“After watching the film, wrapping up the South Carolina game, just like I said after the game, very hard‑fought game. Very disappointed with the outcome. Proud of our kids’ effort. I thought we gave ourselves an opportunity in the second half to win that game. We need to continue to improve, continue to find ways to make plays when the game is on the line on both sides of the ball. But again, I thought we made some improvement. Looking forward to this week again. Another very tough task playing Alabama, extremely well‑coached team, very physical, and everything they are built up to be. They deserve all the credit they have been given for what they have done through the course of this year, and of course with their history. So it will be a real challenge but it should be a lot of fun for us as a staff and for our players to embrace such a challenge.”
DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS SCHEDULE (FOUR TOP 20 TEAMS FOR FIRST TIME IN SCHOOL HISTORY) BEFORE YOU TOOK THE JOB?
COACH STOOPS: I didn’t. (Laughter) I didn’t. I really didn’t, because we were in the middle ‑‑ we were in‑season there at Florida State so I was pretty consumed with what I was doing. So, no. Wouldn’t have deterred me, though.
HAVE YOU PLAYED A TOP-RANKED TEAM BEFORE? IS THERE ANY ADDED INCENTIVE WITH THAT NO. 1 SPOT?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, that’s a great question, I can’t remember if I’ve played a No. 1 ‑‑ surely I have I think somewhere along the line. Yeah, anybody in the Top‑10, anybody in the Top‑20, any of these good teams, they are so well‑coached, such history. It will be a great challenge like I said, but something that we’ll embrace.
WHAT STANDS OUT MOST TO YOU ABOUT NICK SABAN?
COACH STOOPS: Consistency. I think he’s amazing at what he does, and the work ethic and what he does and how he coaches is truly something that I admire and I think he’s extremely consistent, and his players play that way.
DO YOU KNOW SABAN WELL?
COACH STOOPS: Not very well really personally, just as a young coach coming up through the profession, a defensive guy, always just watched film of him, and you know, admired what he did.
LEARNING FROM FLORIDA STATE COACH JIMBO FISHER, WHO COACHED UNDER SABAN:
COACH STOOPS: It is, sometimes the way coaching trees work out, in an indirect way, I would imagine I’ve learned some things from the way Coach Saban structures practice or goes about his business. Obviously I don’t know him. I’ve never worked with anybody on his staff or anything like that, but Coach Fisher did take an awful lot from Coach Saban and did often talk about it. So I do feel like simple things, even the way we structure practice, I think some of the roots of that go back to Coach Saban and all of the different people he’s affected in coaching. You know, he’s affected a lot of people in a good way.
DID SEC REACH OUT TO HIM ABOUT LATE PENALTY?
COACH STOOPS: Yes. Yes, they just got off the phone with Steve Shaw, the head of the officials and they made a mistake. They were wrong.
DID YOU REACH OUT TO HIM OR DID HE REACH OUT TO YOU?
COACH STOOPS: I called him yesterday. And I called him today. (Laughter). No, Steve does an outstanding job ‑‑ I really do. We have great officials in this league, very high integrity, and I have a lot of confidence in Steve Shaw.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO CARRY OVER FROM THE LAST GAME INTO THIS ONE?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I just hope we continue to understand that we can win these games. You know, we ‑‑ it’s not just me up here talking about that. If we truly believe, if we go about our business; if we work the right way; if we prepare the right way and execute and make plays when the game is on the line ‑‑ we had every opportunity to win that game and that’s a very good team, very well coached and we have a lot of respect for them. But had we done some things right, we could win that game. And that’s taking nothing away from them, because I know every coach can say that. Everybody can say they always do things better; we all feel that way. But there was plays on the line we can execute much better, and a lot of it’s mental. We mentally need to be stronger and make plays and understand and have a better awareness about us when we are on the field, because the game changes all the time, every play. Every play’s different. You know, we’ve got to have a better understanding of what we’re doing and execute things better.
DID YOU THINK SOMETHING WAS MISSING EARLY?
COACH STOOPS: Maybe. I’m not sure. It did not surprise me they were going to start fast. That’s why we needed to start fast. I thought it was critical to get off to a good start. Obviously we didn’t do that on either side, and I thought that hurt us, as well.
WHEN YOU WERE DOWN 21-0, WAS THERE A POINT THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU’D LOST THE TEAM, THAT THEY WERE GOING BACK TO OLD HABITS?
COACH STOOPS: I was very frustrated; I admit that. I said that I was frustrated, and we were really just trying to get it under control at that point, get some first downs and stop them from getting some first downs and go on from there. But we talked about it throughout the week of if they started fast, to hang in there, make some adjustments, battle back and give ourselves a chance to win again.
WHAT CHANGED ON SIDELINE?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think any time you have some success, they start believing, whether it be a couple stops or get some first downs or just start executing and makes plays, it definitely feeds it a little bit.
ARE YOUR PLAYERS REALIZING HOW HARD IT IS TO WIN IN THIS LEAGUE PLAYING FROM BEHIND?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think they do. I can’t tell you exactly why we do that. I don’t know if we’ll press them too hard. I thought it was critical, on the the third and one that we converted, and we got flagged for that, as well. And Steve (Shaw) admitted that that was a mistake, as well and that set us back early in the game as well.
HOW IS BUD DUPREE?
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see. I think he is ‑‑ he’s sore, swelled a little bit. We’ll see. I really don’t know to be honest with you. He’ll probably be day‑to‑day most of this week.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS IN THIS GAME?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s just really how we play, how we prepare, how we fight. Just execute plays. It’s really all we’re worried about right now is executing plays and not getting behind like we talked about. Try to get out and get off to a good series, whether it be a stop or moving the ball. And just competing and fighting. Obviously we know how talented this (Alabama) team is and how well coached they are. It’s going to be a real tough challenge, but again, we’ll measure that by how we play, how we compete and go from there.
DID THE FILM REINFORCE HOW JALEN WHITLOW PLAYED IN THE GAME?
COACH STOOPS: Just like we thought. He missed some things; he missed some throws, but he did some very good things, as well. It was nice to see him compete. It was nice to see him run. He ran hard at times. He ran physical at times and he made some better decisions. So I think overall, that was a real positive, and it’s good to see and I think it gives us a little confidence moving forward.
STATISTICALLY FLORIDA IS SIMILAR TO ALABAMA IN POINTS ALLOWED, RUSH DEFENSE. ARE THERE SIMILAR WAYS TO PREPARE TO PLAY THE TWO TEAMS?
COACH STOOPS: They are similar. They are very similar in a lot of ways, and if you just look at the history, I mean, Alabama has been the tops in college football in defense, whether it be points or yards, for the past four or five years, and certainly in this conference. I think Florida is a great defense this year, as well. I think they are very similar structurally as you would expect, and I think, you know, they are both well‑coached. Both defenses play with great passion, great energy. They are fun to watch. They take a lot of pride, and you could tell after early in the season, people ‑‑ for their standards, it wasn’t up to their standards early with Texas A&M. And ever since then, they have been hard to get an inch on. They are a very prideful group and play extremely hard.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE GREAT PLAYERS IN THIS OFFENSE, IS THERE A GUY YOU SAY WE HAVE TO TRY AND STOP HIM FIRST?
COACH STOOPS: No, I think they are very systematic. They are well coached. They are good, they execute, on both sides of the ball really. I say that about their defense but it ultimately just comes down to executing. They have good players, good coaches, and when they execute well, they are hard to stop on either side of the ball.
ON STOPPING QUARTERBACK A.J. MCCARRON:
COACH STOOPS: He does, he seems very smart and very poised. He does not seem to be rattled at all and you can tell he’s been in a lot of big games, so he’s very comfortable back there and very talented.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ALABAMA RUNNING BACK T.J. YELDON AND SOUTH CAROLINA’S MIKE DAVIS:
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know about radically different. He’s (Yeldon) another big, strong guy with great balance. Maybe faster if there’s one thing, but very good player, very physical, like their whole style of play, very physical team.
IS THERE MORE EXCITEMENT AROUND THE TEAM WITH THE NO. 1 TEAM COMING TO TOWN:
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see. I hope so. We’re going to need it. We are going to have to prepare well all week just to play and compete. We’ll see how it goes today when they (the players) come over.
WHAT ARE THE PLAYERS’ ATTITUDE AFTER THAT LOSS? HAS IT FADED ALREADY?
COACH STOOPS: I hope so. I think so. When we talked after the game I saw a bunch of guys right up there, all eyes on me, guys are very focused. Some guys were hurt and I’m sure disappointed and the whole bit, and I hope they are tired of that. And I hope they start believing that if we do things right and prepare and execute, we’ll give ourselves a lot of opportunities to win.
WITH KEENELAND AND NO. 1 TEAM COMING TO TOWN, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ATMOSPHERE WILL BE LIKE?
COACH STOOPS: I hear it is going to be a sellout or is a sellout. That will be a great atmosphere. I’m looking forward to it. You know, we won’t be out there at Keeneland during the day of anything ‑‑ (Laughter) but it will be a lot of fun. We’re happy that it’s a night game and that we’ll get a good crowd.
IS IT TOUGHER WITH YOUNG PLAYERS TO CONVINCE THEM TO BELIEVE?
COACH STOOPS: I like the attitude of our young guys. I don’t think the environment is too big for them. I think they embrace it. I think they like it. They enjoy playing. With freshmen, the problem is inconsistency. You know, young guys, we drive them awful hard, and we need them to play well for us. It’s different than sprinkling them in here and there. I mean, we need these guys to be players for us and so we push them so hard mentally and physically, and unfortunately with that, you get some inconsistent play and you get some dips up‑and‑down. So we need to try to stay away from that and just constantly improve with the young guys. But their attitude is good and they are very competitive guys, and they are very good, once again, our young guys ‑‑ Jason Hatcher, he breaks his hand in two places and comes right back and doesn’t miss a snap. He’ll play with a cast on and he’s not worried about it. The doctors have to come pull these guys out.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BE PATIENT WITH YOUNG PLAYERS?
COACH STOOPS: It was a test on Saturday of my patience and that’s something that we as a staff, when we talked about it, we just have to keep on staying the course, we really do. But we cannot let off, and that’s the big thing is holding them accountable every day, every minute, every snap. And that’s where we have to stay consistent as a staff and we need to get it out of these players that they can do it. You know, they just have got to be more consistent. We have got to execute. It takes a lot of things. But believe me, there’s plays in every game that we are leaving out there that we have to get away from.
DID HATCHER MISS PLAYS VERSUS SOUTH CAROLINA DUE TO INJURY?
COACH STOOPS: Yes.
WHAT DID THAT TELL YOU ABOUT HATCHER’S TOUGHNESS:
COACH STOOPS: It tells me that his toughness is there and his heart is in the right place. Like I said, he didn’t flinch.
MORE ABOUT HATCHER’S PLAY:
COACH STOOPS: I see good things from Jason. I thought he did some very good things. He was in a tough spot. There’s a lot going at him. Different calls, different things. He made a few mistakes, but I love him; I love his work ethic, his ability. He’s been versatile for us and we’ve been force‑feeding him and it’s good to see him making plays.
YOU TALK ABOUT BEING PATIENT WITH A YOUNG TEAM. ARE YOU PATIENT BY NATURE?
COACH STOOPS: No, not generally, no. But I understand right now what we’re into and staying the course and staying on track and again, going back and trying to be consistent with our place and everything we are doing.
ON DIRECT SNAPS TO RUNNING BACKS AGAINST SOUTH CAROLINA:
COACH STOOPS: Just gave us a little bit of versatility on some short yardage situations, and any time you get the direct snap, it just gives you numbers every now and then and it can give some confusion to a defense.
AVERY WILLIAMSON ALSO HAS BEEN PLAYING WITH A CAST ON (BRUISED WRIST). WHAT MESSAGE DOES THAT SEND TO YOUNG PLAYERS?
COACH STOOPS: It does and he is another one, and there’s a lot of guys. I’ve said that all along, that we need all players to be successful, and we have had many that are doing a lot of good things. I mean, Bud is a guy that’s done outstanding this year, been very consistent. Avery has done a very good job. Some of our inside guys have been playing through some injuries and doing it. But Avery is definitely, he’s the model of consistency and leadership. He’s exactly what you want. He’s there every week and it’s not something that we take for granted because I think he’s a very good player, like I say every week, and a very good leader in somebody that we need in there.
ARE THERE ANY GUYS THAT HAVE SURPRISED YOU LIKE LOCKER ROOM GUYS BEGIN MORE VOCAL THAN YOU THOUGHT THEY WOULD BE?
COACH STOOPS: I think as a team, we are getting better, I really do. I feel like more and more are starting to understand that we can do that and we can compete and play with anybody, and just sticking together. So I think it’s a good locker room right now. I think last week was a point where we could have gone either way. I felt like this team would respond the right way, and I think we are going to keep on improving.
ANOTHER STRONG COACHING TEST AGAINST ALABAMA:
COACH STOOPS: It’s going to be difficult, it definitely is. There’s so many good coaches out there, but this group is really unbelievable in their preparation, very well coached team. They do what they do extremely well and have plenty of change‑ups off of it, and yeah, it will be a challenge, and again, very well balanced.
BECAUSE OF SABAN’S NFL BACKGROUND, IS HIS SCHEME ANY MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN OTHERS?
COACH STOOPS: I’m not sure. Just from watching them, you can certainly see a lot of defense when he chooses to use it. It’s my understanding that, of course Derrick (Ansley) has been with them, and I have seen some of their implementation and things like that. And they certainly have a lot that they can use when they choose to use it. I think each week they game plan things and change things up, but I’m not sure exactly how he goes about it or why. I just know they are very good. And to answer your question, they are multiple when they want to be, and they are extremely sound technique‑wise.
HOW MUCH WILL ANSLEY HELP YOU THIS WEEK?
COACH STOOPS: Again, a little, but I think there’s so much defense that they can grab from. Even if you know what they are in, again, it gets down to technique and execution at that point. They are very good at what they do.
WILL GETTING A BIG PLAY FROM DANNY TREVATHAN IN A HIGH PROFILE GAME HELP ON THE RECRUITING TRAIL?
COACH STOOPS: I’m not sure. I was happy to hear that and proud of him, and we’re pulling for him. It was good to see one of those college scores in the NFL. (Laughter).
DO YOU HAVE A GO-TO PLAY OFFENSIVE PLAY YOU CAN GO TO TO GET YARDAGE?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I don’t know about a go‑to play. We are certainly getting better at certain things and we are executing better. Some of the staples in Neal’s offense we are executing and running better. So that helps.
DOES THE OFFENSE TAKE A STEP FORWARD NOW THAT JALEN WHITLOW IS THE CLEAR QUARTERBACK?
COACH STOOPS: I do. I do think we need that. We’ve been waiting for that. We talked about it in here and I’ve talked about it with trying to find a quarterback that we can hang our hat on and build an offense around it and do some things, do some things to his strengths. I thought we did that last week, and I thought it helped us. Of course, there’s some things in Neal’s offense that are staples that we have to be able to execute. I think we are improving in certain areas. And then you add in a few wrinkles or a few quarterback runs and things like that, it can help us. Anything we have to do to move the ball to help us win games. But I hope that that confidence carries over.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE NOW YOU CAN HANG YOUR HAT ON WHITLOW?
COACH STOOPS: I do. He’s the starter and let’s hope he takes it and runs with it and gets better and better each week.
DID CONSISTENCY WIN HIM THE QUARTERBACK JOB?
COACH STOOPS: I think we have gone around and around. You’ve seen it. I thought both guys (Whitlow and Smith) did some good things and both guys have done some bad things, just like much of our team. So, you know, they are the quarterbacks and they have the spotlight on them. But we have been inconsistent at all positions and we have been good at times at all positions. So we just need to put it all together and start executing on both sides of the ball and improving.
DOES IT WORRY YOU WHEN A GUY HAS A WEEK OF PRACTICE LIKE HE DID AND YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO GET FROM HIM IN A GAME?
COACH STOOPS: Well, yeah, any time ‑‑ we want consistency, whether it’s on the practice field or in the games. So yeah, we definitely need that because we are building our schemes around what we think we can do. So we need some consistency there.
DID WHITLOW FIND A WAY TO SETTLE DOWN BEFORE THE GAME?
COACH STOOPS: I think so. I thought so. And there were some plays, it’s not just him. There were some plays that were there that we have to execute better. And so you know, in the third and one, I thought was critical, as well with the quarterback out that we convert.
THE WILDCAT FORMATION, THE REVERSES, TRICK PLAYS. DO YOUR PLAYERS GET EXCITED ABOUT STUFF LIKE THAT? IS IT FUN FOR THEM?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, they were very excited with the fake (field goal vs. Florida) going back a few weeks. But I knew we had a long game ahead of us, but it was good. It was fun. And you know, we’ll do whatever we have to do within reason. Just anything, any scheme or anything that we have to do that we feel gives us the best opportunity to win we have to look at.
HOW FAR OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE ARE THOSE TYPES OF PLAYS?
COACH STOOPS: I’m OK with it, because I understand, being on a great defense before, that you need to dress up a lot of things anymore. When you see that in college football, you’re starting to see that in pro football; there’s a lot of window dressing that goes into things. Just lining up and running basic plays; there’s very few teams that can do that. And believe me, Alabama is extremely physical, and they are great with technique. But they are also very well‑coached with subtle things that most people don’t understand; that they are very well coached and it puts you in some predicaments that aren’t fun.
ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT FORMATIONS?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, formations, run‑pass conflicts. That’s football. Any good defensive coach will tell you that. Anybody that has balance that can put stress on you both ways and have guys outside that can hurt you and a quarterback that can get it there, that’s always a threat. And we saw that last week with Coach Spurrier taking the shot on the double post and scoring a touchdown early in the game was something that I was very aware of going into that game. Matter of fact with that formation on Thursday, I stopped it and corrected it and did some different adjustments to that on Thursday of last week, and had a feeling we would get that shot out of that formation.
GUESSING THAT ADDS TO YOUR FRUSTRATION?
COACH STOOPS: Very much. Very much. Very much. Great coaches like that (Spurrier) they know the formations they can get you into. And we have to be ahead of them, change it up off of ‑‑ and he got us where he knew he was going to get us, and right to where I thought he would go.
YOU’D HAD SO MANY THIRD DOWN ISSUES COMING INTO THIS GAME, BUT THINGS IMPROVED DRAMATICALLY ON THAT DOWN IN THIS GAME. DID YOU SEE A DIFFERENCE ON FILM?
COACH STOOPS: I think they are more manageable third downs is one thing that helped. But I think it gets down to execution, really. You know, again, there was a third and one that we thought we executed that wasn’t seen that way by the officials early in the game that I thought put us behind the 8‑ball, as well. And so we are looking for anything we can do, and that was a little bit different formation again with different people and different spots, but I thought it was a well‑devised play and we got a little bit of yardage out of that QB‑situation a few times.