Stoops Previews Vanderbilt at Weekly News Conference

Sept. 22, 2014

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Mark Stoops

COACH STOOPS:  Excited to get back into game week.  Very good (practice) week last week.  Just fundamentally getting better.  Had a chance to work on ourselves and obviously get ahead on (preparation for) Vandy. We're looking to play better.  Vandy is playing better and better each week.  We'll have our hands full.  Excited to get back at it.

Q.  You mentioned some kick coverage, something that needs to be cleaned up.  They (Vanderbilt) returned two for touchdowns last week.
COACH STOOPS:  I noticed that.  He's (Darrius Sims) a very good player.  Good return, good scheme.  So we'll have our hands full.  We're going to go to work on that today.

Q.  You said they're (Vanderbilt) getting better week to week.  What have you seen?
COACH STOOPS:  I thought they played with great energy this past week.  You could see the excitement.  They played hard.  They're getting better and better, playing more confident.


Q.  You said you probably wouldn't like the bye week where it was.  In hindsight, were you able to work on some things, heal up some injuries?
COACH STOOPS:  It always helps just with injuries alone, a lot of bumps and bruises, then fundamentally.  I talked about that the last time.  We need to get better.  We used that time to improve in certain areas.

Q.  (Question about maintaining momentum.)
COACH STOOPS:  Players had some time off, coaches were on the road recruiting.  We have to get back today, get energy up.  We had a good week last week.

Q.  Any comment on Zach West?
COACH STOOPS:  Zach is getting better.  He's improving.  We're going to put him through some things today. We have a chance to be close to 100%.  Zach West and (Jeff) Badet would still be the question marks.  I think both of them will have a chance to play.

Q.  Were you surprised how well Vandy looked last week?
COACH STOOPS:  They played very well.  Like I said, their excitement, you could see that.  They were playing extremely hard.  You could see they're a team that's building each week.  A few new wrinkles.  Fundamentally getting better. They do some good things.  Very well coached.  Like I said in the opening statement, we'll have to play better.  We'd like to continue to build on some of the good things that we've been doing, try to clean up some of the mistakes.

Q.  What are some of the things that that Stanford style offense presents?
COACH STOOPS:  It's a challenge.  I go back to my time at Arizona.  Just the great respect I had for the Stanford program.  Very fundamentally sound.  Very tough at the core of who they are. They do a lot of creative things with big sets.  That was helpful for them against South Carolina.  You could see they're starting to build more and more into their package.  They create some big problems from the run and pass with big sets. That's really new now because not too many people are doing it.

Q.  Re: Vanderbilt quarterback situation
COACH STOOPS:  It will be interesting to see who goes for them.  I think you could see some real talent in the freshman (Wade Freebeck).  A guy that we knew from St. Thomas High School, a very good football player, a great program.  He's going to be a special player.
Their older guys are good players, too.  17 didn't play as much (Stephen Rivers).  But they're good players.  I'm not sure if their starter will be cleared or not, if he's healthy.  It doesn't matter (which quarterback starts), their offense doesn't change much.

Q.  (Question about the current state of the conference.)
COACH STOOPS:  I guess nothing surprises you.  It's a tough conference.  All of us go through our ups and downs.  The key is to try to win when you're not playing great, when you're not at your best.  Crazy things happen every Saturday.

Q.  How much time did you spend channel surfing on Saturday?
COACH STOOPS:  I had to go on the road and recruit on Saturday.  Didn't get to see as many games as I would like to.  I like to watch college football on an off week.  Had to go recruit, so cut into the channel surfing time.

Q.  How do you figure tight ends are playing?
COACH STOOPS:  We need to play better.  I tell you, we missed a few blocks the past couple weeks on some things where we had some big plays.  We need to be more consistent there. Sure, we'd like to get them the football every now and then, but we also need them to block and do some things to help on the perimeter.

Q.  We asked you about some of these ugly historical stats, streaks and things before you were around.  Having been here for nine of these 17 straight SEC losses, as you're building the program, how significant is it to punch through something like that?
COACH STOOPS:  It's important, it sure is.  We'd sure like to get one, that's for sure.  We work extremely hard each week to go out and put ourselves in a position to win. As I said after the last game, I was proud of the effort.  I felt like if we keep on giving ourselves chances like that to win, then we'll get some wins.

Q.  How do you feel about not being the underdog for a change?
COACH STOOPS:  Don't pay much attention to it.  But certainly need to be a team that's very hungry.  I think our team has played that way this year.  We need to stay that way.  Just like the previous question there, I mean, it's important to go out and get this victory.  It's the next game on the schedule, so it's the most important one.  We'll be excited to play.

Q.  Where is Alex Montgomery at?
COACH STOOPS:  He's getting close, as well.  He's not far off.  He needs a little bit more strength in his leg.  The injury itself is healed up and ready to go.  We're working on some strength in his quad.  So he's very close.  He wants to go.

Q.  How valuable was that off week for Javess Blue?
COACH STOOPS:  It was good because we were able to push him hard.  Prior to the last game, the Florida game, he didn't have much practice.  He was somewhat ineffective for him.  So last week we were able to push him, get him in shape, run a bunch of plays.  He held up just fine, so he should be healthy and ready to go.

Q.  You said last week you were getting an extended look at some of those freshmen.  Any guys stand out?
COACH STOOPS:  We like the whole group, really feel good about the whole freshman class.  There's a lot of good football players in there. All those D line men that are redshirting are good players.

Q.  (Question regarding preparing defense any different this week than normal.)
COACH STOOPS:  It's always tough.  You see many different styles in this league and in college football.  It's always a challenge.  Each team generally has unique sets and different wrinkles that they'll throw at you. You see that with Vandy, as I said, a program that Coach (Derek) Mason is just getting started.  You see the new wrinkles week to week.  You never know what that is going to be.  But they're building more and more. This week the difference will be -- you don't see as many big sets (as Vanderbilt uses), as I said, with extra tackles in the game, extra tight ends.  They're very creative with what they do in their big personnel.

Q.  Changes your defense?
COACH STOOPS:  It definitely changes.  You have to work out all the kinks and details from what they do.  You can see, they got some good mileage out of those sets this past week versus South Carolina.  Really kept them off balance.  Ran it effective.  Hit some good play actions off of it.

Q.  (Question regarding Patrick Towles becoming the offensive leader.)
COACH STOOPS:  Patrick has been very good for us, very solid, very vocal.  Players have a lot of trust in him.

Q.  What has been going on with the illegal procedure (against Jordan Swindle)?
COACH STOOPS:  He's getting a little antsy.  He has to get in there and settle down.  He's getting too excited, too antsy.  He has to settle in and he'll be okay.

Q.  Defensively how much better are your players understanding the concepts?  How close are you to where you want them to be?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, I think we're much further along obviously than any time I've been here.  We've been a work in progress.  I think the players are getting more and more comfortable.  They're getting more and more confident. At some point, we talked about it before, with what we're doing, how much we're doing, how many wrinkles we put in each week, there's always some carryover.  I think the players are starting to understand things better and carry things over from week to week, carry over certain plays, play actions, boots, things like that.  They're starting to play with more instincts.

Q.  How close are you getting to playing more physical, the way you want them to be?
COACH STOOPS:  The guys have been really solid up front for the most part.  As I said a week ago, we need to play a little bit better at the second level and the third level, with our support from the linebacker position and the secondary.

Q.  (Question regarding Stanley "Boom" Williams in practice last week.)
COACH STOOPS:  Good week.  It was good.  We got to continue to get him some touches.  We feel good about a lot of those running backs, like Mikel.  Got to continue to find ways to get those guys the ball some.  
It will be good to have is Braylon (Heard) back.   The off week was good.  But he was out there all week.  It was good to get him back around the ball and getting him conditioning.

Q.  The way you performed at Florida was the talk of the town.  Everybody was proud.  I know the players weren't satisfied after the game.  In terms of coming off that game, are they mentally where you hoped they would be?
COACH STOOPS:  We were very good all week.  We had a good, solid week, good energy.  We talked about it last Monday, really all week, just to do more, prepare better, be more effective in what we're doing, get things cleaned up. So we'll see where we're at this week.  They had the weekend off.  I'll be anxious to get with them here this afternoon and start our preparation for a game week.

Q.  How did that game affect them mentally?  Do you sense they're hungrier now?
COACH STOOPS:  I do.  I felt like we were hungry.  I felt like they were very hungry this past week, like I said.  We better keep that same energy this week as we prepare for Vandy.

Q.  You're saying you need to get better on the second and third level defensively.  Are you talking primarily in the run game?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, run game primarily.

Q.  Are those fundamental things?
COACH STOOPS:  They are.  A lot of them are fundamental things, instinctual things.  We just need to be stronger, firmer in our fits and in our tackles, in our second level support.

Q.  Recruiting any different this week after what happened at Florida?
COACH STOOPS:  I do think it's important for us to show progress.  I've never hid from that.  I don't define that all the time with wins and losses.  We know how important wins are.  But I think there was a positive vibe out there that recruits know we're getting better, and they see it.

Q.  (Question regarding Ryan Timmons.)
COACH STOOPS:  He's fine.  He'll be good.  He's a big play guy that does a lot of good things for us.  He needs to do them all the time.  Needs to do them when the game is on the line.  He will.  That's why we work to get him the football.

Q.  Seems like a different receiver steps up every week.  Do you like that?
COACH STOOPS:  We definitely do.  You got to continue to develop the whole group.
You're right, each guy is taking a game and making some big plays when we needed them.  We need to put it all together and play consistent each week.

Q.  (Question regarding if he ever missed an interception while he was playing in college.)
COACH STOOPS:  No (laughter).  I remember one, I bobbled it about three times.  I had an easy pick for a touchdown.  I batted it to myself three or four times.  Maybe I wasn't fast enough to run it in.  I got caught.  It was against Kansas State a long time ago.

Q.  Coach Ansley said Tiller is never going to forget that one.
COACH STOOPS:  No, he won't ever forget that.  It's just one of those things.  Took his eye off the ball too quick.  Probably got a little excited, thought he could score.  Just need to make the play. He'll be fine.

Q.  How good is their nose tackle?
COACH STOOPS:  He's a good player.  He made some good plays against us a year ago, and continues to play well.  Butler, as well.  But, yeah, both of those guys, 69 (Adam Butler) and 55 (Caleb Azubike), they're both active players, very good linebacker that's a good player, blitzes well, instinctual player, so... They're pretty stout up front.  They're good against the run.  They create a lot of negative yardage plays.  Again, very well coached.

Q.  When a team as young as Vandy is, is the goal to rattle them?
COACH STOOPS:  Well, I think it's important for us just to kind of do what we do.  We've emphasized we wanted to start the season fast, we want to start each game fast. This past week, we didn't start exactly fast, but we weathered the storm early, too, in a hostile environment, tough environment.  We didn't let them jump on us and start fast like what happened to us sometimes last year on the road.  I thought our players handled that adversity very well. We're at home in a comfortable environment.  So we need to do what we do, continue to improve, try to start fast.

Q.  University taking some steps to move some tickets.  How much would it mean to you to have that kind of atmosphere?
COACH STOOPS:  I think it will be important.  As I've mentioned in previous press conferences, I appreciate people that come out and support us in a tough time, a rebuild.  We're trying to do our part.  We greatly appreciate the great support we do get and the loyal fans that we have. Our stadium is torn up right now, unfortunately.  We have to all endure that for this year.  But looking forward to a great environment at home.

Q.  When it comes to recruiting, with the offense you have, how easy was it to sell your offense to those recruits?
COACH STOOPS:  I think they liked that.  They like the offense.  They see it.  They do the numbers.  They know we like to run quite a few plays and distribute the football.  It definitely helps.

Q.  How well do you know Coach Mason?
COACH STOOPS:  I know him from our meetings and things.  But certainly watched him from afar from one defensive guy to another and the great work he did at Stanford.  I have a lot of respect for him and what they do.

Q.  What about (offensive coordinator) Karl Dorrell?
COACH STOOPS:  I know Karl from our days at Arizona and UCLA.  Again, great person.  Very good coach.  He's got a lot of experience.  You could see the improvement.  Like I said, you certainly saw it this past week.  You know fundamentally they're going to be well coached and be put in a position to be successful.

Q.  Your kids look up to the NFL guys a lot.  There's been a lot of things going on in the league right now.  Are you able to use some of that as teaching moments?
COACH STOOPS:  We do.  We do.  We certainly have an abundance of meetings, educational meetings, prior to the season.  During an off week, we do try to address certain things, just remind them.  You know how that goes.  You could have those kind of meetings every day just to put it in their minds. Knock on wood, our players have been very good.  We're not perfect, but I think they've been really trying to embrace the leadership and do the right things.  I think you're starting to see that carry over from off the field actions to on the field. Thank you.
                        
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