Kentucky’s coordinators discuss future, Tennessee

NEAL BROWN, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
“Ya’ll still actually remember the game on Saturday. I usually get you on Wednesday and you’ve forgotten, (you’re) doing feature stories. Fire away.”

ON RAYMOND SANDERS: “Disappointed. Disappointed would be the best term to use. You just move forward. We’ve got some young guys. I’m excited about how Dyshawn (Mobley) performed the other night. I’d like to get Jojo (Kemp) healthy. He’s been a little bit slowed down by an ankle. Get him healthy. I’m excited about those two guys. Get Jon George an opportunity to play in his last home game here, too.”

STOOPS SAID HE EXPECTED PLAYERS TO PLAY WELL THIS WEEK. IS SOME OF THAT ABOUT YOUNG GUYS WANTING TO MAKE A GOOD LAST IMPRESSION FOR NEXT YEAR? “Well, I think if we’ve got the right guys then any time you have the adversity like we had the other night — obviously we coached poorly, played poorly and there was very little positive aspects coming out of that ball game — if we’ve got the right guys, which I know our young guys are, then I think they’ll rebound and play well. I think it is two different messages this week: No. 1, you’ve got a group of seniors that I think that while the results may not look like it, they’ve done a good job from a work ethic standpoint. We talked about this maybe after practice last week, guys like Kevin Mitchell, guys like Jordan Aumiller and Tyler Robinson, there are a couple other of those guys, who have done a good job of showing the young guys how to work and the mentality to have. So I think you approach it from one way, like, ‘Hey, this is their last game. This is their last chance to perform at this type of level at the University of Kentucky.’ And the other aspect of it for the young guys, is this is going to lead us into the off-season, so we can go into the offseason on a positive.”

DIFFICULT TO PREPARE THIS WEEK WITHOUT KNOWING WHITLOW’S STATUS? “Yeah, well, we’ll go back to how we did earlier in the year, really, Jalen will kind of be up in the air this week and Maxwell will get a majority of the reps, I think, earlier in the week and we’ll just kind of see how both of them progress as the week goes on. Unfortunately, we’ve been in this (position) before this year, so it won’t be that much of a difference for all the rest of the guys.”

ON STOOPS SAYING EMOTIONALLY, HE WISHES THEY COULD SEE REESE PHILLIPS IN REAL GAME ACTION: “I agree. I think we made the right decision. I think — and he probably said this, too, and I know he believes this because we’ve had a bunch of conversation — is that it was the right thing to do for him, for Reese, to leave his redshirt on, especially this late in the season, where we’re at with the win/loss record. Selfishly s a coaching staff, we’d like to see, I’d like to see what he’d do in a game, but we’re going to have to wait a little bit more time to see that. I concur with what he said.”

DO YOU JUST GO INTO THIS ONE SAYING, ‘COME HELL OR HIGH WATER (PHILLIPS) DOES NOT PLAY? “Well, you’re putting … ‘Hell or high water’s’ awful strong words. I don’t want to say never, but that’s not in our plans to play him, you know what I mean? But we’ve got two guys that are banged up, too. We’ll be creative.”

WHITLOW’S NECK SPASMS: IS THAT A NEW THING OR ONGOING ISSUE? “That’s the last couple weeks, something that happened at Vanderbilt.”

HOW CLOSE TO 100 PERCENT IS RYAN TIMMONS? “You know I think he’s getting closer, I think he’s a little tentative on it on Saturday. I knew he was tentative on it in the Vanderbilt game, which is why I didn’t play him much. I think it’s more mental case right now that it is physical, where his ankle is well. We would not put him out there unless his ankle was in a position where he could give us everything he’s got. So I think he’s got to overcome some of the mental shortcomings on that.”

HOW MUCH DOES HE NEED TO JUST GET STRONGER IN OFF-SEASON? “We haven’t talked about it a whole lot. He understands — he’s played, I guess this is going to be his, I think he’s played 11 games now — so he understands, he’s a smart kid. He understands where he is physically with the guys he’s playing against. The other thing, too, is he’s got to — during the off-season, I probably think he’ll show as much growth over the next nine months than anybody we have in our program just because he has so many things to learn from route running and how to play receiver, things to do away from the ball. But the strength part is going to be huge. You know, he hasn’t had it. He played all three sports until his senior year of high school. He had shoulder surgery, so he missed all summer, so he’s really never been in our weight room. So it’s going to be. And usually for those type of guys, when they get in the weight room for the first time, their bodies really change quickly.”

OTHER THAN HIS LONG TD RUN, WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF MOBLEY’S PLAY? “He did some positives. I think he had 10 for 96 and his touchdown went for 60, so we weren’t doing a whole lot of good things in the run game and I thought he did a good job with some leg drive and getting some runs after contact. So I thought he did a good job. He’s always, I’ve always thought he could do the things in the run game that he did, now I didn’t think he was going to bust open a short yardage run for 60. I was pleasantly surprised on that, but what Dyshawn’s got to get better at is the pass protection and some of those things when he’s not getting the ball.”

WITH INJURIES, SEASON AT A WASH, DOES THIS GIVE YOU A CHANCE TO TAKE OFF THE GLOVES AND THROW WHATEVER YOU HAVE AT TENNESSEE? “We’ve thrown about all we’ve got. You know, 11 games in. I don’t know. It’s a rivalry game. I don’t really look at it as being a wash. I really look at it as – here’s how I look at this: It’s an opportunity for us to go into the offseason with positivity. And I think we’ve shown some growth. The last two weeks have been a real struggle for us offensively. Some of that’s because we’ve been beat up, some people haven’t played. And some of that is just some of the things we were doing to move the ball early in the year, people are catching on. But I think it’s a – we’re playing Tennessee, who is in a lot of ways in a similar spot to what we are: new program, really good recruiting class coming in, season hasn’t gone as well as they would’ve liked it to go either. But it’s a rivalry game. I think our kids will be excited. That’s our job, to get them excited to play, so we’ll start with that today. There’s a lot to play for.”

ON WHETHER HE HAS AN OFFENSIVE MVP: “This year? Well, I think the two guys who’ve played at the highest level all year are Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle. Those are the two guys that have performed at the highest level. Really excited about Jordan Swindle. I know the right tackle position doesn’t get a whole lot of thoughts in the media, but he’s really played well. He even played well last week.”

ON WHETHER SOME GUYS SURPRISED HIM THIS YEAR: “Yeah, Jordan Swindle. He’s a true sophomore that played very, very little last year and really struggled, to be honest, early in the year. So his growth as the year’s gone on has been a surprise. He’s one. Jeff Badet, we didn’t get him the ball as much the other night, but he won a lot. I think Georgia’s cover guys are pretty good. And he won a lot against Vanderbilt; they’ve got one corner that he was going against a lot that’s been All-SEC. So Jeff Badet, Jordan Swindle, those two guys, those are the first guys that jump out to me.”

ON NEVER HAVING BEEN THROUGH SOMETHING LIKE THIS AS A COORDINATOR: “I hope not again either.”

ON WHETHER THIS HAS CHANGED HIS MIND ABOUT ANYTHING OR SOLIDIFIED HIS CORE BELIEFS: “I think that’s – I really haven’t reflected on it much. It’s probably a good question if we were sitting here next Monday. I really haven’t sat and reflected on that a lot. I know this: The plays in the system we have in place, when we get the right pieces, are going to be successful. I see them being successful in this league right now with teams like Ole Miss and A&M, Missouri. Got on the bus after the game and I see Oklahoma State running the exact same offense that we’re running, beating the No .4 team in the country soundly. So my beliefs, even though we’ve struggled – and I’m a realist; I understand we’ve struggled, we haven’t performed as well as we’d liked, as anybody in this room, or any of our fans or anybody in our locker room would like – but as far as what I believe in from an offensive standpoint, from a core belief, no, I haven’t wavered at all.”

ON WHETHER THE END OF THE SEASON WILL BE A RELIEF, JUST KNOWING THEN THEY CAN GET BACK TO WORK FIXING THINGS WITHOUT GAMES ON THE LINE: “Well, I don’t think it’s a sigh of relief by any means, because for our program to move forward, our young guys have to improve. And the only way, from a football aspect, fundamentally, is to actually get your hands on them and work with them. And in the offseason, we don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to do that. So it’s not a sigh of relief in that part.”

ON IT BEING HARDER TO FIX THINGS WITH THE SEASON IN MOTION, THOUGH: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s exactly right. You can’t – I have a very good grasp on what our problems are. I know what they are, I know where our weaknesses are. I know what  we’ve got to do to improve from a schematic standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, and you can’t do a whole lot of that during the season. That’s fair to say. So I’m excited about getting it fixed in the offseason, but I’m also a little bit down that this will be the last week that we can actually go through a week of practice with some of these young guys.”

ON HOW DIFFERENT WHAT HE’S RUNNING NOW – TO MAKE DO WITH WHAT HE HAS PERSONNEL-WISE – FROM WHAT HE’D LIKE TO RUN AND HAS OTHER PLACES: “Quite a bit. Yeah, quite a bit. The reality of it is my job is to put our guys in the best situation possible to win the game. And I thought really, minus two games, I think we’ve done that. We’ve put ourselves in the position to have an opportunity to compete. I don’t think we’ve won games on offense. I really don’t think – I’m a realist, I don’t think we’ve gone out and won games – but we’ve been able to hang around in games, with the exception of the Alabama and the Georgia games. We put our defense in some bad situations, and we did that in the Missouri game also, but I think we’ve been able to hang around.

“We’ve run the ball, at times, successfully. We’ve struggled to throw it all year. I don’t think that’s any grand secret. We’ve really struggled to throw it. We struggle to get open, we struggle to complete it, we struggle to protect it. Every aspect. But I think, like I said, we’ve given ourselves a chance. Moving forward, we’re going to keep evolving. But I think what we’ve done the last three years at (Texas) Tech, what we did at Troy, that style … will be successful, and we will get closer to that as some of our personnel changes.”

ON THE COMMONWEALTH STADIUM RENOVATOIN ANNOUNCEMENT: “It’s a great day. I think it’s a great day for the Commonwealth. It’s something that’s needed for sure. I’m glad that the legislature – and Mitch working behind the scenes and Dr. Capilouto – got it done. It think it’s going to provide another burst of energy in our program. It will be huge to have the unveiling today and then go win Saturday night will be huge going into what’s going to be a pivotal next two months in recruiting.”

D.J. ELIOT, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

DEFENSIVE TEAM’S MVP: “For the year? I think if I had one it would be between Bud (Dupree) or Avery (Williamson). Bud Dupree or Avery Williamson.

ON BLAKE MCCLAIN: Blake McClain, I thought he played very well for a newcomer. I think he probable was our best newcomer. He played very well.”

WHAT MAKES BUD DUPREE SPECIAL: Bud is not only athletic and has all the tools, but he’s very smart too. You tell him to do something and he does it. He can adjust on the run. He’s got football intelligence, and that’s probably what makes him special.”

WHAT MAKES AVERY WILLIAMSON SPECIAL: Avery is just a tremendous worker, studies the game, wants to always be one step ahead of his opponent. He’s putting in the extra time, he’s focused every practice, every meeting to be the best player he can be.”

HOW YOU BRING A TEAM BACK FROM A PERFORMANCE LIKE THAT: “Well it’s tough. You go through a bad loss, sometimes people may lose confidence or guys are really down, so you just got to be a coach, you know. You go through that when you’re a coach. You got to get them back up and you got to get them focused on the next opponent.”

ON THE PROBLEMS CAUSED BY HAVING SO MANY GUYS MISSING IN THE SECONDARY AND HAVING PEOPLE MOVE AROUND VS. GEORGIA: It just was a challenge. You’ve got guys in different spots, so sometimes you’re afraid to call something different because you’re not sure exactly how that player’s going to play or how he may react to a new call. It just makes it a tough challenge. I know offense has dealt with it this year. So, it’s just a harder challenge.”

ON DIFFICULTY OF GETTING THESE PLAYERS MOTIVATED FOR SATURDAY: I think that our guys got a chance to get a W, so you’ve only got one chance left. So, I think that they’re going to be fired up and ready to go.”

ON WHAT STANDS OUT ABOUT TENNESSEE’S OFFENSE: They’re offensive line is the best part of their unit. They block very well. Those guys are big and athletic and have had a lot of starts and a lot of games. They’re veteran players.”

DOES WILLIAMSON PLAY ABOVE HIS ATHLETICISM BECAUSE OF HIS WORK ETHIC? “I think he’s pretty athletic too. I wasn’t saying that he wasn’t athletic because those are his biggest qualities, but I do think it makes him the best player he can be. It does. He studies the game and he’s the best he can be mentally on Saturday as well as physically.”

ON KHALID HENDERSON’S DEVELOPMENT: Khalid’s done some good things. You know, mixed and matched with him and TraVaughn (Paschal) throughout the year. They each have their attributes that they bring to the team. Sometimes they’ve played really well, and sometimes they haven’t played as good. But he’s gotten better, and looking forward to working with him this offseason even after this game.”

WILL HE BE RELIEVED TO BE ABLE TO WORK WITH GUYS WITHOUT GAME PREP AFTER THIS WEEK? “Well you just have more time. You’ve got to get the critical corrections in each week because you’ve got to get what’s ready for that game, that week, whereas in the offseason you can start from scratch and really build the player.”

IS IT HARDER TO FIX PROBLEMS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEASON? “Yeah. Your time, your time is limited because you’ve only got so many days, so many practices before the next game.”

MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX IN THE OFFSEASON? “From a defensive standpoint? I think we just fundamentally have got to be sound in every aspect. We’ve got to understand the defense and how it works and make sure that each player knows exactly his job to every situation he may face. And to be sound fundamentally is going to get you there.”

IS THIS ANOTHER PATCHWORK EFFORT ON SATURDAY WITH GUYS OUT? We won’t be full speed, but it’s going to be the next guy up mentality and whoever is ready to go is going to play.”

HOW ZA’DARIUS SMITH HAS PLAYED AND WHAT HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE ON: Za’Darius has done some good things. He’s only been here one season as well and has played well at times and is very sound in the run game. He’s gotten better every week as well. I thought he had a good game on Saturday. He has only played football now for three years total in his entire career cause he played basketball in high school. So, his room for growth for a player that’s going to be a senior is much higher than most players that are going to be a senior.”

WHAT PLAYER OR PLAYERS HAVE BEEN A PLEASANT SURPRISE ON DEFENSE? Blake McClain did a good job for us as a true freshman. He’s a guy that we had to play at a lot of different positions and fill him in. He’s been corner, he’s been safety, he’s been a nickel. He’s done a good job for us at those spots.”

WHAT POSITION THEY WOULD MOST LIKE TO PLAY MCCLAIN AT: “I think that Blake has been very good for us this year at nickel. I think that nickel has been the best position for him this year.”

HOW WELL PLAYERS HAVE HANDLED DIFFERENT SCHEMES THROWN AT THEM? They’ve done a good job at times, and at times they haven’t, you know. We’ve tried to be as multiple as possible and we’ve tried to develop a bunch of different packages. You guys can probably see that by how often we rotate. We’ve got different packages that we try to get in the game to get our best players on the field for certain situations. At certain times in certain games, they’ve done a very good job, and at other times it hasn’t been as well. So I’d say it’s about 50-50.”

ARE THEY TRYING TO RECRUIT PLAYERS FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO PLAY IN ALL OF THOSE SITUATIONS INSTEAD OF PACKAGE ORIENTED WITH PERSONNEL GROUPINGS? “We may. We may. It usually depends on who we’re playing, what they’re doing and who I think the best players are for certain situations. It may be that way though. I know what you’re saying. We may have a guy that’s versatile enough that he can do both, he’s big enough to play the run, he’s fast enough to play the pass.”

FUTURE INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, REPLACING SENIORS: “To fill the senior spots that we’re losing? At the interior line? Well, I can’t talk about recruits but we’ve got some good guys committed there and we’ve got some guys on the team — I think Mike Douglas has done a good job as a defensive lineman for us on the inside. We’ve got some developmental guys that we redshirted this year. Melvin Lewis and Regie Meant, they’ve redshirted and they’ve done a good job for us in practice. So I think there’s a bright future there.”

HOW THEY REPLACE WILLIAMSON IN LEADERSHIP AND PLAY? Well, somebody’s got to fill it from a leadership standpoint, and that may not be a linebacker. You know, so one of these veteran players has got to step up and be a great leader for us to fill that leadership role. Then, from a linebacker role, we’ll just have to go through the offseason and see. We’ll have to find out who can fill that spot. And it may be more than one person.”

DOES HE FEEL LIKE HE LOST A POTENTIAL DEFENSIVE PLAYER WHEN DYSHAWN MOBLEY RAN SO WELL SATURDAY? “ (Laughs). I was excited to see that long run. It was a good job by Mobley. I was happy for him and the team.”

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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