Mark Stoops Q&A: Oct. 22 Kentucky football press conference


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: “Sorry to keep you guys waiting a little bit here today, I wanted to send somebody else.

“Again, just like I said after the game, proud of our team for finding a way to win. Really a great defensive effort. I thought the offensive line and Benny (Snell) and tight ends just showed a lot of guts, determination and physicality to get the ball in the end zone and score that game-winning touchdown. But there’s obviously things we need to improve on and we’re excited to get back to work this week and get better. We need to improve as we go this week and go play Missouri on the road.”

On how he’s addressing the passing game:  “We need to address in a lot of areas, from what we’re doing to set him up for success and set the team up for success. It will start with us and the coaching and what we’re doing, the position we are putting him in a position to be successful.

“And also getting the quarterback to pull the pin and to make accurate throws and just to trust himself. He has done that this year. He has been successful. He has put us in a position to get to the spot we are in right now. But he has also not played his best the past couple of games. So we have to look at that. That’s all of our responsibilities, it always is, starting with the coaching staff. Certainly Terry (Wilson) will take his part and on down to the protection and the receivers and so on. We’re always in this together. It’s never any one person’s fault, but certainly we need to play better at that position.”

On if pulling the pin is a confidence issue: “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I talked to Terry, I talked to Terry today before this and he doesn’t see it that way. We need to watch the film and get somethings corrected, and get back on the field. And certainly we have to look at all options, like we always have. I’ve always said that Terry is our starting quarterback, he’s going to start this week. But we certainly need to look at the other guys and see if they could get an opportunity to get in there and play and help us. So we’ll have a plan. We’ll work Gunnar (Hoak) pretty extensively this week and have him ready to play as well.” 

On Josh Paschal working on the field before game: “I addressed that a bit last week where I said I would update that in the coming weeks.

“He has been working with Coach Ed. He’s been strength training for a long time, from the beginning he’s been doing that. Now he’s getting on his feet and the wound is healing. And then there’s the matter of just getting in shape, in football shape and just controlling the foot. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, not just the wound itself. So he’s working his way back into shape.”

On if Paschal working out before the game was somewhat of a reward to get him back on the field again: “He wanted to go on the road with us. He always wants to be involved. He’s an unbelievable player. He affects people in a positive way. We had room, was going to bring him to Texas A&M and he actually got sick, just a touch of the flu or a little cold. So we just thought to keep him home and continue his rehab. He traveled with us to the team hotel here this past week, so he’s around. He’s just working his way back into the fold.”

On the second team offensive lineman (Luke Forkner, Mason Wolfe, Darian Kinnard) being in the game toward the end:

“They were doing well. Coach Schlarman had a plan to put them in at that point, and did it. It was a nice drive. I was asked after the game, I didn’t even really realize it until I went over to the bench to shake their hand and say ‘Hey great job,’ and pat them on the head. I noticed all the guys were in a full lather and it was freezing outside. I figured they just came off the field.”

On Darian Kinnard playing three games and if they plan to play him the rest of season or if he’s a wait and see: “We’ll see what happens this week. I haven’t gotten that far because of Naasir (Watkins). We’ll see where Naasir’s at and who’s playing well, make that decision.”

On what is different for UK secondary this season: “I think the team defense. You’ve heard me mention that in the past. Just like it’s not always on the quarterback or always on the receivers, it all fits together with what you’re doing. Defensively the same thing, getting them in predictable pass helps; getting them behind the chains helps, so that starts with a physical defensive line. It also helps with pressue on the quarterback. That always helps the secondary. Certainly the secondary is playing much better and I think those guys, the experience is a big piece of it and their desire and want-to to do the little things and work hard all year to put themselves in position when it counts. They’re doing some really good things. We’ll certainly be challenged this week obviously with Missouri and what they’re doing and the way they throw the ball around. That’s a very good football team.”

On Davonte Robinson playing more and how did that go: “Yeah, he’s been steady. It’s been, there’s always a balance. Some of our older guys can play multiple spots very easily and some of the other guys need some reps. So we liked having Mike (Edwards) at nickel but D-Rob’s been playing some very good football. So normally it’s the strong safety and the nickel are on the same side, so what they’re doing, there’s a lot of carryover. So he was playing the free, but he was also playing the nickel. You probably make no sense of what I just talked about right there. (Laughter) But just we felt like this point in time, he was the fifth or sixth. You’ve always got the three corners who I look at as starters, then if you just look at your nickel, you take your top five. We just felt like it was time to get him on the field for significant steps. We needed to throw him out there in pressure situations and I really loved the way he played. For our team, he was nominated for player of the game within our building and he was honorable mention, but did some really good things.”

On if that’s a significant development before Missouri: “It’s significant. It’s good. All hands on deck because of the pace that they play at, they throw it around, the speed which they have. So you need a lot of guys; you need a lot of bodies. I’ve had confidence in D-Rob for a long time. So that’s why you’ve heard me say it in here before: You never want to see somebody go down, but it’s always next man up. And he’s ready to play and he’s going to play well.”

On Drew Lock: “Experience, talent. He sees the field, gets rid of the ball so quick and has such a strong arm. He’s a very good football player.” 

On if there’s a change with Derek Dooley as offensive coordinator: “Not a lot. Even last year I always felt like with as talented as (Lock) is and the receivers and the speed at which they play. An unbelievably talented tight end. I even felt that way last year and certainly this year. You better be very, very conscious of their running game because they’ll put a lot of pressure on you with their run game and their backs are very, very talented as is their RPO game and it gives them some space to throw the football. So I felt that way and I certainly feel that way right now, they’re more physical than people give them credit for. They’re more talented in running the ball and that puts a lot of pressure on the secondary and again, you’ve heard me talk about that many times, when they have balance, it puts a lot of stress on you because you have to play numbers in the run game, which gives them opportunity for big plays in the pass game. And they have the ability with the quarterback he has and the speed they have to put a lot of pressure on you.” 

On if Kash Daniel will be OK to play this week: “He should. He’s day-to-day right now. He had to get a little procedure done this morning on his hand. He’ll be back. He’ll probably be in some form of a club or cast. That will not be fun for him, but he’ll be back out there. He really played a good football game this past week. He did a really good job. Played very good this past Saturday.”

On how big of a hindrance it is to play with a club: “It certainly looks awkward. It definitely affects you a little bit with tackling and things of that nature. But he’ll have to deal with it. He will.” 

On blocking out distractions: “Really not hard for me and should not be hard for our team to have unbelievable focus today to get a lot of things fixed from this past Saturday and to get 100 percent attention on Missouri. I think you’d have to be a moron to not realize the threat that you’re going to go up against Missouri. They’re a very good football team who I have a lot of respect for. I really think Barry (Odom) has done a great job. One thing I really noticed and admire about his football team is they play hard. They play tough. They’re motivated and they’re hungry. It’s a very good football team. It should not be hard to have all of our attention with everybody within our building.

“I don’t mean that to be condescending. Outside of our our building, I don’t really care what anybody thinks. I say that in a good way, not like a negative way. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect us. I’m glad people are excited, but that doesn’t affect us or our team. We have a lot to do. We have a mature football team. They should be 100 percent locked in on Missouri. I don’t think that’ll be an issue. At least it better not be. We’ve got a lot to do.” 

On if Terry Wilson checks down to runs: “No, but there were times he could’ve thrown the ball and didn’t. That’s where that needs to be fixed. That I can’t defend. What we do and who we are and our identity and how we win football games is going to be up to us and what we decide is best to put us in our situation to win. But also, there is an obligation to play the game and to run the plays that are there. There were some opportunities that we didn’t throw the ball, that we need to get fixed. We will. I have confidence that we will. Terry has done that. He’s played winning football for us and put us in a situation to win a lot of games. We greatly appreciate that and he’ll continue to do that. He will start, but once again, I also owe an obligation to the rest of our team to put us in a position to win. You have to have other guys ready to go.

On if Quinton Bohanna is back to being healthy: “He is. He’s just been getting back. He’s such a big guy and he puts a lot of stress on that with the ankle. It’s bothered him some. It hurts his conditioning. It hurts a lot of things just the power he plays with. But he is getting back to full strength and we need him to. He’ll be back in there in the fold full strength this week.”

On if he’s feeling good about what Bohanna was able to do: “Yeah, for sure. He did some good things. That’s one of the things that really goes unsaid that I probably didn’t point out enough after the game and certainly after watching the tape, one of the big reasons we won that game is because we won critical situations. We were very, very efficient on third down, both sides of the ball. We were efficient in the red zone and we were efficient in two minute. I’ve said it to our team a thousand times. You can play the game, but you better win in critical situations. Sometimes it’s going to be a very close game and you don’t know what any one play is going to decide the game. But we were effective in critical situations and that’s one of the plays that you mention there with Quinton being very disruptive on the fourth down in the red zone.”

On the wide receivers’ morale: “Without a doubt it’s something to pay attention to and to visit with them about. It needs to be addressed. I understand that. Tell me a great wide receiver that doesn’t want the ball, so we understand that. That’s part of the culture within the team and within the offense and some of the things we need to work on. I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I’d be putting my head in the sand if I said it doesn’t need to be talked about. We appreciate what they do and how hard they’re working, but we also need to improve in the pass game.”

On how the game plan is affected by bad starts: “That’s a great point there because it did affect us in this game. One of the parts of the game plan is get off to an easy throw, and we throw it behind the line of scrimmage and we fumble it. That doesn’t help your game plan. The two turnovers early, when you have the wind and they have a chance to milk the clock and possess the ball into the wind and then we have to flip it, it doesn’t help. Two quarters of that game going into that wind, it drastically affects throwing the football. Even with the wind it was so gusty it was tough on certainly balls down the field. Some of the intermediate stuff you have to connect with and you have to throw the ball and catch it and so on. That is a big piece of it and that does affect Terry, to the earlier question about that, because Terry is very conscientious and he wants to win.

“He doesn’t want to put his team in danger, so you have to respect part of that. After he turns it over early he wants to protect the football and make sure he just gives the team an opportunity to win. We all know and that’s what we need to talk about and work on that we have to improve to win games in the future. But in that moment and that situation, that’s a big piece of it. The turnovers didn’t help, the time of possession, the field position, the win and confidence with the team, but we’ll get that rectified and we’ll move on. I have a lot of confidence in this team. We find a way to win and you move on to the next opportunity.”

On if he changes anything with plan on the road after Texas A&M loss: “No. No, our routine has been good. Doesn’t mean it’s always going to be perfect, but our guys are comfortable with the routine.”

On message to recruits at skill positions with passing game struggling while winning games running the ball: “I think that’s a big piece of it. Anybody is going to do what they have to do to win a football game. Sometimes you see people throwing the ball 70 times and they have to recruit a running back too. So, you have to do what you have to do in certain situations. In a game like that first of all I said it in here publicly: We need to play better at that position, period. Terry is a big man, he understands that and he needs to play better. In those circumstances with the way it unfolded, with the turnovers, with the wind at that point, you have to do what you have to do to win football games. I think most recruits understand that.”

On Lynn Bowden becoming go-to receiver: “He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy that you put the ball in the air and you give him a good opportunity he’s going to make somebody miss, he’s going to make tough catches. He’s playing hard. You talk about the morale question, and he’s a guy that, again, just like any talented player he wants the ball in his hands and has gone through some of that frustration this year. But I’ve also seen an unbelievable amount of growth in him embracing and loving the way just finding a way win the football game. I love that about him. That shows a lot of growth and maturity on his end, because he embraced that out there at that point, whether he had to block or do what he had to do just to get the win and move on to the next opponents. He’s done a good job.”

On live mic of his conversation with official and staying calm on the sideline: “I heard something about that. You heard it over the PA? (In the press box) Just in the pressbox? I didn’t let out any choice words did I? I hope not. (Laughter) I have to be intentional about controlling the emotions because I think it does reflect the results on the field. Just like in coaching there’s going to be times when you really need to shake the players up and be very direct and honest, but that’s never scripted by me. I always do it with my gut and instincts, but on the sideline it’s been intentional about controlling the emotions. I appreciate you telling me I’ve had some growth in that area, because I feel like I have. Sometimes you also have to defend your team. I’ll always do that.” 

Reporter: “If it makes you feel any better I think we thought that you were right. (Laughter).” 

Stoops: “I just want things to even out at some point.”

On how much fun it is watching Josh Allen on film in third down: “Josh is it’s a lot of fun to watch him play in predictable pass, just the whole game really because even the things he’s doing and what he did even in this game on his feet in pass coverage and just how comfortable he is and what he’s doing. Again, I may say it every week, and I’m not saying he is, I don’t know cause I haven’t watched everybody, but I’d like to see people play better than him, just across the board. I’d like to see who’s playing better defensive football at any position, because he’s a dominant player and doing everything for us. He’s playing at a high level.” 

On if there’s a situation he’s uncomfortable having Allen in: “No. As far as pass coverage, or dropping him or rushing him inside we rushed him inside Saturday on a guard, that was illegal. Exploring him with things like that. He does some really good things.” 

On how big Josh Allen’s fourth quarter forced fumble was: “It was a really big play. Give them a lot of credit, the pass they completed right before that was unbelievable, remarkable throwing catch, but that’s what gives you confidence in that situation. As I mentioned after the game, I thought we were very close to getting the third down with Benny’s (Snell) run and icing it that way, but it gives you confidence to punt the ball away and play defense because you have an experience secondary that’s playing at a high level and you got Josh that’s a dominate pass rusher, that’s very disruptive. Not only the strip, but the sack earlier on that possession, I think ‘Boogie’ (Jamar Watson) got it but Josh was very disruptive on that play as well, it gives you a lot of confidence. That doesn’t mean that you always want to be in that situation, believe me I’d rather be protected taking a knee to win a game but the defense is going to be put in those situation on two-minute and I was very proud of the way they executed.”

On Allen’s football IQ: “You know, really through the roof, and I think that comes from experience from playing but he also studies. It’s very important and he’s a very mature young man, he works extremely hard in the classroom, has a child and works hard at that and being a father and then football. He’s over here all the time, he’s working out and training doing all the things necessary.”

On if he’s had a player that can constantly cause false starts like Allen does: “No, I haven’t seen that. I’ve been around some dominant edge rushers, but no to answer your question. I haven’t seen somebody create so many, no.”

On how he balances Chance Poore’s usage with the remaining schedule: “Again, I told you after the game, he was going in on the next kick. Once again, Miles (Butler) was the starter, I believe in him, I still do but he (Poore) was going in to kick.” 

On who is kicking the next field goal: “We’ll see how the week goes. We’ll see.” 

On where the defense has improved the most: “I think in a lot of ways, but I think it just comes down to an attitude and effort and just the burning desire to be great and do things right and be very precise. We talk about that and you hear coaches talk about that so much but in our game, it has to be that way. I just mean in football, you have to be so exact. You need game changers, you need guys that do specials things and disrupt plays and win one-on-one matchups, but you have to execute and do things necessary. You heard me talk in years past, just simple blitzes and just coming under, and that’s being selfless and giving yourself up at times within the scheme to do things right, because your teammate right next to you there, he’s counting on you to do your job and if you don’t do that, there’s no trust. Not that it was always intentional, but you have to execute things and then they have the experience and talent and guys are winning one-on-one matchups and doing a lot of good things. We’ll be heavily tested here this week. Once again, we got an opportunity to prove it every seven days, we have to embrace that challenge here this week.”