“After watching the film of Vandy, I thought our team played as hard and as physical as we have all year. Defensively definitely our best outing since we’ve been here. I thought we really did some good things and played well. I thought we started good again. We didn’t always do that this year and thought we got off to a good start and got the guys into the game and played with a lot of energy, stayed positive, fought through the entire game, just didn’t make enough plays to win it. Very proud of the effort. Need to continue to improve on the execution and making plays and getting the ball in the end zone when we have our opportunities. Looking forward to this week’s game, another good challenge, playing a very good Georgia team on the road. It’ll be another great challenge for us, a team that’s led by a terrific quarterback, fantastic running back. They’re a big, physical, athletic team across the board. It’ll be a good challenge, and looking forward to getting out there and playing again. Getting back to work this week and seeing if we can improve.”
Q. You have sort of a laundry list of injuries. What’s the rundown of some of those guys?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we’re banged up. It looks like we should be better, I think, (Ryan) Timmons should be better, no setbacks. He only played four or five plays. Darrian (Miller) should be back this week. Nate Willis, I think, his knee, I don’t think he’ll be able to play. The rest of the guys I think we’re just banged up. We should be getting better.
Q. On linebacker TraVaughn Paschal:
COACH STOOPS: TraVaughn is doubtful. The rest of them we’ll have to see. But yeah, TraVaughn doesn’t look good.
Q. Was it an ankle or something for Darrian Miller?
COACH STOOPS: Just banged up with a knee.
Q. What about Kevin Mitchell?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he’s banged up, but he should be back, as well.
Q. How many injuries has he played with?
COACH STOOPS: He’s been beat up. It’s tough, as you all know, playing in this league. He’s fought through it. I thought Kevin did some really good things. There was one series maybe he was beat up on this past game where he didn’t play very good, but the rest of the time he really had a pretty strong game. That’s a case where, again, we need to continue to develop some guys and be able to get some rest here and there.
Q. Did you hear anything about the targeting penalties from Vanderbilt game?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, the way I understand the rule is there’s no debate on that. Once they eject him, he’s out. So once they go up to the booth during the game, if he makes that decision, then there’s no arguing it. I would like clarification, like always, as to why one is and why not the other, but that’s all. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t get anything.
Q. I know you’ve still got two games to go, but has anything happened up to this point to change your thinking about what you need recruiting-wise?
COACH STOOPS: Yes, there are things that we knew all along. The short answer is we need help in all areas. I think we’re going to continue to do that and recruit extremely hard. I feel very good about the way things are going in ’14 and off to a good start in ’15. Makes me very optimistic about the future. I think we’re recruiting some great leaders, some great young men that will help our program.
Q. Nothing has changed as far as what type of kid or maybe needing more linemen, more playmakers?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we definitely, as you know, we need some more playmakers. We’re having a hard time getting explosive plays. I think really if you look at the (Vanderbilt) game, I think we had seven or eight, and that’s pretty good. I think, again, Neal (Brown) is doing a great job with that. We know we need to improve offensively. Nobody is more frustrated than us. But he did create, I want to say, seven big plays, explosive plays. If we can get some more playmakers, that would help in that area. We need to continue to get bigger across the board, so we need some size, and really we need every ‑‑ defensively we need to continue to get ‑‑ you need to be good at all levels. We really need help up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. You need a lot of guys. We talked about that last week with the versatility of this league. You’ve got to be big and physical at times. You’ve got to be able to cover at times. You’ve got to be very multiple. Offensively, same thing, we need some O‑linemen, and I think we’re addressing some needs at some other positions at wide receiver and running back and things like that. I think tight end is another area where we need to get a little bit bigger.
Q. You guys have felt pretty good about keeping the 2014 class together. How is recruiting going for 2015?
COACH STOOPS: Very good. I feel very good about it, really. I think a lot of good things are happening that way. I feel good about the recruiting. I feel great about the leadership of the ’14 class. I feel like hopefully there’s some good news here in the next couple weeks that will give us some momentum for ’15 and beyond. I feel very good about that, and I think ‑‑ I think when I talk to the recruits and a lot of people that we’re recruiting, and just this last week again, we all get frustrated with wins and losses, and that’s the bottom line, but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort we gave. Every person in that locker room fought like heck to get a victory. Just got to make plays and get better and clean up some execution.
Q. How long does it take before you look at your roster and say, OK, we’ve recruited and I’ve got athletes at every position to turn this around?
COACH STOOPS: How long does that take? It takes time, because I think you see the guys that are here right now that are freshmen. We’ve got some very good freshmen that we’re doing the right thing by redshirting them, getting them bigger, stronger, letting them grow. I think if you look at a lot of teams in this league and even look at Vandy and see (Jordan) Matthews who’s a senior, you need to grow up and get better and put on some size and some weight and get used to playing. So I think you see our freshman class this year being very good. I think you know the ’14 class is going to be a very good class. It’s going to be a great class. And I anticipate those guys having a good impact on our program. Then you let them grow up a little bit and you let them get another year older and you bring in another good class on top of that, possibly a couple juco guys here and there, and you start putting together a very good team. It takes time. I’ve never said that ‑‑ since I’ve been here, I never ‑‑ you’re getting me here. I’ve never said I don’t like to do that. I want to win now. I want to win this week. I think we’re putting together a good football team. I love their attitude, and I love their work ethic. We need to be better, we need to be more disciplined. I’m not going to bend on those things. We’re going to get better. We’re going to get more disciplined. I like our locker room. We’re improving. We’re going to improve it next year, and we’re going to improve it the year after that. We’re building. We’re going to win, and I can’t tell you when, but I hope it’s this week.
Q. Some of the guys that have redshirted that you guys haven’t played this year, are there any guys that have really improved?
COACH STOOPS: I think the O‑linemen, Ramsey Meyers is a guy that’s a big, physical guy that’s a nasty guy that we need inside is a guy that jumps out at me right away. Regie Meant, again, a big guy, mean guy that I like on the D‑line. Those are ‑‑ I think all of our linemen that we’re redshirting are going to be good players.
Q. How tough is it to balance your recruiting that you can sell, ‘Hey, we need you out there because you can help and you can play right away,’ and also you want to redshirt guys for the future and get them developed and make sure they’re ready to play. How tough is it to balance it when you’re in a situation like this?
COACH STOOPS: It is a balancing act, but sometimes I think some players understand that they need to redshirt and they’re okay with that. Some players are good enough to come in and play. You and I both know to say that you’re going to fill a whole team and win a whole bunch of SEC games with a bunch of freshmen is hard to do, but I think you can definitely sprinkle in some to make a big difference. I think you’re already seeing that this year, the improvement, and now you put some more on top of that and let these guys grow up, and you have to find that balance.
Q. On facing less height at receiver against Georgia:
COACH STOOPS: Well, they are very big and very talented, but I think with Georgia they’re still very good and they’re getting healthier. They got (Chris) Conley back. He played a little bit last week off an injury. But I thought they’re still a very good group. But the size, you know, yeah, those are some big dudes.
Q. Do you think after Georgia had an emotional loss like that, does that play any effect in Saturday’s game?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know, I really don’t. You know, that was an extremely tough loss. Unbelievable to see the way they battled back and to take that lead and to have an opportunity to win. That’s what I was so impressed with. You know, kind of a fluke play to lose it, but to see them battle back, we had a chance to watch it on the way back. It was on the bus, we had satellite and were actually watching that game and just watching it live and then watching it on film. Unbelievable effort by that team, and you see the leadership with Murray and the talent around him to come back and take that lead and really ‑‑ I’m sure they’re sitting there kicking themselves, should have won.
Q. What has the experience been like this year as the struggles sort of mount here and to see what your former place of employment is doing? They may win a national championship.
COACH STOOPS: Well, the first part of that, I’m very proud of being a part, just a cog in the wheel down there to help them get to that point. I think it’s a lot of fun for them because I know so many of the coaches and the players and just very happy for them. I hope they continue to win. I’m sure they will. Very proud of being a part of that and helping them get to that point. I think hats off to them because I think they even took it to another level and are doing a great job. Very happy. And for me that’s no reflection of this. I couldn’t be ‑‑ I love what I’m doing. I love where I’m at. I tell our players that. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, and that’s the truth, because I think it’s a great challenge, and I’m very optimistic about the future. You guys have heard me, it’s like a broken record. It’s tough, and I get frustrated and Sundays are hard sometimes, but once you get up and get to work and get going, I love it, and I’m full of energy and ready to go. One doesn’t correlate with the other really.
Q. When the defense has been playing so well for you guys the last couple games and the offense is still sputtering, how do you keep the locker room, does it ever boil over where one feels like the other is ‑‑
COACH STOOPS: No, we’re a team, and I thought the offense played extremely hard. If they didn’t, I’d be very upset. I thought we played very hard. On either side of the ball, and in special teams, we’re not always the smartest and we don’t always execute everything perfectly, but I thought for a team effort, that was as good an effort and the attitude was right and the fight was right, and that’s something that I’m proud of and happy to see. I think you’re starting to see more accountability on this team as guys understand us and start understanding that whether it’s off the field or little things, it all matters, and I think we’re starting to get some leadership. We need more, more accountability with everything that we’re doing.
Q. You have a pretty large sample size. What is the most impressive part of this team would you say right now?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I just looked last week, and I thought, again, under some tough circumstances with the wins and losses not going the way we want it to be, I thought our preparation was right and I thought our attitude was right and I thought our fight was right. As a coach you always look to do things better. You always look to execute better. We could all call plays better sometimes, myself included, and decisions and all those things. You try to do the best you can. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to look at how we’re doing things and are we moving forward and are we getting better and is the attitude right, and again, I thought last week was as good as we’ve played all year with that mentality, a toughness and a desire and a hunger across the board to go out and win.
Q. On Landon Foster’s punting the past two weeks:
COACH STOOPS: We talked about last week; he just missed it. And this week it was one going in. So those are different, how they hit it end over end and all that and just missed it a little bit and cost us probably 15 yards or so, 20 yards. But he’s been solid. He responded. He came back with a terrific kick right after that, and I challenged him. That was the first time I had talked to him all year that way, and he came back and made a great kick, so I was proud of that.
Q. Does the film change the way you evaluate Jalen Whitlow’s performance at all?
COACH STOOPS: I think you’ve heard me talk about it, I make no excuses for him. We missed some throws we’ve got to make. We really did. We have to make those throws. You know, there’s a lot of things, there’s a lot of plays that we all can do better, but when we have opportunities, when we have shots and we have guys open, we have to hit some of them to win games. We’re not doing that. But I do think him getting more comfortable in the pocket, scrambling, scrambling buying time and throwing on a critical 3rd down, scrambling and converting a 3rd down with his legs, doing some things to help us move the chains is also important, and I think, again, he’s getting more and more comfortable with certain things and he’s doing a good job at certain things. In the execution of the pass game we need to improve, and that’s on everybody. There’s some balls out there that the wide receivers need to go and get, also.
Q. You haven’t lost many games in your career. You’ve got a lot of coaches on your staff that aren’t used to going through something like this. As a head coach do you have to coach them, as well, to make sure that they keep their heads up, they’re not getting too frustrated?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, definitely, you do.
Q. Is that difficult for you as a head coach?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it is, it is, and I think that’s fair to say. Sometimes as a position coach or a coordinator you’re so locked into your own thing that you have to look at the whole team. We’ve talked about that as a staff, and we’ve had a good meeting yesterday, and we have to keep on making everybody accountable. We’re all accountable, me included. We say that to the team all the time. We’re all in this together, we’re all accountable to each other, and the mistakes we’ve got to get corrected, but you also have to point out all the good things we’re doing and they’re doing, and again, I think it starts with an attitude. That’s always the first thing. To me that’s what’s most encouraging and we’ve got to keep on doing, that’s really maybe the first time I’ve seen that, a real tough mentality across the board, I mean, with everybody in the locker room. And that we need to have all the time. Again, they’ve heard me talk about this and you have, too; without that you have no chance of winning. With it you give yourself an opportunity.
Q. You mentioned that at times players have reverted back to old bad habits. Have you seen those habits broken?
COACH STOOPS: I see us better. I see us fighting to win through the entire game last week. We didn’t make a couple plays or we have an opportunity to win. That comes to execution. We’re not perfect. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better.
Q. This was the first time you hired a complete staff. Deep into the season are you happy with every guy that you hired?
COACH STOOPS: I am. Yes, I definitely am. I’m very confident in the group that we have.
Q. You said a couple weeks back if Dyshawn (Mobley) wasn’t going to get the ball he was going to be moving to defense. He didn’t get any action last week. Are you ready to pull the trigger?
COACH STOOPS: Well, not at this point. Dyshawn is going to get his opportunities here in the next couple weeks and we’ll see what he can do on offense. It was great to see him back on special teams making great plays again last week and really playing extremely hard. I appreciate that effort. Again, that’s something we’ll address in the off‑season and talk with him. I don’t like talking about that publicly. That’s a compliment to me when you’re just simply saying he’s a good football player, and we need to find a way to get him on the field.
Q. On that Auburn Hail Mary pass it looked like the Georgia defensive backs tipped it up, which is what happened on a play we all saw here one time. What do you teach on a play like that?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, that’s a great point. Being a DB coach my whole career, that’s always something you talk about, you know, even ‑‑ the big thing is awareness because that’s fourth down. If they knock it down, they get it way back, and maybe in that situation the game would have been over anyway. But you never know how much time is left, time‑outs, things like that, so field position is a big deal. Always you talk about knocking it down, and I know they do, too. I know their coaches do. You have to knock it down. Sometimes players’ instincts take over. They had two guys that are trying to make a play, with great effort, and it’s unfortunate for them. But I know they talk about it and we talk about you have to knock it down right there.
Q. Do you hate those plays?
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely. (Laughter.) You’ve heard me say it before, and maybe it was taken a little bit out of context. Those are things we always as coaches always have to get over, but it’s something you’ll never forget. We tell the players to get over it on the next play and on the next game, and we all do that, and you have to. You really have to program yourself to move on, but I promise you they’ll never forget that, and that’ll be with them, thinking about it for a long time. I’ve been there, just plays that ‑‑ you know, you play ‑‑ you just see them ‑‑ that’s what I saw, a Georgia team, just an unbelievable comeback, an unbelievable effort to come back and win that game, and just a freak, fluke thing.
Q. Coach Cal said last night we ran the same play seven times before the game. We get to the game, and did everything except what we practiced. When you talk about that situation, knocking it down, and you don’t forget it, is that why you stay on these kids and why the fans doesn’t understand why is he saying the same thing or doing that same thing?
COACH STOOPS: Exactly. It comes down to habit. You know, under extreme pressure your habits come straight to the surface, and a lot of coaches have said that, and it’s very true, and that’s why you constantly try to do things right over and over and over again. Then when it’s just a habit you automatically do the right thing. And that’s where ‑‑ I don’t need to speak for Coach Cal, but he’s playing with young guys, and I’m sure he’ll get it straight. But that’s why we do it over and over and over again. That comes to find balance all the time with what are we doing, how much are you doing on offense and defense and special teams and how much can you handle and how much can you execute for us, because there’s so much that goes into it that way. And I do feel like things are coming together. I really ‑‑ again, go back to defensively, I’m very happy with the way we’ve progressed through the year and being very multiple and doing different things, and some guys stepping up, and the attitude is playing better. Offensively the same way. Believe me, Neal and the offensive coaches and players are very frustrated, but they play extremely hard. There’s good plays set up. We’ve got to make plays. They’re there. If you look at the last game, just look at that. They made some plays and we didn’t. Give them credit. They did it, and we need to learn how to do that.
Q. You were talking about Jalen’s improvement. Could you explain a little bit more about his improvement or where he needs to improve on the pass option reads?
COACH STOOPS: Well, that gets back to kind of the question you were talking about earlier there with things that are built into our system from day one. We have a run, and if there’s pressure and you know it’s coming, the pressure is coming, and you’ve got to take it and throw the screen, you’ve got an opportunity for a big play. Now, he’s got to do that, and you know what I mean, however long that is. There’s a very short amount of time with a bunch of guys breathing down his neck. He’s just got to understand that’s what he’s got to do. He’s got to distribute the ball where it needs to go all the time. That’ll help our offense go. We did miss a couple of those, but we are getting better in that area. I think those are things that get frustrating, and those are things that he’s got to be able to execute under extreme pressure, whether you’re on the road in a hostile environment, with a bunch of big guys blitzing you. You have to be able to make that quick decision and execute it. It’s just like the interception. We got a little rushed and threw it a little high, and instead of making a catch, and if you look at that play, certainly if you watch it on film, we have a 10‑yard gain. Instead it’s an interception. But that’s a matter of, what, six inches? And those are things we need to execute. It’s there. If we throw that screen, again, we have numbers, it’s yards. Instead they get the ball going in.
Q. Along the lines of forming habits, Raymond Sanders said last week that he and some of the seniors recognize now that this was a teaching season I think he called it, to set a foundation of those habits, that this team sort of needed to be reprogrammed and taught how to do things the way you guys want it. Do guys recognize that on this team?
COACH STOOPS: I do. I do, and I think they understand that there’s so much more to do, and there’s so much more accountability that needs to happen in all aspects of our program. I’m part of that, and our coaches are, and so is our team.