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Stoops feels confident in 2016 commitments

Kentucky had a slew of de-commitments after losing six straight games last season.

Does a similar five-game losing streak have Cats Coach Mark Stoops worrying about the UK class, rated No. 18 in the nation by

Stoops acknowledged that there’s always a concern about keeping classes intact and that “certainly when you lose some games it doesn’t help you in that front.”

But the coach sounded confident that the 2016 group was in good shape.

“I feel very good about the nucleus of this group, very good,” Stoops said of the class, which includes a core of Kentucky-based stars including Drake Jackson (Woodford County), Landon Young (Lafayette), Davonte Robinson (Henry Clay) and Kash Daniel (Paintsville).

“If you look across college football, there’s going to be some (de-commitments). And when some happens, let’s not panic. We’ll be OK. We are recruiting quite a few players right now. So I feel very good about the nucleus of what we have recruited.”

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Q&A: Stoops discusses Vandy disappointment

“OK, again, very disappointed just like I said in the post game of the Vanderbilt game. Very disappointing loss. Obviously, very tough on our team, on our players. They really put their heart and soul into that game and put a lot on the line. We all know it was very important. There was no denying that leading up into the game. That’s what I guess is the good that I take from it is the players really put a lot into it. We’re not particularly happy with the way we had been playing going into that game. We put a lot into it, we had a great week of preparation. Really played very well at times in that game. Again, the game comes down to wins and losses in critical situations. There were plenty of those that I’m sure we’ll get into. In a nutshell, when you have the ball first and goal and get zero, from about six, eight inches away, that was the start of a night that was very frustrating for all of us. Not getting that ball in the end zone. Then the second opportunity, get it on the two or the three, and again come up with nothing. It was very difficult.

“Defensively, really felt like the guys really played, probably as solid as we’ve played all year with the exception of maybe one other game. Guys played really well. Again, we gave up 14 points when really we weren’t even on the field. The pick six for a touchdown and giving it to them on the two or the three. That’s hard to overcome. Game comes down to a few possessions. Again, the good that comes from it is I thought our players played as well as we had certainly in November since I’ve been here. To play that fast, to play with that much energy, to do some very good things. That defense was very good as we know. The offense moved the ball quite well. Really did some good things. The turnovers stalled us and a couple of possessions inside the red zone stalled us. Defensively, played an outstanding game really. Gave up one play where—again, deception play. We got deceived. We got tricked. Gave up that score. Outside of that the defense played really well.”

On if Drew Barker will definitely start: “Yeah, Drew’s going to start. Yeah. Drew’s going to start this game. It was good to get him some more reps and to get him some more game experience. He went in there in the first possession and gave us a little spark. Led us down the field for a touchdown. It was good to see. We’ve been talking about this for a long time and a lot of times it comes to players around him making plays and doing things for the quarterback, but it’s time for Drew to get the start. That’s the bottom line. He’s done some good things. He’s earned the right and he’s going to start this week.”

On if Drew Barker will start the rest of the season: “I’m not sure. He’s going to start this game.”

On if he worries about a divide between the offense and defense: “I really don’t. I think, and I mentioned it to them because when we went in there you saw the pain in some guys. You saw that hurt. Quite honestly I was glad to see that because we need more of that. We need guys that are very upset, that we invest a lot. We expect to win and go play to win and when we don’t we’re upset about it. I absolutely have no worries about it carrying over into this week. Again, I think we need that fire, need that motivation, need that inspiration. I was glad to see it and I love to see the passion all the way through the game with some of our guys. We need more of that and that’s what we’re going to build on.”

On going back to Patrick Towles against Vanderbilt because Barker hadn’t been in that situation: “No, we just honestly felt like we wanted to see if somebody could get hot and spark us. When we did that with Drew he went in and did some good things, like I said, it sparked us and gave us some life. He came back and made a few mistakes just like all of our guys. We were trying to find that balance and we’ve been going back and forth. Again, we’ve talked about this a long time with the quarterback situation, Drew’s going to get his opportunity and if he takes it and runs with it then we’ll know from there. To answer your question about the following week, he’ll have that opportunity and we’ll see where he goes.”

On looking at film and if anything jumped out at him: “Well, you’re always upset about the missed opportunities. That stays with you for a long time. That’s still there. We’ve been working hard on trying to be good in critical situations like fourth down and third and shorts and all those things and we’ve even put another period in practice past couple weeks to just work on critical situations because so many times you could play well — just like maybe this past week where we did so many good things — and the game comes down to a couple of critical situations that you don’t execute and you don’t win. We need to make those plays and we will. I know the frustration’s there. And believe me, it’s all fair. It’s fair criticism. I completely understand that. We’ve just got to keep on getting better and make those plays to win games. The good is that our team played fast; they played inspired. We did some better things. The bad thing is a few plays don’t make a difference. We need to be good enough to overcome anything bad that happens.”

On how close Sihiem King was to breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown: “Very close. He was very close. He had one on one with a little bit of leverage with the kicker, but he was very close. That was a good return it was well blocked. We had a one-on-one with the kicker, we’d like to win that.”

On his message to frustrated fans: “I completely understand the frustration of fans. I want them passionate and I want them to care. I want them to show up and support this team. The tickets are bought and we need them in the stands. I’ve said it over and over again; I want to deliver. I wanted them to win that game last week just to give people more hope and inspiration and to get them here and play for these kids. Our players played their tails off. That was good to see. I know this Big Blue Nation loves that, loves it when we play with that passion and energy. They did that. We’re going to do that again this week. We have two games left. It’s going to start this week with Charlotte and I promise you the team will come out inspired and ready to play. I completely understand the frustrations and I’m not going to let our team and our coaching staff, we understand where we’re going, what we’re doing and where we’re headed. And I know a lot of the good things we’ve done, too. And I know it’s been a long time since we won, been to a bowl game and all those things. We know what we’re in for, but we’re going to hunker down, get back to work and get better.”

On if the game was as bad as the film indicates: “As far as us outplaying them or what?”

On outplaying and other things: “Well, we played and we did some very good things. Obviously, they, but yeah, we played some very good football. Is that the question you’re asking or the other way?”

On both ways: “I didn’t know which way you were going.”

On if the film said they played as badly as they did: “No, I thought we did some very good things. We held them to one touchdown that they tricked us on. And we moved the ball as well as just about anybody that played them this year, we just didn’t convert on the short yardage plays I said. So those situations are pretty bad because you didn’t, we didn’t get in the end zone. Again, I think we’ve played some very good football outside of some critical situations that decided the game.”

On injuries to Cole Mosier and Alex Montgomery: “Cole got hit in practice and got a head injury last week, late in the week. Alex unfortunately did get another significant injury in the opposite leg that he hurt two years ago. I think he just injured his left knee – he injured his knee.”

On if the game plan will be any different with Drew Barker: “Well, it will be a little different than it was this week. It will be very similar to the same game plan I’ve had with Patrick: giving him the opportunity to go play through the ups and downs. So this past week, as you know and I said that going into the week, we had a plan and it was different. This past Saturday against Vanderbilt it was different because Drew was ready to go. In all the other games since I’ve been here, when the starter was starting he had the opportunity to go play the game unless some drastic things happened. So, he’s not going to have a short leash. He will have the opportunity to go out there and go through some ups and downs and play throughout the game. Whether Patrick gets in or not, I can’t answer that. We’ll see. He’ll prepare that way. That’s for sure.”

On if he thinks the situation will prevent team from coming out flat against Charlotte like it did against EKU: “They better. Yeah, they will. They will. Our team, I anticipate that our team will come out very hungry and ready to play and put a lot into it, just like we did the Vandy game.”

On Barker being a guy players have rallied around since he committed and if Stoops gets the sense his teammates are ready to buy in to Barker as a starter: “I do. I do. I think he’s – I feel that he’s waiting to take some leadership and to get this opportunity. I know he’s been anxious, as he should be. As I said throughout the year, I really like the way he’s been preparing, I like the way he’s been practicing and getting ready. I told him a long time ago that he needs to worry about himself and prepare to be the best quarterback he can get and sooner or later – I pointed at the stadium as we were meeting in my office – ‘You’re going to get this opportunity in here, and what you do with it is up to you.’ I told him yesterday, I know it took a little longer than he anticipated to truly get the keys to the car but he has them now. So, let’s see what he can do with it. I’m excited to watch him play.”

On what he saw on film from the first chance at first-and-goal: “We lost yards on the first play, which was frustrating. And again, I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus, but I was frustrated we were throwing the ball on second down. That’s what I saw. In hindsight, I would’ve told Shannon, ‘Run the ball three times in a row or four downs in a row. Pound it, pound it, pound it.’ Because we were very close on third down to squirting it through there. Fourth down, it was so close we went with a sneak and it didn’t work. So, that’s what I saw. We didn’t get the movement, but I think if we’d run the same play that we ran on third down, if we run it four plays in a row we definitely score. We were getting the movement, getting the block.”

On Boom Williams playing in that short-yardage situation instead of the bigger Mikel Horton: “Quite honestly, throughout the course of this year, Boom had been as consistent as the other guys in the goal line situations. Again, you know I don’t like throwing players under the bus, but later in the game we had a situation where it was third-and-one and he had a one-on-one and we lost it with another one of the backs. We lost that one-on-one when we should have got the yard. I think a guy that we need to look at is Jojo in short yardage, to kind of get to where you were going with that. There’s been inconsistencies with all of them, but Jojo – moving forward, I want to put Jojo in that situation.”

On how much the game against Charlotte factors in the decision to make a QB switch: “I think it’s certainly easier to put Drew in a situation to play a non-conference opponent than on the road in the SEC. It certainly does come into the equation, but that hasn’t been the determining factor. I’ve always told you, and it’s been true, I’ve started the guy that we believe gave us the best opportunity to win. Now it’s Drew’s turn.”

On D.J. Eliot saying someone in the box had seen it:Yeah, when he was running down the field. (Laughter) I saw him, too. (Laughter) I’m not trying to make light of it, but yeah, we got tricked. We got tricked. I owned that right after the game. We got deceived, we got tricked. It’s a trick play. The official told me afterwards, he said, ‘I’m sorry, Coach.’ He said, ‘But it was legal because of the way they did it.’ It was a fair play. A legal play.”

On all of Drew Barker’s reps coming on the road and if that factored into the QB decision:Until you pointed that out, I didn’t even really pay attention to it. That’ll be good for him to get some home reps. He needs to. The only thing – I’ve said it over and over again – we’ve been trying to work him in there. The opportunity – it’s been tough because of the games and early in the year the possessions were so tight, but it’ll be good for him to play.”

On if he feels like a play like Vanderbilt’s trick play shouldn’t be legal:No. No. It was legal. It was legal. I can’t say – I’d be crying sour grapes if I said anything. You might see it… I’m not going to say anything. It was a legal play. It was a deception play that worked.”

On the feedback he has gotten from recruits over the past month and if there’s concern about a repeat of last year’s de-commitments:I think there’s always a concern, and certainly when you lose some games it doesn’t help you in that front. But no, I feel very good about it. If you look at it – I don’t know what I legally can say, but I feel very good about the nucleus of this group. Very good. I think if you look across college football, there’s going to be some. And when some happens, let’s not panic. We’ll be OK. We are recruiting quite a few players right now. So I feel very good about the nucleus of what we have recruited.”

On how he balances being aggressive and making 4th down decisions while still learning as a head coach:First, about learning as a head coach, you threw me off there. If you coach for 30 years as a head coach I think you’re still learning. I bounce quite a bit off some of my brothers that have been head coaches, very close to, obviously, and been doing it a long time, and he’s still learning, too. But I stand by the decisions we make, and I own them. When I make a bad decision I’m not trying to hide from them. You hope one decision doesn’t determine the outcome of a game. Sometimes it may. I’m never going to put that all on the players, and when I address the players that’s what I always start with: We will coach better. We’ll make better decisions, you’ll play better, we’ll get this done. We’re all in this together. Any mistake that I make I’m not afraid – I’ll own it. In hindsight, again, I’d prefer to punt the ball. I had great confidence in our defense to stop ’em and that’s why I did it. Very different from a week ago. I know everybody’s going to throw – all that, but as you could tell by the way the Georgia game went, we had to do something. This was different. This, to me, isn’t in the same category. But I did have great confidence in our defense to stop them, and at the worst case scenario I felt like the most we’d give up would be three. I believe in my heart if we don’t get deceived we still do that.”

On if Boom Williams was hesitant to take contact against Vanderbilt:A little bit. I think certainly he was, probably, coming off that injury. And give him credit. He played with a significant injury. He had a significant elbow injury that he came back with and toughed it out and tried to play. But was there some – I’m sure he was hesitant, a little bit, and it probably was painful for him.”

On if Williams will play this week, and what his message to Patrick Towles was:Boom should be good to go, barring any setbacks. He’s fine. He didn’t get set back at all in the game. And both quarterbacks handled it very well. And they’ve been supportive of each other all year.”

On Garrett Johnson’s near-TD catch and if officials explained why it wasn’t: “I didn’t get ahold of Steve myself, personally – Steve Shaw, the head of officials. I’ll touch base with him today. I sent in the play. I’ll get an explanation back. But it’s my understanding (that) when you’re facing the opposite direction (facing inbounds vs. out of bounds), your whole foot needs to be in, what I’m understanding. And whether they have any latitude in that rule at all, I don’t know. So that’s the way I understand it. Clearly, his toe was in. But I believe the rule states when you’re facing the opposite direction and not going (out), that your whole foot needs to be in. If there’s no room for that, then that would be the correct call. Game of inches.”

On Barker’s maturation, mentally: “I believe he’s further along, as you would expect. I feel good about him right now because of the work that he’s put in throughout the year. I know he didn’t get as many game reps as we’d like, but he’s gotten quite a few practice reps and he’s getting more and more confident and more and more comfortable. So I definitely feel like he’s at a point right now where I’m excited to watch him play.”

On Jason Hatcher’s big game: “Very encouraging. It was great to see him out there. It was great to see him full-strength. You could see the impact that he makes. And I love the energy that he played with. He was one of those guys that you could tell that hurt was there after the game, and it should be when you invest that much and put that much into it. But I loved – I saw a side of him that I hadn’t seen in a long time, if ever, and that was the leadership, the inspiration, the really playing with that kind of passion and energy that you’d like to see everybody play with.”

On how Timmons handled his demotion from punt return and the positive of him catching a TD catch: “He was fine and I like the way he handled it, because he came up to my office and sat down and wanted it back, or wanted to know why. And I gave him my answer, and he was good with it, and any competitor would want to get back out there. And I like that. And I told him that, after he’d muffed the one – which, again, nobody wants to see that, but any punt returner is going to have those; it’s going to happen – we’re not trying to crucify him. I thought he did a pretty good job most of the year with catching them. It’s the decision-making after that with catching the difficult ones, running up and catching balls that are short, all those things. And I thought we made progress in that area, making sure we fielded all punts.

“Because that field position kills you a bunch, all that hidden yardage. You let a punt drop and you don’t catch it and it rolls for 15 yards and it pins us inside the 10, those things have hurt us from time to time. So again, it’s just one of those situations where I have confidence in Ryan. He came back on the offensive side and played and made a good catch and got in the end zone. He missed one – it was a tough catch that would’ve given us a touchdown early – but he’s battling. And you know what? Also, to credit him a little bit, it was one of his better games he’s ever played at wide receiver. A lot of that is unseen, but it’s the things he’s doing away from the ball and how he’s running his routes and how precise he is and blocking and just all those things. It was one of his better games, so that’s great to see. We need to build on that, because I still really believe in him and we need him to be a playmaker in this offense and he still has some games left this year and another year.”

On Dorian Baker appearing to whiff on a block, stop running on a route and a couple of big drops: “Yeah, the block, I was upset about the block as well, but that’s a pass or a run, so he got caught a little bit off guard on the one you’re talking about. I saw it on the field, too, and was about to chew him out. But he got caught a little off-balance on that.”

On the routes and where Baker is with focus/effort: “Again, I think that’s an issue where we’ve got to be more efficient offensively. Is he throwing it over the shoulder or is he throwing it back shoulder on some of those? And I saw it as well and watched it and talked about it with the offensive coaches and it’s things we’ve gotta get cleaned up. But those are issues that sometimes are going to happen. You’re reading the leverage of the defender.”

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Barker moves ahead of Towles on UK depth chart

There weren’t a lot of major changes on the Kentucky depth chart, but the one main change was a significant one with redshirt freshman Drew Barker moving ahead of Patrick Towles at the starting quarterback position against Charlotte.

Barker has played in three games this season, completing 13 of his 19 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions.

He led a scoring drive at Vanderbilt and then followed it up with pick six against the Commodores, who beat the Cats 21-17 on Saturday.

The Cats (4-6, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) have to get two wins in the next two games to get to their first bowl game since 2010. That means a victory over Charlotte and then against Louisville on Nov. 28.

After his most significant snaps against Vanderbilt, Barker said he had faith that his team, which has now lost five straight games, could bounce back.

“I have 100 percent confidence in this team, that we can bounce back,” Barker said. “We’re really talented. We just haven’t put it all together yet in a full game. We have spurts were we look really good, but we haven’t put it together in a full game. I have 100 percent faith in this team.”

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More on Boom’s return, elbow injury

Just two weeks after hurting his elbow in what looked like a horrific injury, Kentucky’s Boom Williams is going to give it a go on Saturday at Vanderbilt with a supportive brace protecting his right elbow.

So far so good on carries this week for Williams, Coach Mark Stoops said.

“He’s looked fine. He really has,” the head coach said of Williams, who leads the Cats’ ground game with 85 carries for 563 yards nad three touchdowns in seven games. “He had some good practices. He didn’t have anything that set him back all week. He took some decent shots.”

Stoops had plenty of questions for the UK medical staff at the start of the week about Williams and the protective apparatus covering the injured elbow.

“What was explained to me is the hard part of the brace is on the outside; on the inside there are some straps,” Stoops said. “But Boom can carry it in either hand and he can carry it in the hand with the brace. Doesn’t seem to affect him.”

The one thing for Williams, who can’t get full extension on that arm, will be managing a certain level of pain.

The return of Williams to the starting lineup certainly has caught the attention of Vanderbilt’s coaches.

“Getting Boom back was huge,” head coach Derek Mason said.
“Boom is dynamic in terms of what he does because he’s able to give them a run presence that allows them to be balanced in what they do. … Extremely shifty in space. He gives you problems.”

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Q&A: Stoops’ final thoughts before Vandy

“We had a good practice week so far, got one more day tomorrow. Guys have been energetic, focused, enthusiastic. So things have gone well. Hopefully that will carry over and translate to us playing better. We’re looking forward to going down there and having a great trip and see if we can put it together and play some much better football.”

On energy just running in building and if that’s been the case all week: “It’s been good. Guys have been focused and energetic, like I said, all week. They’re ready to go.”

On having more fun, being more energetic and what coaches have done to facilitate that: “No, we just, just the usual stuff, constantly talking to these guys and working with them. Nothing out of the ordinary. We don’t need anything like that. Just continue to reinforce having a strong mindset. And that means when you walk in the building being ready to practice and being sharp in your meetings and being enthusiastic and getting through practice. That’s how you grow. There’s no magical recipe for going out and whatever, playing Home Run Derby or anything like that. We’ve gotta man up and play football.”

On if Vandy’s freshman QB changes game plan: “A little bit with some of the gun-run game and some of the run game. There are some differences. We’ll be prepared for both quarterbacks and what they do. Nothing drastic.”

On good on good this week and what UK has gotten out of it: “Yeah, we got two team settings, two different team settings on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. It’s the usual.”

On Josh Forrest saying he liked going good against good:He did. Yeah. I think that’s where it’s fun to do. For instance, that day, he was one of the guys that wanted to keep on going. I was like, ‘Well, we have some other practice things to get to.’ But that’s part of it that you do like and you do enjoy this time of year where they’re just getting out there competing and practicing.”

On if there’s anybody he knows won’t be playing Saturday:
”Joey (Herrick). Joey’s still out. Darius has been back. He’s back. He’s probably 75, 80 percent Today was a walkthrough. Yesterday he looked pretty good, so no setbacks. So we’ll see. Tomorrow’s full speed, so we’ll see how he looks. Jason (Hatcher) looks better. Austin (MacGinnis) looks better. Kengera (Daniel) has something wrong with his eye. He saw a specialist today and everything checked out but he’ll be out for probably a week with some issues with his eye.”

On the report concerning ‘widespread discontent’ about UK’s high performance program: “I never heard the word ‘widespread,’ but I don’t worry about any of that. I told the players all week y’all would be looking for any cracks. I don’t know who this source is or what it comes from, but I was one of the first people to hire a sports science person. With that I anticipated some criticism. It seems to be the en vogue thing to do now, so we’re fine.”

On how he measures the day-to-day effects of the High Performance program: “We just take the information. It doesn’t really affect me and the way we do things at all right now. It really doesn’t.”

On the progression of Josh Allen: “Josh is getting better. We really feel like he’s got a bright future. He’s a guy that can potentially be a pass rusher that we’re looking for. As I’ve said many times throughout the season that position, there’s many nuances when it comes to dropping, rushing, changing strength. Just all the things that go into that position take some time, but we feel like he’s really going to be a good player.”

On projected defensive struggles sometimes turning into shootouts and if he anticipates a low-scoring game Saturday: “Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes it does happen that way. One thing you learn: Going into each game you have no idea what’s coming. You really don’t. We feel like, again, it’s all about how well, what I can tell during the week with the pulse of the team and the preparation, what it’s been like, but no, I have no idea what the final outcome will be. I know we need to play good. We need to play better than we have, that’s for sure. There’s no mistaking that. We need to play much better in all areas.”

On if he’s figured out the quarterback situation yet: “Yeah, we have a pretty good idea. We know what we’re going to do. We’ll let it unfold on Saturday. There’s really no reason – they don’t care. They’ll be ready for either quarterback. Things don’t really change for them. There’s no point in bringing it up right now.”

On players playing tight as the season winds down: “You don’t want your players to play tight, that’s for sure. You want them to have urgency throughout the week and throughout the game. But you don’t want them to play tight. That’s always the fine balance. I want our players to care. I want this to be an important game to them, just like you want the last one and the one after this. Every game is important. You want them to have that sense of urgency so I hope they have a sense of urgency, but I certainly don’t want them to be tight. We haven’t coached that way all week and I want them to be prepared. We want to put them in the best position we possibly can and then we want them to play and play aggressive.”

On Boom Williams playing with a brace on his elbow: “He’s looked fine. He really has. He had some good practices. He didn’t have anything that set him back all week. He took some decent shots—we don’t go all the way to the ground when we go good on good. But he did participate in good on good, which is generally more physical than scout team. He looked fine.”

On how sometimes a brace can change the way a player carries the ball: “Yeah, it can. Certainly with a running back it’s certainly a question I asked early in the week as well, because of the brace. What was explained to me is the hard part of the brace is on the outside. On the inside there are some straps. But Boom can carry it in either hand and he can carry it in the hand with the brace. Doesn’t seem to affect him. I think the key will be dealing with some pain. The brace is there to protect him so he can’t injure that elbow again. So he can’t get full extension. The key will be how much pain he has to deal with.”

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Q&A: Stoops on SEC teleconference

“Looking forward to getting back on the field and going down to Vandy and having a great game with them. Disappointed in our team’s slide. Don’t feel like we’ve played our very best football this past several weeks and really looking forward to having another opportunity and having a great week of preparation and going down and competing at a high level at Vanderbilt. And we’ll be excited to get down there and play.”

On if players are playing tighter or pressing more during losing streak: “You know I’m not sure. I didn’t see anything coming where we didn’t play our very best football last week. We had good days of preparation, guys were excited and still enjoying practice and competing and I think then we got there and don’t play very good. I’m not sure if they’re pressing or not, but we talked about a lot of things. We addressed a lot of issues this week and that is part of it with getting out there and enjoying it: Enjoying the preparation, enjoying the grind of a tough season and enjoy playing football again Getting out there and playing a little looser and enjoying what we’re doing and playing with that passion we need.”

On how UK avoids a slide like last season: I think certainly I have to look at all options. I look at practice schedules. I’ve really done a lot of research this week to see how many reps people are taking, friends throughout the country, even friends throughout the conference that I have. Looking at all things that we’re doing: Our practice schedule, what we’re doing weekly, the positions we’re putting our players in to be successful, whether we’re doing too much or too little. With all those things, I have to look at it. But I think a big part of it is mental and making sure we have a stronger mental approach to the game. We have to be physically and mentally mature enough to handle this type of schedule. We’ve gone through a tough stretch where part of it this past three or four weeks, we haven’t handled very well. So we need to bounce back and again, make sure we have the mental toughness to finish out this season and have a great week this week.”

On Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott: “Yeah. I’m extremely impressed with him. I think he’s an absolutely phenomenal player and I’m amazed he’s not talked about more in the Heisman Trophy race to be honest with you. I think he’s an exceptional player with great poise. He exudes confidence and leadership. You can just see it when they’re on the field with him, competing against him. I told him after the game, thank goodness he’s done because I’m tired of playing against him. Just have a lot of respect for him, and I think he’s an exceptional player that’s one of the very best players in the country.”

On how Prescott has improved: “I think he’s more comfortable in the pocket. You can see the way they’re calling plays this year and what they’re doing: they’re throwing it much more efficiently. You can see the confidence he has. He’s very content in the pocket distributing the ball, but yet he has that vision and that athletic ability to make plays with his feet when he needs to. We all know in today’s game that’s an important part of it, but he operates the offense extremely efficient but when things break down he has the ability to extend plays and make plays down the field.”

On the key to developing a more consistent pass rush: “I think we did a little bit better job this past week at that. Some of our inside rushers – Cory Johnson had some really good rushes inside that helped us at times last week. We’ve certainly worked on that quite a bit and emphasized that the past couple weeks, of developing some of your guys and developing into better pass rushers. I think it’s a combination of things. You have to look at schematically when we are pressuring people that we have the ability to get there and just our guys fundamentally getting better in getting some pressure. A big part of that is getting guys more predictable. We haven’t been great the past couple weeks of getting people off balance. They’ve been able to get efficient yards on first and second down, and we haven’t had them in predictable situations. Again, even last week we didn’t play great, but there were times we had them in predictable situations and were effective. So, I think that’s a big part of it.”

On if he sees some of those young players developing into top-level pass rushers down the road: “Yeah, I think we’ll have Jason back at full speed. I think Josh (Allen) is getting to the point where he’s getting more effective as a pass rusher. I think little by little we’re developing more and more guys that way.”

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What we know about the UK QB plan

Kentucky has a firm plan in place for its quarterback this weekend against Vanderbilt.

But whether it’s Patrick Towles back in his regular starting spot or backup Drew Barker taking over the offense, well, keep guessing.

When asked when he’ll know who the starter will be against the Commodores, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson replied: “Yeah, I know. You want to know? We’re evaluating it through the week. We got a plan, put it that way, and we’ll stick to the plan.

“I think it’s the right one, I think it’s a good one. We’ve got one more practice this week and obviously we’ll evaluate that one, but we got a plan.”

That plan in some way involves Towles, who struggled against Georgia last week, completing just 8 of 21 passes (with two picks) for 96 yards, the fewest in his career as a starter.

“We’re excited, we’re ready,” Towles said when asked where he is mentally. “Another opportunity – that’s all I can ask for. Another chance to get out there and play with my guys.”

Is the junior positive he’ll be playing? “Yes,” Towles replied. “I’m sure that I will be out there playing. Yes.”

The quarterback rotations between Barker and Towles generally close to 50-50 each week during practice and that hasn’t changed.

“It’s just been a normal practice week so far,” Barker said. “Just going 50-50 like always. Still preparing the same way that I have been this whole time. Nothing really drastically different at all.”

But have the coaches even told the quarterbacks their plan for Saturday?

“That’s just kind of like an internal thing right now,” Barker said. “It’s just up to the coaches. Whatever they want to do I’m going to support it.”

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Hurt Williams able to get through full practice

A few days after he dislocated his right elbow near the goal line against Tennessee, Boom Williams finally gathered up the courage to look at the photo of his elbow going every way but the right way.

“I was able to look at it all of five seconds, and I couldn’t look at it anymore because it was pretty scary,” he said of the physical evidence of what occurred. “It’s been one of the toughest injuries I’ve had. I’m just truly blessed that it didn’t cost me long term.”

There were several sleepless nights after that Saturday where he had serious pain every time the sophomore running back moved his right arm. “It was a very stressful process being able to not function, only having one arm,” he continued.

But he’s been spending much of his free time in the training room and was able to get through his first full practice since the injury on Tuesday.

Williams is excited to play again on Saturday at Vanderbilt, where he will wear a supportive brace on that arm.

“It’s just something I have to adjust to, something that I have to get used to,” he said of the apparatus. “Something I have to play with. I’ll be practicing with it all week and get me ready to carry the ball on Saturday.”

Missing a chance to play against Georgia, a team he was committed to briefly and a team he grew up watching, was difficult last weekend, he said.

“They didn’t think I was quite ready for the game and I didn’t think I was ready myself, so they held me back, gave me some extra time to recover and so I’m able to play this week,” said Williams, who has 85 runs for 563 yards and three touchdowns this season.

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Q&A: Offensive coordinator Dawson preview Vandy

On QB reps this week: “Really, it’s almost 50/50 every week. We’ve done that for a long time, so it just hasn’t changed. He’s still getting a lot of reps. (Catches himself) By he, I mean both of them. (Laughs)”

On when he’ll know who’s starting at Vandy: “I know. Yeah, I know. You want to know? We’re evaluating it through the week. We got a plan, put it that way, and we’ll stick to the plan. I think it’s the right one, I think it’s a good one. We’ve got one more practice this week and obviously we’ll evaluate that one, but we got a plan.”

On if there’s at least some hesitation to throw a freshman QB at a defense like this on the road for a first start: “We’re making decisions based on us. We really are. Every defense we play is pretty good, so …”

On why Vandy’s D is good: “I think the effort they play with really sticks out to you. They strain. They really strain. Schematically, they do a lot of stuff inside the box with movement, different fronts, blitzes, and it makes protection tough, makes running the ball tough. But really if you look at it, what sticks out is they strain every play, through blocks. They just strain.”

On studying UGA film and lessons: “It didn’t take long to watch it. That was a good thing. We didn’t run that many plays, so didn’t take a whole lot of time. But it’s very simple: We didn’t enter the game with the right mentality, so that won’t happen again.”

On dropped passes mental vs. physical: “I think it’s a combination of both. Some of those balls – I mean, we expect people to make plays, obviously, but some of them are like 50/50 balls, too. I mean, those guys are playing good defense and Georgia did a good job of playing man-to-man coverage. They were on us. We weren’t getting a lot of space. So those throw-behinds, the four or five that we threw, we could’ve made probably half of them and really, honestly, the other two or three would’ve been really hard, because their hands were in there or whatever. So those balls are 50/50 balls anyway. But the ones that stick out are the ones that you drop that nobody’s on you, and that’s probably, in my opinion, it’s an accumulation of just the whole offense being a little too tight. Just need to relax.”

On not going into the UGA game with the right mentality: “I just don’t think, if you look overall at the film, if you look at everything, we didn’t play with the same physical approach, we didn’t play with the same speed that we played all year with. Throughout the course of the week, in my opinion, we have to have attention to detail. We have to stress it, we have to push it, and we have to get the same effort and physical play out of our kids week to week. I felt, even though the couple weeks beforehand obviously we didn’t win the games, but we didn’t play poorly. And I thought that game we played poorly and I thought really we coached tentatively. We gotta let it go and we gotta play a little more free.”

On what went wrong for the offensive line at Georgia: “Well, it’s like I was answering that question: our overall physical approach wasn’t great. I will say this, those guys have been playing well, and they really have. I think that to sit here and not give some credit to the Georgia front would be remiss. I think that they’re a good defense. I think that they simplified it going into that week, which ultimately helped them. I thought they had a good play, they played physical, and ultimately you’ve got to give them a little bit of credit. You know? But, on our part we have to do better. I mean, ultimately when you watch film there’s an overall accountability overall, from players to coaches to everybody. So, there’s no different Coach Stoops looking to me. You’ve got to do better. You can’t use that as an excuse. You can give people credit, but we’ve played good fronts before and played well. So, it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to do better, and we will do better.”

On what he thinks of the confidence of his group right now: “It’s fine. What do you think about it? (Not good.) It wasn’t good Saturday, to be honest with you, but I didn’t think that anything was very good Saturday. I think that whatever – you can’t really put your finger on confidence. Confidence is something that exudes through the whole group, and I think that when you struggle a little bit everybody searches for answers and everybody tends to point fingers. I think the best way to go about it when you struggle is to regroup and have some self accountability, including myself, and then understand that – put it this way: there’s people that are frustrated, but the people that are frustrated aren’t playing perfect either. Does that make sense? So, be careful. Be careful with your frustration, because if you want to sit down and watch film with me and you want to point then we can do that.”

On if Towles puts too much pressure on his shoulders: “I think he does, but I think that just comes with the position too. That’s the nature of the position. I told him that on Sunday. I said, ‘When you do good you’ll get a little too much credit.’ Girls like you, and this and that, you know? But ultimately when you do good you’ve got people blocking for you, you’ve got people running for you and you’ve got people making plays. Right? So, ultimately when you do bad you get a little too much blame. Because it all fits together. But, in that position you’ve got to take the good with the bad. That’s just the nature of it.”

On how Boom Williams looked today and how much the pad he will wear on his elbow affects him: “I think it’s been fine. I really do. I just tend not to talk about it.”

On if he will ditch the “wildcat” formation after it did not work so well in his first attempt at Georgia: “No, we’ll probably use it a little more. I mean, to say I’ve never been a ‘wildcat’ guy – I’ve just never used it. But it did. It worked a couple times. Didn’t work one play, but on third-and-three it worked one time.”

On Stoops saying Barker makes quicker decisions: “The ball gets out quicker. It probably does at times, but I mean, until he plays in games I think it’s hard to evaluate it. Ultimately, the decisions we made at the beginning of the year, there was a competition and Patrick won it. It is what it is. So, as the weeks go you reevaluate everything, but until you get in that fire we’ll see.”

On how much youth factors in players getting tight after slow starts: “I think that’s just the nature of kids. I do. Obviously I went back and looked at the whole season because I want to kind of see the flow of game to game. I thought for the most part, we’ve attacked. I really have. I mean, we haven’t executed great at times. At times we executed really good and at times we’ve executed about as bad as you could, but we were always attacking. I think that’s probably my one disappointment from Saturday.”

On if he’s talking about players or play-calling: “I think both. I think it’s both. I took as much blame as anybody did. I mean, heck, I’m not one to go without blame. You guys know that. So, I evaluate myself as easy as I evaluate those guys. Everybody’s mindset is a puzzle: it’s got to fit together. I did think that evaluating this season we’ve been attacking, and that is who we are and we play better like that. Played better – to answer you’re question, you’re right: whenever we have some success we typically roll. And whenever we don’t…But that is kind of an element of our offense. It’s always been like that. I don’t know if it’s good, bad or indifferent, but it is what it is. You’re dealing with kids and that’s the psyche of offensive football. When you’re in a rhythm, you’re in a rhythm, and when you’re not, you’re not. Now, it’s ultimately my job to get us in a rhythm earlier. That’s my job. I can’t go out there and throw and catch, but I can get us in a rhythm.”

On what grade he gave himself: “I wouldn’t give myself a very high grade. No. What percentage do you want to put on it? Do you want to grade me? I’d probably grade myself lower than I graded them – I promise that – which I typically do every week.”

On how often people ask him about the quarterback in public: “A, I’m not out in public a lot, especially when we lose. When we lose I never go out in public. I’m not out in public enough to know, to be honest with you. Not during the season. I mean, I’m lucky if I see the little girl at all, so I ain’t going out in public too much. Not (because) we lose. I’m just saying that’s just the nature of the job.”

On if he’s considered moving to the coaching box: “Nah. We’ve mixed around with who’s up and who’s down, but not really.”

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