Mark Stoops press conference Q&A: Nov. 12


Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops watches as his players warm up prior to the game against Murray State on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated Murray 48-10. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Opening statement: “As I mentioned Saturday night after the game, feel the same way today, that again, we didn’t obviously play good enough, I didn’t have them prepared well enough and we need to do a better job. It’s a very important game that we did not put forth our best effort and that can’t happen. It’s inexcusable and we need to do a better job. With that being said, it’s one game. We have to move on and get ready and prepare for a victory here this week and get back to whatever we got to do to get ready to play this game against Middle (Tennessee State). To get our eighth victory, again, it’s very important. Doesn’t diminish all the good things our team has done this year and I appreciate their effort throughout the season. Again, as I mentioned Saturday, I didn’t do a good enough job of getting them motivated and getting them prepared to play last week and that’s what we have to do. We’ll get back at it here this week.”

On if he’s thinks it’s time to re-think the offensive scheme: “No, that wouldn’t be a very good idea. We got two opportunities to get the most victories we’ve had in the regular season since when? Since 1977. I don’t think that’d be very wise. We did a lot of good things to win seven games. We plan on trying to get the eighth and ninth. I appreciate all the good things that they did to put us in that position. That would be called panic-mode.”

On if he considers playing MTSU a breather: “There’s no team that we can say that’s a breather. You see it, again, you see it in college football, you see it all the time. You saw Tennessee score seven points on Charlotte the week before and come out and play lights out against us. These are college kids, there’s going to be ups and downs. You got to be good enough to win when you don’t play your best and it’s very difficult to play at your peak for 12 straight weeks, and some of the teams that are competing for 13. It’s difficult; you got to be good enough to overcome them when you don’t play well. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Again, I think there’s three teams in this league – we got a pretty good league don’t we? 14 teams in this league that are pretty good programs, and I think three of them have a better record than us. I don’t think it’s time to scrap everything.”

On if the film showed the players going through the motions: “Definitely. I said it after the game – I was the first one to say it, and I said it to the team prior to me, prior to them talking to you, that I didn’t do a very good job, because we weren’t ready to play at the level that we need to play at. Again, I think you could see Tennessee where maybe they played that way the week before and they got it straightened out and came out and played with a lot of passion and energy, and our team has done that throughout this year. We didn’t Saturday, and that’s on me. I appreciated Benny (Snell), pointing those things out and that’s what leaders should do, and I don’t think he’s pointing at anyone personally, just in general. I told them that we didn’t a good enough job.” 

On how he gets the team to be physical again: “There’s a lot of things that go into this. One, you’re not going to play very good football when it’s like one person here and one person there or just little things. That we can’t do. We’re at our best, you’ve seen us this year and part of our recipe to win a bunch of games, is we have to make long drives. In our victories throughout the season, we’ve had 12-13 play drives because we’re not overly explosive, but you have to be very good and you have to be very precise, and you can’t have a missed assignment here, a missed assignment there. Again, you go down through it and you talk about efficiency and being physical and it looks that way, it certainly felt that way to me also, but you look at it and 17 of the 27 runs that we ran the ball, we were very efficient on, or we hit our efficiency mark of four yards or more. But when you miss a 3rd and 1, that kills you, that kills a drive right there. Really on second down, we had it and we missed the cut. We tried to create a huge play instead of hitting it up in there for another 10 and then we need a 3rd and 1 and miss that. That’s a big drive to start the game. Later we have a good drive put together, one of our longer drives and we drop it, dropped the snap. Those are things that we can’t overcome. That’s where we have to put it all together and play clean. The opening question about the offense, we left two missed field goals and certain we had another in that drive where we had 1st and 10 at the 26 I believe going in, and we had a well designed play right there. It was very well setup where we felt like it was going to be an explosive play. Instead it’s 2nd and 12, or it’s 2nd and 14 or whatever it was. Then the defense knew we didn’t play very good at all, didn’t play up to our standards what-so-ever.”

On if he could see on film how bad they missed Darius West: “Definitely missed him. I think his presence in being out there and doing that, but we gave up – and then you look at efficiency, when you just look at the overall statistics, and even myself, I’m sitting here saying how in the world did we give up 200 rushing yards? Well we gave up, I don’t know the exact yardage, 40 or 45 on a simple technique, of our four technique, trying to do too much. Has the block controlled, sticks his head out in another person’s gap, runs it right down there and it led to a touchdown. 40-45 yards, leads to a touchdown. Then the reverse was a huge play and that’s a finesse play that you can setup when you’re playing better, but there’s like 100 yards on two plays. You look at the rest of it, and we had quite a few tackles for loss and zero yard gains and things of that nature. Just as a team, it’s a team, we didn’t play good enough. Offense always wants to take the hit because they look at the bottom line. They don’t look at we missed two field goals and turned the ball over in the red zone and had other drives stalled for various reasons, various mistakes. But the defense, we definitely should’ve done enough to keep it in the game, like we did in other games.”

On if Dorian Baker traveled to Knoxville: “No. He was suspended for that game. He’ll be back this week.”

On Middle Tennessee State’s defense: “They’re creating big plays. They’re getting ahead and scoring some points. Teams are throwing the ball and certainly that was the case this past week against UTEP. They jumped out on a big lead on them. They’re throwing it and creating some big plays. Their defense has been very good at forcing turnovers. They do a good job. They’re well coached. I wanna say they’re 7-1 in the conference. Obviously anytime you’re leading your conference you’re a good football team.”

On if sometimes players don’t trust the scheme and try to do too much: “Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I do. I think it’s a little of that. That’s where everybody needs to watch the film and not hit panic mode. It’s about controlling the things we control and doing what you’re supposed to do. That’s a perfect example — it leads to a touchdown when he had the block controlled. Just wanted to peak and do his own thing. It creates an explosive play for no reason.”

On if Terry Wilson is making good decisions: “There was a couple in that game, when we watch it and see, that it would’ve been 50-50 on a pull or not to pull. He’s not been perfect on all his reads, even on where to go with the football, but he’s doing some good things. It’s not all on him. Again, that’s one of those games where it is aggravating to everybody because when we had guys open the protection wasn’t there. When we had protection, we didn’t get guys open or complete it. There were a few where he’s going to the wrong side. But there’s a lot of moving pieces and he has to see all that. He is getting better. But the decision making has been good. He’s doing some good things. We have to play well around him. Again, we need to be very precise. The complete game changers, we don’t have a lot of them on offense. We’ve gotta make sure that we execute and we’re very efficient in what we do.”

On if he saw things leading up to the game that suggested the team might lay an egg: “Yeah, I definitely think there’s things that I could’ve done differently. I think as you go through the season, I know even to myself, the days that I get up and I talk to the team every Monday, Thursday and Friday. I talk to them every day obviously, but we have a team meeting prior to all of our meetings on Monday, Thursday, Friday. It does get monotonous to the players I think, the schedule and sticking to it. But that’s when you have to be disciplined. That’s where I felt confident in our leadership and of a veteran team to make sure we were ready to play. In hindsight, I’ve gotta do a better job somehow, someway of tweaking it, changing it, getting the attention, getting the guys ready to play at a high level. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve won some games that experts gave us no chance of winning.

“We haven’t been very good when we’ve been the hunted. We’re a much better football team when we’re the hunter. We’ve gotta understand what level you’ve gotta play with all the time. I constantly try to teach that. I constantly talk until I’m blue in the face about that. We’re intentional about leadership and trying to do things the right way. You’ve gotta be good enough to overcome things when you’re not at your best.”

On keeping things fresh: “Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. There’s things that I need to do or can do. Again, I think that’s part of it, to be a successful head coach you have to have a great plan, but you also better have good instincts.”

On the message to the team this afternoon: “I’m gonna keep that, because I have some messaging. But I’m going to wait and hit them with it here in a little while.”

On this senior class going out with as many wins as any Kentucky senior class in a long time and what that means to the program: “I appreciate that. I’d like you to rephrase that a little bit louder so everybody can hear that (laughter from room). Seriously. I mean it. What’d you just say?

Reporter: This senior class is going to have as many wins as anybody in a long time. 

Stoops: “And the most in school history as far as SEC victories. I think they deserve a little credit for that. I think we all — I’m the first one that you always want to hang onto things, what can you do better. And that’s what drives us every day. It drives me every day and that’s what I want to do. But I also want to give recognition to that senior class and what they’ve done, what they’ve meant to this program and how much I greatly appreciate them. I think the Big Blue Nation appreciates them. They will, it’s a fact in the last three years they’ve won the most SEC games since anybody in the history of this school. That’s a long time, folks. I appreciate what they’ve done.”

On if it’s a good sign of the culture change that fans are unhappy though: “I’m not arguing with you. You’re not going to get an argument out of (me). I think if you heard the beginning of my statement, I was the first one to say how much I hang onto things, how much we can do better. That’s my mentality 24/7, but I also want to give recognition to them for what they deserve. Most in school history is a long time, and I appreciate that.”

On importance of going out on a high note for seniors: “We’ve got two games guaranteed that we have to go play. We talked about it last week, about what we want their legacy to be. And of course that game was important to us. We didn’t get it done. Now it’s back to this one. We’ve got two guaranteed opportunities and we’ve got to take care of business this week and then move on to the last.”

On importance of older players taking young guys under their wing: “Yeah, I think it’s real important. I’ve been constantly this year trying to point that out to the younger players, to understand what’s going on and the amount of work, the amount of sacrifice that’s gone into doing what we have done. I’m constantly trying to plan for the future of this program and develop the young guys both mentally and physically. I think it’s real important to embrace the good things that this group has done and try to continue with that.”

On what he pitched to these seniors as recruits: “I don’t remember the exact selling point or how we go about that. I mean, the big thing is relationships and progress. That’s all we ever talk about: Making sure we’re going to put kids in a position to be successful, develop them and keep on pushing this program further. There was never any talk about exactly how many wins or what we’re going to do or all those things. It’s about elevating the program. We’ve done that. Again, we all hang onto the things, the what-ifs. That’s human nature, but we’re going to constantly keep on working and keep on pressing to get better.”

On if first-year left tackles are making mistakes that will get fixed with experience: “We got beat a couple times at tackle. We got beat, the one missed assignment that told you about after the game. One time we just slid the line completely the wrong way. Actually, I got to get clarification on that because we were in tempo mode and the penalty happened on the left hash and it was behind the line of scrimmage so I’ve got to get clarification why we didn’t move up on the left hash. It went over to the right, and it didn’t help us. So I’ve got to get clarification why we weren’t on the left hash there or left middle.

“Anyway, we got beat a couple times at tackle, we need to do a better job. There’s other things we can do to protect and help in certain situations, especially when we’re trying to get the ball down the field. There’s other times when they held up really well and they did a good job. That’s what I said, those are the things that sometimes you feel it’s so far away when it’s really not. I said that early in the year: A little bit more protection, we’ve got some opportunities there. There’s a lot of things, and there’s no excuse. There was a lot of mistakes. It can’t be one guy here, one mistake, one thing. We’re not built that way. We have to be very precise and do things very good and be very clean. That’s a good recipe to be successful, and when we don’t do that we’re not in a good position.”

On relationship between college athletics and the military in honor of Veteran’s Day: “First of all, thank you for your service and everybody in here that’s served. Just really can’t thank you enough. I don’t think it gets recognized enough. It’s really nice to see the way college athletics is trying to embrace that and recognize the military and veterans. It’s been a very good relationship with us. I certainly embrace the veterans that are in our program and help us each and every day. It was really good and nice to have Matthew Bradford with us a week or so ago, walk with us on the Cat Walk, come and talk to the team. So, we embrace that and we thank you.”

On how proud he is of Jordan Jones to get to this point: “I’ll be very happy for him, very proud for him. There’s others in there as well that have come a long way. Tymere (Dubose) is one that jumps out as you as well that’s been documented the struggles and the disputes we’ve had. That’s our job. And really, there’s a lot of them. Mike Edwards, Darius West, these guys are going to graduate. I think there’s times when why is it more important to me than it is to you? But I’m proud of that, because eventually the light clicks on and they want to get that done and they want to be successful both on the field and off. Very proud of a lot of these guys for the work they’ve done. I’ve seen them change. They’ve been a really good group, special group. Not perfect like none of us, but they’ve really done a good job and I will be proud for Jordan and many of the other ones, all the other ones. Special group. The individual stories of some of these guys. Many of you have talked about it and written about it and where they come from, what they’ve done, what they’ve overcome, it’s truly amazing. Guys like George Asafo (-Adjei) and Jordan and just many of them. It hasn’t been easy. They’ve come a long way and they’ve done a lot.”

On team having to shoulder a lot of emotional stuff all season and working through that: “It’s always been like that. It is. Please tell me another profession where the highs are so high and the lows are so low. (Laughter). That’s the way it is. For us, we always try to handle things the right way. Of course we’re going to celebrate big accomplishments and big wins, individual accomplishments, recognize what kids have done. That’s great, but you really always have to keep things in perspective and I really always try to do that. We’ll try to do that this week. You always have to get back on track. You can’t bring last week into the new week. You have one-week seasons and this is a one-week season for us. We can’t change that past. We can’t change last week, but we can learn from it and try not to make the same mistakes.”

On stopping rushing attack:“We’ve got to just do what we do and play really fundamental football. It’s like I said last week, giving up two explosive runs, we were really stout and pretty stern and you could look at 35, 36, 37 runs and we were pretty darn good. You look at a couple and we give up 100. That’s not the way you play winning football and so we all have to do all of our jobs all the time. That’s where our kids mean well. Their intentions are right. That’s like last week when we talked about it. I believe the intentions was right and all I talked about last week was actions. I know they mean well. I know they want to do good. There’s nothing intentional about it, but our actions are louder than words. So what do we do? And what do we do about it? Obviuosly that didn’t get done. We have to get it done this week.”

On Middle Tennessee’s offense: “Stockstill, Brent, the quarterback, you have to have a lot of respect for him. You can tell he’s the coach’s kid and he plays so hard and makes such critical plays and he’s one of those guys who is a real gamer and you put pressure on him, get him out of the pocket and he finds guys open. He puts it in good spots; he throws such a catchable ball. He really plays  — you’ve got to have a lot of respect for the way he plays — he plays the game the right way and really intelligent and great touch on what he does. They have a good scheme and they can move it on you.”

On playing well as the hunted team vs. the hunter: “Well we’ve got to play with the same mentality every week. It’s who we are. That’s always been my philosophy and I’ve always said that as a defensive coordinator, as a head coach, your mentality, your identity, that’s got to be with you 24-7. Didn’t get that done, so we have to play — we have to be the best version of ourself and we weren’t that last week — and so we need to play with a toughness, a mentality and an attitude along with execution and being precise in what we do. That always goes with it and how you prepare. You hear me talk about it every week and it’s so true. What kind of mentality do you have going through your preparation? Are you going through the motions or are you trying to get better? That’s where we cannot be inconsistent with, what? We’ve played 10 games this year and we haven’t been perfect in those 10, but I think all but one, we had the right mentality.”

On Eddie Gran saying after the game that he wants to find the plays where everyone knows what to do. Has that been a problem in recent weeks? “I’d say there’s just been too many as you look at the film, too many one guy here, one guy there. That’s not winning football. Again, without putting any blame on any one thing, I tell the players all the time: How do we know what one play is going to change the outcome of the game? How do you know? In the first possession of the game when we have something that would create a first down and instead we don’t make it? How do we not know what would happen on that drive? You know what I mean? The mentality of our team. You don’t know what one play would mean and there’s a lot of plays there that we’re leaving on the field. I mentioned a couple of times, it’s not just all the O-line, there’s a couple where a tackle gets beat and you’ve got guys open. Then the next time, guys aren’t open and there’s good protection. Now there’s good protection and there’s drops. We had more drops in the game than we’ve had all year. We had five drops. What does that do to an offense? How does that help you? Those are hard things to overcome. Tennessee didn’t want to live in third-and-long and we don’t want to live in third-and-long. When we stay on track, we’re pretty good. When we get behind the chains, that’s not where we want to be and that’s the same for a lot of people unless you’ve just got some freak that’s going to go up and make an unbelievable play.”