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Mark Stoops talks Louisville, injuries, Senior Day & more

The final home game of 2019 for the Wildcats and their departing seniors.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats will look to end the regular season on a high note when they face the Louisville Cardinals in the annual Governor’s Cup. It will also be Senior Day for 11 players set to play their final game at Kroger Field.

A win Saturday would increase the Wildcats’ chances of a big bowl game, and it would also be the fourth-straight year in which Kentucky won 7+ regular-season games, something the program hasn’t done in the modern era of college football.

On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to preview Louisville, give injury updates, and discuss the outing senior class and their impact on the program. Here is a recap of everything Stoops had to say via UK Athletics.

Opening Statement …

“Thanks to Erin (Grant of Kroger), I appreciate you being here (to present the scholarship donation). We appreciate our relationship with Kroger. Thank you for what you do for the Governor’s Cup and what you do for us throughout the year. We are proud to be playing this game at Kroger Field this weekend and trying to keep this cup here with us. Big game this week, excited about the opportunity. I am very proud with how our team played this past week. Rivalry week is here and need to continue that and play a very good game here this week. Coach (Scott) Satterfield and their staff have done a remarkable job this year. This team is playing hard and playing good, so we have to be ready for a big game.”

On if he had a relationship with Coach Satterfield before he got the UofL job …

“No, I really didn’t. I didn’t really know Coach (Satterfield) very well before he got there. Obviously, now, really haven’t crossed paths much outside of the contact period last year. Once we get into the spring, we are not allowed on the road, so it is not like we have bumped into each other much yet but I am sure we will. They have done a very good job. Like I said, I think the big thing is that they are playing extremely hard. They are playing very, very tough and playing hard and that is showing up on the field for them.”

On how difficult it is to change a culture that quickly …

“I think it is very difficult. I think every situation is different. I don’t know about changing a culture. They’ve won pretty good and it seems not that long ago we were sitting up here and they were a top-10 team. They sat there and won 8, 9, 8, 9, 12 and 11 the previous seven years, so, pretty good. They’ve been pretty good and they still have a lot of talented players. He has still done a remarkable job, I am not taking anything away from that, that’s for sure.”

On talk about Stoops being coach of the year …

“Not at all worried about individual recognition, just really worried about our team and finishing this season. I am proud of the job our assistant coaches have done, that is for sure. They have really worked hard and done a remarkable job and our players have really bought in and done the things necessary to compete and win. Again, we are going to need to put that together this week and try to get one more. It is a big opportunity for us this week with a rivalry.”

On Javian Hawkins and Tutu Atwell producing big plays for Louisville …

“Just two very good football players. Tutu is the type of player that can change the outcome at any given moment. Really has some elite speed and they do a nice job of creating for him, much like Lynn (Bowden) when he was at receiver for us, getting him the fly sweeps. They are going to give him the ball at least two times a game, maybe three, on those just quick, easy access (plays) and get him the ball in space. He can run. He runs good routes. He catches the ball in traffic. He’s really played exceptionally well. Hawkins has been a very physical runner for them. Much like us, they are committed to running the football. They want balance and they have created some shots off of the run game, but they are committed to running the football.”

On if the game is important from an in-state recruiting standpoint …

“I think it is always important. I don’t think there is any denying when you are playing a rivalry game that it is important. I have said that since day one. I understand the importance to our fan base and our community and our state and our team. It is always important.”

On how the defense needs to defend a running quarterback such as Micale Cunningham …

“I think, again, that is everybody. I used to take exception when you’d say it hurts you with running quarterbacks. Who doesn’t it hurt? You know, tell me a team that it does not hurt with a running quarterback? Because things break down, somebody as elusive as Cunningham. He has elite speed and makes you miss and he did that last year with the long run (75-yard touchdown) early in the game. He is electric when things break down. I think it comes down to team defense. You have to play good as a team. What they are doing, they are committed to running the football with the running backs and then you add in the option with the quarterback and then you add in plays that break down and him scrambling. Put all that together and it is a lot of stress. Just like you have seen some of our guys do as well, it is hard. You have to play good team defense and be where you’re supposed to be and you have to tackle in the open field because they have some playmakers and you have to be in good position and make good, clean tackles.”

On what impresses him about Louisville’s defense …

“I think what impresses me most is they’re are playing harder. They are playing much harder from a year ago, you can see they are getting good coaching and they have a bunch of guys running to the ball.”

On Coach Eddie Gran saying they have been able to work on more plays offensively in practice and not run them in games the last two weeks …

“Yeah, I hope it can help us a bit. We didn’t have to open up a whole bunch of anything new or the way you dress it up, the way you present it. You are always looking for new ways to present. I think they do a nice job of that as well. They kind of do what they do, but they dress it up and present it to the defense different, they do a nice job with that. I am sure both sides will have a few little wrinkles but both of us will do what we do.”

On what he saw when recruiting Calvin Taylor Jr …

“Length, great length. That is the biggest thing is you look at our football team and we do have some length. A year ago, we had great length and that was something that stood out to us as people come and watch us and other coaches come in and look at us, and pro scouts, look at the size of our team. You definitely want some length and with Calvin you saw a big, athletic guy that we thought could definitely turn into an offensive tackle if we needed him to, but we actually needed him on defense and he just kept on getting better and improving and working hard each year. I mentioned it postgame, but it is a great story for Calvin. Everybody talked about Josh (Allen) last year and the development piece, but Calvin is equally as impressive with where he came from. Nobody was recruiting him and we took a shot on him and he did his part. He worked extremely hard and our strength and conditioning coaches have done a really good job with him and he’s coachable. He is taking the medicine and getting better and better every day.”

On how you evaluate guys like Calvin Taylor now that the program has improved …

“Well, the big thing is for us is making sure we are more selective in who we feel like are good fits for us and the way we coach and what we are trying to accomplish here with that accountability piece we are pushing so hard. I think that is a big piece of it. The talent threshold is always there, you always need to get guys that you feel are talented enough to help you compete. Obviously, you want to get as good of a player as you can get, but I think it is helping us be more selective and find guys the right intangibles that we are looking for.”

On how the senior class has affected the program …

“This one has been equally as impressive with the way that they’ve helped us build this program. They had a lot to do with last year, all of them played. This is a smaller group, just in numbers itself it’s a much smaller group. The attrition hit this class. These guys have been exceptional leaders and great players for us, so we’re excited to send them off with the last game of the year being at home against Louisville, be a big opportunity.”

On Lynn Bowden’s health and being caught in the open field …

“He’s fine. They had good angles on him on a couple of them. He’s good.”

On Jordan Griffin …

“Jordan has been solid for us since he’s been here. Just one of those guys within his group or within his class has always been somewhat of a leader and strong in his beliefs and really helping the team and helping the younger guys. I’m proud of him. He’s had to do a lot. Through the years he’s done a lot of good things for us.”

On Kash Daniel …

“Kash is good. It’s hard. Kash is one of those guys, he leaves everything out there. He practices so hard. He plays so hard. He has some frustrations at times because he’s getting beat up at times. He’s one of those guys, there’s no question each year, last year he had surgeries and had to take care of his body in the off-season. It took him a long time to get healthy. This year, as the year goes on, same thing. He has some ups and some downs, gives it everything he’s got, and I’m really proud of Kash and what he’s done overcoming some adversity and things that maybe not everybody knows about. Each individual is different and goes through some ups and downs and goes through lot of trials and tribulations and things going on in their personal life and their own life and in their families that are just very hard. But the young man gives us everything he’s got all of the time. We love him. He’s a great teammate. He’s ready to go. He’ll be back out there ready to go this week. So, proud of him and the things he’s had to overcome.”

On Kash Daniel’s future in the sport …

“That’s up to Kash and what he wants to do. I know it’s hard to make those decisions right now as you go through a long and stressful season and as you’re beat up mentally and physically. I mentioned how difficult it is. I don’t want him to make any of those decisions right now until he has time after this week to heal up a little bit, rest up. It’s hard for him. He plays so hard that his body feels like it may be time to move on to something different, but that’s his decision, and when and where and how he wants to make it, that’ll be up to him. As far as working here or doing something with me, you never know. Certainly, you love a guy like that and everything he’s done for our program. I would welcome that as well.”

On how important Logan Stenberg has been to the program …

“Logan, mainstay, for years and years. No question. With running the football, you better be physical, and you better be tough inside. Logan has meant an awful lot to us. He really plays exceptionally hard and he’s very, very physical. He’s been very bright, and he’s done a lot of good things for us.”

On Logan Stenberg’s penalties …

“Well, I think that there’s no doubt. If I thought there was a lot of selfish intent, then we would have a bigger problem than we do. A lot of times, that’s not the case. He understands that. He does not want to hurt this football team at all, in any way, shape or form. He’s not selfish, but he plays extremely nasty on every play. He finishes blocks and he plays hard. I’ll take that any day. If there’s issues, not to say that there wasn’t ever any one or two through the years, we’ve addressed them. He understands that. He takes the coaching and moves on. He’s very unselfish.”

On if he remembers being as impressive in line play as the team was vs. UT Martin ...

“Yeah, there was one game I remember at Florida State, we played Florida, and it felt like you had an opportunity to push them the other way about every series. That’s about the last time, Florida State (vs.) Florida at their place. I don’t know what year. It just felt like we had a chance to push them back every play. With this group, I felt like, I think they had 10 yards at half. A lot of that was a gift with the (bad) snaps too. I know we had nine of the first 10 possessions, there was a lot of possessions. You’ve heard me talk through the last couple weeks over the short amount of possessions. There was a lot of possessions, 10 possessions in the first half. We went three-and-out or under on nine of the 10, which is pretty impressive for the defense. We really moved to some younger guys quickly right at the first series of the second half.”

On which younger guys were impressive …

“I think just as a group (they did well). I don’t know of any one individual. Jared Casey, probably, played a lot of snaps and did some really good things. He’s been up practicing and ready to go all year, I think he stood out. Really played well and did some good things. I think Isaiah Gibson showed some flashes and Cavon (Butler). All of those guys have played hard and worked hard this year.”

On Louisville’s explosive offense going against UK’s defense which hasn’t allowed a lot of explosive plays ...

“You’re correct. They’ve had a lot of explosive plays. I want to say 41 going into this past week and maybe six games of 20 or more. They had a boat load against Syracuse as well. So, they’ve had a lot of explosive plays. They really have, and they’re balanced in them. It’s not just in the pass game. They’ve had a lot of explosive runs. That’s why I say their commitment to the run game opens up some opportunity. They will keep on pounding and keep on handing it off and chopping wood in the run game and create some explosive that way. It also opens up some shots down the field. I think with us, we’ve just played solid team defense. I don’t think there’s any one thing that you could put it on. You have to make competitive plays. You’re going to be in some one-on-one situations that you have to make competitive plays down the field. That’ll be important again in this game.”

On Phil Hoskins possibly coming back for a sixth season…

“We can’t put that appeal in until after the season. There is no guarantee that that will happen, hopefully it will. If you look at the stipulations for that, he would be a perfect candidate. There should be no reason why he shouldn’t get that, but I can’t guarantee that until after the season. He knew that when we had these discussions.”

On Satterfield’s scheme compared to Bobby Petrino’s ...

“I think it’s different. I really do. Both of them do a nice job of setting things up and getting the ball down the field. When Coach Petrino was rolling and really doing great offensively, there was also great balance like there is now in their offense. There’s some things that are similar but scheme-wise they’re different.”

On what he’s most proud of with how the defense has progressed ...

“I’m proud of them just playing great team defense. It starts with having an energy about you and a conviction to get to the football and play hard and play tough and Brad (White) and the assistant coaches have done a really good job of getting them in good position and the guys have played exceptionally hard and they are taking great pride in the way they’re are playing, so those are some things that I am very proud of.”

On potential rain for Saturday’s game (laughter) ...

“It’s been strange. We’ve won each game, I think, haven’t we? 2-1, Georgia, that’s right. It is what it is. I think everybody knows that we are going to throw the ball 50 times (laughter), so that may hurt a little bit.”

On what he makes of “bulletin board” material ...

“I didn’t hear Lynn (Bowden) saying anything that would be bulletin board material, I didn’t see that yet or hear about that yet, but I don’t think that there is any hiding from a rivalry game, there’s going to be no problem getting our teams up, excited to play, but it is really about the discipline and the execution. That stuff goes out the window quick, it can hurt you. You want them amped up and ready in their prep, starting today and tuned in, having a great week of preparation. Generally speaking, the more disciplined team will win, and we haven’t always been perfectly disciplined in playing this group in the past and so we want to make sure I do a good job of coaching them up and getting them prepared to play. The talking and the chirping and all that does you really nothing, except hurt you at times. We want them excited and want them amped up and ready to go, again, with our preparation. Come Saturday, everybody wants to win. Who wants to win today?”

On Benny Snell and Bud Dupree’s days in the NFL yesterday ...

“They had great games, I’m proud of those guys. I just got off the phone with Benny and was talking to him. He was getting some treatment and icing himself down and sounded very, very good and very positive, so proud of Benny and Bud and all the guys. I didn’t see much, but I know Z (Za’Darius Smith) probably had another big game, did he? Did Za’Darius play well? Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me.”

On how he handles this week with Thanksgiving and a rivalry game ... 

“Our team has done a good job with this week in the prep in the past. We have a routine and we will stick to it, we will have a normal Monday and a normal Tuesday, we’ll have a normal Wednesday, it may be a touch earlier, those guys will get to sleep in a little bit so the coaches can get off the field and we’ll watch some film. Then we have all the players go to the assistant coaches’ houses on Wednesday night and have a nice family meal. Then Thursday we will have our regular routine as far as film and walkthrough and then we’ll have dinner together as a group Thursday after practice here. Then generally they go to family or friends that are close and some guys will partner up if they are far away and go to some other folks’ house and probably eat another meal Thursday night and then sleep. It probably works out good that we have our run through on Friday so we can get ‘em out they can run some of that turkey off and stuffing and all that. We’ll have our normal routine on Friday. Our guys have handled it well in the past. I think it is kind of nice for them to have a little bit of school off so that they get to catch up on a little rest, so hopefully that will help.”

On Sawyer Smith getting more playing time this past week ... 

“It was good, it’s always good to get those guys in and get Sawyer (Smith) some reps and continue to get some of the dust off and get him some game reps and Walker (Wood), again it was really good to Walker in the game and all of our young guys, really good, we got a bunch of people in this last game.”

On how the back-up QB’s are doing ...

“They’re doing good, doing better. It doesn’t surprise me; we expect them to. So, continue to progress and get them ready to go.”

On who was his college rival when he played and if things changed that week ...

“It was Iowa State, Iowa-Iowa State, it was always a big rivalry for us up there, probably not for y’all ‘round here, but for us it was good. I can’t remember things changing too much. Like I said, I think that will get talked about a lot this week, but really, we have to remain focused and we have to be disciplined. Everyone is going to want to win, but how you handle your emotions and execute, that is what it is going to come down to.”

On if he was a good trash talker ...

“Nah, not really. Come on, you know I’m going to play it tight to the vest here.”

On Jared Casey and JJ Weaver keeping a game left on their redshirt for Louisville ...

“I know they’ll be excited, but they are excited about each opportunity they have to play in games and when they are dialed in. I really like this rule, I think that it’s been really helpful to the players and really for us as well because we get thin and we need some help in certain games from backups that are game-ready and the fact that they’ve progressed through the year is a direct reflection to this rule and what it is meant for, so they’ll both be ready play and are excited about the opportunity.”

On if Xavier Peters was available to play on Saturday ...

“He was (available). He did not (play).”

On if other teams have called him to be their head coach ...

“I don’t want to get into any specifics about anything like that and I don’t want to open up speculation and things for the future, I just don’t think it is appropriate. I was pretty clear, I’m really intent on being here and building this program and we have unfinished business and I am excited about the future, so, pretty clear.”

On if it feels like there is more energy in this game because both teams are bowl eligible ...

“I think it’s good that both teams are in a good position and that hasn’t always been the case, even with us, we have played them good at times and not so well at times and it was about us elevating our program and getting better each and every year and that’s my focus, it’s our program and getting it better. I know coach (Scott) Satterfield is the same way and has them playing much better than they did a year ago, that is for sure, there’s no denying that. It’s nice to see both programs in good position, doing things and trying to do things right in all areas in developing our program.”

On if he relaxes after getting to bowl eligibility ...

“We don’t look at it like that, we really don’t. With these opportunities, with us, you get 12 guaranteed opportunities and they’re all pretty big, especially against a rival, so there is a lot at stake, and we are excited about the opportunity.”

On potentially being the first UK coach to go to five straight bowls next season (note that UK also went to five straight bowls in 2006-10 under two coaches, Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips) ... 

“I didn’t even know until you just brought it up, so not even thinking about that. Is it important for me to continue to build this program? I think we all know that and that’s why I’m excited about being here and doing that and continuing to grow the program in all areas, that motivates me.”