Kentucky’s Stoops, Eliot preview Georgia

MARK STOOPS
“I’m not used to that cold weather. Pretty decent practice. Little bit cool out there today, but the energy was up. Guys were moving around, bouncing around good, so overall fairly pleased with the practice.”

ON KENTUCKY’S OVERALL HEALTH: “We’re a little banged up, like most people this time of year. Like I said, Nate (Willis) may be the only guy that definitely won’t travel, it doesn’t look like. Outside of that, I think we’ve got some guys that are just banged up. Hopefully they’ll get better. They were out there practicing today a little bit, hobbling around. But we should be good.”

COULD WILLIS BE OUT FOR YEAR: “No, I don’t think so. No. He’ll be close this week, we’re just not counting on him. At his position, you’ve got to be healthy and feeling good out there to cover these guys.”

ON GEORGIA’S PASSING GAME: “They’re very good and very efficient. They have a lot of balance in their offense, and so when they need to throw it — like you saw at the end of that game last week — they can throw it as good as anybody, really. I think they have a really good group of receivers, good tight ends. They like hitting the back and checking it down to him as well. But Murray’s just a very special quarterback.”

IS FIVE GOOD RECEIVERS TOUGHER TO DEFEND? “It is. It is, but we had a hard time last week and we knew they were going to him. We got the (pass interference) when we had one under and one over. We’ll have our hands full each and every week in this league, but we’re improving and we’ll be out there ready to play.”

EVER HAD A TEAM WITH ONE INTERCEPTION THIS DEEP INTO SEASON? “No. I wouldn’t think so, no. It’s hard to put a finger on it. Not good. That was from a linebacker.”

DOES HE REMIND CORNERBACKS OF THAT LACK OF PICKS OR IS THERE A LINE BETWEEN REMINDING AND BEATING THEM DOWN? “There’s a line. There’s definitely a line between beating them down and getting them to, you know. It’d be good to cover them and knock the ball down sometimes as well, honestly.”

DO MISTAKES ON SPECIAL TEAMS SNOWBALL? “I think it’s a lot like our team. If you just look at our offense and our defense, there’s a lot of good plays out there, there’s good plays going and then one play just kills the drive. With special teams, it’s just out there for everybody to see. And it’s no different. I thought we played very well on special teams last week. Obviously, you can’t have an extra point blocked. That’s a guy inside that didn’t do the technique exactly like he needs to do, and that’s not acceptable and you got to address it. But I don’t think it’s fair to group that overall with the special teams, because I thought we played very well again last week. Missed one punt, but that happens to a lot of people as well. I think he came back with a terrific kick, and I thought the guys were playing very energetic on special teams and ran down there. What did they have on kickoff returns, like 15 yards or something? That’s a pretty good sign. I’m not sure exactly what (they got on) punt return, but I know it wasn’t much. It might’ve been negative yards on punt return as well. That’s pretty good. So we know we got to get the guard fixed on field-goal block, but I don’t think that’s fair to say that about special teams, because I think they had a very good game.”

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF AVERY WILLIAMSON IN THE LOCKER ROOM THIS SEASON: “Very important. I wish we had Avery for another year, because I think he’s always been just a terrific kid and goes about his business the right way. And I think more and more, he’s feeling comfortable and really stepping out more with the leadership role, which we really need, obviously. We’re searching for that guy to be able to really take command of the locker room, and I think he’s that guy that’s moving closer and closer to that, and I think it’s very important at this late stage of the season to hold it together and to keep everybody moving in the right direction.”

STOOPS’ RELATIONSHIP WITH AVERY WILLIAMSON: “Yeah. He was in here this past Sunday, sitting in here and watching film and hanging out a little bit. But I think you can just tell it’s very important to him. It’s gonna hurt. The more you invest, the more it hurts. So I think the more and more players that invest an awful lot into the preparation and into the game plan and into the game, it should hurt more.”

HAS KEVIN MITCHELL PLAYING HURT ALL SEASON EARNED HIM A LOT OF RESPECT? “He’s been — yes, he does get some respect. And I think the players appreciate that. Like I said at the press conference the other day, he had a really good game this past week, but one series, he just kind of had a very bad series. That may be a symptom right there where it’d be nice to have some more depth and be able to get him out of there a little bit and protect him a little bit.”

ON DARRIAN MILLER’S INJURY: “I’m not sure exactly when it happened. He came out right away, so if you watch the taep you can see when he came out. But he banged up his knee. There’s nothing — it’s not a ligament or anything like that. He’s bruised up and banged up, but he should be good to go.”

IS THERE ANYONE TO REPLACE WILLIAMSON: “No, he’s hard to replace. We’re meeting on that. We’re moving in that direction. We’ll get it figured out, but we do need some backers, and we’re working on it.”

IS PENETRATION FROM DEFENSIVE LINE WHAT YOU EXPECT? “Yeah. And I think just technique-wise, I really like the way they’ve been playing. And really, I think they’ve grown up more and more, especially the inside guys. And again, some of these guys, you wish you had them another year, but we don’t. But I think they’re really starting to play better as the year goes on.”

ON YOUNGER GUYS WHO HAVE GROWN MOST: “Well, the obvious ones would be Bud (Dupree) and Z (Zadarius Smith) and those guys. I think we knew they were good players on our team, and I think they’re playing better and better. They’re really doing a nice job. I think offensively you can look at a lot of those guys. The receivers, I think. Jojo’s starting to do the little things right. Badet is getting better. Timmons has had a good year, but he hasn’t always played well without the ball in his hands. I think he’s growing up and getting better. I think those are a few guys right there that stand out.”

D.J. ELIOT

ON THE INJURED GUYS: “We’re getting better. Guys get healthier every day, get treatment in the training room, and they’ll be back before you know it.”

ON NATE WILLIS’ INJURY, LIKELY TO MISS A SECOND STRAIGHT GAME: “We’ve always got the next-man-up mentality, so we just – whoever’s ready to go on  game day will play, and they’ll do the best they can.”

ON CB CODY QUINN LOOKING GOOD EARLY AGAINST VANDY: “I thought Cody played well pretty much the whole game. You know, there was – you know – the one toss play, he couldn’t have covered him any better. Matthews just made the play and he didn’t. He was right there, had his hand right there (straining noise) and the ball came in right there (straining), and he caught it. But it wasn’t anything that Cody did wrong. Just one play went that way. But I thought Cody played well the whole game and covered well.”

ON THAT OH-SO-CLOSE SOUND HE MADE, THAT FEELING OF ALMOST ENCAPSULATING THE SEASON: “Yeah, yeah, it’s been tough. It’s right there sometimes and just hasn’t gone our way it seems like. But it will. It will. We keep putting them in position, those kids keep fighting hard, we’ll start making our side of the plays.”

ON IMPRESSIONS OF SENIOR LB AVERY WILLIAMSON AFTER COACHING HIM FOR A SEASON: “Oh, he’s been fantastic. He’s just such a good person, not only a good player. He’s passionate about the game and he does things right off the field, and no matter what happens, he always leads, he always stays positive, doesn’t point fingers. He leads by example, comes to work every day and tries to win the next game.”

ON WHAT THEY DO AT THAT POSITION FOR NEXT YEAR: “Yeah, it’s tough, you know. When you lose a good senior, sometimes it’s hard to fill that spot. But somebody will step up. Somebody will not only be a good player for us in that role but will be a good leader somewhere on the defense. It’s always going to happen, and I know it will on this team, too.”

ON WHETHER WILLIAMSON HAS TAKEN 99 PERCENT OF THE GAME SNAPS AT MLB: “I’d say 99.9.”

ON WHETHER HE ONLY CAME OUT WHEN HE INJURED HIS WRIST: “No, he didn’t come out then. I think the only time he’s come out has been the games that we got up. That’s the only time he’s come out of the game.”

ON HOW YOU PREP THE NEXT GUY THEN: “Well, we practice every day (grinning). You know, we do practice every day. So we’re getting guys ready in that spot. But game rep-wise, there’s not anybody that has that many Mike reps. There’s guys that have plenty of reps at linebacker for us, but not that many that have many Mike reps in games.”

ON WHETHER THERE’S A GUY WITH GAME EXPERIENCE AT ANOTHER SPOT THAT COULD ASSUME THAT MLB ROLE: “You know, I’m not sure yet. We’re going to get through offseason and get through recruiting and get into spring ball and we’ll get things ironed out then.”

ON WHETHER ANY OTHER LINEBACKERS HAVE EARNED SOME PRAISE: “Uh, Khalid (Henderson) has gotten better. TraVaughn (Paschal) had a great game a couple games ago against Missouri and Josh Forrest had a good game, I think, this last week as well. But Avery is the best. Avery’s been the best backer since I’ve been here and he still is.”

ON THE ERIC DIXON TARGETING PENALTY: “Well, I think a coaching point that we tell our players is you gotta wrap up. You gotta wrap up. If you go in and you go to hit as a defensive player, if you’re wrapping up, then I think the targeting rule won’t be as commonly called.”

ON PLAN TO REPLACE SAFETY ERIC DIXON, WHO IS OUT FOR FIRST HALF AFTER TARGETING PENALTY: “We’ll just play somebody else, play somebody else, yep. And Glenn Faulkner’s done a good job, so he’ll get some playing time. We’ll be in good shape.”

WHAT MAKES AARON MURRAY SUCH A GOOD QUARTERBACK? “Smart. He just knows where to go with the ball at all times and is a great leader and on top of that, he’s got a very strong arm and a very accurate passer. I’d say the biggest thing about him is he’s just so intelligent with how to handle the game.”

IS HE THE MOST COMPLETE OF THE QUARTERBACKS YOUR DEFENSE HAS FACED THIS SEASON? “I’d say he’s one of them. He’s one of them. We have played some really good ones and things about him that are most impressive are he battles the whole game and he knows where to put the ball, but yet, can still run if he needs to. He’s very impressive.”

ON DONTE RUMPH’S PLAY AND HIS PLAY IN THE THREE TECHNIQUE? “He played excellent. He had 10 tackles. He was the point of contact a lot and he got off blocks, was an anchor point when we needed him to be an anchor point. He had his best game of the year and that’s very important in the run game to have a good three technique, somebody who can hold a point and get off blocks and make plays.”

CAN YOU SEE HIM AT THE NEXT LEVEL? “I think so. I think so. I think Donte could have a shot to do that. He’s got the size; he’s got the speed and he’s improved a lot this year.”

ON GEORGIA BEING MORE THAN ONE DIMENSIONAL WITH RB TODD GURLEY HEALTHY AGAIN: “It’s always hard to play a balanced offense, OK? It’s always hard to play a balanced offense and especially like you pointed out when both the quarterback and the tailback are very talented. That is always hard, so you’ve got to make sure that your defense is made where you’re making the right call at the right time, you know. If I want to stop the run, I’ve got to have a run called. If I want to stop the pass, I’ve got to have a pass called. That makes it very difficult.”

RED SHIRTS, MENTIONED RAMSEY MYERS ON SCOUT TEAM. WHAT IMPRESSES YOU ABOUT HIM AND HAVE THERE BEEN OTHER GUYS WHO HAVE IMPRESSED? “Ramsey’s done a great job for us on scout team. He’s gotten better every day and works hard and I think he has a bright future here. And we have another (good) group of players here, but I think Braylon Heard’s a good player. He’s done a good job for us over there as well and a handful of other guys.”

ON SCOUT TEAM DEFENSIVE PLAYERS, LIKE REGGIE MEANT. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT HIM SLIDING IN? “Definitely. Reggie’s got all the skills to be a good defensive lineman and he’s developed a lot this year. He’s put on a lot of weight since the off-season, so I’m excited about the future with him.”

ON DEFENSIVE GROWTH LAST TWO GAMES. WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAS IMPRESSED HIM: “Well, our guys play very hard and very aggressive and they play physical and first and second down every week we’re getting more efficient. We’re getting more efficient on first and second down and with that comes being able to stop the run on those downs. And then we’re getting in more third-down situations. Against Missouri, we were probably in more third-and-long situations than we’d been in quite a while. We weren’t as successful, but we hadn’t been in very many. So we go into this week and we get into the same situations and we’re more successful in third and long, so I think the biggest improvement for us has been our play on first and second down.”

COULD THAT HELP SLOW DOWN SOME OF THOSE FAST GEORGIA STARTS? “Yes. It does help.”

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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