clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Mark Stoops previews Kentucky vs. Mississippi State

New, 1 comment

Kentucky will look to become the first road team to win in this series since 2014.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

For all of the success Mark Stoops has had, his Kentucky Wildcats have never won in Starkville.

Despite winning the last three times Mississippi State has ventured to Lexington, Stoops and his Cats are 0-4 on the road vs. the Bulldogs. Kentucky hasn’t won in Starkville since the 2008 season when Rich Brooks was still at the helm of the program.

Is this the week Kentucky finally wins a road game in this series?

On Monday, Stoops met with the media to preview the latest edition of Kentucky vs. Mississippi State. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

Opening Statement …

“Good to get back into game week, back in the swing of things. It was nice for us to have the bye week. Obviously, we had a lot to do, lot to focus on, lot of areas to improve. A lot of players needed some time to medically heal up a bit and hopefully be in a really strong position for the second part of the year. Starting with a big challenge going on the road to a very tough environment and a place that we haven’t played our best football. Going on the road to Mississippi State in Mike Leach’s second year and we know it will be a real challenge. They have done some very good things this year in all phases. Offensively this year, it is really no surprise to anybody to see the improvement. With Mike, that is no surprise, that’s to be expected. We all know the kind of quality football coach he is. But you continue to see a very, very strong defense as well that presents a lot of problems and the same with special teams. They are a complete football team. We will have to have a great week of preparation as we get ready to go down there to Mississippi State.”

On if there has been a common theme to not playing great at Mississippi State …

“I can’t put my finger on any one thing. There were times when we were down there and not really in a good game. There were times early on where we had a chance to steal one and we had a guy backside, offside (on an onside kick), I will never forget that. On the onside kick, he was an inch offsides but he was on the backside he could’ve stood there and scratched his head. But then, there were other games that weren’t that good and they were a better football team than us. Then there’s other times when you name it. You have to coach better, play better, be better prepared, no excuses. We just have to go down there and play better.”

On if Josh Ali or Marquan McCall will be back this week …

“We will see. I feel like there’s a chance, yes.”

On having a more stable QB situation this time than two years ago …

“Definitely, the continuity will help and being at full strength at that position always helps. There’s no question. We just have to continue to work on ourselves no matter who we play or where we play. It’s really about having a great week and you know that, you hear me talk about it every week. We have to prepare well and be ready for a lot of things. They play very good football. I am impressed, especially defensively, really doing a very good job.”

On their defense …

“They have big, strong guys that twist and they can do multiple things defensively. They can be true 3-4, they can look like four down, they can do 3-3, they move their Jack (linebacker/end) around a little bit and they have some big guys, they have length, they cover well. They really do a lot of good things.”

On the challenge against their offense …

“I think they can see on film, any time you face a team that throws the ball upwards of 60 times a game, it has your attention. Will (Rogers) is doing a really good job of running the offense. You can see his comfort level going higher and higher and getting rid of the football and not putting them in such negative situations as you would in the first year in a program with a young quarterback. You see him playing at a very high level and getting to where they want to be.”

On handling the quick passes underneath and staying patient …

“I think there has to be a mixture. Brad (defensive coordinator Brad White) did a nice job a year ago of mixing things up. They will, they are continuing to evolve and grow but yet you see the same things that Mike has been doing a long time. Mainly, just how well they execute things. They do what they do, the quarterback, they understand their system. You can see their receivers playing at a much higher level this year, understanding when to sit down and when to run. Just doing the basics much better. Mike always presents problems and his offenses always do. You see them being more effective and that goes the same for us. We have to be multiple and mix things up and have to play good football.”

On getting a look at some younger players in the bye week who can help the team down the stretch …

“We will see how it goes. I feel good about the young guys that are playing for us now and the ones that are close. It is a good group, working hard.”

On JuTahn McClain’s progress …

“He is, (but) he had a minor setback physically a week ago. So, that kind of hurt (his progress).”

On DeMarcus Harris building on his game since Georgia...

“I’d like to see him continue to build on that, we need him to. We need some of our receivers to continue to step up, we have talked about that for a while. I think he will have some opportunities.”

On the emphasis of winning the “one on one” battles...

“It’s always an emphasis, it is always a team game. Within that team, whether it’s offense, defensively there’s always going to be some one on ones – whether it is pass rush, on the edge, safety, you name it. There’s one on one battles, and we’re going to have to win some of them. They have some very athletic guys, and have some receivers that they like to isolate and put them in one-on-one situations to make some plays. So, we have to be able to counter that and compete.”

On Izayah Cummings’ physical status...

“We will see how he is as the week goes on, we’ll see.”

On the sounds of cowbells in Davis Wade Stadium, and how much of a factor they play...

“I definitely think they are a factor. I’m still lobbying for some deal here. Get that deal going and blow a bunch of air horns or something the whole game. It’s a pretty good deal for them.”

On how the UK offensive line has handled previous crowd noise this season...

“You can see by watching that games that we’ve handled it relatively well — considering the hostile environment, considering what we saw, (visiting) people and how they were affected here in Kroger Field. The way we’ve gone on the road, we’ve handled it relatively well. We need to continue to improve on that. The good things we did in those games we need to build on, but overall not too bad.”

On getting back into game speed after a bye week...

“It is very important, and it was important to me last week to do that — to not take the foot off the gas with the players, and they were really good. I appreciate the players and how they handled the bye week last week, because they understood there was going to be some built-in time off, but the time on the field, whether it be in the meetings or on the practice field, we needed to continue to keep that (intensity). I’m always concerned about that. We will come back with a normal week, we will go faster today because they’re healed up and didn’t play the game Saturday, so we’ll pick up a little tempo today.”

On Chris Rodriguez and the running backs bouncing back from the Georgia game…

“No problem. Anytime we don’t, as a team or individually, play the way we want to you’ve got to go back to work and try to get better and figure it out. Chris is a big boy and he’ll handle it the right way.”

On the development and attention for Eli Cox...

“We do appreciate that, because Eli is what we thought he was going to be. I don’t want to be a headline, you’re just asking me and we’re just discussing it, (he’s) probably playing better than you may have anticipated earlier. We knew what we were getting, and we wanted him and we figured he would be what he is— just a guy who plays extremely hard, that cares, that cares about his teammates, that plays well within that group both the O-line group and the offense and the team. He is what we thought he would be, maybe, and more. I just have a lot of respect for him. He plays extremely hard, gets better with every opportunity and competes, like some other over-achievers we’ve had here over the years.”

On Michael Drennen getting more opportunity…

“Nothing is stopping him from doing that. Reps, him getting the opportunity. Continuing to practice and do all of the little things right. There is a lot of things that go into it. Everyone gets infatuated with a name, and I’m not even talking about Michael, I’m talking about anybody. There’s a lot that goes into it. Michael is progressing and earning trust from teammates and coaches. He has a lot of talent and (is) finding the right niche. Here is a guy that played wide receiver, playing running back, had setbacks. He is going to get there, you’ve just got to stay the course.”

On players such as Lonnie Johnson and Jamin Davis playing well in the NFL and does Coach Stoops get to watch them…

“Really proud, you mentioned Lonnie, I see Lonnie really popping off the screen every week. I don’t get a chance to watch all of them. I don’t have that cable, maybe you have that cable you can watch all of them. I see the highlights, Jamin and all of them, just proud of those guys. Typically on Sundays, yesterday we were back to work, the Sunday before is really the only Sunday we ever have off all year. So, that’s their one and only day off, coaches they better enjoy it, so they’re probably spending time with their kids and not watching football. But anyway, proud of all those (NFL) guys. Actually, just got off the phone, said hi to Bud Dupree. He’s feeling better and getting back into it. Was good to talk to Bud, and just proud of all those guys and what they’re doing.”

On what it says that players are not only getting drafted but also producing…

“It does say a lot. As our players produce in the NFL you see more and more guys (NFL scouts) around here. We’ve seen that anyway, but it seems like it’s overload, which is good. We want our players to get looked at it. There’s so many NFL scout through here, it’s been amazing. They’re taking a good look at our guys. The fact that they’re doing well at the next level, it’s important. We’re just happy for the players but of course it helps build the program as well.”

On Mike Leach’s postgame discussion of Halloween candy on Saturday and do you have a favorite Halloween candy…

“I knew that question was coming. I did. You want me to do my best Mike Leach (imitation)? (laughter) There’s one and only one Mike, and I won’t even try to go there, so I just stay away. You can tell by me I eat any candy.” (laughter)

On how the defensive tackles played against Georgia in the absence of Octavious Oxendine…

“We held up. We’re getting better. It’s hard because Octavious was starting to take that next jump and play. Like I mentioned, he really watches Josh (Paschal) and tries to emulate a lot of what Josh does not only on the field, but off (the field). We need to continue to bring those other guys along. I feel like Justin (Rogers) and Josaih (Hayes) are starting to play at a higher level inside (at noseguard). Abule (Abadi-Fitzgerald) and some of the others, we’ll get Tre’vonn (Rybka) going. They’re getting better, they’ll get better with every rep.”

On if there is one position group that showed improvement during the bye week…

“I can’t pinpoint any, I really can’t, I wish I could. I was appreciative of the team’s approach and I felt like we had a really good week. Sometimes they can be just looking forward to getting (off), because they’re so worn out mentally and physically, they’re looking forward to getting that time off, not really being focused. I felt like we had a good week and I appreciate that. Now, we need to come back today and (be) ready to go.”

On what both teams can take from last year’s game against Mississippi State…

“It really was a closer game than it appeared until we got the late pick. The game was in balance for 60 minutes, until late, let’s put it that way, later in the fourth quarter. It was a good game. I felt like, obviously, they were in the first year of their system offensively and they’re going to be at a much higher level right now. They still are a physical football team and they’ve never disappointed that way. When you go watch them and you go out there for pre-game warmups, they’re always a good-looking football team with great length, very good length and size, and play very physical.”

On the astonishment of the six interceptions last year...

Not really, however we got to play, whatever we have to do to get a victory. We are going down there in a hostile environment. We’ll take it any way we can get it.”

On only having three interceptions this season…

“I think last year, when you’re looking at it, a couple of them were fortunate breaks with tips and things, like I tell you guys all the time, sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Right? So, you can’t always count on that. Playing ahead helps, we’re ahead and some of that was maybe desperation late, so that’s not the norm. The way Will (Rogers) is playing this year for them, you don’t ever anticipate six picks. We’d be very fortunate if that happened — have to get lucky with a break, a weird tip or whatever. He’s taking care of the football, operating their offense at a much higher level so very different between this year and last year.”

On trying to produce turnovers by more than doing drills in practice…

“Try to produce all the time. Like I told you, did you do the research after I talked to you about it, the one year when we led the country in fumbles when we weren’t very good? Did you do it? I’d like to know, I forget what year it was, because somebody pointed that out to me. But we always coach it up and they are coached up well, too. Look at us, we had some issues early and what did we have to do? We had to go back and coach it up and make it a point of emphasis. The players are going to do what you ask them to do and the way you emphasize it now. There’s a lot of things that go into that in each game and you need season and so we do our very best to fundamentally play the game the way we are supposed to play, and they do as well.”

On how the “Air Raid” differs from when Mike Leach was working for Stoops’ brother Bob…

“Yeah, I would say so. I didn’t go back and study it that closely to what he was doing there but you do see Mike as definitely the traditional (“Air Raid” coach), he was one of the main guys and you still see some of that popping up, the majority of it. But everybody puts wrinkles on things and dresses things up, evolves a little bit, but Mike is still very effective at what he believes in.”

On the difficulty of putting together a defensive game plan for a team you see once a year…

“The more we play it, the more the players will understand year two, at least they have some film to look at. Again, this is a team that’s quite different, especially offensively, as they grow and evolve and become more comfortable in it and get the right players in it. Also, you see their players making the routine (play), I’m sure it was frustrating when you’re not making routine plays look routine. Now, when they run their offense and their basics and the stuff is there and the simple catches, turns, and yards are there, they’re doing that. That’s a staple of Mike Leach’s offense. They’re going to be repetitive and they’re going to be very good at what they do and they’re going to know it. You see them playing at a higher level that way.”

On Coach Leach’s press conferences being different than Coach Stoops’ news conferences…

“You think?” (laughter)

Are there any non-football comments Coach Stoops wants to make…

No. No, no. I will let Mike Leach be Mike Leach. I like Mike and I like listening to him too, but nobody wants to listen to Mark Stoops trying to be Mike Leach. I told you day one, authentic, be who you are. I am who I am. Sorry, you get a boring press conference.” (laughter)

On Coach Stoops’ name being mentioned with other coaching jobs…

“Sure, I’m not getting into all that. I’d rather have it this way then saying you’re trying to run me out of here.” (laughter)