Aug. 25, 2014
After months of preparation and planning, the University of Kentucky football team is set to begin its second season under head coach Mark Stoops when it plays host to the UT Martin Skyhawks on Saturday, Aug. 30 at noon ET inside Commonwealth Stadium.
The Wildcats and Skyhawks will meet for the first time in program history on Saturday with UK trying to win its season opener for the first time since 2011 when it bested WKU in Nashville at LP Field.
Head Coach Mark Stoops, entering his second season with the Wildcats, welcomes back 15 primary returning starters from last season, seven on offense and eight on defense. And, as a byproduct of the team’s youth over the last two seasons, 36 returnees have started at least one game during their careers. All told, UK returns 49 lettermen from last season, including 22 on offense, 24 on defense and three specialists.
UT Martin is coming off a 7-5 season, including a 5-3 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Skyhawks return 61 lettermen, including 10 starters.
Head Coach Mark Stoops Weekly News Conference Quotes
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. At this time we'll turn it over to Coach Stoops.
COACH STOOPS: Thank you. It's exciting. Finally game week. Players are excited. Coaches are excited. You know, ready to get this season going. As I said before throughout this summer, we've improved. Be interesting to go out there and see how much. I'm just as anxious as you are to get out there and get playing. It will be great to play a season opener. How long has it been, Tony? How many years since we played a home opener? 2007. That will be good. UT Martin is a good football team, well coached team. Four returning starters on the offensive line. We'll have our hands full. We're anxious to get out there and see how we can play.
Q. re: Darrian Miller off the depth chart.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah. He's going to have to sit one game. Violation of team rules. He'll be back game two.
Q. (Question regarding if Stoops is disappointed in Darrian because he was looked at as a leader.)
COACH STOOPS: It happened some time ago. We've addressed the situation. He's done what he needed to do. He'll be back in good standing after one game.
Q. How do you feel going into year two?
COACH STOOPS: You feel a lot better. You feel a lot more confident. But as I said, I think even as an assistant throughout all these years, you're always anxious to get out there in the first game, see what you have, where you are. I know we've improved. We'll see how much.
Q. (Question regarding Kyle Meadows.)
COACH STOOPS: I feel good about Kyle. Be good to get him out there and see what he can do. Jordan Swindle will do good on the left side.
Q. (Question about Bud Dupree being listed with the linebackers.)
COACH STOOPS: It varies. We just listed it that way this year. Depends on the personnel they start with.
Q. (Question regarding Bud being listed with the linebackers because the staff wanted to get Jason Hatcher on the field.)
COACH STOOPS: That's going to be a big part of it. We wanted to get Jason on the field a year ago. He went through some good growing pains. He's getting better. He's a good football player. That is part of it, to get him on the field.
Q. A lot of new kids this year, just like last year. You have a lot of leadership. Easier to get things down than it was a year ago?
COACH STOOPS: Definitely. Always more comfortable year two with implementing the offense and defense. We went through a transition last year in season, as you know, going some more three down. It was good to have a whole off season, see what we did well. Players are more comfortable. Coaches are. I feel good about that.
Q. Will Demarco Robinson play this week?
COACH STOOPS: He will. Demarco is in good standing. He paid his price. He was suspended the last two games of last season. He met the obligations he needed to. He's back in good standing and will be back in game one. There will be one other person, Rashad Cunningham will have to sit one game, as well.
Q. Do you do anything to get the young guys ready for the bright lights?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think they just need to go through it. We put them in pressure situations all through camp. We just got to throw them out there and see what they can do. I expect them to go out and play well. Some of the wide receivers will be forced into action. I want to say we have four redshirt freshmen that will play on the O line, four true freshmen will play at wide receiver.
Q. (Question regarding Alex Montgomery.)
COACH STOOPS: Alex is out. He's injured. He'll be out for some time.
Q. (Question regarding how Patrick has responded.)
COACH STOOPS: He responded well. He was trying to be a good leader. When you're in a quarterback battle, that's tough to do sometimes. Think the comfort level of him trying to be the leader, trying to lead the offense has helped him. Getting some guys back healthy is good. Javess Blue has been back healthy out there for a few days. That helps as well.
Q. Home opener for the first time since 2007. Is there value in that?
COACH STOOPS: I definitely think so. Just playing at home in the opener is exciting to me. I know our fans are ready to go. We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans.
Q. A lot of teams in this league don't get to play their first two games at home. How important is that?
COACH STOOPS: I think it's real important, I do. I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well. Like I said, we've talked a lot. Coach Spurrier always says it best: In the talking season, we talk a lot. We've improved. Our football team has worked hard. We'll see where we're at. I know we're going to play better. It will be good to see these young guys get out there and play, see how we've improved, see the veterans, guys like Bud and Z, see them come out and see how much they've improved. It will be good to play at home.
Q. You have a lot of young kids playing for the first time. How do you keep these guys calm?
COACH STOOPS: That's part of the unknown that I say we'll see and how you respond from year to year. Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that. That's why you have to get out there and play. There's no substitution for experience. You got to get them out there, get them on the field, and get them playing. We tried to put them in as many game like situations as we could. We try to prepare them the best we can with all different situations. Had a good camp. Put them through a lot of tests. We'll see how they go play.
Q. What do you know about UT Martin?
COACH STOOPS: They have a great defensive player, No. 40 (Tony Bell), the linebacker, an exceptional player. He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays. Like I said, I think they're a well coached team. They're very multiple on both sides of the ball, can do a lot of things. You got to be prepared for a lot, which is good for us to spend that time getting ready for a variety of offensive or defensive schemes. I think they're the type of team, it's a little unknown. They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop (several in coverage). They've shown both, where they've been conservative and drop eight guys into coverage a bunch, or they can blitz the house and come after you. I imagine we'll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that.
Q. (Question regarding Stanley “Boom” Williams playing time.)
COACH STOOPS: He's going to start at kickoff return. He's a guy I will be excited to see him with the ball in his hands. He definitely is a difference maker. Same with Mikel. Mikel Horton is the same way. I think he's a guy that I want to see run the ball in the first game and see where we're at. We do have the luxury of having some depth at running back, so we got to get those guys the ball.
Q. (Question regarding the defense picking up blitz packages.)
COACH STOOPS: They're getting there. They're getting to the point where we trust them, where they can operate the whole offense.
Q. (Question regarding reps at running back.)
COACH STOOPS: Braylon and Jojo. We list those guys. We look at them as starters. We may start in a package with both of them.
Q. (Question regarding Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson at linebacker.)
COACH STOOPS: They both will play. We'll see how practice goes this week. They'll both play. They both have done a nice job.
Q. What do you think of Patrick, to be able to go out and win the quarterback job?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it was real important. As I've said, I think you've got to look at Patrick and be proud for him, the way he's responded to the situation. A year ago, you know, he came out of camp at this time, he was third on the depth chart. He just looked at it, what can he do to improve. Like I said, he just went out and battled, got better over the year, came out this year, flipped the script, came out of it number one. He has an opportunity. I have a lot of confidence in him. I appreciate the way he's gone about his business. I think our team has. He has this opportunity now. He needs to make the most of it.
Q. (Question regarding Demarco handling punt returns.)
COACH STOOPS: He is. We're still grooming Timmons. As I said before, I think you'll see both of them in the first game. Demarco has done it for a while, has experience. He's comfortable catching the ball. His decision making is better than most just from experience. We'll continue to get Timmons involved, as well.
Q. You're down three receivers this week, but numbers wise do you feel you can use those four wideouts?
COACH STOOPS: I do. I feel better. We were discussing our depth chart over the weekend and early this morning. We do feel good about the wide receiver position. I feel like if we are in a four wide receiver set, we do feel we're two deep. Maybe not as experienced as you'd like to be still at certain spots there, but talent wise we're getting to the point where those are the guys we're looking for. You just need to continue to get better, keep on working, see who goes out there and make the plays.
Q. What do they (UT Martin) do offensively?
COACH STOOPS: They do a little bit of everything. They can put an extra tackle in and play him at tight end. They may try to get big and run the ball a little bit. They've done that certain games. They get into what we call a 20 personnel look, like our offense, like a lot of people do, that H back off, do a variety of things. They get into a little bit of the quarterback run game stuff. There's a lot to prepare for. It will be good for us. There's a lot of things we're familiar with, that we see from our offense as well, even if it's just the sets, things like that, from 11 or 20 looks. 20 looks is just two backs, three wide receivers. We'll see a lot of things from them, I'm sure. Like anybody, the first game, they've had a long time to make some tweaks and adjust some things. So you never really know in that first game. They could come out and emphasize something we haven't seen much of. But that's where all the practice and preparation comes. Whether they're empty sets, big sets, whatever, we've worked it all.
Q. Question about your team. What have they got to do better?
COACH STOOPS: I just think consistency. We've got to go play well and be consistent. We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously. We want to be very consistent. We want to pick up our tempo offensively and continue to grow and move the ball like we want to move the ball. We talk about our running backs and things like that. Of course, I've always said that, Neal has always said that. We've never given anybody any false indication of what we want to be offensively. We want to be balanced. Of course, that means we need to throw the ball better than we did a year ago also. We need to grow offensively and do what we want to do that way. Defensively, again, be more consistent. We need to get more turnovers. We certainly need to get more interceptions. Just be a more consistent group. Fundamentally we're getting much closer to where we want to be, especially up front. I think in the secondary we're getting better. We just need some play makers to step up.
Q. (Question regarding run versus passing.)
COACH STOOPS: That's going to vary week to week. We always want to be close to 50/50. You look at UT Martin, they were very balanced a year ago as well. They want to be balanced. Any defensive guy will tell you that, the most difficult offenses to stop are the balanced ones.
Q. (Question regarding UT Martin quarterback Dylan Favre reminding Coach of Dylan’s uncle, Brett Favre.)
COACH STOOPS: He does. He's a good football player. Split time last year. They're both good football players. So you could certainly see the talent there. Some of those throws and plays he makes are fun to watch. I just hope I don't see those next week (laughter).
Q. One running back I haven't heard about is (Josh) Clemons. Is he in a similar situation as Maxwell Smith? Injury really set him back?
COACH STOOPS: It did set him back. Part of it, he's worked extremely hard. Really appreciate Josh, the work he's done. He's had some tough luck. We've tried to be very smart with him and he can only handle so much throughout spring and through camp. We tried to just practice him every other practice to save his legs and save his knee. He did get into a live scrimmage, and honestly he got tweaked up there in that scrimmage. There's that fine line of getting him game ready and not. With him being on the sidelines, I'm sure it gave reps to those young guys that are very talented and very good football players. He will have a role. We've got to continue to push for that and get him in there. He's a big, strong guy that has some unique skill sets that can help us. We've got to try to use him. As at any position, we'll see how things go. We'll see who emerges and who really plays well.
Q. You talked about UT Martin. Are you a coach that likes to open the playbook or...
COACH STOOPS: We've got to do everything necessary to play at a high level. With any game plan, you got to take whatever you're going to emphasize that week and run with it on both sides of the ball. But we will try to play as best we can and do everything we can. We can't take anything for granted, you know that. It's just not where we're at. The state of our program, we have to go out and play the very best we can each and every snap. Whatever we have to do to play well on both sides of the ball, special teams, we'll do that.
Q. (Question about the secondary.)
COACH STOOPS: Very comfortable with him. I love the way he plays. I love his instincts. He's the type of guy, you correct him once, he generally never makes the same mistake twice. Really like the way he's been playing. As I've said before, that's a position where we drastically needed to improve, and I believe we did.
Q. What do you know about Coach Simpson?
COACH STOOPS: You know, I'm not very familiar with him, to be honest with him. I know he's been here for some time, maybe eight, nine years. From Mississippi. I believe he played at Southern Miss. I don't know him well.
Q. Darryl Long going to redshirt?
COACH STOOPS: That's what we're trying to do. That's what we plan on doing right now.
Q. How did he take that?
COACH STOOPS: He was good. A lot of the freshmen were good with it. They see it. Like I told you during some press conferences during camp, they get out here, you know, they're very talented football players. It's difficult. We're getting better. As we get better, it gets harder to beat out some guys for playing time. That's what you want in our program. Some positions we don't have that luxury. At wide receiver, we have to (indiscernible) these guys with a firehose because we need players. It's just where we're at. It's difficult. That's two years in a row we've had to do that on the offensive side of the ball. Tell you this, if you had to do that on defense, I got very little hair left, but I think it would all be gone (laughter). It's hard. So many things change. You got to keep on moving as a program. It's good to have them supplement you and add some depth in certain spots. Some guys you can bring along. If you're playing a whole mass group of them, you're going to have a hard time.
Q. Is there a plan to give Reese Phillips a series here or there?
COACH STOOPS: That's the plan right now. We'll get into that honestly as we get through this week. I think I'd love to play him. Off the top of my head, I'd love to play him. But you know and I know Patrick needs the reps. We've got to get out there, get better, move this program forward. We'll see how that goes. But to answer your question, I'd be very disappointed if he didn't play in this game.
Q. (Question regarding Cole Mosier.)
COACH STOOPS: Really impressed with him. He's really done a nice job. We liked him a year ago. He redshirted. We liked him in the spring. He's a very big guy. He's physical. He will play in this game. He's battling for playing time on the inside. I'm anxious to see him play and see how he does.
Q. (Question regarding Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith’s impact.)
COACH STOOPS: Well, it's really important for those two to come back. As I said a lot through the off season, leadership is the first thing that jumps out at you. But also confidence. Our players see those guys out there, they make plays, are consistent, they're always there. They're great to have. You know I'm pretty tight with my compliments. You know that over the course of the year and a half. I'm really conservative when it comes to complimenting guys until they've proved it and earned it. I probably haven't complimented those guys enough, to be honest with you. They are tremendous football players, great leaders. They're going to be great pros.
Q. What is the single hardest thing for a true freshman thrown out there for the first time?
COACH STOOPS: Just how fast the game moves. Even in practice, we have so many reps. If they make a mistake, they certainly hear about it, but it's on to the next play. You get in the game, things happen even faster. That's where the experience comes in. With experience, the game slows down for them. I think that's what you see. Like I said earlier, I think you'll see some guys respond to it very well, and you'll see some guys make some silly mistakes.
Q. Do you think Neal has that first offensive series scripted?
COACH STOOPS: Not yet. We're working on it. Pressing him on that this morning (laughter). We're working through that. We'll see what package we want to feature, where we want to go right out of the gate.
Q. How important will it be to get Patrick comfortable early?
COACH STOOPS: It's certainly important for Patrick to get off to a fast start, and for our team to get off to a fast start. No hiding from that. It's important for him to play well. He will. He's going to make a lot of good plays and I'm sure he'll make a few bad ones as well.
Q. You and Neal and D.J. said last year, people focus on the great plays, but you need to have good plays stacked on top of each other. How close are you to getting that now compared to last year?
COACH STOOPS: Much closer. Then it comes to the big plays, and that's where we still need to grow. I think if you watch college football, you see these great teams, great teams in this league, very well coached, then it comes down to some guys making some plays a lot of times as well. You need play makers to emerge.
Q. (Question regarding UT Martin’s Tony Bell.)
COACH STOOPS: He's a great linebacker, but he's a great pass rusher as well. Like Bud in that area. Bud is an outside backer, obviously much bigger. But he's like Bud in that he's comfortable on his feet, got great instincts, he's an extremely good pass rusher. He's a mismatch for some people on the edge.
Q. You said things like Patrick has this opportunity now to play well, start fast.
COACH STOOPS: Don't go there (laughter). I'm going to cut you off. I know where you're going. He has the keys. You heard me say that before. He's going to go through some ups and downs. That's anybody at any position. We never guarantee anything except an opportunity, so... He's not on a short leash. He won the job. He is the starting quarterback.
Q. You've been around a lot of NFL players. Where could you possibly see Bud and Za'Darius going in the draft? I know you're not focused on that, but...
COACH STOOPS: I'd be very shocked if Bud was not a first round draft pick. He's got to play his way into it, have the opportunity to be a high pick. I truly believe that. You know I've been around a lot of great ones. A lot of linebackers recently at Florida State. Za'Darius the same thing. He could have gone a year ago, a little lower, but has a chance to play himself up into a high draft pick. First couple rounds. They're both very talented. But Bud is special. He has that ability to play standing up. Put his hand in the dirt. He's a pass rusher. He's got instincts. With everybody going to a lot of the 3 4 things, outside backers, versatility, he's a very good player.
Q. (Question regarding if he was surprised that Bud was preseason second-team All-SEC and not first team.)
COACH STOOPS: I am. Yeah, I was. That's one of the reasons I think I'm conservative with my praising of guys. I don't need to be with him. He comes to work every day. He loves being here. If he was worried about that, he would have left a year ago. He wanted to come back, play himself up into a high pick. He wanted to lead this team. He had unfinished business. I love everything about him, the way he goes about his business. He's not worried about anything except getting better this year.
Q. (Question regarding captains.)
COACH STOOPS: Last year I was unsure. We changed them up throughout the year. As you saw a year ago, Avery was a staple out there. We'll see how that goes in the next couple weeks.
Q. (Question regarding Matt Elam.)
COACH STOOPS: He's made it through camp. He's getting better every day. He's about where I thought he would be. He's a talented football player that the sky's the limit. We need to continue to develop him fundamentally, not just shape, but fundamentally he's got to play better. He's got to be lower, play more consistent. What I love about him, it's not easy, it's not been easy, he has a good attitude about it. He's got his ups and downs like all freshmen. But he's really trying to fight through it, wants to be a good player. He needs to stay extremely dedicated if he wants to be everything we know he can be, which is a great football player.
Q. He's a funny guy.
COACH STOOPS: He's a funny guy. A lot less jokes through camp because he's been really tired (laughter). He's got a good attitude. He's been fun.
Q. (Question regarding D tackles.)
COACH STOOPS: I feel good about our D tackles. I feel like we're getting closer to playing better fundamentally. If you know anything about myself, we take great pride in that. That's our job, to develop them into good fundamental football players. I feel like Jimmy has done a good job with them. We're getting closer to where we want to be.
Q. (Question regarding Matt Elam losing weight.)
COACH STOOPS: Well, he's getting better. He's working hard. Just like any young guy, any freshman, it takes time. You just got to keep on working. But I like his attitude. He knows that he's got to work hard. He knows he's got areas he needs to improve. He's addressing them. Thank you.
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