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Mark Stoops talks Georgia, QBs, injuries and more

Stoops wouldn’t commit to who will start at QB vs. Georgia.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are back in the win column following their 24-20 win over Arkansas and improve to 3-3.

But to get win No. 4, they’ll have to topple a top-10 Georgia Bulldogs team in Athens on Saturday. Making it even harder is Georgia will be hungry for a bounceback after falling at home to South Carolina in overtime this past weekend.

On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to preview Kentucky vs. Georgia, as well as update the status of his quarterbacks. With Sawyer Smith banged up, Stoops rolled with Lynn Bowden in the narrow win over the Hogs, and the junior receiver had a magical game with nearly 200 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

As for who will start this week, Stoops is once again playing that decision close to the vest, but he is happy with the progress Smith is making in his recovery.

“He’s (Smith) better,” Stoops said. “Getting the update this morning in our staff meeting that he was further along, obviously by not playing. So it was really important for us to get the victory and be able to get him some more rest so he can continue to get some strength. I think he’s much further along. They threw out a percentage this morning. It was significantly better.”

For what it’s worth, during his Monday call-in show, Stoops said Kentucky could go with either quarterback vs. Georgia.

Here is a recap of what Stoops said during his morning meeting with the media, courtesy of UK Athletics:

MARK STOOPS: Again, just like I mentioned after the game, proud of our coaching staff, proud of our team and the preparation. I thought our guys really were in a good place after the bye week, well rested, mentally fresh, focused for the two weeks’ preparation. I thought the coaches really had a great game plan.

Considering the situation we were in at quarterback, Coach (Eddie) Gran, Coach (Darin) Hinshaw, the offensive coaches really had a great plan. Defensively Coach (Brad) White and the rest of the group, same way. Really played good as a team across the board. Still obviously things to get cleaned up.

Have to recognize Lynn (Bowden), his willingness to accept that role. Was really pleased, I guess somewhat surprised in some ways in the control and composure he had throughout the entire game. Really exceptional under the situation that he was under. Appreciate him.

Thought our team was very unselfish. Guys like the wide receiver position knew they weren’t going to get a lot of receptions in this game, really just did a great job and were very unselfish on the perimeter, blocking, did things necessary to help us win. Great group effort.

Again, the negatives probably were the start of the game, getting down 10, not the position we wanted to be in under the circumstances we were in. But showed a lot about our football team to be able to overcome that, respond, come back and get the victory.

A lot of good things, a lot to build on. Proud of our group. Very short-lived with the great challenge that we have this week going on the road, playing Georgia, them coming off a tough loss. I mentioned in here a week ago when you play teams, what they’re like physically and mentally. It’s a tough grind. It’s a tough grind through this league.

Knowing Georgia, the way they’re coached, the coaches that they have and the leadership they have on that team, the winning attitude, it will be a very difficult time going in there this week. We have to make sure we elevate our game because I’m quite sure that Georgia is going to bounce back in a strong way and be ready to play.

We got to build on the good things we did. Hopefully we’ll get guys back from some injuries, get healthy. We’ll have to play the best game of the season here this week with the great challenge we’re going to have facing Georgia on the road.

Q. How do you balance building on the success of the game plan last week knowing that you are going to have to be more diverse against a Georgia team this weekend?

MARK STOOPS: I think that’s what we have to do. We always look at the good things we’re doing and build on those good things, sustain them, build on the good things we’re doing, but also try to stay ahead and be creative.

We certainly are going to have to have more balance this week. You just look at Georgia defensively, they give up a very, very few amount of explosive plays, very few explosive runs.

Q. When you go into a game like last Saturday where you know you are not going to be throwing a lot, how do you keep those receivers engaged? And what do you tell them about trying to be more balanced this week?

MARK STOOPS: I mean, we didn’t know exactly how it was going to play out there in that game. There’s always a tough balance because we do have confidence in Lynn. After watching the game, you could see there were more opportunities to throw. Also getting down by 10 doesn’t help because you can’t get behind the chains. We always got to try to stay ahead of them. There’s a balance there.

But the receivers, I just think as a team, I mentioned it after the game, it’s true, I just think the growth of the team you could see it the past couple of weeks. The receivers are no different. I think very unselfish, doing the things necessary to help us win a game.

Certainly we want to give them the football. We feel like we have some play-makers out there and get the opportunity to give them the ball.

Q. When you get off to a slower start where teams have scored early but then you have been able to get it back in hand, do you have a sense for why that is happening?

MARK STOOPS: I think the team had a lot of confidence. There was no panic. We talked a lot about that in some of the other losses, I felt like we didn’t respond like we typically do. We made sure to identify that, talk about that, do some things to overcome.

Very proud of the way we did that this time. With the long run, we had one guy get cut out, a couple guys were out of position. In particular he knew what he did wrong, how to get that rectified. I thought our guys did a really good job of responding after that. Coach White did, as well.

I had it written down just from our notes, but after the 76-yard run, I want to say something to the effect of 56 plays for 230 yards. Really did a nice job of keeping them in check outside of that run.

Q. What is your feel for Sawyer Smith’s availability this week?

MARK STOOPS: He’s better, better. Getting the update this morning in our staff meeting that he was further along. Obviously not playing. It was really important for us to get the victory, to get him some more rest so he can continue to get some strength.

I think he’s much further along. They threw out a percentage this morning, but it was significantly better.

Q. (question inaudible)

MARK STOOPS: Well, they did. They created some plays off of the Q (quarterback)-run game. The one play that we had where Lynn could either toss it or run it, with stretching them sideline to sideline with the Q-run game opens up some opportunities sometimes through the middle of the field, puts a lot of stress on the defense.

Lynn did a nice job of hitting that. Trying to think, there were a couple others. There’s always opportunities. He did the nice job on the boot. With the boot, the nice thing about having Lynn at quarterback, he can extend it. You have the patience to continue to roll. We were looking for some things frontside, some things down the field. He came all the way back really to a second or third option with the tight end all the way across.

Again, the athleticism at quarterback extends that play, helps create a little bit there.

Q. When you watch a quarterback like Jack Fromm, what is the game plan to slow him down and keep him in his tracks?

MARK STOOPS: Jake, really a great player. I was about to say one of a kind in college football in that you don’t see that much of that style where he’s so accurate and such a good player.

They have such a good pro-style attack with guys unbelievably strong, big, well-coached offensive line. They’re always as deep a running back corps as anybody in the country. Dynamic guys to throw it to. Very tough in the pro style.

They’ll put a lot of pressure on you. Jake is very, very accurate. I know they didn’t play to their standards a week ago. They’ll get that fixed in short order because he’s a really good football player.

Q. South Carolina had some success play with a quarterback down there kind of like Lynn. What did they do good to move the ball against Georgia?

MARK STOOPS: They did a nice job of managing it late, just getting some aggravating yards, some first downs, things of that nature. Played really good defense, which we all know South Carolina has some good defensive backs, some guys up front.

They’re playing very good football. I said that a week ago. Prior to our game, people probably would have chuckled at me, but you see it now, they’re better than people think, believe me. We all have our ups and downs through the season. That’s a good football team.

Q. The run game on Saturday, a lot more on the edge. Was that something Arkansas was doing or is that a concerted effort on your part?

MARK STOOPS: We felt we had to get some perimeter. With Lynn, with some plays, we had to get some things on the perimeter. Then we came back to it, that’s what opened up some things. Even on third down, ran inside zone for some monster plays. And that’s the kind of stress you put on them, when you run on the perimeter, and then you come back and hit it inside.

I give credit to our staff. Those things, I’m really not trying to throw a jab and be sarcastic, but those are the things that people don’t talk about when they work, you know what I mean? When we run a play on third down, everybody calls the offensive coordinator and myself the biggest moron. Then we run it three or four times for huge gains, doesn’t really get mentioned ever, right (smiling)? I mean that seriously. They got to keep it in mind, fans, too.

We did a nice job of putting stress on them, things on the perimeter, speed option, the toss on the perimeter, then coming back and running it inside zone on third-and-seven, third-and-eight, ripping off some huge gains because where you’re putting stress on them.

Q. What about the short yardage?

MARK STOOPS: Short yardage is definitely an issue. No excuse. We got to get it better. One in particular we had a missed assignment, one we had a bad call or could have done something different the way they were lined up.

I didn’t make a very good decision going for that (fourth down), put our team in a bad spot. Appreciate us being able to overcome that with the defense holding to three, overcoming that deficit.

There’s a lot of things we could do better, but we need to look at it. Felt like after a couple of them, we had a plan that we felt like could work. We got to block it better. We missed something again. Did a lot of good things in there, but sometimes those things are showing up in critical moments, and that can’t happen.

Q. (No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: I don’t know off the top of my head. I don’t have that on me, how many snaps he had. He’ll continue to work his way in there, yeah.

Q. Question regarding the defense’s containment on the edge against Arkansas

MARK STOOPS: We were better. I was really pleased with our secondary. I really felt like we challenged them. I could go off on a tangent about the PI (pass interference). It’s 50/50. I mean, if I’m not playing sticky, everyone is in here, ‘Why aren’t you playing sticky, why not playing tight?’ We play tight and get PI. I don’t know, I’d like to find that balance myself. But, I’m proud of the group challenging them. Even Brandon (Echols), after a hold, PI, whatever they call it, had another tight coverage on the next play. Felt like we challenged them all night.

I think that’s good growth by our secondary. Just because we’re getting some tough calls, playing sticky, getting some bang-bang plays going against us, still coming back and playing aggressive, playing tight. Proud of that growth.

Q: The secondary looks like they have been more disruptive breaking up passes, do you think that has just come from experience or what do you contribute that to?

MARK STOOPS: Again, I think just what I’m saying, that comes from the confidence. Even if they get a tough call, I’m not going to say a bad call, a tough call going against you, you’re coming right back and having the confidence to challenge the next play. Especially against their tight end, that guy is a monster. He creates space. He plays so physical, you have to, or he’s just going to throw you down. You have to match it with him.

I need an explanation on that of why we can’t play physical if they can. I don’t understand that. We got to figure that out. If you don’t play physical, you got no chance against some of these guys.

Q. With that growth, how much have you seen that from Yusuf Corker, who has been making some big plays for y’all recently?

MARK STOOPS: Yusuf has been pretty solid all year. Getting better. Gaining that experience, gaining in leadership, confidence. He’s doing some good things.

Q. Question regarding Jamar Boogie Watson’s progression

MARK STOOPS: He is. This game was probably his most consistent as far as an entire game. As we talked about it in here a few weeks ago after Coach White had a conversation with him, creating the pressure. He was doing that. There were still a few other loose ends. I felt this was probably his most complete game.

Definitely on the production, on our grades, we do several different ways, but on our production, he was definitely one of the most productive guys this week, yes.

Q. We heard from several of your players saying they spent the bye week getting to know each other better. How does that stuff translate to what we saw on Saturday?

MARK STOOPS: I think it’s a big piece of it. We could go on and on. There’s a lot of things I could talk about that.

The bottom line is there were a couple of things that were bothering me. I think just creating our identity. Some of these guys have been through a lot of good times. This team has gone through some tough times this year. With that, a lot of times that’s when you get the most growth. Proud of our players and our staff of really pushing through some adversity. That’s a lot of times some of the most rewarding things as a coach, to get through that.

It was a group effort. I thought our staff did a good job. Coach (Dean) Hood helped me with some things. During the bye, you have time to sit there and reflect on the first five games. We have these things where Jason Cummins, Jason gives me some tools that I’ve been using for years.

We have this borrowed from the military, AAR, after action reviews. We just had one of those. For me, I was kind of frustrated. Let’s talk about some guys, what can I do better, what can we do better, how can we grow? A lot of good ideas from our young coaches to our seasoned veterans. Relied on a lot of guys just to pull together.

Coach Hood had some ideas. I asked him to run with that. He’s helped in that area. I think we’re always looking for ways just to get better and to get the unity of the team. We’re young in certain areas. I just think we’ve grown the past couple weeks.

Q. Halfway through the regular season, with all the adversity, how do you think you’ve done as a head coach? Can you give yourself a midterm grade assessment?

MARK STOOPS: Come on now, you know I’m not going to do that. I’m going to leave that to you (laughter). You know I can’t do that, no.

Any time, you got to make sure you’re doing the things necessary and you’re growing and getting better. The minute you think you got it all figured out, you’re done in this profession.

We’re constantly looking to get better. We’re in a learning environment. We learn and grow in every opportunity, just try to get better.

Q. Question regarding Landon Young’s injury status

MARK STOOPS: Landon got a little ankle. I hope it’s nothing major. We’ll see. Sometimes with a big man like that, unsure how he responds till he gets out there, how it goes, how much he can deal with it.

Hopefully we’ll be at full strength.

Q. Lynn (on) Saturday seemed to be enjoying himself, even when he missed the wheel route just had a smile on his face and was enjoying himself. How infectious was that to the rest of the team?

MARK STOOPS: I think it definitely is. It’s very important. That’s a great point. I think it’s also the team. As I mentioned, I knew our team was in a good spot. That’s not saying you’re ever going to guarantee what’s going to happen or the results. I was very confident in the preparation and the spot where our team was at.

I felt good that the guys were going to go out there and lay it on the line and play well. I think Lynn was no different. Him being a quarterback, being unselfish, being in a difficult situation, he embraced that role. That does rub off. I think the confidence of him rubs off on people.

Q. Who graded out well on the offensive line?

MARK STOOPS: Drake (Jackson). Drake had a really good game. I think he really played well. I think Darian (Kinnard) had a couple of plays that stood out, that were not so good. Other than that he played pretty solid. When those guys are playing a bunch of snaps, he did a lot of good things. There were one or two that he needs to clean up but Drake overall was the most clean, really played a good game.

Q. After Landon went out, how did (Naasir) Watkins play?

MARK STOOPS: He played good, as well. Really felt like Naasir stepped up and played much more like we expect him to.

Q. 3-3 overall, 1-3 in the conference. Are you guys still in the hunt for the SEC East despite all of that? And then your assessment of Georgia?

MARK STOOPS: For us, we never look at any of that. We look at next game. Last week I was asked in here something about the magnitude of the game or the importance of the game. Again, you heard my response. No disrespect, but it’s a chuckle -- what game isn’t important? This is the next one, the next opportunity. Very important. Playing a team from our division and in our league. They’re all important.

You can’t ever get too far ahead of yourself or you get slapped around in a hurry. So you just kind of keep things in perspective, handle the day-to-day, prepare for each week.

Georgia is just what they are, a top five team. I know they took a tough loss last week. Again, you hear me say it all the time, tell me one team that is going to play their best 12 weeks in a row. Doesn’t happen. Some of the elite teams overcome it, Georgia normally does. When they don’t play their best, they can still win with the talent that they have. Didn’t happen for them last week.

No doubt in my mind how they’ll respond, the way they’re coached, what Kirby (Smart) does, their whole staff. Their team has a lot of pride. They’ve won a lot of games. They’re going to come back stronger than ever this week. We have to make sure we match that, we continue to improve, play our very best. We need to play our best football game of the year.

Q. What kind of tools do you have to work with the quarterback on the short game? Kind of like the short game in golf ...

MARK STOOPS: Shoot, I don’t know (laughter). I mean, just keep on doing reps (repetitions), just like short game in golf, reps. Keep on working it.

Lynn missed the one throw. On the play-action where we had where he faked the toss, hit him through the middle, that was effective because of the run game. He missed that throw a little bit in practice. We have no doubt that he’ll get it fixed. Just with a few more reps, I’m confident in some of the intermediate throws he’ll get that fixed, as well.

Q. Going into the bye week, there was a lot of discussion about you got to get more sound in your run fits. Aside from that big play, it felt a little bit more disciplined. How important is it to make sure that’s tidied up for this game?

MARK STOOPS: This game, real important. That’s true. We got to continue to do that. I think you take that long run out, which it is what it is, it’s part of the game, but we got to get that fixed, and we did.

The player that made that mistake, again, was on the sideline. I talked to him directly, looked him in the eyes, I got to do this, and I did this, boom, it’s fixed like that (snapping fingers). We can’t give up explosive plays.

Georgia puts so much pressure on you. These backs, they have their O-line, the backs, the quarterback, the whole deal. They can create an explosive play at any moment. So, we have to play our best.

I think we’re getting better, we’re getting stronger. D-line-wise we’re a little more sturdy up front. I think our backers were a little bit more precise. We got to continue to build on that.

Q. Is it more of an alignment or assignment thing?

MARK STOOPS: Well, yeah, in the past, in other games, it was some different looks, some different things, being more precise. In this game, it was tempo. Outside of the long run, the tempo hurt us a bit. We have to make some subtle adjustments to formations. The tempo slowed us down on that.

That’s where they got some, what we call on the offensive side when we get it, they got it, we gave them some free cheese. Giving them nine-yard runs are aggravating because we’re giving it to them with us not doing our job.

Q. Georgia always makes you think of great running backs over the years. Talk about their running attack now.

MARK STOOPS: Their running backs, I mean, they’re as good as anybody I’ve seen. They go four deep with some guys that can play. They’re typical Georgia.

Q. You are the fourth winningest coach here. You’re thoughts about that, being in that position?

MARK STOOPS: It’s what?

Q. Fourth winningest coach here now. Thoughts about that?

MARK STOOPS: I appreciate it. Just survival and move on. Just survive and move on. Just appreciative of the win and the staff and all the guys. Last week, honestly, this is all internal. When we talk about how you’re feeling, pressure, it’s not pressure. It’s hard on us. It’s hard on our coaches, on our players because we invest a lot. It’s been tough just finding a way, just try to find a way to get the victory. That’s what is exciting about it, as well. That’s what is the real challenge. It’s been fun. But it’s a grind.

These night games are killing me, you know what I mean? You’re back, we got recruits in. I just wrapped up recruiting breakfast again this morning. You get up, Sunday, we go on the road again, night game. I think the next game is going to be another night game here.

I don’t know, I’d like an hour off (laughter). Just an hour, not a day. I’d like an hour (laughing).

Q. Talk about the celebrations in the locker room.

MARK STOOPS: Those are always impromptu and fun. Our team needed to have some fun. They’ve been working hard. I think for us, it’s internal. All this dang social media and all that, it gets out quick. That’s meant for us to just enjoy it in there, me to make a fool of myself.

That’s on them. They get me to do that stuff. I think Marquan (McCall) is the ringleader. For a big man, he can break it down pretty good. I need him to help me with that stuff.

It’s just to have fun. Those guys, they’ve invested a lot. They need to have a little fun, enjoy it. That’s really meant for us in that locker room just to have some fun. It’s fine to share that once in a while. You certainly open yourself to a lot of criticism with my dance moves, that’s for sure.

Q: Being crowdsurfed in the locker room and does he worry about being dropped.

MARK STOOPS: I can handle it. If they drop me, it’s fine.

Q. Did you get to see Benny Snell’s breakout game last night?

MARK STOOPS: I did see a couple runs. I don’t know how he ended up. Congratulations to him. Doesn’t surprise me. Proud of him because he’s with a good group of running backs there, much like his time here. When he got that opportunity, he took it and ran with it. Proud of him and congratulations to him.