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Mark Stoops previews Kentucky vs. LSU

The Tigers are just two years removed from winning the national championship.

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

For the second time in his career, Mark Stoops has his Kentucky Wildcats sitting at 5-0 and ranked in the top 25 as the month of October gets rolling.

After upsetting the Florida Gators this past weekend, Stoops now has his sights set on the LSU Tigers, who may be 3-2, but they’ve got the firepower to hang with just about anyone in the SEC.

Today, Stoops met with the media to preview the Wildcats’ Week 6 clash with the Tigers. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

“I’m really excited to get back to work with the players today. Another big opportunity here this week, playing LSU at home, coming off the big victory, and a fun atmosphere for our players and our fans. This is the next opportunity, so we have to put that to bed really quick. Certainly, the coaches did, back in the office working yesterday, and we’ll be excited to see our players today and get back on the practice field and get ready for the next opportunity. That’s what it’s about for us, if we continue to improve and cultivate the good things that were doing in the areas that we’re playing well. Continue to do that and cultivate that and get better each and every day in those areas. There’s plenty of areas we need to improve. That’s the exciting part to get back on the field and get ready to improve.

“We have a big challenge this week. Coach (Ed) Orgeron, LSU Tigers, always a great football team with tons of talent. (They are a) Very, very good football team. They have players at every position. Offensively, they have weapons all over the field. Defensively, they have weapons all over the field. It’s always that way, they have guys at every level that can certainly hurt you. Defensively, you look at their guys up front, you look at a linebacker that could absolutely fly, and then they always have guys that can cover. So, we need to improve offensively. As far as their offense, again, weapons, certainly starting with Kayshon Boutte. He could hurt you at any given time, and they have plenty of guys around them.

“As I mentioned, I’m proud of our team’s effort. After watching the film I’m very pleased with so many elements of this last football game, so many areas where we played incredibly well, executed at an incredibly high level, played exceptionally hard. And, there’s plenty of areas to improve, that’s the good news. I feel very good about that, and I feel like we will.”

On giving the Big Blue Nation a shout-out for their support on Saturday...

“That was the first thing I did Saturday, right? I’ll do it again today. I meant it, it was heartfelt. The minute I came in here I said ‘that was for the Big Blue Nation,’ because of a lot of reasons. The tough times for so many years against certain teams. I know the frustration, I’ve felt it since I’ve been here. For them to come out and affect that game, and help determine the outcome of that game, I know that was special to the Big Blue Nation. Once again, can’t thank them enough. They certainly were a big part of determining the outcome of the football game. That’s home field advantage, and I look forward to having that each and every week.”

On Marquan McCall’s injury...

“He will be out for a little bit. Lower extremity.”

On Justin Rogers, Josaih Hayes and the young defensive linemen...

“Those two in particular played well. We’ve got to get some guys inside around them playing better, but Justin and Josaih played well. Josaih got a little dinged up also, nothing major, he’ll be back this week. With him playing so many reps and taking a little shot, he got a little bit ineffective late when he got hurt. He’s got to learn to play through some of that. But overall, those two both did a good job and I was very pleased.”

On the performance of Kahlil Saunders and Joel Williams...

“Kahlil got valuable game reps against a quality team. Let’s just say that showed (laughter), but I love him and he’s going to be a good player. When you’re thrown into an SEC game like that, with that O-line, he’s got some work to do, but we love his talent. I love his energy, I love him personally. I think he’s going to be really good, it’s just really hard to play as a true freshman in there. There were some plays that really popped that he will learn from. Joel Williams is a physical guy, we love the way he’s been progressing, with that situation it cost him so much time. Obviously, Vito (Tisdale), you saw him play so much last year, the same thing, it cost him time. So, we’ve got to continue to bring those guys back in the fold.”

On the fans creating the same type of atmosphere this Saturday...

“No, I have no doubt. The BBN, we’re just feeding them. They’ll be back out there with full effect on Saturday night. It’s going to be a great environment and can’t wait.”

On the Kentucky offense after reviewing film...

“Just so many opportunities. You’ve heard me talk a lot about a play here, a play there. With an offense, you can’t afford to do that, not in the SEC against a quality defense. With a great defensive coach, great players, you can’t miss things when they are there. When we try to come back to them, they’re fixed, whether we exposed it or not. That’s what good coaches and good teams do. There were some plays where we missed it, the quarterback’s eyes were in the wrong place, we come back to it, it’s no longer there. You can’t miss those opportunities. You’ve got to hit them at the right time, the right moment. We’re still just a bit off there, but again we’re doing the right things. What I see is very positive. We’re doing the right things, it’s going to happen and Will (QB Will Levis) is going to play better. I believe in what we’re doing and the whole group and it will come around.”

On the relationship dynamic between Coach Orgeron and Coach Stoops…

“There is no odd dynamic or anything like that, no. We really just see each other when we see each other at meetings and things of that nature. I have a lot of respect for Coach O and his players and his program and I would say that we have the type of relationship where we are cordial or professional when we see each other at the meetings and such.”

On Dare Rosenthal and his approach to the LSU game…

“I don’t know yet, to be honest with you. I have been wrapped up last week with last week’s game and we will see him. I haven’t even seen those guys yet, some guys I saw through the building yesterday with treatments and things going on but I didn’t see Dare.”

On how Kelvin Joseph might have helped Dare Rosenthal in his decision to come to UK….

“I’m sure it was quite important, but that was between them. The only thing I can do is tell the kids the way we run our program but players really speak the truth and reiterate that to people that they are close with. You’d have to ask him.”

On Kavosiey Smoke’s pancake block on Wan’Dale Robinson’s touchdown…

“I want him to give that kind of effort every time going forward, that’s for sure — very unselfish and really good to see. He has been proving himself the last two-three weeks, with the way he is practicing, and being so solid and more reliable and more opportunities will come his way. Once again it kind of stinks when you only get 41-42 plays. The football doesn’t get passed around enough or handed off enough. We don’t have enough plays to get people the ball, so we have to get more plays to get more options.”

On finishing plays that have been close but not quite there…

“Sometimes we are hunting certain coverages and think you have it, and it’s not there. Some of it just depends. Some of it is more stressful on a defense than others, it’s pretty hard to completely trick really good people. You have good plays and some coverages have certain strengths and certain weaknesses and you feel like you have good matchups but completely tricking really good defenses like that is hard to do.”

On defense playing complementary football to give the offense opportunities...

“Much better, I mentioned it a week ago via Zoom that we improved in that area as a team, complementing each other and getting stops when we need to get stops. That is much better than early in the season when we weren’t doing that. If you want to win and win difficult games, then you have to do that. Our players know that. They know they need to dig in and get good stops when they need to and we won that game as a team, and it was very big. Offensively, we need to continue to work extremely hard but stay positive and have that belief system because it is going to happen, we just got to continue to do the right things.”

On Big Blue Nation having winning expectations for future games…

“I have said that and believed that since I walked in here. That’s not lip service, when I sit up here and say we expect to win. That’s no discredit to anybody. I say every week I’m here, I can venture to say if you look back, on the respect that I have on the coaches and the league. If you don’t, then you’re not very bright. It’s a very competitive league with very good coaches and very good players. But all I can worry about is us. I promise you I’m going in the building yesterday morning to compete to win the football game. I don’t care who we are playing and that’s just the way we are going to go about our business.”

On fans comparing football and basketball successful programs and winning games…

“No disrespect to anything, but I can’t respond to that, I’m not worried about that, any of it. I love and respect our fan base. I work my tail off 24/7 to deliver that product and I think that’s pretty evident. So outside of that, no offense, I could care less. And I mean that out of respect, not out of anything derogatory.”

On how to get the players to get back to work after an emotional victory…

“Because we’ve been humbled already this year with our play. I always tell the players that in our business you’re going to get the opportunity to be humbled every seven days. We have been humbled. Fortunately, we were able to get away with a win but we haven’t played our best football. So, they see the proof. Now, I hope they’re just hungry and I believe they will be.”

On how the atmosphere and win on Saturday contributes to recruitment…

“Yeah, I mentioned that Saturday. There’s no denying that. When we have an opportunity like that—we have a sellout crowd, we’re playing a top-10 team in the country, one that has tormented our fan base for 50 years—there’s no denying that it’s important. But, as is every game, right? This one (UK vs. LSU) is every bit as important, if not more, because it’s the next opportunity, and you have to stay in that reality. Was it important? Absolutely. Does it help our recruiting? Without question. It’s hard, and you put all this in there, but you know what? We had some guys on campus that I had to spend some time with. And so, the partying is all over. Once I celebrate with that team in that locker room, I got to go back to work and recruit some dudes. We want some dudes that change the digits on the scoreboard, that’s what we need. I I’ll say this, I busted it last night on pop-a-shot (laughter). No, I did. I kicked butt.”

On being 5-0 for the second time at Kentucky and what that does for recruiting…

“The exposure is important. You win, all that takes care of itself. It really does, so I just want to win.”

On how well the defense has played the past two games…

“Well, I can’t recall seeing that or being in that situation—not that many opportunities. It is a little bit heartbreaking. Were we going in fourth-and-10 with the game on the line when we got the facemask? fourth and nine? That’s a hard pill. But what are you going to do? Buckle up the chinstrap again and go through another set of downs. And that’s what they did. So, our players have done it. You’ve seen them do it, maybe not that many plays. But you’ve seen them get critical stops. So, they have a belief system that they can get stops when we have to. But, very proud of them obviously.”

On LSU’s defense…

“You just see them, again, very aggressive, very impactful players; guys that can hurt you on defense at each level. You see them up front, you see the linebacker, you see the secondary guys that are NFL players, like top picks, guys that can hurt you. So, I’m still (seeing) very much one of those defenses that are in your grill, one of those defenses that are in your face. Like making you beat them, a lot of press (coverage), a lot of man-free, mix in some zone. You have to beat them. They’re going to make you earn your yards, and so, very good team.”

On how he coaches the quarterback against tight man coverage…

“There’s a lot of things that go into it. You’ve have to have protection against a team like this. You saw Saturday, maybe a play here, a play there that we were just off. Maybe on the protection he was feeling that coming, guys were getting open, it affects the throw. You saw us do that to them. That’s part of it when you’re playing very good defenses. Look at the way we played against a very, extremely talented offense. But our players were affecting the quarterback; whether it be coverage or pressure, and so with guys with such tight coverage, our guys have to work hard to get open. And the quarterback has to trust it, and you have to hit some tight windows.”

On LSU running the ball…

“I do, because they will, and they’re well coached. It’s just like us—areas where we’re falling short, we’re going to work on. We’re going to emphasize that and we’re going to get better at it, they will as well. (They have) Very good players, and you know Coach Ed (Orgeron) said that they’re going to work on those things. And so, you have to believe that they will.”

On Jaquez Jones getting national recognition this week and what stuck out about his play…

“Well, obviously, the big play at the end was a really good play. They dressed up the release very well on that play and he slid through it and had great vision, made an incredible play there. He was really physical in certain plays, where he was taking on blocks and making tackles and doing things, just doing a really good job. I’m really happy for him. I could tell you this, it’s been a long time since I saw anybody play better than Josh Paschal did. I mean, just incredible, the way he has played—the way he played Saturday.”

On how important the aspect of speed is…

“It’s always important, speed and strength. As you know, you’re probably alluding to the fact that for the past couple of years we’ve been very big, very physical, and long but speed is a big deal. You could tell by the recruiting, that we are getting some fast guys and I want some fast guys and we need them. As we continue to evolve and continue to improve offensively, we will get some difference-makers on the edge. You’ve heard me talk about it for years, as you close the gap and as you really work hard to build a program and be good top-to-bottom, then there’s games where you all watch. You watch the SEC and there’s just incredible individual plays, where you just got some freaky dudes out on the edge making one-hand catches, making catches that determine the outcome of games. Well, we need some. And Wan’Dale (Robinson) is doing that too, by the way, with the incredible play he made the other day.”

On the defense tackling better now…

“You’ve heard me talk through the years, you’ve seen us tackle well. When we’re in a good position, we tackle well. When we are out of position, we don’t tackle well. When we are not leveraging the ball, doing the basics, when we do all that stuff, we are doing a good job. I think our defense right now, if you look at us, with Brad (defensive coordinator Brad White) and all those guys, they have done a wonderful job. We were just in there meeting this morning working on a couple weaknesses, but the strength of our team is that we are playing with great vision – understanding things, very good vision, very big vision, seeing everything, understanding what’s going on, and playing really good as a unit.”

On the thought process that went into the fourth-down play in the Wildcat formation…

“Put the ball in Chris’s hands. That’s what it was. We talked about it, and we went back and forth, and later in a critical moment we do the boot and they cover that. He could have gone to boot there but I think they are too well-coached. They were going to put a bunch of guys up to take care of that. So, they were going to take care of the middle and the edge. There are other things we could do, we will, but that was the thought process — put the ball in Chris Rodriguez’s hands and let him get us two yards.”

On what can Liam Coen, as a young offensive coordinator, can learn from the Florida game…

“He will learn with every opportunity. Liam’s bright, he has to stay confident and stay with what we do. I am very confident in him, Will, and the offense. Those are scars. That’s what happens. You become a better coach by tough times. You don’t forget those moments. You learn from them, and this is a big-boy league, and certainly play some really good defenses, so you have to stay confident and stay with what you believe, continue to do those things. That doesn’t mean you learn; how many times have I been accused of being hardheaded? It’s not that, I always say I want to learn but you also have to stick with and stay with what you believe and what you know is right, then also open your eyes and find your blind spots and where can you improve.”

After a physical game vs. Florida, does he expect the players to recover for this week…

“I expect them to put their foot on the gas today. We are going hard.”

On if he expects players other than Marquan McCall not to be available…

“I don’t know. We’re going hard, strapping it on, so we’ll see.”

On the defensive backs, such as Tyrell Ajian, coming along…

“Ty really made some good plays in that game, he did. He showed up good. Our secondary support, our secondary run support was better. I still don’t like the perimeter at times. We still have to be firmer on the perimeter. We were giving up too many loose yards, too many easy yards, which is basic leverage and good teams are going to do that. They’re going to hit you inside, they’re going to Q-run game, they’re going to perimeter run game, and overall, we’re pretty solid but there’s things we can do better.”

On being 5-0 and not having that fully complementary game. What’s the ceiling for the team?

“I don’t know what the ceiling is, but I hope to get better today, and we’re excited about it.”

On the funeral of today for Johnson Central High School Coach Jim Matney…

“Yes, thank you. Coach Matney, we just wish his family the best and we respect his legacy and honor him. I have great respect for high school coaches, and coaches in general, people that sacrifice a lot of their life impacting other people’s lives and Coach was certainly that way. Reminded me of my father. I lost my father in the middle of the season and I remember getting a knock on that door when I was in college and my dad was a high school teacher and coach. He dedicated his whole life to helping people, and heck, we are three days away from that anniversary of my dad’s death, so it home with me, with Coach Matney, and so I know that community is responding to that, so thank you.”