Q&A: Stoops previews Vanderbilt

MARK STOOPS
“OK, like I said in postgame, not much has changed on my thoughts after the Georgia game. Clearly not happy with the way we played. We need to do a lot better job. That was the case. I felt like that throughout this year and the times you guys hear me talk about opponents and what we’re going up against and what we’re going to do, one thing I always applaud and talk about with other teams when I see it, and with our own team, is playing with that great passion, energy, desire and fundamentally trying to get better with everything that we do. That was not the case this past week. That is the frustrating part of it for myself and I’m sure for the fanbase. I felt like we did at times, certainly defensively. Our cover units are trying like heck. Special teams we’re having our issues, but the cover units are busting their tails. We have to kick better. We have to make better decisions on catching the ball and getting out of the end zone and a lot of things we need to clean up. But the effort was there, but not across the board. That’s what is frustrating. We’ll get that fixed and we’ll move on.

“There’s a lot of things to address. I anticipate that we’ll have a good meeting today and we’ll have good practices and we’ll move forward. With that being said, we’re very excited about the challenge of going into Vanderbilt and getting a victory. As I said a week ago, the only time you can move on as a program and make the bad feeling of losses go away is by going and getting a victory. I anticipate a great week of preparation this week and all hands on deck to go play a great game at Vanderbilt and try to get our fifth victory of the year.”

On if they’ll handle quarterback reps any differently: “Slightly different. Think we’ll handle it slightly different with the quarterback reps. Drew (Barker) gets quite a few snaps throughout practices anyway. In the way we rotate guys, he’s in there quite a bit with the ones anyway because with the receivers, a lot of times we just sub them in and continuously rotate them. It’ll be slightly different, yeah.”

On if Boom Williams will be able to play against Vanderbilt: “He should be good to go. We’ll see how the week goes. He’s cleared to practice today.”

On how he’ll address the quarterbacks going into this week: “Yeah, we’ve addressed it with Patrick and he understands that. He accepts that. He’s got to go out and perform and produce just like everybody else on our team.”

On where he feels Patrick is mentally going into the Vanderbilt game: “I think Patrick will be fine. I think one thing about him is he’s been resilient and he’s had some good games and some bad games. Again, it’s not all on him. We need to play better around him. Certainly offensively when you put on that film and look at the play of the other 10 guys, it was not up to par as well.”

On what he does about the drops at this point: “Yeah, it does come back in critical moments. We’ve gotta have guys step up and make plays. We’ve gotta look at other guys and look at the rotation. Mentally our players need to step up and accept the challenge as well. They’re plenty capable of doing it. That’s what you hear me talk about quite a bit throughout the seasons, about being mentally tough and being strong enough. That’s where you need to grow as a program. You don’t go down to Georgia and not play your very best and have a strong mindset. I’m not sure that was our best effort in that area.”

On how frustrating drops are for a player like Dorian Baker: “I think it is focus. I think it’s a focus about him and attention to detail. That’s an area where he needs to grow. It’s not acceptable. He needs to get better. He’s 10 games into his sophomore season and he needs to play better than that.”

On where Boom’s head is right now: “Boom’s fine, he was injured. He should be fine. I haven’t seen him today. We’ll see, but he was injured last week but in good spirits and just needs—he’s going to have to play with some form of brace on his elbow. Hopefully he’ll be able to handle that and protect the football and play like we need him to.”

On if Ryan Timmons will continue to handle punt returns this week:We’re looking at some other options there. We’ll look at Charles Walker and possibly Garrett Johnson.”

On what his message to the fanbase is to keep them from jumping ship:I can’t control whether they jump ship or not. That’s up to them. Everybody has a choice and I certainly understand that. I think frustration is a word you’ve heard me use a little bit. Of course, I’d be lying if we didn’t say there was some frustration. You’re always looking at ways to get better and eliminate mistakes and get your players to play at the highest level they possibly can. That’s what I’m gonna do and that’s what we’re gonna do as an organization. Like I said last week, like I’ve said many times, I very clearly understand what we need to do. And there’s no panic button. Not happy. Not happy with some things and some of the results, but absolutely not panicked one second.”

On if he still thinks his team believes it can win:I think that’s a fair question and I don’t think that was the case last Saturday, that we did go into that game believing we could win. No. I don’t think we did. And I don’t lie to you and I ain’t gonna lie to the players. I didn’t see that belief.”

On if he thinks they believe they can win this Saturday:They better. I haven’t seen that all year. He asked me a question, I answered it. Do I believe that we’ll – I have no reason to believe that they would have no doubt that every time we take the field we have an opportunity to win. He asked me if I saw that last week and I didn’t.”

On the last time he saw his team not believe it could win a game:In the past. Prior to this year.”

On what Vanderbilt does on defense to be so effective:I think the first thing you look at, again, to compliment them and Coach (Derek) Mason, is you see a bunch of guys that are playing hard, that are flying around and playing energized. Again, you have seen us do that in spurts. You need to do that consistently, and I think they’re doing a very, very good job of that. They shorten the games. They’re running the ball, using clock, playing good defense, trying to play field position, creating turnovers, and it’s a good recipe for them. They obviously had a great chance to win this past Saturday doing that.”

On if it would be hard to change quarterbacks against such a good defense:It’s crossed our mind. It’s difficult. We’ll see how the week goes. Whoever gives us the best chance to go into Vandy and win will take the first snaps. And if both guys are – if we feel confident in both guys, or if one’s struggling, we’ll go to the other.”

On Vanderbilt’s defense:
 ”They’re multiple in what they do. As far as fronts and alignments and things like that, there’s a lot of carryover in what we do. There’s 3-down, there’s 4-down. They mix it up quite a bit in different packages with droppers and different things. But there’s a variety of things that they do.”

On how Vanderbilt’s defense is athletically: “They’re athletic. I’m impressed with some of their outside backers in particular. Very good looking guys. Long and athletic and play extremely hard. They’re good. They’re good and they’re back to where they were a couple years ago when you saw a Vandy team that was capable of winning a whole heck of a lot of games. I think Coach Mason’s done a great job. You can see the passion and the energy in their team, and on their defense in particular. No matter what their record is, they’re out there playing extremely hard.”

On if mental fatigue plays into a lack of mental toughness:Sure it does. Yes. It does, but there’s no excuse for it because everybody goes through it. You’ve heard me say it, and I don’t want to get too much like a cliche or whatever, but you have to be a man. You have to be grown to endure the schedule, the practice, the monotony of it, the physical nature of this game and the mental stress that it puts on you. You have to be able to handle it. When we handle those situations, we’ll win at a higher level.”

On if they have changed anything schematically with Melvin Lewis out: “We have a variety of packages that we use, and when we’re in what we call our big package our big man is in there. Big Matt is in there in our big package. Then we have a couple of other packages where we could put a couple other defensive linemen in there.”

On how much the offensive problems can be attributed to the offensive line: “That was our worst game, this past week, offensive line wise. I thought we got handled up front. I said it in postgame, I second-guessed myself in going for it on fourth-and-two, and after watching the film it’s frustrating because – I get tired of hearing, ‘You had it, you could have done this, you could have done that,’ but we flat got whooped on one block or its creased. And that…pisses you off.”

On how they get better on the offensive line this deep in the season when personnel won’t change: “There’s no quick recipe, there’s no quick fix. You get back, you work, you fundamentally get better. I have not cut really practice at all. We’ve done the things necessary. We’ve still gone good against good to fundamentally get better. That’s something that a year ago I didn’t do, and it obviously didn’t work. We didn’t play very good down the stretch, and you’re not developing your players when you’re cutting back and you’re not going as much good against good. So, we’ve continued to do that. We’ve got to continue to do that. We have to put our best players in a position in practice against each other to fundamentally grow and get better. Now, that’s the balance of physically how much can they handle?”

On if he agrees with Butch Jones’ comments that it takes five to seven years to rebuild an SEC program: “Well, I know this. I don’t want to divulge all the things that myself and other head coaches talk about all the time or whatever, but let me tell you, there’s some growing pains when you’re trying to rebuild a program in this league in particular. So, those are some big, physical dudes.”

On if he changes anything in practice this week: “Slightly. Not much, as I just talked about with the practice schedule. We fundamentally need to continue to get our best players on offense and defense to go against each other. In certain phases of the practice we obviously need a lot of scout work. We’re not going to quit doing what we’re doing. I did grab about five practice schedules from the week from different coaches and people I know. I’ve looked at two or three practice schedules from people in our conference and two or three out of conference to see exactly what they’re doing, how many reps they’re doing, how much good on good they’re doing, just to make sure, just to look at all options to make sure we’re putting our players in the best position to play.”

On if he’s addressed players about still having a chance to go to a bowl: “Well, of course. You know I’ve never said those words out of my mouth, but I know I’ve read some quotes and had some things told to me that it was bowl game or bust or whatever they were saying. Well, I’m going to ask them about that today. I’m going to ask them to get up and say what they believe, and if that’s important to them then they better start with a one-week season this week.”

On if the difficulty of building a program in this league factors into his comments about the defense no being built to succeed in as much time on the field as at Georgia and if he anticipates eventually getting to that point: “Well, of course you try to be, but I think if you look at the elite teams in our league they’re good on all sides. They’re not just elite teams in our league, right? They’re elite teams nationally. So, I think as you’re growing you try to play the very best you can in all sides, and if you do that and play with a great passion, energy and discipline that we want to have then you have a chance to win. If you don’t, then you’ve got no chance.”

On defensive substitutions looking smoother with D.J. Eliot in the booth Saturday, and if he was pleased with how that move has worked: “We’re trying to put our players in the best position possible. When teams are running tempo and they’re changing personnel and we’re changing in I know sometimes that looks a little bit like a Chinese fire drill, but we do the best we can to matchup the best we can. There’s game that are being played. There’s some deception in that that’s totally legal, but I’m saying when they’re subbing a bunch of guys you’re trying to get your matchups in there. So, again, we need to be big when they’re in big people. We need to have skill and DBs on the field when they’re spread out.

“So certain teams create more problems. Other teams just want to line up and play and fundamentally do what they do. But yeah, I think it did; I thought it went fine.”

On if he and Shannon Dawson have been on the same page this season and if they are now: “Yeah, I definitely feel like we’re on the same page. I mean, there’s difficulties in every situation, as you know, and it’s tough at times to do the very best you can to put your players in a position to win. And I think that gets difficult. I think it gets difficult as an offensive play caller and understanding when to be aggressive and when to back off and all those things. When things aren’t going well, it’s tough, on all sides. I’ve been there as a defensive coordinator calling plays when things weren’t going well— and other times when you could call just about anything and things go well. It’s very difficult on offense as well when nothing’s working. You may get good, positive yards on first down – you get a 5-yard run on first down against some of these teams, that’s a darn good play – but when you can’t finish it off with second or third down, you’re back to square one. It’s frustrating.”

On if there’s a divide in the locker room: “They asked me about that (on the radio) and I said, ‘No.’ No, I absolutely don’t think there’s one bit of a divide. I think I just – if somebody asked me, if you asked every (one of the) 110 people in our locker room if everybody was on the exact same page, I wouldn’t’ expect them to be. There’s 110 guys in there. They have different opinions. There’s no problem whatsoever. Zero. Are there frustrations? I would hope so. I hope some guys are frustrated. That doesn’t mean you’re starting to point fingers.”

On if UK has an offensive identity: “I understand that (question). I think it’s a fair question. You could say the same thing about the defense, too. And I work directly with the defense every day. We’re trying to find a clear identity. I think we know what we want to be and who we want to be, and then sometimes you try to do things to put yourself in a position to be successful and it doesn’t work. You might, just talking defensively now, try to protect a guy and not just leave him on an island all day, roll one way, and they run it out the other side. There are stresses that go hand in hand. As you build and as you get better and better, you can do a lot of things easier. But I think offensively, we want to have some balance. Coach Dawson has always believed in that since the moment he got here. It gets difficult to run against some of these teams. And then we would like to throw the ball on play-action off of that, which we’ve had some success and done that. When you keep people off balance, it’s a nice, clear identity. When you’re not doing anything very good, there’s frustrations in your identity. I think he would be the first to admit that. I would, too, and so would our players. But as better and as you’re moving the ball, things get fun – and for your players as well. When you’re not getting as many snaps because you’re not getting a bunch of first downs, that makes it very difficult to do anything. We’re not getting to some of the plays because we just didn’t move the ball well enough to get to those plays.”

On mental fatigue or mental toughness issues on second and third downs: “I don’t know about that. I think that comes down to fundamentally being able to do things and blocking and running. I think it’s execution, making sure we’re putting our guys in a position for successful plays. We’re all accountable to doing the very best we can, whether it’s play calling, blocking, running and catching. All those things. There’s a lot of things we can do better and we understand.”

On if kicking struggles change how he manages roster and if they bring in more competition in future: “Yes. Yes. Yeah. We have to. Yes, we have to have some options.”

On if he’s pondered open tryouts to bring in walk-on kicker, maybe a soccer player, who can kick it out of end zone on kickoffs: “Well, if there’s anyone out there — y’all can publicize this — that can do it. If there’s somebody that can kick the ball out of the back of the end zone, I would certainly take him on this team. That’s for sure. But Miles (Butler) does a nice job. He does as good as he can. I think he’s getting more and more confidence with extra points and field goals and he’s trying the best he can on kickoffs. Austin was close last week. He wasn’t 100 percent on the kickoffs. Shorter field goals and all that, I think he was good. He says he’ll be ready this week, so let’s hope he can.”

On if it’s still his groin issues from before: “It’s his groin. It’s just aggravated and as you’ve got to kick and prepare throughout the week, sometimes he just has little setbacks here and there.”

On the accidental pooch kick: “What do you mean? That was a great call. If it was a great call, we would’ve had our guys onsides. I’ve learned that lesson year one. With onside kicks you have to be be completely behind. On kickoffs they give you a little latitude here and there. But on anything that’s a surprise onside, you’ve got to clearly be behind. And so we were ahead there and because the guys didn’t know and the way we were kicking it, the set up for the kicker was different. We tried to keep on teaching them because we were trying to sky it. That slows the kicker down, so we were a touch offsides there.”

On any guys sticking out playing well even when the struggles have been difficult: “Yeah. There are a number of guys who — a guy you have to give some credit to is a guy like Khalid Henderson, who he and Ryan have had a great battle for two years. They both have done some very good things at times and some things not so well. Both of them have kept a good attitude and worked extremely hard and gone out and played hard. Josh Forrest is playing extremely hard. Farrington (Huguenin). I thought Garrett Johnson is giving us everything. He didn’t have his best game last week, but he’s been banged up. He hasn’t been able to practice but he’s gone out and played injured, given us everything he’s had. He’s made some extremely difficult catches. So there’s a number of guys, a bunch of our guys are battling and I said that before. I’ve said it in the opening statement: We need to get back to playing with that great passion and energy that we all want and that we all will be proud of that when our team plays that way. We just haven’t been consistent enough in that area and we haven’t been consistent in a lot of areas.”

On developing offensive line: “You need to continue to have those big bodies. A guy like George (Asafo-Adjei) helps, but George has been out for a couple weeks as well. But the more big bodies you have, the more physical you can be day to day in practice on both sides of the ball. When you have — when you’re two deep across the board on the d-line and the o-line, you can bang heads every day and then you fundamentally get better. And I think that’s where we have stayed the course on practices and all that. But that’s where as you get deeper and more physical, physically mature and things like that, you can endure them.”

On if George Asafo-Adjei will be back and Darius West: “Darius, I’m not sure about. George will be back. George has been cleared to go out there today. We’ll see how he looks and how he feels.”

On if he feels good about how Drew Barker’s preparation: “I do and I feel more and more comfortable with him, I really do. I think he’s handled it very well and it was good for him to finally get some snaps at Mississippi State, then he got the shoulder and was out for a week. Last week he came back. He wasn’t at full strength with the zip on the football last week, but he was ready to play. This week, I expect him to be further along physically and ready to go. I think he’s handled it very well. He’s worked hard. He looks comfortable at practice. He’s still learning and growing just like the whole team.”

On what Barker can add to offense if he plays: “Quick decisions. We all know that’s important and I think one thing you see from him at times you really like is he’s decisive in what he’s doing.”

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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.