Stoops, Eliot after Tuesday practice

MARK STOOPS

“Good. Good practice. It was good and hot, good physical day, got a lot of work in. One day, one step closer, so all going pretty well.”

ON A DAY LIKE THIS, WHAT KINDS OF THINGS DO YOU WORK ON? “A lot of third down, you know, we worked a lot of third and medium yesterday, third and long today. We worked two-minute situations at the end, good against good. And then just all of the normal situations, normal down and distances, things like that. We tied up against each other quite a bit on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

THIRD DOWN WAS OBVIOUSLY A BIG PROBLEM LAST SEASON. WHAT CAN YOU DO TO TURN THAT AROUND? “I think you’ve got to spend a good amount of time on it and you’ve got to be, again, you’ve got to be multiple; you’ve got to change things up. You’ve got to pressure. You’ve got to play coverage. You’ve got to mix your coverages up, mix your pressures up and you’ve got to be able to execute them. That’s the big thing. As coaches, we could stay in here all night and draw up so many different things — a lot of good things — but then what can your players execute and that’s what it comes down to: great execution.”

UNCERTAINTY OF MATCHUP? WHEN YOU WERE IN PAC-10 DO YOU REMEMBERS NICK HOLT’S DEFENSES? “I do. I do. I know Nick well and of course watched his defenses. He’s a very good coach with lots of success. You go back to his days at USC. I remember when he was there. He had a lot of good defenses and there are some things that are staples of his from a long time ago.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU CAN COUNT ON FROM A NICK HOLT DEFENSE? “I think you’re going to see some zone blitzes. You’re going to see again a guy who likes to be very multiple, likes to jump into the bear front and do some different things out of that front.”

HOW MANY MORE PHYSICAL TYPE PRACTICES WILL YOU HAVE BEFORE YOU CUT BACK? “I’m going to start cutting back now. We’ve been going at it pretty good and I got some reports from Coach (Erik) Korem as I was walking off the field. Yeah, we’ll obviously still have a pretty good practice tomorrow and in pads and all that, but we’ll start tapering it.”

WHEN YOU WERE A DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR, HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR TEAMS WHEN YOU WEREN’T SURE WHO THE QUARTERBACK WAS GOING TO BE? “Just be ready for all of it. There are things built into our systems that will work against different quarterbacks or different situations. You always have that in your arsenal with everything you’ve practiced through all the years and so you put that in your back pocket and have it ready.”

DO YOU GET THE FEELING THAT THE TEAM IS NO LONGER THINKING ON FIELD, ABLE TO JUST REACT? “I see us getting better. There are still mistakes, there probably always will be. There’s always things. That’s why we’re out here practicing hard everyday, but I see them getting better and I do see the confidence building.”

REPORT FROM KOREM, DATA ON HOW THEY’RE DOING PHYSICALLY? “It’s a health report basically, things they test them on between practices and all that. We’re constantly looking at the numbers, at how hard we’re pushing them and all that.”

ON WHETHER ANY PLAYERS HAVE ELEVATED THEIR GAME KNOWING THERE’S A GAME SATURDAY: “I think overall, I have noticed it, as a team. I’d be hesitant to point out anybody specifically, because there’s been quite a few that have elevated their game and have been locked-in and better attention to detail and all those things.”

ON WHETHER NATE WILLIS AND ZA’DARIUS SMITH HAVE BECOME LEADERS DESPITE BEING JUCO GUYS: “Yeah, I think Za’Darius. He’s been around here longer. Nate, his leadership, he’s just trying to take care of Nate right now, which he should be doing. He’s behind in summer conditioning and then trying to keep up with the pace, he’s struggled with that a little bit here and there, a few nagging (injuries) and all that. So more with Za’Darius than with Nate.”

ON HOW TRAVAUGHN PASCHAL AND ALVIN DAVIS PLAYED AT END WHILE Z-SMITH WAS OUT: “They did very good. TraVaughn is just a very good player, very explosive, very fast. We’ve played him standing up a little bit, too. So he’s done a nice job. Same with Alvin and a lot of those guys. They’ve grown and gotten better.”

ON PASCHAL BEING A BIG SURPRISE: “Yeah, it’s fair to say. I think he’s getting – when we stood him, it surprised me. We’ve played him a little bit at linebacker, and when Coach Eliot first brought it up to me, I was a little bit hesitant on that. But I start looking at the numbers from our GPS system and I see how fast he’s running, and he’s faster than any of our linebackers. At least on the reports that I’m getting. So we’ve been experimenting and moving him around a little bit. He’s a good player.”

ON WHAT HE KNOWS ABOUT WKU’S STARTING QB: “Not too many reps, not too much. Don’t know a whole lot. I’m sure he’ll fit into the staples of (Petrino’s) offense. Really just looking at their system than individual guys.”

ON AS HE’S TWEAKING THE DEPTH CHART WEEK TO WEEK, WHETHER GAME PERFORMANCE OR PRACTICE CARRIES MORE WEIGHT: “Game is important, as long as they’re doing the right things and within the system. If they just do their own thing and have some production, that’s not going to carry any weight, because we know over the long haul that’s not going to hold its water. So I think consistency on the practice field, then carry it over to games, so I think it’s 50/50.”

ON FEELING GOOD ABOUT TEAM’S CONDITIONING IF UK PLAYS IN HOT GAME SATURDAY: “I really do. I do. I feel very good. Our players worked very hard. And that’s what’s great about the science we have now. We can see data, see what we’ve done the past three years at Florida State, see where we’re at. Obviously, any time it’s super hot and humid, you always need depth, especially with the amount of plays that will probably be played in this game. You’ve got to have depth. You’ve got to be in great shape as well.”

ON ANY UNIFORM CHANGES COMING THIS GAME: “No, not really. I’m really not. I’m going to stay traditional right now, go with a uniform that you’ve seen.”

D.J. ELIOT

HOW HE FEELS ABOUT DEFENSE’S CONDITIONING IF HOT FORECAST HOLDS: “I feel good. We had a good summer and you know, we practiced against a tempo offense, so I feel good about our condition. On if he can think of a situation like this going up against a new staff where the head coach has been out of the game for a year No, I can’t say that I have. This is unique because the head coach didn’t coach last year. So, it’s just something we’re going to have to prepare for differently.”

ON FILM HE LOOKS AT TO PLAN FOR WKU PERSONNEL AND COACHES’ PREVIOUS STOPS: “You’re exactly right. I have a mismatch of things that I look at to determine what we’re going to get, but ultimately I’m just worried about us. My concentration has been on the Kentucky defense and how we play and how sound we are fundamentally.”

ON HOW ZA’DARIUS SMITH HAS BEEN SINCE RETURN FROM INJURY: “He’s been fine. Hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.”

HOW HAS SMITH STEPPED UP AS A LEADER: “The biggest thing that Za’Darius does is he leads by example. So, what we ask them to do on defense, he does it. And other players see that and they follow him.”

ON IF THERE ARE AREAS THEY ZERO IN ON TO IMPROVE THIRD-DOWN PERFORMANCE: “Third down is always a situation that we work. We worked on it every week at Florida State, and we’re going to continue to apply the same plan here.”

ON WHAT HE KNOWS ABOUT WKU QUARTERBACK BRANDON DOUGHTY: “I don’t know a whole lot, you know. Don’t have a lot of film on him from last year. Just what I’ve heard about him.”

WHAT HAS HE HEARD ABOUT HIM? “I’ve read that he’s done well in certain scrimmages, he’s had some good days and some bad days and that they’ve most recently just named him the starter.”

DOES HE FEEL BETTER PREPARED FOR WESTERN POSSIBLY PLAYING MOBILE QUARTERBACK AFTER FACING MAXWELL SMITH AND JALEN WHITLOW IN PRACTICE: “It will help us tremendously, because we have seen an athletic quarterback in practice with Jalen and then we’ll be prepared if they decide to go that direction.”

IS HE SURPRISED NATE WILLIS IS STILL BEHIND AT THIS POINT: “No. You know, he wasn’t here this summer. Our summer conditioning program is very good, so anybody that doesn’t go through that is going to be behind in their shape.”

ARE THERE ONE OR TWO THINGS EARLY THAT ELIOT WILL LOOK AT TO GAUGE WHETHER HIS TEAM IS READY TO PLAY? “You know, I think that we’re going to find out early how we’re going to play early in this game. Then I’m going to make the adjustment that I need to, whether it’s a motivation adjustment or a scheme adjustment to get us to where we need to be.”

WHICH COACH WILL SERVE AS HIS EYES IN THE PRESS BOX?” Coach Ansley will be in the press box along with our graduate assistants.”

HOW HAPPY IS HE WITH TEMPO, GETTING LINED UP, MAKING RIGHT CALLS? “Yes. We’ve gotten lined up very well. We’ve been able to execute at a fast pace, so I’m very happy with our tempo.”

WILL HE HAVE TROUBLE SLEEPING THIS WEEK? “I feel like we’ve done what we can do. You know what I mean? And I think our players are confident right now. We’ve just got to go out and just do it on Saturday. I don’t sleep well because I have three kids. It has nothing to do with the game. I’ve got a three-year-old that has a nightmare about every other night, so that’s not going to change my sleep habits.”

ARE YOUR NIGHTMARES ABOUT OTHER TEAM’S OFFENSE: “You know what? Even if I was, I’m still going to be up for her, so I’m not getting any sleep either way.”

IS THERE A PLAYER ON OFFENSE WHO GIVES THEM FITS? “Yeah, we’ve got very good offensive players that give us fits at times. Raymond Sanders is an excellent tailback for us. It’s a good challenge for us on Saturday cause we’re going to face another good tailback. Then some of those wideouts have really given us some fits too, especially some of those young guys. They’ve come in and done a great job, which has established a lot of depth for us in playing those guys and getting those reps against our defense.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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