Kentucky’s Stoops previews Missouri

After doing the tape, I thought we did some good things about Alabama State. Seemed to be a little frustrated last week during the game, but really just watching the tape I thought we did some good things. We know we got a lot of work to do, but overall pretty decent play. I thought Jalen did a nice job making some plays with his feet. I thought he did a nice job throwing it at times. There were a few throws that stuck out to me during the game that we know he missed. But after watching the tape, really thought he did a good job of hitting some guys as well. Got to continue to work our passing game and improve in that area. But to score 48 points was good to see. Defensively, same thing. Started a little slow, little bit frustrated. We settled in and played some pretty good defense. We gave up the one big play late that was also frustrating. But overall did decent.

Good to see the special teams come up again, step forward, make a good play with the blocked punt, create field position for us once again.  Another big challenge this week with another top 10 team. Be an exciting week for us, big challenge. Missouri is a very good football team, as we all know. Very balanced, do a good job of running it, throwing it, keeping you off balance. Their defense has been the biggest improvement for them. Just playing extremely good defense this year. Top 4 in our league in scoring defense, so very active, very disruptive. It’ll be a great challenge for us.

DID UK PASS BALL MORE WITH LEAD IN SECOND HALF TO WORK ON PASSING GAME?
STOOPS: We did want to work on the passing game a little bit, yes. We did. We wanted to keep on improving and working in that area.

HOW ARE YOU ON INJURY FRONT?
STOOPS: We’re pretty banged up. It’s not good. It’s not good news with Alex (Montgomery). He’ll be out for the remainder of the year. It’s probably not good news for Ryan Timmons for this game. So we’re getting pretty thin.

IS TIMMONS A BAD SPRAIN?
STOOPS: Yeah, sprained ankle.

IS MONTGOMERY A TEAR?
STOOPS: Yeah, he’ll be out for the year with an ACL.

HOW GOOD IS MICHAEL SAME AS FAR AS DEFENSIVE ENDS?
STOOPS: He’s darn good, very disruptive, very active. I really like him.

HOW DO YOU HANDLE THAT PASS RUSH?
STOOPS: Missouri does a nice job. They mix it up, but they really count a great deal on their front four. So that could be tough as well, because when they get them covered up and get active with their four guys it gives them some more guys in pass coverage. We’ll have our hands full. That’s a very active front. We just need to be better. We need to execute our offense, keep them off balance, continue to run the ball, continue to execute our screens and getting the ball out of our hands and mixing it up with the dropback pass as well.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE ENOUGH DEPTH AT RECEIVER AFTER LOSING THOSE TWO GUYS?
STOOPS: No, I don’t think we’ve had enough depth. We’ve got to continue to work, continue to improve. It was nice to see some guys last week step up. I thought Jeff Badet played his best game. That was good to see. Demarco (Robinson), we need to continue to get him healthy and get him back in the fold doing some good things. A.J. (Legree) is doing some better things as well, so that’s a good sign.

CAN JAVESS BLUE SEE TO PLAY?
STOOPS: Javess should be fine, yeah.

ON TURNOVER MARGIN?
STOOPS: I see our offense doing a very good job of protecting the ball. They have been very conscious of that. I think we do a good job of coaching ball security. The quarterbacks have done a nice job of protecting the ball. That’s a big key. When you’ve seen a team as explosive as Missouri, they’ve feasted on turnovers as well. We’ve got to be very careful with the ball again this week. Defensively, we’re getting fumbles. We’re having a hard time getting interceptions. We’ve got to do a better job getting some interceptions, but it’s nice to see us creating some fumbles and getting some turnovers there.

ON MISSOURI’S TURNOVER MARGIN:
STOOPS: They’re very active. They’re an active group. Generally when you see an offense as explosive as they are, teams are trying to catch up a bit as well. So you have got a chance to create some turnovers there as well. They’re a hard team to keep up with.

WILL YOU PREPARE DIFFERENTLY FOR THE TWO QUARTERBACK OPTIONS FOR MISSOURI?
STOOPS: Not too much, no. Really don’t. They’re both very good quarterbacks. Their offense basically stays the same.

ANOTHER THROWBACK FOR BIG GAINS ON SATURDAY. WHAT DID THAT LOOK LIKE ON FILM?
STOOPS: It’s frustrating. You know, we got to do that today. So that’s coming up. But thanks for reminding me. (Laughter) That can’t happen. Just a lack of discipline.

ON MONTGOMERY’S INJURY BEING A TEACHABLE MOMENT ABOUT CELEBRATIONS:
STOOPS: Yeah, I think it is. You know, we have to address that today as well. You know, I do think about it. When they are doing that stuff, even in practice sometimes we’re having fun. You don’t want to take away the energy. You want them excited. Somebody commented the other day, we want to be cheering quite a bit and creating big plays. We want the excitement there. We’ve got to be smart about that. We’ve got a couple of those guys that can do back flips and sometimes they’ll do that before practice and get guys sparked up. I’m a little leery of that as well.  We might have to get our feet on the ground for our celebrations right now. We can’t afford to lose anybody else. We lose enough guys during games and practice. We can’t lose them in pregame and doing celebrations, that’s for sure.

WILL YOU TELL PLAYERS TO STAY ON THE GROUND FOR CELEBRATIONS?
STOOPS: We’re not going to overdo it, but I’m going to definitely talk to them about relaxing a little bit with the jumping and chest pumping and all that stuff.

BEING AN OLD DEFENSIVE BACK COACH, YOU HAVE OT LOVE THE 17 INTERCEPTIONS MISSOURI HAS THIS SEASON. IS IT THEIR COVERAGE TEAM OR THEIR FRONT FOUR?
STOOPS: I think they are active. A lot of it has to do with their front four and a lot of it has to do with they’re scoring a boatload of points. So any time you’re scoring over 40 points a game, the teams have got to get desperate at times and start throwing the ball around. They get a lot of turnovers.

YOU’RE GETTING THIN AT WIDE RECEIVER. HOW MUCH MIGHT YOU HAVE TO LEAN ON TIGHT ENDS?
STOOPS: Yeah, we need to. We need to continue to work those guys, yeah.

YOU TALKED ABOUT WHITLOW MISSING THROWS. IS THAT A TECHNIQUE PROBLEM OR A TIMING PROBLEM?
STOOPS: There was a couple of ‑‑ there was one or two, one in particular, I thought the receiver could have done a better job. Then there were a few that he just missed. Again, I don’t think we need to get into overcoaching that with him. He needs to get a feel, get better, get reps and playing time. He did that. I thought he made some nice throws, but he just short-armed or guided it or tried to be too accurate and aim it. Whatever the reason, he just missed a few. He’ll get better with playing time, too.

IS IT EASY TO FORGET SOMETIMES THAT HE HASN’T PLAYED A LOT AT QUARTERBACK?
STOOPS: Yeah, it is. You do have to remind yourself that he’s going to get better. After watching the tape, I really thought he did some good things. He made some nice throws. He’s going to get better and better. He just needs to get more comfortable, get some more reps. We need to be better around him as well.

AS A DEFENSIVE COACH, WHEN YOU SEE A GUY LIKE DYSHAWN MOBLEY MAKING PLAYS LIKE THAT ON SPECIAL TEAMS, DOES ANY PART OF YOU THINK YOU COULD USE A GUY LIKE THAT ON DEFENSE?
STOOPS: Absolutely. That came up yesterday in the staff meeting. Yeah, absolutely. I would love to have him on defense, but that’s the basically the message: He’s going to get the ball or he’s going to come play defense. (Laughter)

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER GUYS LIKE THAT?
STOOPS: Well, you’re always watching. We’re always recruiting.

LAST WEEK YOU TALKED ABOUT TEAM NEEDING WIN FOR CONFIDENCE GOING INTO FINAL FOUR SEC GAMES. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MOMENTUM?
STOOPS: I hope so, I think we’ll have more energy. I think it was good to get a win. We needed that. Our team has been working hard. We need to look at this tape today and see what we did right and see what we did wrong and just keep on grinding, keep on working and getting better. We’re going to need to improve a great deal between last week and this week to win this game. I believe our players will have a great mindset. I think we’re beat up a little bit, but I think most teams are. We’ve got to find a way to have some other guys step up and respond and have great energy and have a great week of preparation.

HOW DID RUNNING BACKS DO ON MAKING PEOPLE MISS?
STOOPS: Better. We did much better. I felt like we were more physical. We made some better move in the open field and created some misses.

HOW MUCH OF THAT IS JOJO KEMP? HE SEEMS LIKE A GUY BECOMING MORE COMFORTABLE:
STOOPS: I think that’s a big part of it with him, just getting that playing time, getting him in the flow and getting him more carries. Again, Raymond (Sanders) is doing some good things as well. But we need to continue with both of those guys and Dyshawn of creating bigger plays and making guys miss. Dyshawn can be physical at times. We’ve got the three of them that need to continue to work and get better.

DO YOU PRACTICE DIFFERENTLY WITH SUCH A BEAT UP TEAM?

STOOPS: A little bit. We’ll alter it slightly. We have to be smart and make a few adjustments here and there. One of those is just a simple adjustment, just today we’ll go a little bit later, we’ll go with just helmets today instead of shoulder pads and helmets.

And tomorrow ‑‑ you know, Tuesday and Wednesday we have to get our work in. We have to balance how much we do good on good and how physical we play against each other this late in the season. We’re also just trying to progress your program too and develop guys and get them better. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

ON PLAY OF DEFENSIVE END BUD DUPREE:

STOOPS: He’s getting better. I think he’s getting more comfortable. He hasn’t ‑‑ at least I haven’t noticed it or anything, but he’s doing a good job. He’s a very good football player. He’s very versatile. He’s doing a lot of things for us. He puts his hand down (playing defensive end) when we’re in our four down, we play our 3-4 standing up (as a linebacker). He’s a very smart player, very instinctual. I really like the way he’s playing.

DID ANYONE STICK OUT DEFENSIVELY SINCE YOU WERE ABLE TO PLAY SO MANY PLAYERS?

STOOPS: Yeah, we’re continuing to work with Marcus McWilson, bring him along. And Jaleel (Hytchye), it’s good to get Jaleel out there a little bit. All those guys need to continue. Hatcher has been a guy that we’ve been impressed with all year. Again, he’s got that hand (injury). I want to see him in the game sooner. I think we’ve got to get him involved, because he’s a guy that has a bright future. He’s getting better and better. Every time he takes the field he gets better.

ON DEFEENSE POTENTIALLY BLITZING MORE:

STOOPS: I think we’re constantly trying to find that balance and mixing it up and finding the right balance of pressure and playing coverage. We’re being as multiple as we can handle, executing the defense and with the personnel that we have.

HOW ARE THEY DOING PICKING UP THE SCHEME?

STOOPS: I think we’re good. Like all teams, you’re never perfect. We’re working to get that way. We’re getting better and better. We are doing quite a bit between four down and three down and doing a variety of things. Then it gets into a personnel issue as well. We’ve got some safeties that are better back there on the half field then they are playing man‑to‑man coverage and different things like that. So you have got to watch how much you are mixing them. Last we went to another package which was a brand new package where we basically played with three corners and a nickel and one safety. Just gave us a little bit more speed on the field, and that was out of the three down front. That was a good package for us, and it enabled us to play tighter coverage with some guys.  So we’re going to continue to work just different things like that. We got to find the best ways to create some matchups for ourselves.

SEE ANYTHING DIFFERENT ON LINEBACKERS THIS WEEK? STOOPS: Well, we did out of ‑‑ what we were doing out of the three down, out of the 3-4 front, it was a little bit different, yes.

WILL TEACHING DEFENSE BE EASIER IN YEAR TWO?

STOOPS: It definitely helps. Because then you can make change‑ups, but the concepts always carry with you. I think the more and more comfortable they get, the better it is.

ON JASON HATCHER’S PLAY:

STOOPS: Well, he’s still a very explosive guy. He’s had this cast on now for I don’t know how many weeks, but it hurts a little bit with his weights and things like that and lifting. And this late in the season just with his size it’s hurt him a little bit. He’s another guy that is very versatile, a lot like Bud in that he can put his hand down and play with four down in the dirt or stand up and play some 3-4. So he’s multiple. He’s explosive and he’s got a bright future.

ON THE OPPORTUNITY PRESENTED BY THIS GAME:

STOOPS: Well, absolutely. It’s definitely a great opportunity for us. We’ve got a great team coming in here, playing at home, at noon on a Saturday. It should be a beautiful afternoon and we’re excited about it definitely.

ON DIFFERENT DRIVES AGAINST MISSISSIPPI STATE AT END OF FIRST AND SECOND HALVES. DIFFERENCES?

STOOPS: Well, we made the big play. Jalen made the big play with his legs was the big difference. Going back to Mississippi State, we had an opportunity on third down to create a big play. We missed the block, and so it didn’t happen. But again, if we get that block, I think we have a good chance to get some yards. And even on the fourth down, we talked about missing the throw a little bit but there were some other guys that were open on that play as well. Just didn’t hit them.

IS THIS MISSOURI THE BIGGEST BUNCH OF RECEIVERS YOU’VE FACED?

STOOPS: Yeah, it is, absolutely. I can’t imagine ‑‑ I can’t remember playing a group bigger than this. So very good players, very talented, big, long and physical.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO COUNTERACT THAT? YOUR CORNERS ARE NOT OVERLY HUGE GUYS:

STOOPS: No. You have got to continue to mix things up. We can play with two safeties high and all that, but they will kill you in the run game, too. We have seen that. They can run it and they can throw it, so they put you in a bind. And like you’ve heard me say many times, there is no hiding from it. You have to mix things up. You have to be multiple. You have to be able to play. You have got to man up and play. And that’s just the way it is. You are not going to constantly trick a team like this. They have seen it all. This group, this coaching staff, they have been around for a long time and seen just about everything. You know, it’s no mystery that they are playing very good. They are blocking, they’re running, and they’re throwing it and catching it. That’s a pretty good combination. They have got an experienced group up front. They are healthier this year than they were last year up front. They’re very physical. They can run the ball extremely well. They have very talented lineups. You put that all together and you have got a team that’s averaging 40 points and 500 yards.

ON DEFENSIVE MULTIPLICITY:

STOOPS: I think we’re much better. We’re much more prepared right now than we were earlier in the year. We’re starting to figure out our personnel better and trying to find guys to get on the field that can help us with matchups.

ON CORNERBACK PLAY THIS SEASON:

STOOPS: They are getting better. They are. I’ve been impressed with Fred (Tiller) and Nate (Willis). I think they are getting better. They are working hard. I think  (Derrick) Ansley is doing a great job with them. Cody (Quinn) has come in and played. Like I said, his position last week really he replaced the free safety. So we played essentially with four corners and a safety, if you consider Blake (McClain) as a very multiple guy. He is a nickel, safety or a corner. So it’s good. I think they are getting better. Obviously we need some depth and we need to continue to improve.

DO YOU KNOW MISSOURI  GARY PINKEL AT ALL? STOOPS: Very little, just from meetings and things like that. Obviously, I have watched him for some time.

ON MISSOURI’S TURNAROUND. DOES THAT GIVE YOU HOPE FOR NEXT SEASON?

STOOPS: You know, you do look at it. And again, I don’t need to speak for them or anything like that, but they are different right now. I mean, they are strong up front. And I think that’s probably a big difference between this year’s team and last year team, from what I can notice. But yeah, I think it definitely takes some adjustment for a team coming into this league, for them ‑‑ I don’t know. You’d have to ask them, but it is definitely a different league.

DID ALABAMA STATE’S PASS RUSH GET MORE PRESSURE ON WHITLOW THAN YOU WOULD’VE LIKED?

STOOPS: Yeah, definitely they did. I felt like we missed some blocks as well on the run game. Those were some of the things that were a little bit frustrating. If you noticed after the game, not that I wasn’t appreciative of a win, I really am. Like I tell you guys all the time, really it’s just about moving forward as a program. That’s the same today. So to me it didn’t feel any different yesterday as it did after the other losses, to be honest with you. You just worry about your program and moving forward and getting better. There were some things in that game that I felt like we could have done a lot better and pass protection was one of them.

WHITLOW HAD SUCCESS AGAINST MISSOURI EARLY LAST YEAR. HAVE YOU LOOKED AT LAST YEAR’S FILM?

STOOPS: No. So much film this year to watch. I’ve got to look at both sides of the ball, special teams. There’s a lot of plays to watch.

HOW MUCH OF OFFENSE DO YOU MISS DURING THE GAME WORKING SO MUCH WITH THE DEFENSE?

STOOPS: A few plays here and there. I had to turn around the other day and it was third down. There’s decisions to make on four down or punting and things like that. I have got to get back over there. I have great confidence in the defensive coaches. I can’t help myself sometimes and get in the adjustments and things like that and talk to them. I know they’re in good hands.

ON FOURTH DOWN PERCENTAGES. YOU’VE BEEN AGGRESSIVE ON THAT DOWN, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO BE AS A HEAD COACH?
STOOPS: Each situation is a little bit different. I think the other night we were in a situation and that’s a case where Neal (Brown) and I will talk on third down. Some of the third downs, if I know we’re going to go for it on fourth down, he may have a run in there or a run-pass option and get us in manageable fourth down conversion as well. I thought it was a cold night the other night. Joe (Mansour) has done a great job all year. But I thought over 50 was a reach with the cold weather. The ball wasn’t traveling as well. There was a couple of situations where it was just the right situation to go for it on fourth down.

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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