was not perfect, but he plays with relentless passion, energy and effort. You know, he has very good instincts and he is very quick. He is making some good plays. I think, it is good to see Eli (Brown) come in and spell him and play really good football as well and continue to develop Eli because he gives us good reps. As he gets more physical and stronger he is going to be an exceptional player as well. With Courtney we need to continue to possibly give Kash (Daniel) a couple of series to give Courtney some rest. I know that worked well for us the week before at Missouri. You know, we need to do that. That is a big part of it this past week, our recipe was right. That’s a big part of it. I am not calling out any plays or any players, but we were right there. And what happened was they ended putting some pressure on us at the end of the game that we have been doing to people. That comes with time of possession and turnovers don’t help with those. So we were playing really good defense and the offense was playing extremely well, we were getting ready to put the pressure back on them and it didn’t happen. The defense went back out there and that pressure and stress and those plays add up. Down the stretch, that is where again, we need to do a better job of playing guys in tight ballgames and continue to trust and develop and bring some other guys along.” 

On any positions or players that popped out to him when watching Tennessee …
“Yeah, they are a very talented team. If a position group jumps out, obviously, there is a lot of defensive talent. Like you mentioned, Barnett, blocking him is a real issue. He is a guy that has relentless effort and ability to create pressure without blitzing. He is a guy that can get to the quarterback any moment. So they always have good defensive players across the board. Offensively, the same thing, their backs are extremely talented. Their quarterback (Joshua Dobbs) is a dual-threat guy, that puts a lot of pressure on you and I really think they have some guys that can hurt you at wide receiver.” 

On another early kickoff and if prep for previous early kickoffs will be the same …
“Yeah, it will be very similar. We got to make sure we are managing it the right way. I thought that our prep was very good again last week. You know, it is tough to sit around that hotel all day and get ready to play a night game. Again, it certainly wasn’t a problem getting motivated with that type of atmosphere and that type of energy and excitement. That is what we need to play in front of all the time. That is what the SEC is all about. Believe me, I know that our coaches and our players are working around the clock to play with that type of effort and play quality football. I am proud of the work that we have done. We are right there battling some very good football teams. Heck, there is only what, four or five teams in the SEC with four or more wins. It is tough. Everybody is beating up on each other. It is tough. I don’t care what anybody says about this and that and up or down. Every team does the right thing. They are well coached and hardnosed tough football teams that play the game the right way. It is by far the best conference in America and it is a brutal league, even if everybody is beating up on each other. It is tough. Our players are right there battling and preparing and working and putting ourselves in position to make plays. Sometimes you make them and sometimes you don’t. I take nothing away from Georgia, they played an exceptional game and played very hard and are very well coached.” 

On what he heard back from recruits about the game …
“Nothing but positive. Nothing but positive. Anybody that was here, absolutely love the environment and loved to see the fan base so energized and loved the way our team is playing. They liked the passion and energy and effort of our team.” 

On Matt Elam and Naquez Pringle play Saturday …
“He (Elam) did some good things and we need to play both. Naquez needs a break and Matt needs to go in and play well when he is in there. It was a good combination. We are playing more guys up front and that is helping us. It is going to help us now and in the future with developing more guys. We need to continue to work around that with everybody else. We start getting a little thin, like everybody and every team. You start looking at backups and all the things and plays you have to make on special teams and just all the plays you are playing it takes your toll on you.”  

On any looking back and wondering what could have been in SEC standings if UK had defeated Georgia …
“We can’t worry about the standings. I think I’d be a fool to say our players didn’t understand the opportunity (against Georgia). Of course they did. They want to win, but again it’s about what we can control and that’s how we play. That comes with our preparation, with our energy and with our attention to detail and focus. We’ll continue to harp on those things.”

On whether QB Drew Barker is any close to practicing…
“No. Nope. Is he going to practice this week? No. Is he closer (to returning)? I don’t know. This week nothing has changed. I think we’re still in the midst of (the original) timetable … When I made the (initial) announcement it was going to be a significant amount of time. I don’t know how many weeks that is but that’s a significant amount of time.”

On Stephen Johnson’s accuracy on deep passes…
“I think it comes with a clear picture. He had good protection. We took our shot at the right moment and we had it there. He threw a beautiful pass. (Wide receiver) Jeff (Badet) has made some big plays and he does a good job getting open. He’s made some big plays and we need him to continue to make big plays. We missed that one. It’s on to the next game and he’ll bounce back and so will the rest of our guys.”

On the misconnections between Johnson and C.J. Conrad in passing game…
“They’ll get it worked out. When you play teams like Georgia you’ve got to realize those are some good football players that put a lot of pressure on you. Standing in that pocket is still relatively new (for Johnson) and not real comfortable. We talk constantly about affecting the quarterback and Georgia affects the quarterback. A lot of these teams do. So does Tennessee. We need to pick our spots, like we’ve done, and connect on them when we can. Sure, there are things he needs to continue to work on and stay calm and deliver when he can. We talk about ball security and all of those things and we want him to sit in the pocket and then he does and he gets the ball stripped again, which wasn’t his fault this time. He needs to feel some comfort in there and some trust that he can deliver the ball. That’s an issue against very good teams. That’s why I believe the recipe we had to win (against Georgia) was there. We had our big shot when we had it and we were about ready to get into grind mode and it was there and we missed a few plays. We’ll continue to work at it. We’ll continue to work in all areas and that starts with me but I’ve been very proud of our coaches’ prep and our players’ effort.”

On who would play QB if Johnson got injured this late in the season…
“I’m not sure (between Luke Wright and true freshman Gunnar Hoak). I’ve been very pleased with Luke. I feel like Luke Wright has really gotten better and is a good quarterback. I like what I’m seeing out of him so I’m not sure. We’ll continue to look at that and see what the situation is. I’d like to see what Luke can do in a game because I feel like he’s playing well, practicing well and I have some confidence in him.”

On Georgia’s final offensive drive…
“It’s hard. It’s tough. It’s tough for me to watch. I really didn’t want to watch that on Sunday, I really didn’t. There are things I can do better. That takes that fanatical focus I’m talking about under extreme conditions and pressure. That comes with the urgency I was a little bit frustrated with after the game because (the message) doesn’t get relayed all the way over to the guy furthest away from our sideline. We were supposed to be hard corner on the second easy out when they got some critical yards. It should have been zero. When you’ve got plays that are stopped and you don’t execute them it gets very frustrating. That’s part of it. We’ll get it done. The players are playing hard. It was a tough job and we need to do some things better.”

On whether that means hand signal or player telling a player…
“All of the above. Players getting it from the sideline and us having the urgency to relay it all the way over in a pressure situation.”

On whether the team will continue to get better in similar pressure situations…
“I think you can get a lot out of that and the more times you put yourself in these situations with an environment like that with a lot on the line and you’re playing with a lot at stake you always learn from those things. We’ll continue to learn from them. In two-minute situations it’s hard to simulate that in practice and we do a bunch of two-minute but we can learn a lot from that situation right there. That’s a big part of growing as a program. The last time we faced adversity – the tough adversity from the beginning of the year – our team has grown a tremendous amount and I’m very proud of that. This is another tough game and facing adversity and you learn from it and move on. We never stop coaching, 24/7, every day, every game. That’s why I’m always on the field coaching. We’re constantly trying to stay on these guys about teaching moments but it is about harping on the communication of hand signals and communication in general. I constantly talk about it and tell them, go watch a pro practice and you ought to see the urgency they practice with in communication. It’s fanatical. That’s what we need to get to.”

On whether that communication might have cost UK the game…
“No. No, no. Is it one of those plays? Yes. But I never put it on one play. Not any one turnover, not any one missed tackle, there are many plays in the game that change the outcome but I tell the players you don’t know which one it was. Was it a little one earlier on the game? Was it a big one that everybody saw? It’s never on any one person. You always put that bulls-eye on me. You know I can take it and will gladly take it because I appreciate their effort. Ultimately, it comes down to executing in all situations.”

On UK’s defense against dual-threat quarterbacks…
“We have (done better). I think it’s just great team defense and everybody doing their job. It’s just like tackling. People talk about tackling but when you see a lot of missed tackles it’s about not having great position on the football. When you have great position on the football you generally tackle better. If everybody is doing their job and keeping the (running) lanes as good as you can against running quarterbacks at least you limit it some. (Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs) makes some plays and hurts everybody with his legs. That’s what talented players with some experience do and you’ve seen our quarterback hurt some people with his legs, so it’s tough on defenses.”

On CB Chris Westry’s development…
“He has done some good things but, like all of us, he can do better.”

On balance of every play being so important vs. getting game experience for younger players…
“It is tough because every play is so critical and that’s where the trust comes in. They earn our trust during the week with their prep and the way they do things all the time. Some of it is just getting them in there and getting them game experience and getting them ready to play. Jordan Griffin, a corner(back) I think is going to be an exceptional player, we’ve got to make sure we get him in there and get him some quality reps so we continue to develop him because I think he’s got a great future.”

On whether he was happier with the punting…
“We got one really good punt. I’m very pleased with our cover units’ effort. Coach House had to really work something from the week before. The nice thing with our players is there is always so many things to stress and so many different scenarios that happen in the game but our players work hard to correct their mistakes and you saw that last week with our cover units. We get thin. Our guys get tired and we get thin and there is a balance there with special teams and defensive guys.”

On whether John Calipari’s supportive text came as a surprise…
“I’m never surprised by getting a text from Cal. I’d be surprised if I don’t. He’s always like that. He’s always good because he’s always been there with supportive texts. Believe it or not, Cal has been there before many years ago. We all have tough times as coaches and he’s always been supportive and I always appreciate him and his support. He’s been a good friend.”

On the holding call on the field goal…
“It comes down to a technique issue that we need to do a little better job on the edge and do what he’s coached to do. Again, we go through that every day and every meeting. We have a special teams meeting that starts off with field goal protection every Saturday and we go through that.”

On playing at Tennessee and the team’s confidence…
“We’ll be ready to go. They’ll be back to work, I’m sure. They’ve been resilient and bounce back. There’s no doubt in my mind. Don’t ever quit your cattle on a stormy night.”