Stoops’ final chat before Missouri

MARK STOOPS
“It’s been a good week of practice so far; we had a good Thursday today. Guys are excited and look sharp in practice, so anxious to get on that plane tomorrow.”

On if that’s true since you revealed you stretched truth on that last week: (Laughter) “You’re right. I can only be so honest with you. Well, I said I was concerned about it and I was. Always concerned. But, no I do, I do feel like the guys are at least they seem energetic, sharp. It’s been beautiful weather. It’s been fun to be out there. So all things have been good.”

On his August prediction that Bud Dupree would be first-round NFL Draft pick and what he saw that made him project that: “He’s got everything you’re looking for. He’s got the size; he’s explosive. He’s very versatile. Like I say over and over, he could play in a 4-3 defense; he could play defensive end in a 3-4. He’s really what they’re looking for in a 3-4. He’s athletic enough to play Sam, he could play the Jack. I think he’s versatile enough to play at any linebacker position. And he picks things up. So physically he has what you want and obviously, he has the instincts, awareness and work ethic as well.”

On Dupree being good team player and how important that will be to his pro career: “Absolutely. They’re all looking for great team players and guys who can pick things up well and move him around and I think I’ve commented on that a few times that we do so much with him that we’re actually, you take for granted how much and how quickly he picks things up. So he’s going to be a great pro.”

On Dupree being a vocal leader as well: “Yeah, he has. There’s no doubt. That hasn’t come as natural to him. A guy like Avery (Williamson) was a great example for him and to see. He didn’t have to last year because Avery was such a strong, vocal leader. And then once Avery left, Bud knew he had to step up into that role and he’s really done a nice job.”

On if he assumed that on his own: “He did. He did. It didn’t come as natural to him. So we talked to him about leadership and the work with Jason (Cummins) and everything we’re doing, he’s picked up on it pretty easy and it’s not forced right now, let’s put it that way. It comes natural to him, now after some time.”

On if Avery Williamson, who visited today, spoke to the team: “He didn’t talk to the team. I asked him. I saw him going to the meeting. He never popped his head in. I have to talk to him about that. I told him to come in and say hi, but he’s seen everybody and has been around. It’s great to see him.”

On if Boom Williams is a definite go and if there are other injury issues: “He is. No, I feel pretty good about things from the injury front. Yeah, (Williams) is cleared and ready to go.”

On how Williams has looked: “He’s looked good. Should be pretty fresh. Any time you get some time off and then come back, could help that way.”

On Steven Borden: “He’s got an injury and it’s just not progressing as well as we had hoped, and I think it’s a little bit more serious than we originally thought.”

On if Borden is still out: “He may be out. It may be a couple weeks or more. I’m not sure. But certainly not playing this week.”

On how the defense has responded to tackling drills in practice this week: “They have picked it up. I think just talking about the sense of urgency of getting to the ball fundamentally, getting better around the ball. And certainly reinforcing — I know a lot of people saw what we saw, (which) was guys trying to strip the ball and not tackle, and obviously that’s not what we teach. I mean, the first man to the ball has to make a good, physical, tough tackle. And then second and third guys sometimes can go for the strip, but you have to secure it first. So there was a few plays that were not what you want on your highlight reel.”

On if that goes back to players trying to do too much: “Yeah, it does. And not taking care of your business. Your business is to tackle the ball carrier first and foremost, and then from there try to get a strip.”

On if they do anything different with their road routine this week to try to mix it up as they try to break a long road losing streak: “We did early in the week with the routine. I just thought, again, to break the monotony, we came in Sunday and knocked out the film. I gave them Monday off. Just to have that day off Monday, they were good Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so hopefully that’ll carry. As far as the travel, no, we’re not gonna do too much different with that.”

On if he’s envisioned a celebratory plane road home finally from a road trip: “Well, I think it would be another milestone if you will, or a goal that we want to do. We don’t hide from that. I’ve talked to them about that. Let’s get on the plane to go there with a strong mindset and let’s be joyous on that return. We talk about it over and over: Nobody’s going to give you anything. You gotta go earn it. You gotta prepare. And you gotta go play well. So that’s our mindset and hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”

On whether, with three of the last four games on the road, there’s more urgency about playing well away from home: “I feel there’s a sense of urgency – I do – within our program. I don’t know if that’s the reason or if it’s because we feel like we’ve had a decent season, we’ve improved and there’s still a lot more to go. So we really want to finish strong.”

On the two games Mizzou lost, no turnovers by the opponent and no big special-teams plays allowed: “I think it’s very important. We have talked about it – you’ve heard me talk about that – that we haven’t played a complete game yet. And we need to do that to go win on the road against a quality opponent. So I think turnovers are always a big part of that, and special teams is always a big part of that. So hopefully we’ll be solid in those areas. We worked really hard on special teams. Again, I don’t want to keep going back; we know we had one (bad) game, but outside of that we’ve been pretty solid and we need to be very good this week. They have a dangerous guy in that return game, so we have to be – all guys gotta be on point with our cover units.”

On if there’s anything Mizzou did more effectively in the running game against Vandy vs. previous games: “Maybe a few more big plays, but they’re generally a balanced team and want to be balanced, so not a whole lot different. They have different schemes that they like versus three-down and four-down (linemen).”

On if it’s difficult instilling discipline for a young team to play clean all game: “I think that’s a constant struggle, probably with most teams I’ve been on. I think that’s fair to say for a younger team it’s always a little bit more of a challenge with certain guys to keep that discipline and to stay focused all the way through, and also to have the stamina and endurance to handle this type of a schedule.”

On if he considered going to the Florida State/Louisville game tonight: “No, no. No way. (Laughs). Too much going on. I’ll enjoy watching it on TV. I’ll be rooting for them. Can I say that? (Laughs) Only because it’s my old guys.” (Laughs)

On how the freshmen have held up as the season progressed: “I think there’s peaks and valleys throughout the season for most guys, and certainly young guys, but they’ve been solid. Not perfect, but they’ve been solid in that area. Guys that we’re counting on and guys that are playing, really haven’t gone in there and just fallen on their face or anything like that. They’re competing and helping us.”

On working on the run game: “We have. We always talk about that and work on it. As you know, some games the run game is more effective than others. And so, we always want to have that balance. It only helps us with simple things, you know: killing the clock, changing field position, giving the defense a rest. You know, I say simple, but we all know so important. We have to have balance. We continue to work on the run game and being more physical and having the backs make some big plays for us.”

On how they narrow the running back rotation with several guys being productive at times: “Yeah, it’s a challenge here and there. It’s depending on who we think can be most effective and who’s had the best week of practice.”

On how much of that decision is based on practice performance: “A lot of it. And what we feel, what kind of run game we’re going to use, who’s earned that right to play.”

On Gary Pinkel seeming to be a well-respected coach by his peers and how well Stoops knows him: “Just from our meetings I’ve gotten to know him. It’s hard not to have a lot of respect for him. He just seems like every time I’ve been around him and watching his teams he just handles his business the right way. His teams play extremely hard. You’ve heard me say it over and over again, that’s the No. 1 compliment you can give a coach, when their teams play hard, and they do on both sides of the ball and special teams. He’s been there for a long time and had opportunities to leave and he’s made a great program there. It’s not easy. He’s done extremely well, so you’ve got to have a lot of respect for what he’s done.”

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D.J. Eliot previews Missouri

D.J. ELIOT
“I thought we had a good practice. We’re really harping on fundamentals and pushing the kids to the limit, and they’re responding to that. Getting ready for Missouri. It’s a tough opponent, and we know what we got to do, and the kids are responding well to the coaching. They’re out there doing everything they can to get better, and that’s what we needed to do this week.”

On how happy he is not to have to face Mizzou’s three 6-5 wide receivers from last season: “You know, they had some great wide outs last year, but they still have some good players. We’re still gonna have to work hard and prepare well. They’ve given people fits. They may have different strengths, but they still have strengths, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready for them.”

On if there’s a common thread to the games Mizzou plays well and the ones it doesn’t: “I think that, like a lot of us, some games they’ve gotten the breaks and some games they haven’t. They play very hard and they’re very well-coached, and so with that they got a chance to beat anybody. And I think that’s why they’ve been able to pull off some big wins and sit where they’re sitting.”

On Mizzou’s rushing game and if it focused on that more against Vandy last week: “They’ve got a couple good backs. Different style, but both of them very good, and I think they were trying to get the ball in their hands. They have a very athletic quarterback, so some of their rushes come off of his loose plays, scramble yards. I think they were trying to use those two type of attacks against Vanderbilt.”

On what makes a good road team: “I think that a team that can block out the atmosphere. A team that, no matter where they’re at, no matter what the situation is, they can play at their best. Whether you’re winning, whether you’re losing, whether you played well last week, whether you played poorly last week, whether you’re on the road or whether you’re at home, that makes the makeup of a good team.”

On if they know what kind of road team this is after Florida and LSU: “I don’t. I don’t know yet. Like you said, we’ve only had two road games. So we’ll find out. We’ll find out. I think the kids are preparing the right way. I think the players are preparing for a fourth-quarter battle and a road game, and I think that’s going to help us.”

On reviewing video of the missed tackles vs. MSU: “Give them credit. They have some very good runners – quarterback, tailback, wide receivers, they’re all big. But I think that we could’ve played a lot better fundamentally, tackling being the biggest thing, and they players saw that, too, so we’ve really harped on that this week.”

On how they work on tackling: “Well, we’ve always worked tackling drills on a daily basis. So that doesn’t change. What changes is in our team settings, the tempo and the way that we practice in our team settings with the tackling. You have different types of tackling periods and I think we’ve kind of hyped it up this week.”

On how the players have responded to that: “Very well.”

On whether guys are going for the big hit and not the sound wrap-up: “Yeah, that seems to be a problem at times, and I tell you another problem is you gotta get a good swarm of guys to the ball. So when that first guy kind of hits him and wraps him up, if he doesn’t get him down, there’s somebody else to bring him down. So you’ve gotta emphasize that, too.”

On what the film session is like watching runs like Prescott spinning away from three guys and Robinson bouncing off seven guys: “I think it’s disappointing for the coaches and disappointing for the players that we weren’t able to execute and finish those plays like we should. It’s a good learning opportunity for us that, hey, if you don’t play fundamentally sound against good players, bad things can happen. So we’ve harped on getting better and the kids have responded really well.”

On if this could still be a good run defense this season: “Yes, I think we can. I think that we have a great attitude and I think we have the talent to be good enough to have a good run defense and I think that our players are really concentrating and focusing on doing everything right, doing the little things right. And if we do that, I think we can.”

On if there’s any consolation that at least guys were often in position to make plays vs. MSU: “That’s exactly right. When something doesn’t go right, you want to figure out why. And that’s exactly right. We pointed out what went well and then what, exactly, went wrong. And the players know that if we can get that corrected, then we’ll be good.”

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Mark Stoops on SEC teleconference

MARK STOOPS
“Looking forward to another big game here with Missouri, going up to Missouri and another great challenge with an SEC road game. Looking to get out there and improve a little bit over this past week. After reviewing the tape in a hard-fought battle with Mississippi State, I thought our team played extremely hard last week. Obviously we need to get some things corrected and fundamentally play better. Mississippi State I thought was an outstanding team and deserving of that No. 1 ranking. Obviously they made all the plays that mattered and just was extremely impressed with them and how well-coached they are and how hard they play and have some outstanding playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball. Again, looking forward to a road challenge with Missouri, another team that is used to winning an awful lot of football games. Sitting here at 6-2 this year after the great run they had a year ago, so we will have our hands full, and we will certainly need to improve.”

On if Patrick Towles has exceeded his expectations in his first year as a starter: “I think at times. At times I really feel like he has. I just think he gets in the flow of the game sometimes and really has made some quality throws in some difficult situations. So I’ve been impressed with that, and I think it’s fair to say he possibly has exceeded my expectations in certain situations. I felt very comfortable with him going into the year. We knew he had an awful lot of talent, and I’ve been very encouraged with his progress.”

On areas he still sees for growth with Towles: “Well, I think decision-making. And a lot of times that comes from experience and just being comfortable out there and being comfortable with your decisions. There’s times I think when he’s rushing things or when he’s guessing from time to time. But as the game goes on and there’s certain ebb and flows throughout the game where you can see him being very comfortable, making terrific decisions and having the talent to execute. And then there’s times when he struggles with that.”

On sitting on five wins while losing to two good teams and if he’s having to manage the sixth-win/bowl-eligibility discussion with the team: “No. We really didn’t want to get into that discussion right now. I just feel like that’s too early. And we always took the approach (of) after one trying to get two and so on and so forth. Obviously getting to five, I think we all know the importance for our program to get to a minimum of six, but I try to stay away from that because I want to focus from week to week and I want our team focused on the week-to-week preparation. We’ve been on five for a couple weeks here, but like you said, going to LSU and playing Mississippi State at home, two tough opponents. I didn’t feel like we played our best at LSU and I felt like LSU had a lot to do with that. And then this past week, I felt like our team really fought and did some very good things at times, we just weren’t good enough to beat that team. That’s where we’re working to get better.”

On what he knows more about his team since the LSU trip: “I think definitely we’re a resilient football team and I have confidence in our team moving forward because of the way we responded. That was the first time all year we really got smacked around and took it on the chin at LSU and I thought our team responded extremely well coming back and playing another terrific football team and we went out there and competed at a high level. Again, we all take responsibility and are accountable for not getting it done, but I felt like there were certainly portions of that game where I felt like we belonged.”

On Kentucky’s run defense and if it’s more about what opponents did or breakdowns for UK: “I think it’s a combination of both. I want to say Mississippi State, they’re averaging, what, 275 a game, so they’re not far off from their season average and they played three top 10 teams leading up to us, so then again looking at LSU, they came back against a great Ole Miss team and a great defense and I want to say they rushed for 260 yards against them or something, is that not right? And so I feel like certainly we need to do some things better and fundamentally be better and not miss as many tackles and have better position on the football and all the things we continue to work on. But I just think it’s a combination of things. Both teams are committed to it and when they’re having the success they had against us, they’re going to stay with it. So I want to say there were 51 rushing attempts against us with LSU, so obviously we’ve got to get some more stops there. So a long story short: combination.”

On changing run defense versus Missouri last season and if it’s the same threat: “They’re the same and you can see just the quality coaching because just from a defensive guy, you always have respect of teams that are balanced and Missouri is statistically very balanced, certainly a year ago they were. So I felt like playing them in person a year ago and leading up to it, watching all the tape this year and last year that you have to be good against the run and most defensive guys will tell you that. It’s obviously hard for us because we haven’t been playing good enough run defense here yet. We’re working on that, but these teams are balanced and that always presents a lot of problems with teams that can throw it and run it.”

On Missouri QB Maty Mauk, who was good against UK last year but not great this season: “I just have an awful lot of respect for him. Maty was terrific a year ago playing us, and I see the same thing this year. I just see a guy that’s very comfortable back there, can obviously throw the ball in a lot of places, and he just has that great feel and creativity in the pocket. I’m sure Missouri feels a lot like us in that they haven’t played their best game yet on all sides. I think that’s how we feel, but you can certainly see the signs of a great team and a great offense. Just haven’t been probably as consistent as they want.”

On whether having no one on the team that’s experienced a road win can become a mental block and whether he addresses it: “No, I think we do need to address it and I have talked to them about it, just the toughness and the mentality that it takes to go on the road and beat quality teams. Nobody’s going to give you anything and it’s a real challenge. We have to have a tough mentality about us and create energy within our program and our team and go out there and compete at a high level and compete with the same tenacity that we do at home. We did that once on the road and then one time we did not, so we’ll see how we respond this week.”

On whether this Missouri team is tough to get a handle on – losing at home to IU and by blowout to UGA without Gurley, then winning at Florida and South Carolina: “Well, you don’t worry about that at all or what they did in one particular game. It’s just like us or just like most teams. If you look at most teams in college football – obviously the top one, two, three or four top, elite teams are maybe a little more consistent than the rest – one particular game does not define anybody. That’s what I told our team after the LSU game. Same thing with them.

“Obviously didn’t play their best and had some subtle things in that (Georgia) game that maybe you don’t notice when you’re just watching on TV. When you watch film, a play here or a play there and it’s certainly closer than it was. So that’s one game. The Indiana game could’ve gone either way. And they’ve won six games – they’re 6-2 this year – and they won a boatload of games a year ago. So I just see a very good football team. Just like all of us, people are critical of one game, but that certainly does not define them. They’re a well-coached, good football team.”

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Neal Brown previews Missouri

NEAL BROWN
“Solid start to the week. We had good energy today. I think offensively we’ve got a little confidence coming out of that game. I thought that was as good as our quarterback and receivers have played in two years. Definitely took some steps. A lot of growth from the week before, for sure. We got some yards, we threw for some yards, but I think Mississippi State is still really good on defense, especially up front. We struggled running the football. Running backs and our o-line didn’t play as good as they could, as good as they will as we finish this year, for sure. We’ve got to get where we’re all clicking at the same time. We need to do that this week.

“Missouri is playing with a lot of confidence, 6-2. Two really good years in a row. I think they’re playing their best football right now, starting to gain some momentum on offense. They’ve played good defense all the time. This is going to be the fourth time in the last five years that I’ve played them, that a team I’ve coached has played them. Got a lot of respect for their DC, Coach Steckel. Does a good job consistently — they do a good job evaluating talent, very similar to Mississippi State. We talked about this the same time last week.

“Their front four is always really good. You look at the two draft picks they had last year at defensive end, and they’ve got several kids up this year that are draft picks too. I think they’re in the top 10, 15, something like that in sacks and tackles for loss. So, we had a challenge last week with their front without question. Didn’t pass it. And we’ve got another stiff test this week with their front. They’re going to move a lot. They twist, they don’t sit still. They do a good job of speed rushing, and they’re defense is built on making negative plays. They’ve got some linebackers that have got a lot of tackles, solid tacklers, and they’ve got safeties that have experience. Little bit of youth at corner, similar to what we are at wideout. But again, a tremendous challenge. Tough place to go up and play, but our guys will be ready and like I said, we need to put it all together this week.”

On the impact potentially getting Boom Williams back: “Well, it helps us. I mean, he’s one of our better players. And he will play as long as he doesn’t have anything that sets him back this week. He’ll play. Excited to get him back. He’s a guy that we can get in space. I think he’s eager to get back on the field. I don’t think he played his best game against LSU. He realizes that, and he’ll add a spark to us for sure.”

On what the film showed about offensive line performance vs. Mississippi State: “Well, I think it’s two-fold. I think, No. 1, let’s not — I think I said this after the game too — let’s not take away from those guys. I mean, they’re good. You know what I mean? 91, Preston Smith is a really good player, a guy that will make a solid living in the NFL. The two d-tackles are really big. They really rotate four in there. So they gave us some issues, but we had some technique. We leaned, and when you lean good players are going to put their hands inside and go around you. We didn’t do a good job getting depth, and our communication was off a little bit. So, we can play better. Our guys are disappointed in how they played up front, and we had a good practice, maybe our best practice in probably a couple weeks up front, today. So, Coach Schlarman will get those guys straight.”

On what he needs from running backs after watching the film: “Well, first of all, I’ve got to give them more opportunities. We got in the game where Patrick started running the ball and we weren’t blocking things real clean, so when you run the quarterback you get an extra hat. So, I’ve got to give them more opportunities. I think we only had nine opportunities. That’s on me. When we get those opportunities, I think we’ve got to run through some tackles. And we’ve got to hold onto the ball. We put the ball — on those nine carries, two of them we’re on the ground. So, I think it’s two-fold. I’ve got to give them more carries to get them in the flow. I think running back is a lot like a guy that shoots a lot in basketball: you can’t just go out there and give a shooter a couple shots. You’ve got to get him open, and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to feed the running backs and get them in a rhythm. I think maybe we’re trying to play — trying to give too many guys carries, so I think we’ve got to slim that down. Again, that’s on me, and we’ll get that done. But they can also do some things better as far as hitting the holes and running downhill more.”

On how they decide who gets the carries: “Well practice a lot. Yeah, practice, and we’ve got quite a bit of game film now that we can go on.”

On Mark Stoops saying Mikel Horton needs to get involved more: “He’s got to hold onto the ball. He put the ball on the ground second play. Didn’t have the correct run read. If he practices well, I see him getting carries. He can do things. That’s another thing: we had those two fumbles back-to-back and we went to Jojo (Kemp) I think for the rest of that half, the first half there. Jojo did a nice job in some wildcat things. So, Mikel hasn’t had an issue putting the ball on the ground, so we’ve got to stick with him through that.”

On a tight end catching a pass for the first time since opener and what Ronnie Shields has done to earn a starting spot: “Well, he played a lot. (Steven) Borden didn’t play during that game. Hopefully we can get him back this week. But Ronnie is coming along. He’s a guy that really struggled at times last year, and I think he’s playing in that 10-15-snaps-a-game range going into this one. I think he played 29 snaps, and he was productive. He can be a threat in the pass game if he’ll start playing fundamentally better — and he did last week — playing with a low pad level. Did a really good job staying on his route there. Patrick did a good job coming down to him. He’s a guy that when — we run the ball more — the better we run the ball the more the tight ends will get involved.”

On if there needs to be a specific mindset to win on the road: “I don’t know. We went to triple overtime in the swamp, had a chance to win. We laid an egg at LSU. I think you can overanalyze those things sometimes. We played a couple of our better games on the road last year — at South Carolina. So, I think our approach is correct. We just got to be better. We’ve got to be good enough that day. We haven’t been good enough that day. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s travel habits. I don’t necessarily think it’s anything that we’re doing as far as any outside thing. I think it’s just, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go out, and we’ve got to execute.”

On what he means when he says the better they run the ball the more the tight ends will get involved: “Well we’ve played quite a bit with tight ends in the game. We’ve used them as blockers primarily. Early in the season, they were involved in some of the passing game. We’ve used them to help in protection and things like that. But we’ve played a lot in 11 personnel: one back, one tight end. We’ve played quite a bit in 21, where you’ve got a fullback and a tight end also.”

On if Steven Borden was hurt last week: “He was a little banged up. Nothing major, but he couldn’t go. So hopefully we’ll get him back this week.”

On saying they focused a lot on drive-starters last week: “Well, we always do. Just sometimes it looks more like we do than others. No, we did. Well, we really struggled at LSU with getting started, and we always spend — because if you look at it, I think it’s in the 30s, around in the low 30s, your percentage of plays that actually are drive starters if you go back and look at it throughout the year — so we always spend a good amount of time on it. We repped them a little bit more than even we normally do last week, because I knew that if we could get started, I felt like we could move the ball. And when we did get started, we did move the ball. And when we didn’t, we didn’t, because we got behind the chains and we struggle when we get behind the chains, because they can pin their ears back, those really good teams. So we always try to spend a lot of time there. I think it’s really important for a young quarterback like Patrick, too, to get off to a good start at the start of drives also.”

On if a good start is 5 yards-plus: “Yeah. That’s the way — I look at it as 5 yards, yes.”

On if getting Towles hit early gets him going: “Early in the game it does. Yeah, it does, really. Hopefully it’s by design on a run, not on a pressure, but yeah. I think when he has success early in games and when he does get in the flow, whether running or pass, high-percentage pass, I think he does get going.”

On the two possessions with a chance to tie that didn’t get started and what he saw: “I saw a couple things. They made two really nice plays on the drive starters. Guy came off the edge — their nickelback, number 22, really good player. One time on a short-yardage play, Jojo ran through his tackle and then Patrick was a little bit late there on the first play of the fourth quarter there that we had on offense, and he made a great play. And then we had a chance. Should’ve hit the running back there on second down. I think it’s probably a little bit different. But they made plays. When stuff doesn’t go right you always kind of woulda-coulda-shoulda, but bottom line, they made some plays, we didn’t.”

On slowing Mizzou’s pass rush: “Well, we got to be able to run the ball. We got to be able to run the ball. Got to switch up their protection looks. I don’t think you can consistently do one protection over and over again. They’re really good pass rushers. They’re really well coached. You look at it, it’s pretty impressive the defensive linemen they’ve had over the last 10 or 12 years. Really impressive. So I think you got to get them some different looks, you got to mix in some play action.”

On what he liked about quarterback and receiver play against Mississippi State: “Well, we were a lot more disciplined. Patrick was disciplined with his footwork. I think he only had one poor drop during the game. If he keeps a good solid base — we always talk about his arm talent, but if he keeps a base — he can be accurate with the football. And then our receivers did a better job being disciplined. Getting correct route depths, winning on the correct shoulder, looking the ball in. We had more drops, but we made some difficult catches also. That was probably the one disappointing things was we had more drops than we’ve had at any point. I think we had five or six. Six if you want to be picky, probably five, which is more than we’ve had. But I was pleased with how they played away from the ball. Thought we played hard, and I thought we were just more disciplined in the pass game.”

On Boom Williams being eager to play last week and being close to able to play: “Yeah, he was. He was. And that was a decision that the medical staff and then Mark and myself, we were on board with that, too. Those concussions, you got to be careful. You got to be careful, especially for a young kid like that.”

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Mark Stoops previews Missouri game

COACH MARK STOOPS
After watching the film, just like we thought after the game, we did some things very well, and we did some things not so well. We’ve got to continue to work. I think the big thing we need to do is the same thing I’ve been talking about week after week, a lot of things come down to fundamentally getting better. That’s something that really bothers me because it’s something I take great pride in as we continue to push forward and develop this program. We need to be a better fundamental football team.

So the errors in execution, missed assignments, technique, they’re all rooted in discipline. We need to continue to work and get better and push forward. As I said after the game, very proud of our team’s effort. I thought they were ready to play. I thought it was a tough week last week. I didn’t want to say that during the week and give them that out, but getting back late the week before I thought we were tired and just it took a lot to get them emotionally and physically ready to play.

They responded. I thought we played fast and competed well, we just need to do things better and be a better fundamental team.

Give them credit, Mississippi State again, they beat us. They’re a better team. We’ll get back to work this week. Excited about the opportunity to go to Missouri, a team that’s 6‑2, has won a lot of football games the past two years, very well coached, so we need to do better and we’ll see how we respond.

On Patrick Towles’ big play on Saturday: Very pleased with Patrick. To be critical ‑‑ and it is important. There were some things early that we missed, that he may have been a little too excited or amped up, or whatever it is that we need to start better. There was a couple plays early that we missed. Once he settled in, he really did some very good things. Again, it was great to see him throw some big‑time passes, and I thought he really threw the ball well, threw the deep ball well, put it in some tough spots, and I thought he was extremely tough running the ball as well.

On how much having a quarterback like Towles can help as a program: I think it’s very big. I think you have very little chance with the teams that we’re competing with without a player there, without a quarterback. So I think it does give us a chance and, I think again, it was great to see him get back to really making those big‑time throws and seeing our receivers step up and compete and make some plays for him as well.

On receivers running good routes, too: They were. We challenged them all week. Felt like they needed to play better at that position and they did. They competed hard, ran fast. You always have a chance when you’re doing that and I think, again, that’s a trademark of Missouri, especially on both sides of the ball. I think they play very passionately and play very tough and, again, that’s what we need to see out of our team all the time and I felt like we responded that way and certainly at wide receiver.

On Jabari Johnson having four career tackles before the LSU game. What kind of story is he for guys toiling down on the depth chart: I think it’s a great story once again for a guy like Jabari. A year ago when we first got here and through last year trying to find the right spot for him, and he just hung in there and continues to work and he always has a great attitude. We felt like, as I said, a couple times, I felt like we needed to get bigger at certain spots, certainly against these last two opponents. He gave us some size and he’s really doing some good things and, again, I just love his attitude and work ethic. It’s what we’re looking for within this team: an older guy that continues to work and put his dead down and do the best he can to help his team and he’s really making some good plays.

On plays with no gain on Saturday. Is that part of fundamentals? You’re saying we had some stops for zero gain and then gave up some big ones?

On guy getting loose after tackles: Yeah, that is and, again, I don’t want to take anything away from them. They had a few individual efforts that were special, and, again, give credit to Dak (Prescott), because he broke some tackles had a couple runs that were just impressive. Certainly, yeah, as a defensive coach and as a defense you’re never proud of those moments when you miss three, four, five tackles in one play, it’s not what you’re looking for. I think there is position on the football, there are certainly things coaching wise that I can do better and we will do better. Individually technique wise, just that aggressive play that we need all the time and the consistency of that.

On Missouri’s strange résumé: Yeah, I think, you know, if you look at college football, I don’t think any of us want to be judged by one game, one or two games. So it’s hard to play your best in 12 games. That’s just a fact. I think they didn’t play their best, and give Georgia credit and that’s the game everybody wants to talk about, but that’s one game. Outside of that I thought they’ve played some very good football this year, there was just a few miscues in the Indiana game that could have went the other way. But heck at last year, sitting here 6‑2, and they probably feel a lot like us, in that they have not played their best yet. You know they’re a very good team. They’ve won, they’ve been there before, they’re an experienced group, especially as a coaching staff. I know they have some new guys on their roster.

On finding a way to get sixth win. Do you talk about that week to week: Well, I think it’s really important. I look at it, you know, because we’re sitting on five. So six is big because it’s the next one. That’s always my message, let’s go get that next victory, it just happens to be six. Yeah, sure, it would be nice, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s important, it’s our next game and what’s important is our next game and that’s how we think about it.

On if the getting a sixth win gets too heavy down stretch. Is it too soon to discuss that? I think it’s too soon to talk about that, I don’t think that’s the reason why we need to go get No. 6, even though we know the value in it, I think the reason we need to get number six is because we’re sitting on five.

On whether Stanley “Boom” Williams will return this week: I believe so. Yeah, he should be fine. Let’s hope he doesn’t have any set backs. He was very close and I don’t want to get into all that, technically he probably could have played but we didn’t want to.

On what he sees from running backs overall: It’s been like it has been. Not much has changed. We need to continue to work some of those guys in. We had plans last week with Mikel (Horton) and then he goes in and fumbles his first play and that rattles your confidence a little bit. We’ve talked about that, we can’t let it. We need to get him back in there and get him playing and we will. Mikel has worked his way into the rotation and we need to get him in there. He’ll get in there this week and we expect Boom to get in there. We’ll continue to rotate those guys.

On Josh Robinson from Mississippi State. Was he that good? Yeah, obviously he was against us. He’s been against a lot of teams. They’re rushing the ball for, I don’t know, what, 275 yards a game or whatever it is. So I mean they’re pretty good. I think as I talked about all last week, their scheme is difficult, their quarterback is difficult and then when you put the tailbacks and the other big, strong guys in, yeah, they make great plays. That’s why they’re leading our conference in total offense and up there nationally and No. 1 team in the country. Again, they deserve it, they beat us.

On defense and how much importance is there to get stops: I think it’s very important. We had some stops as you know. It was a struggle, but we gave ourselves some opportunities to get it back to even and we didn’t convert, so it goes back to team. So I think it’s very important. If you look at us the last two weeks and I’m not happy with it, I think everybody is going to ask questions about it, when you’re talking about the rush game and defending the run, but, again, just look at LSU. Last week when I talked about it, I wasn’t losing my mind, they sat there and ran for 275 yards against Ole Miss, they’re pretty darn good up front; they’re dominant up front. That’s what they do: LSU is running the ball and playing defense and they’re good at running it. Mississippi State is the same way. Can we do things better? Absolutely. Do we need to? Absolutely, starting with me and the coaches and on down to the team, and we will, but they’re pretty good.

On if running back issues have more to do with something the backs aren’t doing or something else: Yeah, that’s a big part of it. We’re still trying to be the team that we want to be. We’re still not there yet. We want to be a team that has balance. You have to be able to run the ball some, and so there are some very good teams the last couple of weeks up front, and, you know, it’s not like we’re completely inept. We did have some good runs and just like Mississippi State, and as I’ve talked about all the time with us incorporating that Q‑run game, it was difficult on them as well.

On fans viewing special teams as if the “sky is falling” after the last two weeks: I thought we played outstanding on special teams. 47‑yard net, that’s hard to do against a team like that with returns. The kickoffs were great. The kickoff kicker it was ridiculous how high and how well he kicked the ball, so that makes it extremely difficult but across the board. I thought the guys responded. None of us were happy with the week before. We know that’s not acceptable. Coach Naivar knows that and our players, but we have all had our moments this year, offense and defense and special teams where we have not done our part. Special teams responded extremely well. I thought the guys competed and played very good this last week. Just because a kick didn’t go our way — like I said, I don’t like those odds no matter who is kicking it or how you’re kicking it. And the ball didn’t bounce our way on that, you can’t blame that on ‑‑ that’s our fault for being in that situation.

On if he would have gone for two if they had recovered onside kick and scored a touchdown: I was thinking about it, yeah. Uh‑huh. I don’t know. I wish I’d have had that opportunity, but I was thinking about it yeah.

On if there is a specific next step this team needs to make: There is, and, again, it’s rooted in our discipline and where we’re going as a program. There is no excuses for not doing our job and not being accountable to technique and fundamentals. I constantly harp on that with our players and our coaches. It shows up every week. So we need to continue to grow and get better and, you know, do some routine things better.

On if the work they can do on fundamentals is as much mental as physical at this point: Yeah, I believe it is. Because, again, like I said earlier, it gets down to discipline. That’s a choice.

On Mississippi State looking bigger physically and how much Kentucky can progress in that area: They are some big guys. We are workin’ that way. We’re a more physical team this year than we were last year, and we’re going to be a more physical team next year than we are this year. That’s part of building a program, and you have to be physical and you have to have some balance within your team. We’re working on that.

On the key to getting a team prepared to win a road game considering Kentucky’s 19-game losing streak on the road: A lot of things comes down to what I talked about with the toughness and the mentality and the discipline that we have, because there is no excuses, there is no reason not to play our very best and have that attitude about us. Nobody is going to hand you over any victories. You gotta go earn ‘em and you gotta win ‘em and you got to get on the road and get on the plane with a tough mentality about you. And our players have to play at the highest level they can, and that was the message to them yesterday when I met with them.

On linemen that stood out on film: Melvin (Lewis) did a good job, against a quality center. Bud (Dupree) played extremely well. Darrian Miller has been doing a nice job. He had one play that stuck out, you know, but, heck, against some good guys…But I thought he was battling and doing a nice job. We need to continue to work and play better inside on the offensive line, but (Jordan) Swindle and Darrian are really playing tough.

On the two offensive series where they went three-and-out with a chance to tie in the second half: As you know, we’re not very good behind the chains. So when we don’t convert on first down‑‑ and I think that’s something that Neal has done an excellent job when our offense is moving the ball, having some drive starters and getting some things to get us it going. When we get goin’, get our tempo goin’ and get a good rhythm about us, we’re‑‑ we play extremely well. If we’re in predictable situations, not so well.

On the benefit of receiving some praise from national media during broadcast Saturday: I hope it does. I didn’t know that or hear that or anything, but I felt like everybody has been pretty fair with us all year. As you play better and if we continue ‑‑ like I said a few times, if we win some games and continue to win we’ll put ourselves in a position … We continue to win and put ourselves in a position to play in bigger games, the attention will come to the program. We just have to do our part.

On what he’s seen from Missouri QB Maty Mauk: I think he’s just one of those guys that has a great feel for the game. I mean, he really can throw the football and I think he does a very good job of buying time and just having that feel in the pocket and making plays when they need to. He’s just a very good player. Obviously, as opposed to a year ago, they lost some very big wide receivers so they’re a little bit younger, but I still think they’re just very good and well coached. They really want to be balanced.  They’re almost dead-even, again, run and pass. So he’s just a good football player.

On the Tigers DE Shane Ray, who leads the SEC with 8 ½ sacks: Yeah, he does and that’s kind of been their staple the last couple years. They have two D-ends again this year, Shane and Marcus, but last year, as well, I thought they were really disruptive and that’s what they do and that’s what I remember about them from playing them in person last year and, again, seeing that on film. I know Coach Steckel, their defensive coordinator, and he does a great job. That whole defensive staff has been together for a while. They’re disruptive, they do a nice job of creating negative yardage plays and being disruptive up front and twisting and stunting and just playing hard.

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Stoops: ‘Boom’ Williams will return for Missouri

Kentucky freshman Stanley “Boom” Williams will return to the field for the Cats’ game at Missouri on Saturday.

The running back, who suffered a head injury at Louisiana State, “should be fine,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said.

The UK coach said Williams might have been able to go against Mississippi State, but they held him out as a precaution.

Williams is the Cats’ third-leading rusher with 30 runs for 222 yards and two touchdowns.

He leads the team and is 12th in the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yards, averaging 92 yards a game. He has 552 total yards this season.

 

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Sites giving Dupree some NFL Draft love

In two new mock NFL drafts that came out on Sunday, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree is getting loads of first round love, including being picked to go No. 22 to the Green Bay Packers by one. With the blog noting that Dupree “has really grown in several areas, but his specialty is getting after the passer with above average first step burst and closing speed.”

Another mock draft has Dupree going at No. 30 to the Arizona Cardinals, which notes that Dupree is “long, instinctive and closes in a flash.”

A third interesting NFL Draft look at Dupree, fellow defensive end Za’Darius Smith and quarterback Patrick Towles and how they improved their draft stock with Kentucky’s loss to No. 1 Mississippi State is here.

 

 

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Look for RB Horton to get more carries

As of Thursday, it was unclear if Kentucky’s all-purpose leader Stanley “Boom” Williams was going to be available for Saturday’s game.

Of the true freshman running back, who suffered an apparent head injury in last week’s game at Louisiana State, Coach Mark Stoops said: I’m not comfortable commenting right now on his status, OK? I’d rather just not comment on it right now.”

If Williams misses, the player most likely to get his rushing reps is fellow true freshman Mikel Horton, who was the leading rusher last week at LSU with five carries for 29 yards.

“He played well,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “He did some really good things. He was one of those guys coming out of the game that I was excited about, because he ran the ball late in the third and the fourth quarter and I thought he did some nice things.

“He put (himself) in a position, especially if Stanley doesn’t go, then he’ll get some more reps, get some more carries.”

For the season, Horton is the Cats’ fourth-leading rusher with 38 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. His 5.3 yards per carry is third on the team.

Horton said he’s just happy that his hard work is paying off.

“My mindset was just waiting on my moment,” he said. “The coaches stress a lot about not being selfish and stuff like that, so I kept it in (my) mind about not being selfish, not being upset that I’m not playing as much.”

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Stoops’ final thoughts before Mississippi State

MARK STOOPS
“Good Thursday practice. Guys have been good all week. We’ve had good energy and good practices, so hopefully we’ll get a few mistakes cleaned up. Seems like we have, and looking forward to a great game here Saturday.”

On Boom Williams’ status: “I’m not comfortable commenting right now on his status, OK? I’d rather just not comment on it right now.”

On what he liked about practice this week, what made him feel better: “I don’t know if better’s the right word, because all the time — I mean, you’re gonna have some ups and downs through a long season. Going into the LSU game, maybe it wasn’t great energy, but I still felt like the guys were focused and had good practices. So I don’t know if much is different other than maybe a little bit more bounce in their step and just have been locked in. We got our butts kicked, so hopefully we learned a little bit and took a little pride in what we’re doing here this week.”

On how common it is to send plays to the SEC for review, as LSU did with Dorian Baker’s hit: “We get clarification on calls and calls that we just want to educate our players on what to do differently or why it was called or why it was not called. So I think it’s fairly common. I’m not sure about other teams, how many calls they send in or anything like that. But our playlist some weeks is very minimal and some weeks it’s up to nine plays or so, nine or 10 plays. Just depends on what’s going on. And again, a lot of times you just want clarification.”

On how Zach West is doing: “He’s doing good. He was fine this week. No setbacks.”

On challenging Ryan Timmons, did you see response from him: “I did. Ryan’s always relatively quiet but goes about his work, does a good job, we just need him to be more competitive, make competitive plays in big games and like I said, we just need him. He’s one of our playmakers, so he’s got to make plays. He’s had a good week and a good attitude, so looking forward to him getting out there Saturday.”

On No. 1 team at home vs. on road: “Well, I think we’re starting to create a great environment at home and we’re looking forward to that, so obviously, always a lot nicer playing at home than at some of these venues in the SEC. It’s pretty challenging. So hopefully we’ll get some good home-field advantage and it will help us.”

On difference between normal big game and a No. 1 big game: “Umm. I don’t know if there’s much difference in that. A big game’s a big game. You kind of feel it in the air and the energy and the practice and the focus, so they’re really all big games. Once you get to the point where we’re doing what we’re doing and trying to win a bunch of games, then they’re all important. We’ve got a tough stretch and this is our next one.”

On if Mississippi State looks like a legitimate No. 1 team as opposed to one that is No. 1 because it’s just one of the last undefeated teams: “Well, they definitely look like the No. 1 team. They’re the only team that’s heated three tops 10s — that’s for sure — in a row, so they deserve it. They look like a complete football team to me, so how they respond I have no idea. I’ve been on No. 1 teams before. There’s always going to be ups and downs, whether you’re one or not. So, it’s just a matter of how you manage it and how they play.”

On what he makes of Mississippi State ranking toward the bottom of the country in passing yards allowed per game but toward the top in passes defended and interceptions: “I don’t know. I don’t even try to make of all that, because just like last year when everybody was on me about the interceptions and things, you just — sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’ve got a bunch of opportunities to defend passes. They’re winning a bunch of games and they’re up by a lot, so that helps. And a lot of times they may be just playing cautious and giving up some yards because they’re up a whole bunch of points. So, you can’t really put a whole lot of stock in that. You don’t beat the teams they beat without being good across the board.”

On Mississippi State’s wide receivers opening up a few long runs against Texas A&M with big blocks and how important it will be for Kentucky’s DBs to provide support in the run game this week: “It’s always important, and that’s where we’re trying to limit. You heard me talk last week about the explosive plays and limiting those explosive plays. And that goes into it with the secondary support there. So we need guys to step up. That’s something that we take great pride in when we play well. We generally get some good downfield blocks, and our coaches are very tireless and relentless in the way they coach that and get guys blocking down the field. They do the same thing, so it will be a physical game at all levels.”

On if Matt Elam is where he expected him to be at this point: “Yeah. There’s a difference between where you want and where you expect. Yeah, he’s about where we expect him to be. Yeah, it is. It’s — I think he’s right on track. I’m not disappointed at all. He’s going to be a very good football player. He’s done some very good things this year, and there’s been some times when he hasn’t played as well. That’s why he needs the experience and the work and all those things.”

On how Elam has changed his body: “Well I think we’re always going to be a work in progress there, with any of the players. They’re constantly trying to get in better shape and physically better and quicker and all those things. So Matt’s no exception.”

On Marcus McWilson making more of an impact: “He’s just been more reliable. He’s been better practice habits. He starting to mature a little bit and we’re constantly leaning on him, because we need him to be. He’s got a lot of talent, so we’re pushing him to be a complete player. And he’s getting closer.”

On safety A.J. Stamps being banged up before the LSU game, then taking a nasty shot on the punt-return TD: “He’s held up fine this week. We’ve limited some of his contact, but overall he’s been fine.”

On LSU and MSU’s length and the idea of recruiting longer guys who might even be a step slower to add that length: “I do and I like that trend. I think (Mullen) has done a great job recruiting. I think I touched on it Monday I think at the press conference, but a lot of times they’re getting those players and they’re developing them. They’ve got great frames. And I noticed that last year playing them, during warm-ups and just watching teams and seeing physically how we’re matching up and all those things. Just looking at them, they were impressive on the hoof. And this year, they’re just much more experienced and playing at a high level. But they are – they’re big and they’re long and very athletic-looking guys. That’s always good to have. Jimbo (Fisher at FSU) used to have a saying; he used to say some of those guys, they do more by accident. You know? You get a big – you just get that great size rather than somebody that’s smaller.”

On who UK’s do-more-by-accident guy is: “We have a few. Matt’s one in particular. You put him in the middle there sometimes – but we gotta get him going.”

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‘See Blue’ at Keeneland on Friday

On the last day of its fall meet, Keeneland will take on a decidedly blue hue.

As a part of Kentucky’s homecoming festivities, there will be a “See Blue” day at the racetrack, including an event on The Hill, the track’s popular tailgating area near the Keene Barn and Entertainment Center.

Starting about noon, the UK pep band, cheerleaders and dance team will lead fans in a pep rally of sorts.

All UK students, alumni and faculty receive free general admission to the track with a valid UK ID.

Lextran will offer a shuttle for students between Keeneland and UK for $1 each way from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first 500 students to ride the shuttle from campus will receive a free T-shirt.

During the day, several UK groups will be recognized in the Winner’s Circle, among other activities.

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