We’re still over three weeks until Kentucky and Georgia Tech face off in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but both head coaches are already previewing the big game.
This week, Mark Stoops and Paul Johnson met with the media to talk about the matchup, how recruiting is going, what to expect from the fans, and more.
Here is a recap of what Stoops had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics.
On turning the season around
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to but we won five out of our last seven and really turned it around. I’m really proud of our team and the way we played and certainly capping it by beating Louisville. That was a big boost for us so, again we need to keep it going playing Georgia Tech so it’ll be a real challenge.”
On Kentucky fans
“We have a phenomenal fan base. They go by the Big Blue Nation and they a certainly energetic, passionate and that’s what I’ve said since I’ve been there. The history is rich so we’re hoping for a good turn out at the bowl game.”
On how recruiting is going
“Recruiting is going exceptionally well for us. We’re off to another great start this year; hopefully we can close very well. We have quite a few players from the Florida area so hopefully we can continue recruiting down south.
“I spent quite a bit of time here in Florida coaching at three different Florida schools so I’m familiar with the talent in this area. We recruit exceptionally hard in Kentucky, we’ve done very well in Ohio, but yes we need to branch out a bit and cover quite a bit of ground.
“We’re excited, its going well and we’re excited about trying to close here.”
On finishing this season on good note
“Last season we came up short to go to a bowl game, we went 5-7, so this year all season and all summer we talked about finishing and we’re certainly very proud of the way we finished the regular season. This game is an extension of that so it’s very important for us to try to get the victory.
“That could lead to a lot of momentum with the fan base, with season tickets, and with support.”
And here is a recap of what Johnson had to say:
“First of all, thanks again for the invite. We are excited to be here. I was really proud of our team and the way that we finished the season, winning five of the last six games. We started out 3-3 and kind of had a break and felt like the season was just kind of mediocre and just sitting there.
“We got fortunate and got hot a little bit and started playing a little bit better and really finished up the season on a positive note, so hopefully we can carry that momentum into Jacksonville. We certainly will need to do that against a very fine Kentucky team that also finished strong.”
On running the triple option
“We don’t ourselves see it being all that different. We’re basically an option football team offensively. We try and run forms of the option and we change things up every once in a while. It’s just something we’ve been doing a long time and something where we know what we want to do.
“We have an idea of what we want to do offensively. Defensively, we played a little better during the back half of the year and got some turnovers and stops. Early on, we really struggled on defense getting off the field. It is unique in what we do, but there are only a few teams left in college football that don’t embrace some form of the option or the zone read.
“And certainly Kentucky does a lot of that out of their Wildcat stuff. Probably not as big of a difference as people would make it out to be.”
On having a new athletic director and the excitement of the fan base
“We do. We have a new athletic director – Todd Stansbury, who is a former football player at Georgia Tech, so we are certainly excited about that and his arrival and moving forward.
“As you mentioned, we probably have about seven to eight kids on our team that have ties with Florida and when we finish today, I’ve got a couple of in-home visits before we go back tonight.
“So, this is an area that we like to recruit. There is a lot of good football out here. We are excited to be here. We’ve got a pretty good fan base in the north Florida area, Amelia (Island), Ponte Vedra Beach area, so we will have a good turnout.”
On balancing bowl prep with young-player development
“I try and find a balance for my guys. I think going to a bowl game is somewhat of a reward for the players on their season, but at the same time, you want to make sure you’re getting ready for the opponent you’re about to play.
“We spend a little bit of time with our young guys and maybe not as much the others where we try and get them prepared for spring practice. All year they have been on scout teams and haven’t had a chance to do a whole lot.
“So, we will take the end of each practice right up until about the last week before the bowl game and work with those guys on fundamentals. We are in the middle of finals at Georgia Tech, and that can be very difficult for our young men.
“So we will probably come back with maybe 10 practices. It’s too difficult to get practices in at a place like ours with finals. You’re not going to get anything accomplished. So, our big focus will be on trying to finish the season strong in a big way during the season when we looked like we were going to be out of our division race in the conference and getting to that goal of getting to nine wins.
“To do that, we will have to win our game here and that will be our main focus when we play a good Kentucky team.”