Q&A: Stoops discusses No. 1 Mississippi State

MARK STOOPS
Anxious to just get back to work today and get back on the practice field with our players after a disappointing loss. After reviewing the film, as I said in the postgame, you have to give credit to LSU. They outplayed us, outcoached us, but there are certainly a lot of things that we need to get corrected and can get corrected, so looking forward to getting back out there. Another great challenge that week, playing the No. 1 team in the country. We will have our hands full and need to play a whole lot better. So, again, need to get back out there and improve this week on the practice field.

On stopping the run vs. Mississippi State after struggling at times in run defense this season: Well, it’s very important. Another physical football team, but not only physical, just, it’s a numbers game as well. Very well coached, puts you in some hard predicaments. Obviously the way Dak (Prescott) is throwing the ball as well, they stretch you constantly. So it is a concern. If you look back at last week, I think we did — believe me, I’m not crazy, I’ve coached defenses that were pretty darn good against the run. The good news is if you take away some of the explosive runs that can get corrected in certain spots, just physically we actually did some very good things. They ran the ball, what, 51 times, something like that. And a good portion of some of that yardage came late and it came on some finesse runs, some 11-personnel Q run, and things like that. So if you look at the power run game we actually improved quite a bit in that game and had some good plays and some good stops and did some good things. And, again, I know you can write it how you want, I’m not crazy. I know what good run defense looks like and does not, so certainly we all know we need to get better and improve in certain areas, but like I said, I think some of it was improved.

On Stanley “Boom” Williams condition: Things look better, not cleared to play yet, obviously. I’ll wait until the doctors tell me he can get on the field but, I think, yeah, things are looking better. When he will be cleared to practice or play I have no idea.

On if the run defense improving make things better with a positive even in the blowout loss: I think that was part of it. We all knew going into that game that was a big, physical football team that wanted to run the ball and they certainly did, but, again, I thought there were quite a few plays in there where it wasn’t, just constantly getting pushed around, where I thought  you know, just right at the start, again, there’s a lot of mistakes we can look at in that game but we start the game with the poor kickoff return and get the penalty. Then we get a zero-yard gain on first down, incomplete pass on second, and get the penalty. That’s just the discipline we need to continue to work and get better and get more disciplined on this team, but that penalty hurt. If you look throughout the first half, when we get the punt return for a touchdown, but we were hanging in there. We knew it was going to be difficult, not an easy task, but physically defensively we were holding up pretty well and doing some good things. Then it gets to be a little much when you’re on the field that long, and obviously some big plays that we can and will get corrected.

On if they just need more players: Well, I’m not going to make any excuses, but we just, you know, need to find a way. As I said, going into that game you really need to play well on all sides and we certainly didn’t do that. We didn’t play good enough on any side but I thought we had a chance defensively.

On if he’s saying when he looked back on the film they were not just physically dominated: Yeah, that’s fair to say. I don’t think we were physically dominated on the field and, again, you just look at, hey, they ran the ball for 300 yards, you’re not generally going to win a lot of games when teams run for 300 yards. We know that’s not acceptable but there are a lot of good, physical plays in there by our defensive guys. But when you make mistakes, they’re magnified. Mistakes are going to cost you games, they’re going to cost you on the road at LSU, making mistakes we did early in that game, it’s going to cost and you it’s going to be magnified. It gets out of control at that point. We can’t have that and we’ve got to coach ‘em better and be more disciplined across the board.

On how Mississippi State’s corners compare to LSU: They’re different, a different style of play and they’re just different guys.

On if the film showed any common theme to the special teams mistakes: Well, there’s mistakes. There’s mistakes that can and will be corrected. We’ve all made our mistakes this year, offensively, defensively, special teams. Again, they’re magnified against a very talented team on the road, and when you open the game that way, it doesn’t set the tone. That’s not what you want. So they’re magnified but they’re things that can and will be fixed. The punt return, same thing. A little unfortunate that we hit it so good. He kicked it so well, outkicked his coverage a little bit. We had guys down there. We had, honestly, five or six guys clean, and we’ve got to do a better job of closing that gap, spreading the net and gettin’ ‘em down. Once you get a talented guy started and give him some space, bad things are going to happen to us. So those are things that we can get fixed and will. We all take responsibility for that, and we’ll make the corrections and we’ll move on.

On the opening kickoff and if they intended to kick it short: That’s something that in hindsight we would do differently. (Laughter.) So, you know, I told you that at one of my news conferences, anybody that tells you they wouldn’t do it differently in hindsight is lying. (Laughter.) It was poor execution and poor call, and we didn’t kick it where we were supposed to, either. So what we were supposed to do on the kick wasn’t there. Therefore, it magnified it. So, sure, we would do it differently. That’s one instance where we were too cute there. Again, I take that responsibility. We take that and we move on. The rest of it is just fundamental things.

 

On if he would have believed Mississippi State would be No. 1 when they faced Kentucky: I wouldn’t have put no thought into that, I would have no idea. I would be going on a limb and I don’t like to do that. If you look at their quarterback and their team it’s not a real big surprise. They’re a very talented football team. You could tell they had a lot of confidence coming into the season just by the way they carried themselves at SEC Media, just listening to them with their quarterback and leadership. Dan is sixth year in the process and they have a good looking team. I noticed that a year ago. I noticed how big they were and how long and just, you know, they’re developed. They do a great job of coaching, and good things are  it’s coming together for them. They’re playing red hot, and it starts with their quarterback. He’s as talented of a guy as there is in the country. He can run it, he can throw it. He’s making great decisions and their offense puts stress on you. Like I said at the beginning of the statement, they’re well coached, they put stress on you across the board.

 

On if he remembers anything specific about Prescott from last year’s game: Physically, good-looking guy, strong, leader, tough, just everything you want in your quarterback and in particular with what they do, with the dual-threat and putting that stress on you.

 

On if Dan Mullen’s success at Mississippi State is sort of the model for what he wants to do here: Certainly anybody that’s having success in your league and guys you watch, certainly you look at them and see what they’ve done. I think they’ve done a nice job of recruiting and a lot of times — give them credit under the radar with some of the guys that they get out of their state, that maybe not a lot of people know about. But they have that great length and size and you gotta give them credit for developing those players. Yeah, they’re a good-looking team top to bottom.

 

On if he has any fear at all about the confidence of his team after a loss like that during a rebuilding process: Yeah, you worry about it, and we need to address it, because, you know, you’re going to go through ups and downs, you’re going to lose some games. When you self-inflict against a good team — and I’m not taking anything away from LSU because they flat beat us across the board — but when you make a lot of mistakes, you can have a tendency to lose confidence. I told you, other times, speaking to you and to our team, we’ve gotten beyond the belief. Then it’s about execution and doing things and then we go out and don’t do it very well, so now we got to make sure they don’t slip back and start doubting, and it goes back to preparation and work and controlling the things we can control.

 

On if this is unfamiliar territory since they haven’t had a loss like this yet: Yeah, it is this year. It’s a new team, first time we have gone through that, it is new to this football team and every team is different. So, yeah, we’ll see how we respond.

 

On what he hopes young wide receivers learned from LSU game: I hope they learned how to get open versus press. That’s a physical bunch that doesn’t give you a lot of space. You have to beat ‘em, you have to make plays. We can compete at a higher level. We need to be more detailed on some of our routes, and there is a lot of things we can all do better.

 

On if he has to guard against guys getting too psyched to play a No. 1 team: As I have said many times I would rather say “whoa” than giddy up, so if we have a good practice and I got to hold ‘em back, that will be a good thing. But the emotion, I’m only looking forward in our preparation. You certainly don’t want ‘em flat walking into the building, you don’t want ‘em being “down” and all those things but the excitement level and how we prepare and as long as they’re focused and they go through preparation and are mentally ready to practice every day and putting ourselves into a position to win a game that’s what I’m looking for.

 

On importance of a fast start for confidence: I think it’s always important. It was important last week on the road and we fought it uphill the whole game this week, even though we were at home, we’re playing the No. 1 team in the country, you can’t fall behind, I think it’s important. If we do, we got to learn to face adversity a little better than we did last week.

 

On what Demarco Robinson did differently than other receivers: He did do better, you’re right in saying that. Number one, he’s a senior, that helps. So he’s got a lot more experience playing against these big dudes that are up there locking ‘em down but Demarco has done a nice job of beating people and playing one-on-ones.

 

On if they gain confidence from playing well at Mississippi State last year: I think every team is different but I think, you know, I hope it helps us a little bit and we’ll see how we prepare and how we go through the week.

 

On if in his experience coaches tend to set the same tone after a lop-sided loss: I’m not sure if everybody takes the exact same approach every week. I don’t know what other people do. It’s been different from the coaches I’ve been around each week. As I’ve said before, I think, you know, you have to have a good plan, but I go on my instincts and my gut a lot and they’re, sometimes right and sometimes wrong, even in making decisions on the field, you know, and that’s where that hindsight comes in. But I think, you know, with this, definitely I put some thought into the message.

 

On if he almost has to be an actor in that situation: I don’t think it’s ever an act. I would never use that word to define it. It’s about making sure that you clearly define the message that you want them to hear. That really doesn’t change much for us a lot as well. Maybe how you deliver it and in those things it does, but the bottom line is we’re all going to accept our responsibility and we’re going to look at things, get it corrected and move on. So, again, we’ll see how well we respond this week.

 

On if he can take away anything from moving the ball at 17-3 and appearing to weather the slow start for at least awhile: No, I don’t know if you could take much from it, because I felt like, as you know, from watching the game it was an uphill struggle from the first kickoff of the game. But I do feel like we were battling there. That’s what I was commenting on defensively for a while there. We were hanging in doing some things. And offensively we were moving it. We had 3rd-and-1, a long drive, and we missed that opportunity. That was part execution and part would you do it over? Well, yeah, because it didn’t work you would do it over. So there are things that we can and need to do better in that situation. The bottom line is we didn’t make it happen, we didn’t deliver, they stopped us and that was a big turning point, because I believe there was roughly five minutes in the half there. If we get a first down, obviously that’s time off the clock and even when we got the ball back after that I believe we stopped ‘em right after that, maybe a three and out. They hit a great punt and backed us up, and even then I’m trying to get out of the half. That’s what I want to do at that point. It’s been an uphill climb, it’s 17-3 on the road, we haven’t moved it well, we’re backed up, I want to get first downs and get out of the half, unless we make big plays and get movin’, of course, but I’m really trying to cut our losses at that point. And then, as we know, they get 10 more points from there and that was impossible for us to catch up from that point on.

 

On importance of playing well in a nationally showcased game vs. No. 1 team: I think it’s very important. It’s important for us to play well. Anytime you’re playing a No. 1 team in the country, you’re going to have great exposure. We want to play well and represent our program and what we’ve been doing and all the hard work so it’s important for us to go out and play well.

 

On what Jabari Johnson has done to work his way into rotation after not playing at all last season: He gave us size, and he’s been doing a nice job at that position, what we call the “Jack linebacker” there. He’s big. He has a nice feel for it. He’s good on his feet, and we felt like we needed more size in that game. So he’s done some good things, he’s earned the right to play. So we’ll continue to rotate between Bud and Jabari and Hatcher at those spots.

 

On how Johnson played against LSU: He did good. He played well, he really did.

 

On Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith having discipline issues playing containment on the outside at times and how they stop an athletic quarterback like Prescott: It’s not always on them. I mean, it’s always team defense. Sometimes he may step up and then get out as well so they’re trying to get speed rush and our inside guys have to be disciplined. Thing of that sort. We’ve had our discipline issues but containing on the pass rush is not always one of those with them. It’s not always with them, let’s put it that way. But it does bring up the point that you’re making here, that we need to have great team defense and great discipline with our pass rush. They have disciplined runs and plays where he ad-libs and makes plays. He’s very talented. Anytime it’s tougher on defenses and it’s frustrating at times anytime you play a quarterback that has the experience and feel that he does of making plays. That’s why they’re No. 1 in our league in total offense.

 

On if he can see the comparisons between Dak Prescott and Tim Tebow: I could see that. I could see people making that comparison. I never played Tebow but just as a fan and watching him I could see people making it, just with Dan coaching them both. The stress that he puts on you with that offense with a guy that could do both run and pass. They’re both physical. I could see people making that comparison. Obviously that’s a great compliment to Dak, because, you know, Tebow won quite a few games.

 

On Mississippi State having a bye week before playing Kentucky for the fourth season in a row: Really? We better talk to somebody. (Laughter.) Well, it is what it is. Nothing I can do about it. It’s above my pay grade.

 

On if he thinks the state of Kentucky could eventually have the same football success with UK and UofL as Mississippi has with Ole Miss and Mississippi State this season: I don’t see why not. I really don’t. I feel like we’re both working extremely hard to build our programs, we both have great support, and they’ve been a very talented and good football team and we’re working our way toward that.

 

On if the long, explosive runs came from a specific area: It did, and I think some depth issues hurt us as well. In fairness to a few of our players. we got to get ‘em out and get ‘em spelled as well. We’re certainly were we’re not as fast later in the game as we were early. That’s coaching. We’ve got to develop guys and get some guys in there to help. Give them credit. If they’re going to run it 51 times with those dudes, they’re going to break some, too. It’s not like going into the game that you didn’t think they were going to have any explosive runs. I think I guess the point I was trying to make with the power-run game if you take those explosive runs, it wasn’t that bad. We had a good dose of some good people in there and we played more physical than we had been.

 

On if he expects Zach West back this week: I do expect him back but I don’t know how at this point he will respond but I do expect him back this week.

 

On what they need to do to get the run-game jump-started: It’s important, just like last week. You know, that’s where the run game is always important. We all want explosive offense, and we need that and want to throw it and will throw it, but you gotta have some balance. Look at Mississippi State, what are they, 264 to the run and 265 to the pass. Try to defend that. Makes a difference. It’s very important to be physical and to have balance. It puts a lot of stress on teams. We’ve done that well at times, and against some teams it’s a little more difficult for us because we’re trying to physically get to where we want to be. So to answer your question, it’s important to get the run game going, at least be able to have those aggravating runs, three, four, five then break one here and there. We’ll continue to work on that.

 

On if he’s surprised at the run game struggles considering all their explosive backs: Like I said, it’s been good at times. Wasn’t so good last week, and you have to give credit to LSU for that. They beat us. They played more physical than us and didn’t give us much room.

 

On Mississippi leading the SEC in sacks per game: Well, they have an incredible front seven, number one, and number two, they’ve been ahead quite a bit and scoring some points, so teams are going to have to take some chances and maybe drop back and pass more than they want to.

 

On if passing game struggles were because of LSU DBs or is Patrick Towles could have done some things better: Certainly Patrick can play better and needs to play better. We missed some opportunities and that’s going to happen. Again, not to make an excuse for Patrick because he doesn’t need me to do that, but there are going to be some times where maybe they’re covered, then maybe they’re open and we miss ‘em, either way it’s not good. So when you are off and not playing your best, again, it’s going to get magnified against a great team, especially on the road down there at LSU.

 

On if in a game like that he has to make those plays when given the opportunity: You have to make those throws, yeah, you do, and we gotta catch ‘em and get open and all those things and we definitely were not at our best.

 

On the play where Ryan Timmons appeared to not see the ball: I’m not even sure, to be honest with you. I didn’t ask him yet or couldn’t tell.

 

On Ryan Timmons’ struggles: Ryan needs to continue to improve. He needs to compete at a higher level and needs to step it up. We need him to. If we’re going to win games at LSU or if we’re going to win a game at home against the No. 1 team in the country, some of our playmakers need to step up and compete at a high level and make plays and win some one-on-one’s and make some plays. That’s what he needs to do. Again, you asked me specifically about him, there’s others, there’s all of us. We all accept the responsibility and, again, accept the things that we need to do better and that’s something that he needs to do better.

 

On if film showed what happened on the squib kick: We addressed it before they went on the field. We had a good idea they were going to squib it. We had a player make a poor decision.

 

On if having young players in a situation helps because they can forget a loss like that more easily: I think that goes back to Alan’s question. You know, we’ll see. I think because we got whooped and had because we made some mental mistakes, sometimes that can shake somebody’s confidence, and we’ll see how they respond. I have no reason to believe that, though. I have a good feel we’ll bounce back and prepare well and play well.

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Mark Stoops after LSU loss

MARK STOOPS
“OK. You know, there’s not a whole heck of a lot to say. They really took it to us from the opening kickoff return all the way through the game. They did an excellent job. Give them credit. They were more prepared, they were better coached. They were a better team, more physical than us and outplayed us in all three areas. So you have to give them credit. We will not let one game define us. We did not play well. They had a lot to do with that. We’ll get back to work this week and see what we can do to improve.”

On if it feels like a setback after building so much positive momentum: “Any time you lose it’s a setback. Nobody likes to lose that way. To be really physically handled was what sticks out to me, along with our mistakes. We need to coach better. I take responsibility for that. We’ll get it corrected and we’ll move on, but we can’t let one game define us. We always talk about it — win or lose, you got to move on. So we’ve got another opportunity next week.”

On LSU’s fourth-down stop of the wildcat in the second quarter: “Yeah. As bad of a start as we got off to, I felt like we were at least — we were playing. We were moving the ball. We weren’t getting big chunks. We weren’t getting in the end zone, obviously, but we were moving the ball a little bit. And defensively we were holding up early. We got off to the kickoff return, the facemask and then we get them third and 10 on the first two possessions of the game, we hold them. And then we get the penalty. So lack of discipline by us that we’ve got to get fixed. And then they punch it in and they get the punt return. And you’re right, I thought that was the turning point. It was 17-3, we were moving it and we couldn’t convert the third and short or the fourth and short and things break open a little bit from there.”

On what happened on special teams: “Just got outplayed. We got outplayed. We’ve been solid all year to this point and did not play good enough in this game. Give them credit. That’s a good bunch, and they physically played better than us.”

On if they missed J.D. Harmon that much: “He’s a good player, but I don’t know if he’s going to make that difference or not. I don’t know. I got to look at the film.”

On Boom Williams: “I’m not sure. I think it’s a head injury, so we’ll see how he recovers.”

On if they got rattled on the squib kickoff: “That was very disappointing, because we had just told them about — they were backed up, we thought they may squib it. We had our players just make a poor decision and didn’t make the play. That’s unacceptable.

On if he thought UK was past lopsided scores like this: “Yeah, I did, but it’s week-to-week. You gotta go prove it. This is a physical football team. That’s what we’d like to look like some day. They’re extremely long, very physical. I thought their secondary guys were excellent.”

On Towles being blitzed, under pressure a lot, what happened up front: “I think they’re very good, they were bringing a lot of people and they can cover you.”

On how to regroup for a game against No. 1 Mississippi State: “Well, we gotta go back to work. We gotta go back to work, and we’ll see how we respond. We’ll see how resilient we are and how tough we are. I have no reason to believe that we won’t respond and go prepare and play well.”

On if he expects to learn something about the team this week: “Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a fair question. We’ll see how we respond. I’ve got no reason to believe that they won’t come out and prepare, have a great week of preparation, and give it everything we’ve got. For this group, it’s not lack of effort. We need to coach better, we need to play better. We all take responsibility and we’ll all move on.”

On if Towles seemed rattled: “I don’t know if rattled is the word or not. I think he can throw the ball a lot and I think, as was mentioned, the pressure had a lot to do with it. And they covered excellent. You know, we’ve gotta do a better job – we’ve gotta win some one-on-ones. And that’s what we have to challenge (the players to do). These teams, they’re not going to give you anything; you gotta go beat them and you’ve gotta win some one-on-ones and, again, they won the majority of those today, and you have to give them credit for that.”

On what’s so good about LSU: “Oh, they do an excellent job across the board. They do an excellent job coaching. They do an excellent job recruiting. They’re players play well and they play tough. So they’re a good football team. I know by their standards they may be not as mature at certain spots, because they’ve obviously lost some great players, but they recruit very good players and very talented.”

On if LSU did anything better than what he saw on film: “They played very well. They’ve maybe had their ups and downs this year, like most teams, but they put it all together tonight and played a complete game. And, again, you have to give them credit. They played very well and they were well-coached.”

On being upset with Dorian Baker after his hit and celebrating it in a blowout: “I just thought there was a lot of jawing going on at that point. I want toughness and I want physical play, but it can’t be for selfish reasons. There was a lot of jawing going on, on the field, and at that point we’ve just got to line up and go play football.”

On if Boom Williams is OK to fly back with the team: “Oh, yeah. Yeah.”

On whether he’ll be evaluated in Lexington: “Well, we have the protocol. We went through it, they evaluated him on the field, and he’s with the doctors and I’ve just been told it’s a head injury – amongst other things, obviously, we gotta check on.”

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Neal Brown after LSU loss

NEAL BROWN
“Obviously it was ugly, even from the start. Didn’t have them prepared to play. Didn’t play well enough, didn’t coach well enough. Got beat in a lot of one-on-one situations and didn’t make plays. Didn’t start very well, got in way too many third-and-long situations. Not us, not very many people in the country are going to be successful in third-and-long against these guys; they’re very talented in the secondary.”

On how coaches seemed happy with practices this week: “Yeah. We had energy. We had energy. We’ve had a lot of guys out. That’s not an excuse, just the way it is. We’ve had some guys up front that’s missing days, had some skill guys that’s missing days because of sickness. But no, I mean, sometimes practice correlates, sometimes it doesn’t. We had a really good energy practice on Tuesday. Wednesday was so-so. But obviously it wasn’t good enough because tonight it was pretty one-sided.”

On miscommunications in pass game: “Yeah, we weren’t good enough in the pass game. We got our pad level high outside at X and Z (receiver spots) and they’re really talented, let’s not, it’s not all because we didn’t do what we’re supposed to do. They’re really talented at corner and they got in our pads. I thought Demarco Robinson competed and other than that we struggled out there at X and Z. Had some protection breakdowns. Patrick wasn’t as sharp as he has been. So the pass game we struggled tonight.”

On fourth-and-2, Wildcat play: “Well, I thought it was fourth-and-1 and it was a lot closer to one and we went to our Wildcat stuff and we’ve been pretty successful with that and they slanted into it, made a good play, got penetration up front. Jojo maybe could’ve stayed inside on it. They got us. That was a big turning point in the game. I felt like if we could’ve converted there, we could’ve stayed right in the game. I don’t know if we were good enough to win it. I don’t think with the way we were playing, but we would’ve made it a lot more competitive for sure.”

On if teams are adjusting to Wildcat: “No, I mean. We hit a couple. It’s one of those things, we need to continue to do it because it gives us a little unbalance. I’m not sure they schemed it any better, we just got beat in some one on one situations and to be honest with you, obviously our plan wasn’t good enough and we got beat in a lot of one on ones tonight. Wasn’t a big secret what they were doing.”

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Stoops wary of Tigers’ big-play capability

LSU knows what it does well, and it keeps doing it over and over. The Tigers will run the ball three, five, seven times in a row.

It’s a game of big cat and mouse.

“You think you’re hanging in there and battling and the next thing you know, they get a big play over the top,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said of the Tigers’ big-play ability.

LSU is 12th in the country in plays of 20 or more yards, with 40 of them, and is in the top 30 nationally in plays of more than 30 and more than 40 yards.

Part of that is a hallmark of a Cam Cameron offense, Stoops said of the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.

“Anybody with that pro experience does a nice job of setting things up with their run game and their play actions, and like I said, if you think it’s not just as easy as going one way or another, they keep you balanced,” Stoops said. “They’re balanced in their run game. They know if you’re cheating too far one way, they’ll go another.”

For its part, Kentucky mostly has been effective at not giving up the big plays this season, giving up just 22 plays of 20 or more yards (31st in the country).

And rarely do opponents get much farther than that: UK is tied for fifth in the nation in giving up plays for 30 or more yards (six) and tied for third in plays of 40 yards or more (two).

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Stoops’ final thoughts before LSU

MARK STOOPS
“Good practice today, putting the finishing touches on a pretty good week of work so far. Guys are excited. We’ll have a run-through tomorrow, but so far so good. Been a good week. Guys have worked hard. Energy’s high. So we expect to go down there and play well.”

On how significant it is for these players to be this deep into the season and playing bigger games each week: “I think we’re right in the middle of the season, and the monotony of going through a tough season kind of sets in with everybody. So obviously the more we win, the more significance these games have, and that’s been evident by the way we’ve approached this week. We haven’t had to prod them quite as much. They’ve been pretty focused all week. And that goes with winning. If we take care of our business, we’ll have the opportunity to play in some big games.”

On the balancing act of being aggressive and staying in line with the rules: “I think there’s always a balance there. I think we want a disciplined, tough, hard-nosed football team, but we also want an aggressive team. So we’re always gonna preach discipline and unselfish play, but with that, it’s a physical game and we need guys to play aggressive.”

On how he thinks his team will handle LSU’s physical play: “We’ll be prepared. It’s still a challenge. It’s obviously a very big challenge. They’re not only physical, they’re skilled and they know what they’re doing. They put pressure on you. If you load up too much one way, they go the other and all those things. And they have great speed outside. That doesn’t get talked about enough, because those wideouts can really go. So you’re going to be in one-on-one situations quite a bit of the night, and you have to be able to hold up out there.”

On that being an LSU staple: run, run, run, play-action: “Yeah, exactly, and you’ve seen that throughout this year. You think you’re hanging in there and battling and the next thing you know, they get a big play over the top. So I think you’ve heard me talk about that before, but as a defensive coordinator, that’s always – that’s the bread and butter; that’s the toughest thing, guys that can run it and throw it.”

On whether LSU’s more straightforward, pro-style offense makes it simpler – not easier – to give his defense a game plan than offenses that are more wide open and move around a lot: “In a way. As far as alignments and assignments and things like that, a lot of times it is. Because if you watch some of college football, with the teams that go extremely fast and the crazy formations and all that, it’s like a trick ’em half the time. And these guys aren’t so much trying to trick you. They’re trying to just line up and execute. So I guess in that regard, it takes a little bit of pressure off you.”

On first and second downs being crucial in this game: “I think that’s fair to say, because we need to get them in some third downs and get them in some third-and-longs and not give up so many yards on first and second down like we have done at times this year.”

On Forrest saying the defensive guys have worked with offensive guys on ball-carrying and whether that has helped defenders get more picks, etc.: “That’s just something that we do in the preseason that’s just something we’ve got to do once or twice and log it away so the guys carry that with us. So the defensive guys go to the offense and they teach them ball security and the basics of it and put them through some drills. It’s one of those camp drills that we do to check it off. You know, it is critical at the end of the game. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a defense than to get a big pick and then fumble it back.”

On D.J. Eliot saying it h as been a benefit to have interceptions on film to show players mistakes on returns: “Yeah, it’s a good point. Yeah. Yeah, it’s true. I mean, we didn’t get a lot of coaching points last year, did we? (Laughs) It’s true. Just like the one that you heard me reference before, with A.J.’s at the end of the first half of the South Carolina game. I really felt like we should have scored on that play. And it is something that we can correct. More opportunities.”

On how important it was to make the holdover players “his guys” when he got here: “I think it’s very important. It’s, you know, the No. 1 thing you need to do: is gain the respect of your team. And it’s a two-way street. They’re not going to — just because you say ‘coach’ and walk in the door, they’re not going to trust you and respect you right away. And we didn’t really know them. So I think that’s a big part of growing together: just getting to know each other. We’ve already talked about all the things necessary, the accountability on both sides, but I think it’s real important to gain those relationships.”

On being blown out at LSU when he was with Arizona in 2006: “Ooh, I’ll never forget that day. Yeah, that was rough. Started rough. I think our poor quarterback was knocked out for like two years after that, I think. Yeah, rude welcome. Yeah. Thanks for bringing that up. (Laughs). It’s been going so good.”

On whether the process of getting holdover players to be his guys here was any different as a first-time head coach: “Yeah, a little different. Yeah in that regard, much different for me. Obviously twice as many guys to get to know and get close to. But, I don’t think there’s any one thing you can do. You guys have been around me. It’s not like I’m used to all these little sound bites and coach speaks and all those little things. So I think it just takes a little time for each, for us to get to know each other and to be who we are. This group has been a lot of fun to coach. We went through some growing pains of course, just like you do any time you’re trying to turn a program, but these guys have been a lot of fun and they’ve done a lot of things we’ve asked them to do. Again, we’re not perfect. We know that. But they really by and large part are doing a great job.”

On his biggest concern with LSU: “Just the things we were talking about, the physicality on both sides of the ball and big-play capability on all sides of the ball. They’ve got a lot of good athletes down there, a little bit young for them in certain spots because of the great talent that they’ve had and lost, but they’re still — these guys are just as talented and they really have big-play capability.”

On any hallmarks of a Cam Cameron offense: “Well I just think you see an excellent play caller and sets things up. Anybody with that pro experience does a nice job of setting things up with their run game and their play-actions and like I said, if you think it’s not just as easy as going one way or another, they keep you balanced. They’re balanced in their run game. They know if you’re cheating too far one way, they’ll go another.”

On having a quarterback who embraces a road environment: “I hope so. I do. He’s had a good week of practice. (Noise) really didn’t affect us much the last time we were at that type of environment. Let’s hope it’s the same. I think it’s certainly not uncommon to see some problems when you’re in a hostile environment, so if we get a few, we’ve just got to be able to overcome them.”

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UK defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot previews LSU

D.J. ELIOT
“We had a very good practice today. We had a lot of intensity. Guys were flying around, communicating, playing physical and making plays. That’s what we needed to have on a Wednesday.”

On whether he could tell that they were a little bit flat in practice last week: “We’ve had a very good practice this week. Last week, couldn’t necessarily tell at the moment, but obviously that was the case to start the game on Saturday. So I think that this week we’ve had good tempo and good practice, and guys are ready.”

On LSU RB Leonard Fournette: “He is a very, very, very good tailback. He is extremely athletic but yet has size where he can run you over too. And he’s become a better player every game. Being a freshman, he doesn’t have any college experience and you can see the improvement in him every single game. And he sees the hole very well. He has great vision, change of direction and, like I said, power.”

On whether there was a change in the run defense last week: “We were much better. We were much better. We played better against the run. Linebackers played better, which is good. Khalid Henderson had one of his best games. And it was good to see us make those strides.”

On what Henderson did better: “He tackled better. He was a more physical tackler. He triggered faster. He was in the right spots.”

On how LSU’s run game compares to Florida’s and South Carolina’s: “LSU is almost exclusively a pro-style offense. Florida and South Carolina, they did a lot of different things and different looks, and LSU is a pro-style offense, so you mainly see pro-style runs. You see an ‘I’ backfield. You see the quarterback under center. You see power. You see ‘iso’ plays, where the fullback’s (isolating) up on the linebackers. So it’s a little bit different in that aspect, because the quarterback’s not in the gun that often. They don’t have the zone read that often. Now, they have it in their packages, but they’re mainly a pro-style offense.”

On whether there’s much difference in LSU’s two QBs, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris: “Not really. Both are very athletic. You got to keep them contained. If they get out, they can get some yards. Strong arms. So there’s not really much difference between the two.”

On what head coach Mark Stoops does to mesh new recruits with older players: “I think Coach Stoops does an excellent job of making everybody that’s here feel like they’re his guys. It’s not ‘my guys’ and ‘the old guys.’ As soon as he walks on campus, ‘You’re my guy.’ Everybody’s a part of the program, no matter who recruited you or how long you’ve been here. And that probably comes with his personality. He has a very genuine personality, and people believe in him and follow him.”

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Stoops: Thursday game ‘will be big’ in recruiting

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops is too focused on upcoming games on this season’s schedule, including a big one Saturday at Louisiana State, to look ahead much at next season’s schedule.

Fans will dissect and digest the 2015 slate of games, which was announced by the conference offices on Tuesday night. Stoops will be focused on this season.

One of the highlights of next season: Kentucky’s first-ever Thursday night game, Oct. 15 at Commonwealth Stadium against Auburn, definitely caught Stoops’ eye.

“I’m very happy and looking forward to having a home Thursday night game,” Stoops said, thanking UK President Eli Capilouto and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart for their efforts to make that happen. “It’ll be a great stage for us to be a home game on Thursday night and national TV and have a chance to really show everybody a lot about our community and about our school and about our team. So that’ll be a lot of fun.”

Stoops said it can only help in recruiting.

I think it helps,” he said. “I know it’s a lot nicer for coaches to have a home Thursday game than to be on the road on Thursday, that’s for sure. So I think it’ll help, and I think it’ll be big. It’ll be a lot of exposure for us.”

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J.D. Harmon will miss first half vs. LSU

Kentucky cornerback J.D. Harmon, who also is a leader on special teams, will miss the first half against Louisiana State for a hit on a Louisiana-Monroe player, Stoops confirmed on Wednesday.

“We can’t take a shot on a guy that’s unprotected,” special teams coach Craig Naiver explained of Harmon’s hit. “It’s a very aggressive play, a very physical play. We’ve got to be smart with that. It’s part of the rules now and we’ve gotta follow them.”

Stoops defined the hit as “close to being an illegal hit or an illegal hit that wasn’t called. The head coach said he talked with Southeastern Conference officials this week about it.

“We just felt like it was the right thing for me to do to suspend him for a half a game.”

Harmon is tied for eighth on the team in tackles this season with 22, including two for a loss. He also has three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles for the Cats. He also has two kickoff returns for 53 yards.

“He’s been a spark on those units as far as coverage team, return teams, all those,” Naivar said of Harmon, who has been the leading overall producer on special teams this season. “We’re going to miss him the first half and be glad when he comes back.”

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Stoops on SEC teleconference

MARK STOOPS
“Glad to get the victory last week over ULM, wrap up the first half of the season 5-1. I felt like we got off to a slow start last week, so we’ll try to get that rectified this week and get off to a faster start. We’re going to need that, of course. Looking forward to this week’s challenge going down to Baton Rouge and playing LSU. It’ll be a great challenge and it’s an opportunity that myself and the team is looking forward to. We’ll have to play significantly better on all sides. We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start this week, practice-wise, and really just trying to improve in many different areas. Like I said, we’ll need to.”

On if there’s any value in examining how his brothers have schemed against LSU and Les Miles at Oklahoma or Arizona: “Not too much, to be honest with you. No, I think each team is different year to year. You’ve got to find your identity, what you’re doing well offensively, defensively; same goes with them. I think LSU is a typical LSU team, like you would imagine: a well-coached football team that is very physical in all areas. So I don’t think a whole heckuva lot changes as far as our preparation week to week. I don’t think it does us much good to go back there.”

On if when he watches LSU he sees things he saw from relationship with his brothers, and if he was on Bob’s staff previously: “No, I was never on Bob’s staff but obviously watched games closely and just watched Les’s teams for many years, whether it be just on TV or them playing the brothers, like you talked about or whatever. But that’s like I just said in my previous statement: it’s just a typical team. They’re hard-nosed and tough and physical. They’re big across the board, well-coached. So that’s what you’d expect when you play them. You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve won an awful lot of close games as well.”

On suspending a player for the first half against LSU: “It’s just a situation where I was in contact with the league. It was really about a (hit that was) close to being an illegal hit or being an illegal hit that wasn’t called. So after consulting with the league about the situation, we just felt like it was the right thing for me to do to suspend him for a half a game, and that’ll be J.D. Harmon.”

On 2015 schedule and Thursday night game: “Yeah. I’ll comment on the Thursday night game. The rest of the schedule it’s hard for me to comment on. I really looked at it a little bit here and there, but haven’t paid much attention to it, to be honest with you. Our associate AD Marc Hill’s been working on that schedule. But the Thursday night game, I’m very happy and looking forward to having a home Thursday night game. I appreciate Dr. Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart and all the people that made that happen. I think it’ll be a great stage for us to be a home game on Thursday night and national TV and have a chance to really show everybody a lot about our community and about our school and about our team. So that’ll be a lot of fun.”

On how big it is in recruiting: “Well, I think it helps. I really do. I know it’s a lot nicer for coaches to have a home Thursday game than to be on the road on Thursday, that’s for sure. So I think it’ll help, and I think it’ll be big. It’ll be a lot of exposure for us.”

On his involvement in the practice facility plans and what he most wanted in the facility: “I think — I could not be more pleased with the way it turned out. I just think it’s going to be a building that’s very functional. We’ll get great use out of it. It’s an area that we really had to look hard to help with player development, whether it be the weight room, the training room, the high performance area and all those things. You know, just could not be more pleased. I’ve been heavily involved, I guess to a point. Throughout the summer when the designs were going on, we were meeting quite a bit, and I have some guys on my staff — the non-football coaching staff — that have been heavily involved with the design. They meet with me from time to time, and we look at things and tweak things here and there. But overall, just very, very pleased. It looks like a fantastic building. Be close to 98,000 square feet, and we’ll have plenty of space and it’s really sleek and a good looking building. So, I’m excited about it.”

On Stoops’ impressions of LSU RB Leonard Fournette: “My impressions of Fournette are probably a lot like yours: very impressed. You could just see him gaining more and more confidence with every run. He’s extremely talented, very big and very powerful, but also great vision and really made some nice cuts and some nice runs where he was kind of hopping over people through the lines and then making good cuts. He can run over you when he wants to. So great vision, great back and I guess you could definitely see the mentality shift a little bit if you want, but I think that’s a staple of Les’ teams is he wants to be physical. They’re a pretty physical bunch up front. You could tell they enjoy run blocking and coming after you and running the ball downhill, so we’ll have our hands full.”

On LSU offense looking like old Big Ten offense: “I guess so if that’s how you want to define it, but one thing that I see also is absolutely tremendous speed on the outside and that scares you. Anybody that is extremely physical and can run the ball like they run the ball with great tailbacks and very physical up front, and then you get a talented quarterback with great speed outside, it can present some real problems. So I think I don’t know which way you want to interpret that, whether it’s an old Big Ten team or not, but I see great skill on the field as well along with some muscle.”

 

 

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Kentucky’s 2015 schedule unveiled

The games that will be played inside the shiny, new Commonwealth Stadium next season were announced by the league office on Tuesday night.

On the brand new turf in the $120 million renovated stadium will be a total of eight home games, starting the season with Louisiana Lafayette on Sept. 5.

The new stadium also will host a new event: a Thursday night game at Commonwealth Stadium for the first time in program history against Auburn on Oct. 15.

University and athletics officials are working to iron out some of the logistical concerns involved with a Thursday night game that have kept UK from being able to play one at home before.

There likely will be some logistical concerns around Halloween for UK and the city as the Cats host Tennessee on Oct. 31, the same weekend as the Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland. It will be the earliest that Kentucky and the Volunteers have met since 1909.

Kentucky will go on the road first to South Carolina (Sept. 12) for the first time in program history. For the last six seasons, UK had opened Southeastern Conference play versus Florida.

After the trip to Columbia, though, UK will have plenty of time to enjoy its new stadium with five straight weeks (including one bye week on Oct. 10) at home, the Cats’ longest home stands since since 2001.

Those home games will be Florida (Sept. 19), Missouri (Sept. 26), Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 3) and then the Thursday night Auburn game on Oct. 15).

The Cats are meeting the in-state Colonels for the first time since 2009. UK leads that series 3-0.

After the long home stand, Kentucky will go to Missisippi State on Oct. 24 before returning home to face Tennessee.

Back-to-back SEC road games open November with games at Georgia (Nov. 7) and then at Vanderbilt (Nov. 14).

Then the Cats will end the season with two non-conference foes for the first time since UK joined the league in 1933 with games against Charlotte (Nov. 21) and then Louisville (Nov. 28).

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