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Mark Stoops previews Kentucky vs. Tennessee

“Obviously very anxious to get back on the field after a poor performance like we did last week on the road.”

Mark Stoops Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats look to get their season back on track this weekend as the Tennessee Volunteers invade Kroger Field.

On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops held his weekly press conference to preview Cats - Vols. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

Opening Statement…

“Obviously very anxious to get back on the field after a poor performance like we did last week on the road. (We’re) very anxious and excited to get back to work. We need to. Yesterday was a long day, that’s for sure. Brutal trip to Starkville, got home extremely late. Obviously not very pleased with our performance. Rough day at the office yesterday but today is a new day. So, back to work, fortunately for us, we come home playing a rival, playing in our home stadium. We’d played some pretty good games prior to this last week at home, so hopefully we’ll get everybody back here, get everybody excited, get the fans back in the stadium and we will play at a higher level. We are going to need to. Very impressed with Tennessee, much improved football team over a year ago. Josh (Heupel) has done a very good job. They’re playing at an extremely high tempo offensively. They have some difference-makers at wide receiver and obviously the stress they put on you with the tempo, in the spacing and things of that nature, and playing extremely hard defensively. Overall, much improved team, so we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did this past Saturday.”

On if the last two losses is a hiccup as opposed to choking…

“I don’t understand the question at all…that’s your words or their words. I have no control over what anybody calls the way we play. I can control the way we do, what we talk in our locker room. We got beat by a pretty damn impressive team in Georgia and played like crap this past week. There’s no other way to describe it. You can put on it, call it anything you really want, for us it’s about getting back to work.”

On Jordan Wright and Dare Rosenthal injury status…

“We’ll see. We’ll see.”

On Marquan McCall’s status…

“We’ll see.”

On if there was anything he liked about last week’s performance…

“Not very much. Not very many good things this past week, that’s for sure. Fell short in all areas.”

On reasons why the team didn’t play well Saturday…

“There’s a lot of different reasons. They (Mississippi State) have a lot to do with it. They executed, they played harder than us, they played more physical. We weren’t as good as we could be and that’s up to us.”

On if D’Eryk Jackson is available..

“We’ll see. (laughter) I mean, no one’s given me the scouting report on injuries. We’ll see as the week goes on. It’s Monday, I haven’t even seen these players yet today. So, I’m not trying to be a prick about it, it’s just ‘Who knows?’ Who knows whether they are available or not or whatever. D’Eryk is getting closer, not quite ready last week.”

Coach Coen has said that Will Levis needs to slow down and if it was a problem vs. Mississippi State…

“I think it was an issue on Saturday at times, yes, where he wasn’t as calm. His footwork wasn’t as patient in the pocket. I think you see a lot of quarterbacks doing that at times and maybe regroup during (the) game. It’s not for the entirety of a game but you see certain plays. That’s a tough position. They probably all would like to have a few plays over, like most other positions as well. But I say it was like that a little bit Saturday. Will (Levis) had a chance to hit a few strikes, to hit a few strikes, complete a few passes to possibly hit a touchdown or two and we missed them, so we have to get that fixed.”

On Chris Rodriguez’ situation…

“Chris (Rodriguez) was dealing with an issue. It was not the wrist last week. I’m not going to sit up here and talk about everything. These young men go through a lot and they go through a lot of practices and do a lot of hitting and things happen throughout the week. So, he was dealing with an issue last week, yes. I don’t need to make excuses for Chris, but he was not at full strength.”

On the team’s accountability and confidence going into the Tennessee game...

“This is what we’ve done, and this is what we do. We’re not perfect, I have a lot of confidence in the leadership of this team, and we’ll respond back. There is no reason to feel sorry for ourselves, take a good look around the league. Take a good look around the standings. This league is brutal, nobody is going to feel sorry for you. There’s not too many other teams in the league with much better records than us. We all know there’s one or two that are absolutely elite. The rest of us are scrapping.”

On the focus for this week’s game...

“For us, it’s about going back to being who we are. One thing I didn’t like about last week, is we were definitely … they were more physical than us, and that can’t happen. They seemed to be more motivated at times, certainly more physical at times, executed better. You name it, they outplayed us and it’s up to us to get back to being who we are. I can’t control what opponents do, but I can control the way we do things, the way we go about our business in practice and how we play on Saturday.”

On how Tennessee leads the nation in tackles for loss, and how it concerns Stoops...

“Again, a lot of it is up to us, how we play and how we execute. They have some very good players, there is no denying that. They always have, always will.”

On concerns about Tennessee linebacker Jeremy Banks…

“Absolutely, very good football player, very disruptive, very good.”

On flipping the switch, in terms of style of play, from Mississippi State to Tennessee...

“Yes and no. We still have to cover; our competitive nature has to step up. We have to learn to win some one-on-one matchups. We didn’t do a very good job of that Saturday. It is different the way they will attack you, but similar in that they put pressure on you in the run game. Tennessee puts pressure on you, still. They have extremely wide splits, but they’re going to run the ball and be more committed to running the ball and run it more effectively. With their splits, they are going to take their shots in the RPO (run/pass option) game. You have to be able to win some contested matchups.”

On speeding up the development of the cornerbacks...

“We just have to simulate the live situations as best as we can. When we play fast, when we play good against good, having great position on the football. Generally, when you’re tackling well on the perimeter you have a bunch of guys in good shape, in good position.”

On Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel...

“I’ve known Josh for a long time. We worked together at Arizona, obviously. He left there, I want to say, and went back to Oklahoma after that.”

On what Tennessee is doing now that they were not doing earlier…

“They are more effective, playing at a higher level. Like I talked about going into last week’s game with Mississippi State, they are making the routine look routine. For them, with how fast they go and the pressure they put on you, and executing, hitting shots down the field, they are doing that at a high level. Their quarterback is playing much better, when they settled in on (Hendon) Hooker, and who we played against in the Belk Bowl, but he is really playing at a high level. You can see him being very confident, he runs the ball effectively when he needs to. But he is getting the ball down the field and has a lot of arm strength and is playing very well.”

On if there are similarities in the Tennessee and Missouri offensive system…

“It is as far as pressure on you in the run game, wide splits, extremely high tempo, and taking your shots down the field. There are different things as well but overall schematically, similar in a lot of ways.”

On if it is helpful to have already played Missouri…

“That was a long time ago. As you can tell week-to-week it’s a little different. (laughter) As I mentioned to you I knew I’d be sitting up here, it’s not the same-old, same-old every Monday. You don’t know what you are going to be dealt week-to-week, so I am very well prepared for that, it’s been nine years.”

On if there will be an emphasis on communication this week (referencing Tennessee vs. Alabama game miscommunication)…

“It looked like at least two (plays), one in particular wasn’t ready at all, so tempo is definitely a factor. Communication and defense having a great sense of urgency, getting lined up and covering your guys, definitely a big piece of it. One for sure was clean, turned around talking to the sideline. There was another one, to me, you could just tell watching the film it didn’t look like the DB was locked in pre-snap. So, it’s definitely a factor.”

On having a home game this weekend…

“Yeah, I am looking forward to that. Really need the same energy that we have had the last couple times we have been at home and we need that. I know our players are excited about being back home. We need a packed house, we need some noise, we need any spark, anything we can get to help us out and we appreciate it. Looking forward to being home.”

After the Mississippi State quarterback completed 36 of 39 passes, how to build up his defense and defensive backs after that experience…

“I am glad you rephrased that because the first thought that came to my head was to put a gun to my head. We just have to get back to work and we can’t let people do that to you, that’s for sure. Not a good feeling, very frustrated, but we have to get things corrected, get back to work and again, it boils down to making competitive plays. They are going to make some, we need to make ours.”

On how he feels about depth in the secondary…

“It is what it is, and we are dealing with it the best we can.”

On if there is miscommunication with deep balls on offense…

“There is a variety of things and I’m not going to sit up here and point the finger at any one person. But they were off on a couple plays, they have connected on some before. You saw the game Saturday, we had our opportunities We can’t miss them. Sometimes when you’re playing really good teams and you have one or two shots that are touchdowns, that’s the difference between winning and losing.”

On the team being energized going into this week’s game…

“We’ll be jacked up and ready to go, trust me. Our team will be excited and ready to go and ready to get back to work today. That’s not going to be an issue.”

On how the cold weather can affect the offense…

“To be honest with you, I really don’t pay any mind to it. Our players, we have benches over there where they can sit on and stay warm in-between (series) and all that, but it is what it is. I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about it. TK (Tom Kalinowski) does a great job, our equipment guy. (Question rephrased to indicate the Tennessee offense) But their side? Again, I can’t worry about that.”

On how different Tennessee’s defense is this year scheme-wise…

“Scheme-wise, definitely somewhat different. But, they’re really playing hard. They have some really good players, some disruptive guys. They’re playing aggressive. So, they’re doing a good job and are improving in a lot of ways.”

On UK’s emphasis on recruiting players from the state of Tennessee…

“Proximity. They’re getting more and more people moving in and playing football and a higher level — kind of like our state as well. So, that’s all.”

On if the outcome of this game will have an impact on recruiting in Tennessee…

“I think the outcome matters a lot of times. No matter who you play, it really does. So, I don’t know if it’s any more important, you’d have to ask an individual player. Sometimes we’re recruiting guys that it’s not down between us and them. It’s between us and some others. So, it really just depends.”

On what he thinks of Josh Ali returning this past week and how he played…

“He looked good in that return, he really did. He had some other good plays. I think just having one week under his belt will give him more confidence as he moves forward. Hopefully he’ll have a great week this week and nothing setting him back. That stuff happens. Again, we’re not withholding information. Just like last week with Chris (Rodriguez), things happen, injuries happen.”

On DeMarcus Harris’ performance this week…

“DeMarcus had a good game, it’s nice. Hopefully he’ll continue to build on that. I’ve been asked the past couple weeks in here about him and I said he’s kind of improving and that showed up, which was nice.”

On what’s going on with the running game…

“Needs to be better. Needs to be better. I believe both teams (Georgia and Mississippi State) do a very good job, they’re very disruptive, very physical. Some of it we can control.”

On if the offensive line played at the level he had hoped for…

“I think we always strive for more at any position and (are) never satisfied. (We) Always want to improve and be better. They’re no different.”