For the third-straight season, Kentucky is 1-0 following their regular-season opener.
This time, the Cats overcame a slow start to beat Toledo 38-24. It was a game that saw Kentucky trail 14-7 before going on a 31-3 run to take command and never look back.
Next up is Eastern Michigan, who, like Toledo, is from the MAC. The Eagles ent 7-6 last year and even won at Purdue. They also beat Toledo at home.
Needless to say, this isn’t a program to sleep on, so Mark Stoops will need to have his Cats focused to score win No. 2.
On Monday, Stoops met with the media to recap Toledo and preview Eastern Michigan. Here is a recap of everything Stoops said today via UK Athletics:
MARK STOOPS: Obviously, in game one you look around the country and there’s a lot of mistakes going on and a lot of things happen in week one, so it’s good to get that game under the belt. We knew Toledo was going to be a very good football team, they’re well coached, they’re used to winning football games, came in here and played well.
I would like to get off to a faster start. I think Toledo had a lot to do with that, they did some good things. We did not execute very clean early in the game and they moved it a little bit and converted on some third downs and those are some things that we have to work on. We have to get better at. And as the game went on our players really settled in and did some good things, and we talk about that often. Players need to understand that early in the season, because as they go through the year you have circumstances where you see that things change. And early in the season it’s important to talk about those things and you have a game plan and you work on that game plan for a couple weeks heading into that first game and then sometimes things change. And I was really proud of our players and our coaches to stay poised, stay focused, make a few adjustments, just settle in and start playing football and I thought we really did some good things. The good news is early on in the game some of the mistakes that happened are easily fixable. And we’ll get back to work here this week and work on those things and hopefully make a big improvement between week one and week two. So we’re really focusing on ourselves and now that we have a game under our belt we have some guys that hadn’t played a lot of football and we kind of see what they can do, get back to work here this week and look to improve.
Excited about being home, opportunity to play Eastern Michigan. They gave us one heck of a game a couple years ago, so we know they’re another good football team from the MAC, very well coached, and very similar in that way. Eastern beat Toledo a year ago. We know Toledo was a good team. So Eastern is very capable and very well coached and again, played us to a four-point game two years ago, so we have to get back to work and focus on ourselves and attention to detail and get much better here this week.
Q. You’ve said many times you don’t apologize for ugly wins. So what was your reaction as you watched some of the other scores in the division on Saturday, some teams who weren’t as lucky. Did you mention that to your team?
MARK STOOPS: Well I will mention that to our team. I point out a lot of things to them every week, but part of it is just football IQ, because I don’t think they watch as much as we all did. So I’ll definitely point out some plays that happened throughout this past week that myself and our coaches grab and want to show them and also just talk about that, if you’re not prepared to play. And that is something that I was very pleased with our team. I mentioned it to you all through the camp because it was true. I liked the way they were going about their business. It doesn’t mean we were perfect. And I also noticed it last week, come maybe Wednesday, Thursday, I started noticing, thinking about it, because our guys don’t want to let their teammates down. They don’t want to let their coaches down. And some guys that maybe hadn’t played very much start getting a little tight and a little bit wide eyed. And not because they’re scared, it’s just because they don’t want to let people down. And that’s what I talked about is that’s why you have a team. And there’s strengths and weaknesses and there’s going to be one group or one side of the ball pick the other one up at times and I was proud of our team for doing that.
Q. What can you glean from the 2017 film, if anything, because of the personnel and all?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, both teams have evolved and are different, but we definitely are watching it and as a matter of fact our defensive staff is watching it right now as I walked down here. So we will definitely look at it and see. But I thought, I remember this, that they did a nice job of just staying patient and nickel and dime’ing us and being efficient, trying to stay ahead of the chains, much like Toledo did this past week early on. That’s why Toledo was effective. And they were in third and manageable. And when they got in third and long, they didn’t have as much success and we had more success and that’s what we’re looking for. But Eastern Michigan does a really nice job of staying ahead of the chains. They’re a good, physical football team that plays the game the right way and they like to stay efficient. So it will be another challenge that way.
Q. After watching the film how did you think your offensive line played?
MARK STOOPS: I thought they did some really good things. Pass protection-wise very good. In the run game the same. I thought they did some really good things, there’s obviously some things that we need to clean up. I thought the running backs did some really good things, but they missed several runs as well. But that’s why we watch the film and we’ll teach off it and get better. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed. It’s nothing that wasn’t for a lack of -- they definitely were trying hard, that’s for sure. So there’s things we’ll get cleaned up.
Q. The last time you played Eastern Michigan (in 2017) you had five quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for loss (against you). Do you think the offensive line can take that? Do they have a long memory?
MARK STOOPS: (OL coach John) Coach Schlarman already pointed that out. So they, yeah, definitely, Coach Schlarman was definitely talking about that already this morning and yesterday. So he’ll get their attention, he’ll get them right and they will be ready to play.
Q. Josh Allen, one of the things he did last year was make some key plays at key moments. So how great was it to see DeAndre (Square) and some of your best players do that Saturday?
MARK STOOPS: It was important. Even Lynn’s catch. I think we were only up seven on that third and five and he goes and makes that tough catch. It was good to see that as well. Again, I touched on that. You’ve heard me talk about it through camp. The strength of our team, you better be the strength, because we have some inexperience, and that showed up Saturday. But I’m confident we’ll get it fixed. That’s the good thing. After watching the film, I’m very encouraged because I thought there’s a lot of things we did well and a lot of mistakes we made, but the mistakes can be corrected so that’s encouraging.
Q. Along those lines, a lot of your key players are guys that are sophomores and juniors, so how excited does that make you for potential for growth this year but also future years?
MARK STOOPS: Oh, definitely. It is encouraging, because you know when you have the exodus that we had this past year that you have to overcome that inexperience and that’s just the way it is. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you, right? I mean just ask Coach Cal(ipari), right? He’s got to deal with that every year. So it’s hard. I tell him all the time, I said, I don’t know how you do that. I don’t know how you can do that. It’s hard coaching young guys. It’s tough, it’s a challenge, but we all have to do it and that’s what also makes it a lot of fun, I guess, too.
Q. After you looked at the film, how did your young linebackers, especially Jordan (Wright), how did you evaluate that?
MARK STOOPS: He did a good job. I was pleased with him. He can play either side and we need him to play well and he’s a different type of player than Josh Pascal. So I was really encouraged with the way he played. And he’s got to continue. He’s got to continue to push, so let’s not be too nice to him right now.
Q. On Jordan, I think (DC) Brad (White) said earlier that he needed to learn how to play to his length. What exactly does that mean?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I think that using his length and using his strength and there’s a techniques that Brad will give him where if you’re not using the full length on your pass rush and things like that, it’s not going to help him. So if he’s 6’5” we want him to play that way and with the wing span.
Q. What do you think when you heard that Georgia State beat Tennessee?
MARK STOOPS: I got an opportunity to watch some of that. So I was watching it unfold and, you know, it can happen to any of us, so I’m not going to sit up here and throw any stones, that’s for sure. You heard me say it, you get an opportunity to be humbled every seven days sitting up here. So I’m not going to get out in front of my skis. So been there before. But, no, I think that you know, it’s just, across college football, these are young kids. We don’t get any exhibition games or anything. I mean, we just practice against ourselves. And so early on it’s very difficult because if you have some inexperienced players, they’re just so used to playing your team and then you go play somebody else, they dress things up differently, maybe same plays, things just look different and it’s just different. So we don’t get the opportunity to have scrimmage games against other opponents and/or exhibition games or pre-season games, so it’s tough. And early on you just -- you know, I really harp on our team and try to beat it into them that we can’t beat anybody until you stop beating yourself. And I think early on that happens a lot in football.
Q. Was the game plan going into last week to put the defensive backs in extremely tough situations? I saw kind of like a lot of man coverage, saw those guys really doing a good job competing. (Brandin) Echols came in, really took advantage of his reps. Can you talk about that group?
MARK STOOPS: I was pleased, I thought Brandon came in and did some really good things. That was good to see. It’s good for him to get back in full health and playing better. And he’s a competitor, that’s what we like about him, he’s really tough. So I thought those guys did some really good things. Jamari (Brown), you know, early on we could have helped him with the deep pass. Everybody knows he kind of misjudged that ball but it really, what happened was he got bad eyes. And you heard me talking last week and then he young secondary players, it’s all about his eyes. He was looking at the inside receiver so it wasn’t like he saw, he just misjudged it. It was just his eyes were wrong. However, that starts up front. We had a guy up front that at outside backer that could have re-routed that guy. He sat there and watched him run right pass him. So our jack end, Josh Pascal, I like Josh’s chances of re-routing that young man if he just plays big. And Josh didn’t play big there, he let the guy run right up the seam. Jamari’s eyes got lost and started looking in there. And that’s -- so people don’t always see the front problem with that. That problem could be fixed easily if we all just do our job. But Jamari also, you know, our corners in general they had a couple other plays where their eyes were really bad. They were in the wrong position. And that’s probably the biggest area, I wouldn’t say that you were panicked about it, but you knew you had to drive into them during camp, because it’s just so different when you get out there and play and you’re playing other teams and it takes some reps and some experience at that spot, especially on certain plays and certain things. And so there’s a lot to learn from, there’s some mistakes. We can get them fixed quickly and we need to. But then there’s other times where they showed up really good that you were mentioning and I was pleased. I think you could see their confidence growing as the game went on. And so I’m excited about them and getting back to work this week and I’m sure they’re excited to get back to work.
Q. How encouraging is that especially for a young secondary that they kind of shook off the mistakes at the first of the game and didn’t get their heads down and let that affect them after that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s real important because have you to have some nerve and some thick skin to play that position. And you better have a short memory as well, because nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. And we have to, we always put those guys on an island. You’ve heard me talk, there’s ways to protect them sometimes and you try to, but in general there’s no hiding. That’s the growing pains that we had early on. When I sat right here I remember those exact quotes, like, just it is what it is. You have to win some one-on-ones. And show me somebody that can double up those receivers all day long and win. I haven’t seen it. You know what I mean? We did a decent job of it at Florida State, but we could play two high and double guys a decent amount, but not always. And it’s some different guys up front too. But it’s hard to do in general now. People block you and the running game is so different, game constantly evolves.
Q. On the flip side, the receivers, all those guys who hadn’t caught passes before were out there making plays on Saturday. What’s their confidence going into the second game?
MARK STOOPS: I’m encourage by the wide receiver position. We had been seeing signs of that through spring and through camp. And I think these guys are working hard. And you saw some competitive catches and some guys that have some talent and we need to continue to grow.
Q. Sounded like after the game immediately there were some questions you had about the running backs and how they played. What did the film show with those guys?
MARK STOOPS: I thought they did some good things. And it wasn’t just the running backs. It was our team. We’ll continue to talk about certain things, but I think in general I thought they did some good things. I thought they had some tough runs and that position takes some experience as well and some touches and a feel for it and so there’s definitely a lot to build from there.
Q. Is everybody healthy?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we’re in pretty decent shape, I think. Yeah, I think we’re in good shape. Nothing that should keep anybody out.
Q. In regard to injuries themselves, as a head football coach you have to put on a game face and it’s next man up, but from a personal standpoint that really has to be hard when a player goes down, let’s say, a season-ending injury. What advice do you have? A lot of times we don’t know what to say to them. What advice do you have for them?
MARK STOOPS: Well I think those guys, there’s really nothing you could say that’s going to make them feel much better. Again, I think it’s reality. And if you play this sport it’s going to happen to you at some point or another if you play long enough. So it’s very hard because those guys put a lot of work in. They put a lot of work in for a lot of years for only so many opportunities. So it is a difficult situation. Just with Davonte (Robinson) and the work that he put in and we needed him. But there’s not a lot of time to sit around and feel sorry yourself or for the team. So Davonte’s in good spirits and working hard. And it’s the same for Nick (Scalzo). I really feel for Nick because he just went through it. Poor kid just went through a whole year of rehab and comes out and got to do it again. That’s not a lot of fun. There’s a lot of pain involved with that injury. So you know, so I’m not sure. We support them, that’s for sure. And we support them and encourage them and go sit with them and talk with them, but there’s not, I don’t think there’s anything, any one thing you could say to somebody to make them feel a lot better.
Q. On Bryce Oliver…
MARK STOOPS: Bryce is learning to play tough and learning to play big and we’re encouraged. We feel like he’s got a bright future. You got to love somebody that has that attitude and is willing to be very selfless and give it everything he has on special teams. That’s the fastest way to gain respect from your teammates and coaches, to make special teams plays like that. And then he showed up on the field and he made a great catch, competitive catch at an important time when it was second and long, second and what? 13, 14 or whatever on that catch. So it was important.
Q. What has been like your philosophy and Coach (Dean) Hood’s philosophy in terms of how you field players on your special teams? You got Bowden back there, a punt returner. At any moment he can catch a ball and take it the distance. Is your thought process to try and get the best players on the field that can aid Lynn or get younger players on the field and really turn them kind of into what you want them to be?
MARK STOOPS: There’s a balancing act there. It’s tough because you can’t overwork them all. And we had those conversations with Lynn as well because Lynn’s a kick returner, punt returner, doing a lot of things on offense, and that stuff can take a lot out of you. So, but in those positions you want the most dynamic guys you can get at the return positions. And then on the rest of the special teams unit, yeah, all of our starters play and participate in some way, shape, or form, if they can help us. Some of the bigger guys don’t. But they all help. But you also have to worry about the workload as well and how much you’re putting on them, and if there’s some younger guys that could really concentrate on that. And that’s where you really make hay and Coach Hood does a great job with that and all of our coaches, of getting those guys really bought into the fact that they, because they, you know, the fact of the matter is they have, they have some snaps in them and they’re athletic guys, we recruited them here. And they put a lot into it and maybe that’s their niche, that’s their role, and they have to buy into their role and give it everything they can and help us in those spots. (Brett) Slusher is a great example of that.
Q. After you watched the film, how did you feel that Terry (Wilson) played?
MARK STOOPS: I’m encouraged by Terry’s play. Big difference is when -- he did miss a couple throws, but he knew right away what he did fundamentally. One of them was a timing, one of them was re-setting his feet, and so he knows it. So they have worked hard. Coach Hinshaw and him have worked hard. And he knows right away, like, it wasn’t like, oh, I just missed the throw. It was fundamentally whether it was his timing, how he set it up, whether he double clutched or didn’t reset his feet on one. And so there’s things that will be, with reps, again, those are easily corrected. And so when you look at it, I was pleased. I thought he really threw some good balls. And the ones he didn’t he can get fixed.
Q. How pleased are you that he’s grown in that way, the way he recognizes his errors?
MARK STOOPS: That’s everything. It’s so important. Because he will keep on repping it and keep on working it and it will come to him. So they have put a lot of time in, just the comfort level of being out there and having those snaps. And certainly it helps when the offensive line does the job that they did. And anybody will tell you, a big term you’ll hear in this league is affecting the quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily always mean pressuring them, but affecting them in different ways whether you’re collapsing the pocket changing coverages, mixing things up, you just don’t want that guy comfortable.
Q. You’ve got a bunch of guys on the defensive line rotation. How did they look on your film review?
MARK STOOPS: Did some good things. We got to continue to grow. There’s a couple, there’s some issues that we will get fixed, where we got to make the trip, so to speak, you know what I mean? They didn’t get to where they need to to cut things off. Our rush lanes were a little sloppy at times. We’re getting past the quarterback a little bit. With a guy like that that can scramble, we got to be a little more disciplined. There’s things we’ll get fixed. But pretty solid in just predictable run situations. They had some yards, but in college football you have to count the quarterback, so it’s not like we’re living in La La Land or something, you know. The quarterback runs in college football. It’s just the way it is. So you better account for him. But there’s also real problems if there’s running and predictable running and they’re running the ball at you, and that really wasn’t too much of the case. I thought we were pretty stout in the predictable run situations. Coach White did a nice job. He had some things, some tweaks to what we do defensively that made them a little uncomfortable and made them play a little bit left-handed. And then our guys are pretty big and strong in general, so that better be one of our strengths throughout the season, is our run defense.
Q. How comfortable did Coach White seem the first game out there?
MARK STOOPS: He’s good, he’s a professional. He’s a true professional, he’s very, very well prepared, he handles himself very well, he’s very detailed, he knows what he’s talking about. It’s, it was new to him and of course I’m sure he had some anxiety, didn’t get off to a great start, but I thought he did a nice job because -- and I told him this -- because from experience as well, I’ve been there before and when things don’t work, sometimes you want to deviate quickly and throw some crap at the wall that doesn’t work. And he didn’t do that. He knew he had a good plan, he was detailed going into it, we had our plan and what we wanted to do and do what we do, along with enough change-ups and I thought it was really solid. The first three drives what did they have like roughly 173, 174, and I think the next 12 they had about the same. And I want to say there was 11 straight possessions when the game, when we were fighting our way to get tied or get ahead and kind of take charge in the game, I want to say there was 11 straight possessions where it ended with a punt or a turnover. So I thought that he did a nice job, the staff did a nice job and the players did as well of not panicking, staying poised, focused, getting the adjustments, third down was a big issue with it and so we settled in pretty good.
Q. Has (punter) Max Duffy’s age helped in his composure and when you’re doing different things?
MARK STOOPS: Definitely, yeah, you can’t faze him. “Yeah, coach,” you know, he’s not real worried about anything. I mean that in a good way, like he cares a great deal, he loves the team and he cares, but he, yeah, he’s a different dude, you know.
Q. You’re several years into this, you seem to be real comfortable out there, is it fair to say that you kind of enjoy these sessions now days?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, after a win. Yeah. Every seven days. I know, trust me. I know. No, I do enjoy it. I enjoy the relationships. I know things, they are what they are. I try to be fair, try to be honest, but, yeah, you got about seven days to feel comfortable. As soon as a loss comes in you don’t feel real comfortable. So that’s never going to change.