Kentucky’s Stoops previews Tennessee game

“Going back and revisiting the Georgia game, again, that wasn’t a very good game for us. Not very pleased on any side of the ball, not good enough effort, not good enough preparation. It was the most disappointing because we had the least amount of competitive plays all year. We just on either side of the ball, if you just look at it in its entirety, we did not have a lot of good football plays in that game. And that’s the first time you can say that all year. Even in some other games, I know sometimes if you just look at the bottom line and the score, you know, there were a lot of positives in the games throughout this year and a lot of good, competitive plays that I felt like we were growing and getting better. This past game, I can’t really say that, and that’s what’s so disappointing about it. It’s very frustrating. It’s unacceptable. Nobody likes to be around that; the coaches, the players. And so we have got to get that addressed, get it fixed and move on to our next opponent. We have a big game coming up with Tennessee. It will be our last game at home for these seniors, and we need to see where we’re at and how much progress we’ve made throughout this year. I think we’ve been up and we’ve been down, and it will be very important for us to come out and have a good week of preparation and play a great game versus Tennessee.”

Q. Why was game so non-competitive?

COACH STOOPS: You can probably sense some of it coming. It felt like as the week went on and as we had some suspensions, it just felt like, you know, it wasn’t our best week last week. But you never truly know. You feel like the guys traveled well. You feel like you locked in and prepared in our meetings on the road and all that. Just go out there and get off to a bad start against a very good team; a team that offensively, give them credit, they are an extremely good offensive football team. You know, I think if you just look at them, when they are healthy and the way they played, not a lot of teams have a lot of success against them defensively. They will move the ball on everybody when they are healthy and they are good; you need to score some points and keep up with them and keep it a competitive game. You know, that’s tough for us now.

Q. On when suspensions occurred:

COACH STOOPS: I’m trying to think ‑‑ I can’t recall last week. Sometime in the middle of the week. Sometime in the middle of the week.

Q. Will Demarco Robinson play this season?

COACH STOOPS: No.

Q. Will he play next season?

COACH STOOPS: Yes. Provided he meets some requirements that we’ll put on him.

Q. Are the suspensions connected to one another, or were they separate incidents?

COACH STOOPS: Separate.

Q. On the team’s season as a whole heading into last game of the year:

COACH STOOPS: I think right now, it’s hard to look back right now. We are still in the middle of ‑‑ you know, we’ve got one game left and it’s a very important game. But obviously after any loss, you sit there on Sunday and you grind through everything you’re doing, what you need to look at, all the good things and all the bad things, and where we want to go as a program. I felt like and I’ve told you that all along, certain games, I feel like we’re making progress. And I told you when I felt like we were making progress and I told you when I felt like we were slipping back. This past Saturday, there’s no denying it, that was a blow to our progress and that’s disappointing. Because it’s a mentality to me more than anything.  So we need to get over it and bounce back and move forward, but throughout the year, I did think we were improving. I think we are getting better as a program, as an organization; I know we are. I think we’re getting, you know ‑‑ doing a good job recruiting. There’s a lot of positive things. I just think that the competitive nature of which we played this past Saturday was not good enough and that’s tough for me to swallow.

Q. How important is it to bounce back?

COACH STOOPS: I think it’s very important this Saturday. It will show me a lot about the character of our team.

Q. Did team quit on Saturday vs. Georgia?

COACH STOOPS: That’s a strong word, but it was not acceptable play. I know if I had to be around that for a whole year, that would be very difficult for me to be around.

Q. What’s the key to bringing the team back?

COACH STOOPS: Well, I think, you know, we all have to look at ourselves. It starts with me. I said that after the game; it starts with myself and what I’m doing to prepare the team and to prepare the coaches. It goes on with the assistant coaches and it goes on with the players. I think a big part of it is your attitude. We talk about that all the time. You talk in that building and you go to work, you’ve got to have an attitude about you and you’ve got to have a toughness about you. We wouldn’t play with it; so we are going to challenge them to have that attitude today.

Q. Was Saturday’s performance a hiccup to his process for growth in the program?

COACH STOOPS: I don’t anticipate that being any part of our program with any kind of consistency. So we know you’re not going to play your best football all the time. Very few teams do. But you have to prepare with a tough mentality like I just said, and you’ve got to go about your business the right way. We will make sure that that happens this week.

Q. On QB situation and his thought process once Jalen Whitlow was injured:

COACH STOOPS: I talked about it on the sideline. I asked Jim (Madaleno) after Jalen was hurt, if Max (Smith) went down, if we can go back to Jalen and just have him hand it off and try to get out of that game and revaluate it. I did consider putting Reese (Phillips) in the game when Jalen got hurt. But that wouldn’t have been a wise decision. But emotionally, I was a little bit frustrated and thinking about it. And part of me, you know, as I said earlier in other press conferences, that I would have liked to have seen Reese just to see where we’re going and what he had in the game. You see it in practice and all those things, but again, that wouldn’t have been a wise decision. So we were going with Max and I wanted to go back to Jalen and hand the ball off to get out of that game. But if the doctors told me he could not throw, then I would have had to play Reese.

Q. Whitlow’s status for Tennessee:

COACH STOOPS: We are working through that right now. Everything has checked out okay to this point. We’ve given him some very thorough exams. He’s gotten an MRI. We sent it to a specialist and we are checking and everything seems fine at this point. So, we’ll see how it progresses through the week. There’s nothing major wrong with him, you know, so hopefully he’ll be able to play. If not, we’ll prepare to play with Max.

Q. AC joint in his left, non‑throwing shoulder; is that right?

COACH STOOPS: That’s part of it. He has an AC joint. But that’s not the main joint. He has got some spasms going on in his neck.

Q. On UK playing a wide receiver at QB two years ago in a victory over Tennessee. Is that on the table this week?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, well, all options (Laughter). All options are open to get a victory, believe me. Can you play at all? (Laughter).

Q. Was there anybody ‑‑ I know in a situation like that when people are not playing their best, you have some guys who ‑‑ don’t let it rub off on them; is there anybody that kept on playing for you?

COACH STOOPS: Dyshawn (Mobley) is about the only guy I could really say that I thought played extremely hard for every play that he was in there. No, there wasn’t too many guys that played up to an acceptable level.

Q. You’ve been pretty good this year at getting to the quarterback but you weren’t able to do it obviously as much against Georgia. Was it their offensive line or you guys?

COACH STOOPS: I think it’s a variety of reasons. They did a nice job of blocking us. They were one step ahead of us with the plan; when we were bringing pressure, they tell some screens and got rid of it quick. They got us off‑balance and that’s a big part of it.

Q. Are there players that you go to this week to re‑rally, to get everybody back in line?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, there is. Yeah, there’s some guys that I will individually talk to about getting them rallying. I expect that we will play well, I really do.

Q. On Avery Williamson’s impact as a leader to get the team in good spirits:

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he definitely is a guy that jumps out at you right away, to be a senior ‑‑ about Avery, to get a victory here. But Avery is definitely a guy that you think about when you think about this group that has done an awful lot for this program. Since I’ve been here, he’s been a great leader and a great person to coach. I’m going to miss him. It will be very important for us to help him get a victory in this last game, along with all the seniors.

Q. On UK’s defense versus the screen pass this season:

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, the big thing with screens is this with your D‑Linemen. When we’re playing straight, they can read it a lot better; which means when we are not moving and gaining and stunting and blitzing and all those things, they can feel it and read it very well at times. We were off‑balance last week. They caught us in two of them where we were moving; so they didn’t have a good chance to feel it and get out. Yes, it’s something we need to work on, even with pressures and different things, just recognizing that. And that’s a defensive play. Everybody on their defense has to feel that and rally to the ball. We didn’t do a very good job of that. You know, that’s instinct and feel and awareness, and we were way off on a few of them.

Q. What would it mean for your off‑season momentum to bounce back this week and maybe even win?

COACH STOOPS: I think it’s very important, I do. It’s important.

With that being said, I don’t think that there’s ‑‑ we are not going to let anything effect our progress in where we are going in this off‑season.

Q. On possible early signees:

COACH STOOPS: Not at this time. Maybe at 3:00. (Laughter). Go to press ‑‑ let the cat out of the bag, it was a surprise.

Q. Nate Willis has dropped off the depth chart?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he got cleared to play last week late in the week. He was very ‑‑ he was just okay. You know, it’s a knee injury. It’s nothing major but it’s something that’s aggravating him. We’ve decided to go ahead and get that trimmed up this week. So he’s going to get operated and get a few things cleaned up out of his knee, nothing major. He’ll be back in a few weeks.

Q. On UK’s senior class:

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think we do have a good group of seniors and defensively, there’s some more vocal senior leaders and that’s good to see. I think we’ve talked about it with Donte (Rumph) and Mister (Cobble) and Avery (Williamson) and those guys really trying to lead our defense and play well throughout the year, so I think a lot of our guys have respect for all of our seniors. With that being said, I’ll let y’all know right now, because it will be news throughout the week, but there will be one senior that will not play this week and that will be Raymond (Sanders), and he will not be permitted to play this week.

Q. Any reason for that?

COACH STOOPS: Violation of team rules. We were working through a couple things last week, and you may or may not have heard this. You all know I got some questions on him. We got some more information back today and firmed up our decision with what I’m going to do with him on this Saturday.

Q. Will he still go through Senior Day festivities?

COACH STOOPS: To be honest with you, I got this information about an hour ago. So let me think through that a little bit. But I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Q. How disappointing is that?

COACH STOOPS: Very disappointing. I’ve sat in here and bragged on him throughout the year. That doesn’t change my opinion of Raymond. I think he’s a good person. I am disappointed in a few decisions that he made, but he’s a good person. He was a good person for this program. You know, let’s not let this define him. I am disappointed; it’s not acceptable and he will not play. That’s really all I wanted to say. I don’t want to get too much into detail about that. But Raymond’s just suspended for this game. He’s not kicked off the team or anything like that. He just can’t play in this game.

Q. Do you question whether or not preparation and whether or not they are doing things the right way, is that something you try to fix before the last game of the season?

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we will always, always preach that and talk about that. It’s a big part of it. How you go about your business every day is ‑‑ you know, that’s the No. 1 thing: You walk in that building, how focused you are; how you go about your workouts and how much you concentrate in meetings; how important it is to you; how you travel; the approach you take when you’re getting on the bus to travel and getting on the plane, and all those things. We need to look at everything we’re doing and guys need to be locked in with what we are doing and have a tough mentality.

Q. What is Tennessee looking like to you?

COACH STOOPS: They are a team I think a lot like us in that they play some games extremely hard trying to do anything they can to get a win. They are a team that’s getting better and their program is moving forward as we all know. I think similar to us in a lot of ways, and I think I respect the way they coach them and the way they play them. Probably a lot like us, you see signs all over the place of a team that’s very close. They have had some good wins and they have had some tough losses.

Q. Throughout the year the offense has struggled ‑‑ talk about the trials and tribulations ‑‑

COACH STOOPS: Just this last week, and you know me, I haven’t all year and I’m not about to start now making any kind of excuses. But you just look at some of the young guys that we started playing with this past week with some corners going down, we tried to move guys around. (Eric) Dixon was out the first half. We tried moving in Ashely (Lowery) to free safety and you know what, one problem creates another, and it’s very difficult. I get as aggravated with anybody ‑‑ Coach (Neal) Brown will be here to talk about the offense, but you know what, it gives me a little sense of what they have been through, too, when you’re trying to play with some freshmen to make your plays, it’s tough. And we are trying our best on all sides of the ball to piece together the best team we can to help us win a game. Sometimes we look good and we look like we’re moving forward. Sometimes it doesn’t look so good as you all know. That’s tough and it’s frustrating and it’s where we’re at. We know what we’re in for and we know where we’re going and what we want to be. It’s just part of the program we are at the this stage.

Q. Do you feel like sometimes the whole season has been about trying to cover holes but for whatever reason, you couldn’t cover them all?

COACH STOOPS: It is, it’s part of it. You’re patching holes and you’re trying to put the best guys out there, and then you’re trying to do a lot of things to create plays. You know, defensively, different packages, all the things we did; sometimes it’s worked well, and I think we’ve grown. As a coach, you’re always trying to do that. I’ve told you all those things all the time that we are getting better. But I think it was a case this past week where it didn’t, and it hurts ‑‑ again, no excuse, but you’ve got guys in different spots and you’re trying to do things and we’re all messed up. That’s not good. So the floodgates did open at times with us trying to press and do too much and mental errors and guys in different positions, and that’s not a good thing. And I think, you know, that’s part of the very frustrating thing for us offensively really all year. It’s tough to move the ball against people in this league when you’re patch working things.

Q. On his brother Bob reaching a coaching milestone at Oklahoma:

COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I have talked to him and congratulated him. I told him that he has 158 and I can’t get three (Laughter). I don’t care what anybody says, it’s a great accomplishment. I’m very proud of him. He doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t really talk about it too much or anything like that. But we’re very proud of him.

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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