Mark Stoops after Missouri loss

“Tough day for us out there today. Very tough match‑up. Give Missouri credit; they beat us in all three phases of the game. It’s a very good football team. It was very tough for us to match up. Defensively I thought we had some decent stops. We had an opportunity on several others and they made the play on 3rd down, we didn’t. Offensively we did good things at times. We didn’t do it at the right moments. I think early on it would have been nice to move it a little bit better there when we had good field position after we were up three and got the turnover. I thought that possession hurt. We need to do a better job in that situation. But overall very tough night. Give them credit; they outplayed us in all areas, and we need to improve.”

Q. You seemed to sort of blow your top a few times today. Was it sort of the frustration of the whole thing coming down?

COACH STOOPS: It is, it’s frustrating. I’ve got to do a better job. That’s it. It is what it is. It’s a tough situation. I’m trying to fight and claw and help lead this team as best I can. It is frustrating at times, but we all need to do a better job, and we need to overcome adversity. There’s going to be bad plays, there’s going to be adversity, and we’ve all got to handle it better.

Q. Are you still seeing that level of play from your guys that you want?

COACH STOOPS: Well, no, it wasn’t a great effort by us tonight. It wasn’t. It wasn’t good. But the late run that everybody is going to say we gave up, that’s not true. We just simply out ‑‑ somebody went to the wrong gap, and the pre was coming down to play the run and went outside the Will (linebacker) and they creased us right up in there. We had two guys there to make the play. Again, it’s technique; he goes outside of the block instead of under it, and the free safety gets cut off and he pops it for a long run. So the guys weren’t laying down there; we just need to execute better.

Q. (Question regarding Jalen Whitlow showing toughness in Saturday’s game.)

COACH STOOPS: I did. I did notice that, and early on I thought he had some very tough runs against a very tough, physical defense, and it was nice. You could tell he was hurting, and again, I think he’s learning to compete. I thought he did some good things, and he led our team good. We need to improve. We need to hit some open guys better. But we need to play better around him and all those things.

Q. Talk about Landon Foster, what happened on the punt.

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, the one was ‑‑ the shank, he just shanked it. He’s been pretty steady here for a couple years, he just shanked there, and there’s no excuse for that. I thought that was very critical, as well. I thought we had a chance. We had a big run and we held them, and that ‑‑ we bring that back, and then we shank the punt and they go in and score. That was critical. Those are things we’ve got to overcome. And then we got the one block; that wasn’t his fault. They just came clean on him.

Q. First drive of the game you march all the way downfield and hit a field goal. First drive of the second half you march all the way downfield, as well. What’s different about coming out of the locker room?

COACH STOOPS: Well, I think guys were ‑‑ we made it a point at halftime. We didn’t feel like ‑‑ you asked me the question earlier. I thought we started stronger. We have a chance there early to get ahead and to build a lead and to be in that, and then I thought the second quarter got away from us quick. So we addressed that at halftime, and the guys came out with the right attitude and moved it down there and scored. That was positive.

Q. Did you destroy anything in the locker room?

COACH STOOPS: No, no. I mean, we’ll get it. We’ll get it done, believe me. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, but we’re going to keep on going to work and getting better every day. This team is showing signs. We’re not nearly as consistent as we need to be. You’re playing a top-10 team that’s grown up an awful lot themselves. They had some wideouts that we couldn’t match up with quite frankly, and that wasn’t a good match‑up for us. Green‑Beckham was the No. 1 player in the country a couple years ago, right? He’s a beast. They’re big, and they have great balance, and they put you in a real bind. I thought, like I said, we had some chances at some stops on 3rd down. They made some good plays.

Q. In the second half when it looked like you might make it interesting, Raymond (Sanders) has a fumble, then they had the long kickoff return. Is that more of the execution issues you’ve been talking about all season?

COACH STOOPS: We’re not making the play. I thought Neal (Brown) was set up perfectly. We had some runs off that same action. We had a nice beautiful play action pass set up. We get it out to the 40 after we had just moved it. He’s got to hold onto the ball. That’s it.

Q. Second quarter I thought their defensive line really dominated you guys in the trenches. Did you think so?

COACH STOOPS: Well, they did. They overwhelmed us at times, and the pressures got to us. But yeah, I mean, they did. We’ve got to do a better job of picking up the pressure, and they overwhelmed us at times, and we’ve got to be one step ahead of them right there, as well, and keep them off balance with some of the other things. I think we hurt them on some screens later. Obviously we could have timed some things up better in that second quarter.

Q. Have you found that to be ‑‑ obviously you talk about skill on the outside, but have you found the trenches, the match‑ups up front to be the biggest thing about finding a way to compete in this league?

COACH STOOPS: It is. I mean, I think they’re a good example of that, that this is a mature football team now. I think watching them play last year and watching them play this year, it’s a big difference. They’ve got some guys outside that are very difficult to match up with, and their inside guys, O‑line and D‑line, have grown up and they’re big and physical and they’re playing extremely hard. They’ve done a nice job.

Q. I know you keep talking about the mismatch, but was your secondary doing anything to make it any easier for them?

COACH STOOPS: No, we were trying to get up there and play tight coverage, and we didn’t play it very well. We were mixing some things up with 3‑4 early, and it was good, but they spread you out. You see them. They’re all over the field. You want to play two safeties high, they’re going to run it all over you. You want to play one safety high, you’ve got to win, and we didn’t win; it’s that simple.

Q. When your quarterback is kind of hurting, but shows toughness to stay in the game does that increase his leadership value for the rest of the team?

COACH STOOPS: I think so. I think so. Yeah, it does.

Q. Every week you run into a new coach. Is this league as good as advertised coaching‑wise? Are these teams as well coached as you thought they’d be?

COACH STOOPS: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. They’re a very well‑coached team, and I think the big difference is they’ve got some players now, between this year and last year, and guys have grown up and got more physical. Quarterback play has been outstanding. They’re tough.

Q. You talked about the frustration and so forth. You’re coming from a program where you lost just a handful of games, and you knew what you were getting into here, but how do you keep that frustration from bubbling over when you’re losing game after game?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it’s hard, but you’ve just got to go back to work, and you’ve got to stick to what I preach all the time, and that’s getting better. I’ve got to get these guys up. We’ve got to get them mentally prepared to practice on Monday and to prepare, and to go out there and compete and try to win a game. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go back to work and stick to the things that I feel are necessary to help build this program. I may get frustrated, but I’m not discouraged.

Q. You talked about Missouri has grown up so much from last year to this year. Do you kind of file that away for your own team?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think so. I know guys are working hard and doing the right things. We need to do things better in all areas. I always take responsibility. It starts with myself and the coaching staff, and on to the players, we all need to do better.

Q. They hurt you with a couple of long returns. Did you guys break down?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we need to do some things better. The guys have been solid all year, and it wasn’t a good game for us to break down in the special teams area.

Q. I know you’ve still got obviously three games to go, but is there anything going through the league that changes your thinking about what you need personnel‑wise or any other way?

COACH STOOPS: Well, I think there’s so many areas that we need to improve. I think that’s our focus is really improving in all areas. I mean, we need play‑making ability, we need big, physical guys, we need a lot of things. We need linebackers. You’ve got to have a secondary. The match‑ups are so difficult, you play a team like this that spreads you out all over the place with extremely talented wide receivers, and then you go play. We had to play Alabama and all the rest and on the road next year at LSU and then you’ve got to be physical as heck, so you need a lot of bodies. You need a lot of good players and you need some guys that are versatile.

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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