From the rivalry to coaching vacancies, Stoops talks football

UK coach starts week of practice for Louisville game

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – It’s rivalry week in college football and that means the Governor’s Cup in Kentucky with UK traveling to Louisville. He opened the week with his press conference.

Opening Statement …

“In reviewing this past game, we did some really good things. Obviously, I was just a little ticked off after the game. I have a tendency to do that when we do some sloppy things. We have to get some of those critical errors cleaned up. I anticipate our team will work really hard this week to focus on the little details and take better care of the ball, ball security.

“Defensively, again, was probably better than I felt (after the game), was just agitated by a few drives they had, and it was simply just a lack of execution on some younger guys that we got to get cleaned up. Started the game really fast like we wanted to defensively. I think first four (NMSU possessions) were 3-and-outs or 1-and-out with the pick-6 and then they had a couple drives for field goals that we kind of aggravating just with our execution and those are things we got to continue to hone in on.

“Offensively, really felt like we did what we wanted to do, with the exception of some ball security in a few plays. So, we got to continue to get better. As I mentioned postgame, I felt really good about our team and the way we’ve been preparing the past several weeks and I feel like we’re on the verge of getting better in a lot of areas and we want to do that this week. No better way, it’s the last game of the year, so we better get it fixed quick and have a really good opponent and looking forward to the rivalry game.

“Big challenge going on the road and the way they’re playing certainly with Malik (Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham); he is a dynamic playmaker and a guy that can hurt you with his legs and with his arm and you can see his comfort level. He’s getting more and more comfortable with every game, with every opportunity, and that experience is paying off for him. He’s really playing exceptionally well and making people around him better. They’re better in all areas than the last time we played them. A good dose of our team, the past two classes haven’t played Louisville, so this rivalry needs to be introduced to a few our players that haven’t been exposed to it and it’s a totally different team than two years ago.”

On how to show the young players the rivalry…

“We’ll have some ways. We’ll show them some things.”

On if there’s more excitement this year because it has been two years…

“I don’t know. We’ll see. Hopefully, there will be, but again, two classes haven’t played this game yet, so they don’t understand it yet.”

On emphasizing physicality in past games…

“You said it, we did it. That’s not to say it’s going to happen automatically. Those were different games. This is a different year. I’ll say this, this is definitely a different team and a different defense than two years ago when we played them. So, we will have to play more physical than we’ve been in my opinion. We need to bring out that physicality than we’re used to. I still don’t feel like we’re as physical as we can be. We ran for a lot of yards, we’re doing some good things. You know teams when they start mixing it up on us inside, the zone schemes, we’re getting some penetration and we’re getting stopped. The gap schemes have been very helpful for us, so we got to continue to mix that up.”

On what this makes this rivalry different than any other…

“In state. You know, in state. Very close. So, you can’t help but live in Lexington and come across Louisville fans and you can’t help but live in Louisville and come across Kentucky fans, so we’re very close in proximity and we’re intertwined in a lot of ways within this state.”

On how they are different defensively than two years ago…

“They’re just more physical. They’re better, more comfortable in their system and you could understand that, and they’ve done a very good job. They’re very well coached and they are very active up front and doing some good things.”

On if the SEC schedule expands to 9 or 10 games is Stoops committed on keeping the rivalry in schedule…

“I have no idea, Jon. I haven’t put one ounce of thought into that. So, I don’t think I’m prepared to answer that question right now. I mean, we got a lot of things that are right in front of me here.”

On having a night game, what does that do…

“It’s my under my understanding that serve alcohol in that stadium (laughter), so gives fans plenty of time during the day and during the game, so it will be a rowdy atmosphere, it always is no matter what. We have no control over game time.”

On thought of the team waiting for the game…

“It is a little anxious waiting around all day, especially on the road. It’s a little different but it is what it is, we have to adapt no matter what.”

On the impact of the game on recruiting in the state…

“It’s important. I don’t think it’s end-all be-all, but I think it’s important.  For us, it’s a matter of …  We have so many things to play for. Not only is it a rivalry game, it is what it is. A rivalry game, it is what it is.  You have to address it and understand it and be prepared for it but for us there’s so many other things that are equally as important, every game we play. I believe it’s only been five teams since 1949 that have won nine games or more. This team has an opportunity do it two times in the last four. I think that’s pretty important and more than likely a New Year’s Day bowl game, that’s important, so there’s a lot of things that our players need to understand the importance of it.”

On coaching contracts that end short because things go south…

“I addressed that last week a bit when I was asked directly about what I thought of the quick changes. And again, that’s not for me to decide. Every place is different, every situation is different.  Sometimes things get going in a way that decision-makers have no other option. That’s to do with it a lot. We all can have our own little opinion on why that is. And I mentioned it last week, I think social media and the people that get going, that get some things going in a negative direction. I think it’s very hard for decision-makers, athletic directors, presidents, to handle the momentum sometimes when it gets going the wrong way. I think, I can only imagine as a coach, if you’re in that position, that’s got to be tough. I’ve been there to some extent and I don’t know any other way than to fight my way out of it. That’s just the way I was brought up and that’s the way it is. If I’m going down and I’m going go down, I’m going hurt you on the way down, trust me (laughing). I’m going to go down swinging and do the best I can and control what you can control. A lot of that has to do with your building, and the culture in your building, and what the pulse of your building feels like. That’s with the players, coaches, support, everybody, there’s a lot that goes into that. That’s why you can’t just put a blanket over it and say this is right, this is wrong. Every situation is different. If it’s gone to the point, where you can’t turn it, then sometimes there are no other options.”

On D’Eryk Jackson and Stoops’ trust in him and how Marquan McCall is feeling…

“It was good to see him (Jackson) in that situation Saturday. We never have any doubt about him being a thumper, but it’s about movement and running, too. You saw him thumping, but you didn’t see him quite running and having the range that you need to play linebacker. That, we need to continue to keep our eye on with D-Jack. Marquan, it was still bothering him a bit last week. You could tell by the way he was playing, with the way he was anchoring. Hopefully he’ll feel better this week.”

On the offensive weapons Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham has …

“(They have a) Really good stable of running backs. The offense doesn’t change with each of them and the wideouts are really good players. Really productive and you can tell they have some juice, they can run. They definitely have some weapons around him. He does such a good job of designed runs or running reads, read plays, zone reads and such. And then, buying time to throw the ball down the field, and of course, scrambling for yards.  You put the three of those things together on him and you’ve got your hands full.”

On how a running quarterback affects a defensive staff …

“I think it definitely does. Anytime, you’ve heard me for years and years talk about it, you see it everywhere. I used to get the question all the time, ‘We’ve had a hard time …’ , everyone has a hard time with running quarterbacks, it’s not a Kentucky thing, it’s a defensive thing and it’s a pain in the butt. Guys that can extend plays, especially when they’re so electric like Malik. He is extremely fast and elusive when he gets free.”

On Will Levis’ drive…

“I love it. I love the competitive nature that he has. You can’t hide it sometimes and he is competitive. What I love about him, is he’s going to get pissed, but nothing is going to rattle him. He’s going to get right back in and not flinch. He’ll come right back and run it again, or throw a pass into some traffic, into a tough, tight window, and have confidence that he can make tha throw. He’s bounced back, he’s done it all year, he’s getting better and better I think he’s managing his emotions better and better.”

On UK alum Landon Young getting his first start for the New Orleans Saints…

“It says a lot, I’m so proud of him, I knew he would play in the NFL for a very long time, no matter where he was drafted, no matter what round. I think the Saints were very smart with drafting him where they did. I got a message from his father Randall the night before that he was making his first start, that he was very excited and happy.  Unfortunately, I was working, I didn’t even get a chance to see it.  We’re proud of him.  Doesn’t surprise me, feel like he is a guy who will play in the NFL a long time.”

On Wan’Dale Robinson saying he was not recruited by Louisville and the status of recruiting high school players…

“I have no control on what they do as far as who they pursue and who they do not. That has no effect on me at all. We do what we do. Maybe we have something to do with the outcome of certain recruits. We’ve done very well but we haven’t been 100 percent.  They beat us as well a little bit and we want to get the ones we’re shooting for. In-state’s important, it always starts with us in-state, we pride ourselves on getting out there, hitting the pavement and getting to know guys early and trying to identify them and getting on them. I don’t know, that’s their issue whether they did or didn’t.”

 On building relationships with players who don’t choose Kentucky but perhaps reconsider later…

“That’s the way we’ve always done things.  We’ve done that before we knew anything about this thing called the portal. That’s just the way we’ve built our relationships. We’re that way, give them a handshake, and wish them the best. You can’t act like it doesn’t aggravate you, or hurt you, or bother you. When you don’t get a guy, it’s still … recruiting is personal. Anybody who says it’s not, they’re not working at it.  When you spend years building relationships, and years, and time away from family and doing things to build those relationships to get those kids, it’s competitive and you want to land them.”

On the current recruiting class…

“I think it’s going to be dynamic.  I think it’ll be a little lower in numbers. You do have to keep some room with the (transfer) portal and with guys where you feel like you need some plug-and-play guys. Development, recruiting in high school, recruiting and developing those players will always be the lifeblood of our program. But you have to also manage your roster. We have some players on our roster that have to look around and see if they can play somewhere else. And, we have to bring in some guys that we can feel can plug in and play at certain positions. That’s just the way it is now.”

On his message to recruits with his name being mentioned for other jobs…

“My relationship is strong with the prospects and always will be.  I can’t control that (i.e., being mentioned for other jobs).  I have no control over that.  I don’t want that out there, I don’t want that distraction, I don’t ask for that. As I mentioned, jokingly, weeks ago when somebody mentioned that, I’d rather it be that than you guys all talking about when they’re going to fire me. So, I can only control trying to win and build a program here. I think we can all understand I’ve been nothing but committed to doing that here and plan on doing that.”

On how he balances recruiting and preparing for games…

“Yeah, you have to, you have to. It’s just the way it is. With being in college, we recruit all year –that never stops. It’s always a priority.  In season it’s hard, but you have to do it. We’ve had quite a few in-season visits. That used to be mostly December, when you get done with games and you bring them in. We have two big weekends, the first weekend in December and the second. Some kids that are committed, we bring them in there on purpose. They may come to the games and come unofficially and still see us, but we bring them in December to kind of have a celebratory weekend where we can honestly spend 48 hours with them. If you come in season, we’re obviously preparing for games. That’s where the distraction comes in for us because we’re really homed in on getting ready for a game, but you’re splitting time–maybe going to dinner, going to lunch–it gets a  bit distracting and you feel like you can’t give the prospect as much of your individual attention. But there’s no getting around it anymore. With the early signing period, we have to have in-season visits and that is time-consuming and hard, but you have to do it.”

On if he’s changed his recruiting approach through “trial and error”…

“I think that is a big piece of it. You have to have in-season, you have to have summer visits, and if you have summer visits, then you have to hold them because then the prospects get bored and they’re going to go on another visit. You know what I mean? So, you have to manage all of that. That’s a feel thing for each individual recruit.”

On how much emphasis he puts on UK’s academic institution when recruiting…

“It’s always equal. It’s always extremely important. It’s always a big part of our recruiting pitch–not so much pitch, our presentation–when they come in and meet the people and see what we do, and see the commitment that we have to it. That’s a big piece of it.”

On Will Levis and WanDale Robinson having been in rivalry games at other schools but their first game against Louisville…

“Great point. For them it’ll be being introduced to this rivalry once again. But, you also have to understand it. It is another game. We have to go out there and execute. As I’ve mentioned many times, everybody wants to win on Saturday. So being all mad at Louisville isn’t going to help us win the game. Our preparation this week and being very detailed and prepared for the game, and then going out and executing, that’ll help us win the game. So, showing up and ‘rah rah’ is only going to get you so far. It’s about how, if you’re that motivated, how motivated are you today? And tomorrow when it’s a heavy Tuesday practice and it’s physical, and it’s hard, and we’re banging? How dialed in are you going to be on Tuesday and Wednesday? And keep it that way the whole week.”

On how Thanksgiving impacts preparation for the game…

“Not much, other than we’ll get done a little earlier on Thursday than we normally do. That’s our walk-through day anyway. So, for the coaches, I wouldn’t say all of the hay is in the barn by Thursday morning, but 95 percent of it better be in the barn. So, there’s tweaks, there’s things we do all the way through, and really just dressing it up, refreshing, having the players completely understand things. That’s why mentally it’s so important on Thursday and Friday. But the physical things and all of the game-planning is done Sunday, Monday, (and) Tuesday. Some third-down tweaks and things go into Wednesday night as well. And then we brush it all up Thursday and Friday. So, it doesn’t have to change it too much for us. As I mentioned before, the coaches have players over to their homes Wednesday night just to spend time so the players can feel some … get a home-cooked meal and spend some time with families. Then Thursday we have a big dinner together and, like I said, most of them hopefully go home and get some rest.”

On how Austin Dotson has been playing since Eli Cox got hurt…

“Austin has done some really good things. He’s really physical at times. And he’s good at certain blocking schemes. Sometimes things are challenging, but that’s no different than  a lot of our offensive lineman. Depending on certain islands you have to be on, with very good and athletic people, it could be tough match-ups at times, depending on what’s coming at you, what blitzes, what pressures, certain one-on-ones are hard on a lot of people. But, he battles. He’s been a great teammate for a long time, so I appreciate the effort that he’s giving.”

On Jager Burton’s performance vs. New Mexico State…

“Jager did good. I wanted to play him more. We had planned on playing him more, but they were doing so much. They were bringing stuff from everywhere. So, that’s hard for a guard, for a true freshman guard, because things happen very fast in there. So, that was one that we had planned on playing more, but due to so much activity going on there earlier, it just wasn’t the right (moment). But once we got him in there it was good to get him some reps.”

On if the next game is important because you’re playing Louisville or because it’s the next game…

“I think you know the answer before I say it. I mean, the next game is the most important because it’s the next game. That’s the way you have to approach it. If you don’t … I can’t sit there and preach to my team about respecting the game if I don’t. So, believe me, in this business you have the chance to be humbled every seven days and you take every opportunity and every day to prepare yourself for Saturday and that’s what we’re going to do.”

On what he’s thankful for being the head coach at Kentucky…

“Thanks for telling me that, I was supposed to open with that (laughter). That was on my opening thoughts.  Thanksgiving week and I just appreciate this year, all the work you all (media) have done, I appreciate our team, our coaches, our staff, my family. We’re blessed and we have a great opportunity this week. So, I hope you all enjoy the week and have a great day.”

 On an unexpected player that’s stepped up and been a leader…

Well, I think a guy like Marquan becoming a captain is a great example of that. Him playing well and maturing, that’s to be expected. It’s what we talk about all the time and work hard at. But for him to be voted a captain, it was great to see.”

On if Marquan would handle what he went through last year better this year…

I am not sure. I am not sure if he would or wouldn’t. But he always helps me out at the end of about every day when I’m breaking the team down and talking to them a little bit after practice. He always wraps it up with ‘now hit the books’ to the rest of the players. He is an experienced veteran now. He’s got it.”

On J.J. Weaver’s development and ongoing recovery from injury…

He’s doing a remarkable job and he’s playing through everything he can. Again, we are not going to let him reinjure that thing or we’re not going to let him play with injury but there comes some setbacks at times with that because of strength and mobility and all those things. He’s obviously not back to 100 percent. I think that it is very difficult with a knee injury like that. But I greatly appreciate how hard he plays and the ways he’s fought through it, and he’s helped us. He still is a very good player for us. I can’t wait until he gets back to that elite level again.”

On Louisville’s Malik Cunningham and Will Levis dealing with defensive pressure…

Louisville plays extremely hard. They’re going to come after you. They mix it up. They’re a lot like us. They’ll play zone (coverage), they’ll play man. They bring a variety of different pressures, and they’ll try to mix it up on him. With Will and with Malik, that’s a feel thing. They’re both very good at what they do and a lot of that is God-given ability to feel the pressure or where to escape to and where to buy the time and when to buy the time to look down the field and create for receivers and when to pull it down and scramble for yards. So, they’re both going to do their thing. Both are very good players and both very tough to stop at times with the way they can ad-lib and create.”

On K.D. McDaniel…

“Yeah, K.D. is doing some good things. He is another young man that you hear me talk often about like a broken record, but reps. Reps and experience are very important to him, the more he gets, the better he’s going to get. He’s a guy that we have to continue to get as many reps as we can, but he does have some ability.”

On turnovers being more mental than physical…

I think even in a game, I always talk about how every situation is different, turnovers are different as well. One was at the end of the game with a guy that had not played very many snaps all year. The interception is sometimes going to happen. There was a play earlier where we talked about it, and we were like, ‘put it on him’ and well he put it on him the next time and the defender made a nice play and undercut him. With the fumble with ChrisI am not going to overthink it because I know Chris and he’s mature enough to understand. He will get coached by Coach (John) Settle, and Liam (Coen), and all the coaches and we’ll get it corrected and he’ll be dialed in. I can promise you that. He’ll get it fixed. He has, by and large for the most part, once we got through some of that early in the season. It’s very important but you hope it evens out at some point in time, too. Again, the ball was on the ground a couple of times Saturday, and we missed one or two and we almost passed on the other one.”

On the evolution of defenses punching and grabbing at the ball instead of concentrating on tackling…

It still doesn’t change. I think there’s a time when you can punch and strip or try to do both and there’s a time when we’re still coaching it like, ‘Get the man down. Don’t try to strip and give up six or seven extra yards.’ There’s a time and a place for it. So, we all coach the punch, the strip, but like I tell the players, there are so many different situations. You can’t possibly teach them every one of them. They have to have some football IQ to understand when that time and place is. Now, there are players that hold the ball loose at certain times and we do address that and talk about that. As we tell our offensive players when you’re putting the ball on the ground, what do you think every opponent is telling them? Every opponent is sitting there talking about how they’re loose with the ball. So, we had better get it coached up and they have to get it fixed. They have to execute it. And, with your question, I believe there are times when you’re held up you always want the second man through to strip or try to punch it out. Sometimes in an open field, you’ll see that because you see a guy running with the ball loose, instead of high and tight. A lot of it is just being a ballplayer. A lot of it is obviously coached but it’s instinct and being a ballplayer as well.”

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