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Mark Stoops previews South Carolina

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Kentucky looks to improve to 4-0 and 2-0 in SEC play.

Mark Stoops Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

The Kentucky Wildcats are 3-0 with a big night game vs. the South Carolina Gamecocks on deck.

On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to preview Saturday’s primetime clash in Columbia while also discussing the state of his team. Here is a recap of what he had to say via UK Athletics.

Opening Statement …

“After reviewing the film, there were quite a few good things in there, believe it or not, and many things we need to clean up. As I felt during the game, it was a lot like that. I didn’t feel like we complemented each other very well at all. There were times when the defense had a stretch of five, six possessions in a row, where we go three-and-out and stopping them and the offense either didn’t get a first down, had a turnover, just stopping ourselves. I felt like we’re poor in pre-snap penalties, penalties in general and then didn’t complement each other, like when the offense did start fast and get a touchdown to start the game, we give up a long drive on defense, let it get to 7-7. So, it was just one of those games that was aggravating, letting them hang around and if you do that, that’s what can happen. You can lose the game that way. I’m proud of our guys making the plays, offensively finally piecing together a 75-yard drive, converting with a touchdown pass to put us ahead and Ty (Tyrell Ajian) making the big pick and defense making the stop when we had to. Definitely much closer than we all wanted to. There’s a lot of things to learn from that, a lot of things as I mentioned after the game that is true, that we can learn from we need to get better at. We need to do a better job when we’re put in that position. There’s going to come times when you play 12 games, where there’s going to be some ups and downs. I told you all that before the season. There’s going to be ups and downs, I told the team that all the time. There’s going to be a lot momentum swings throughout the season and game to game. There’s good and bad. It’s how you handle it. We have to learn from the mistakes that we made in this game, be better in our preparation, starting today with the players. I think it all starts throughout the week. If everybody’s doing everything humanly possible to put yourself in a successful position each day, then you can live with the results and not worry about the results. I’m not sure we did a great job of that a week ago. I have to get that corrected.

“Looking forward to playing South Carolina. It’s always a fun game, very challenging, definitely a great environment down there on the road. They’re doing a very good job, Coach (Shane) Beamer with the change. You can see the energy and the excitement down there. They’re playing very good football and we’re looking forward to the challenge of going down there and playing them, trying to get another SEC East victory. It’s a big game for us.”

On what the team needs to clean up…

“There’s a lot of things. It starts with the focus and the discipline to take care of your job. Guys feeling like they need to go out there and do something that’s about them and not about the other 10 guys that they’re playing with during the play, some individual things that are going on. There’s some things we can call better, there’s many. I’m not just blaming any one person, any one player. We are all in this together. I said after the game and I mean that. It starts with me getting them prepared. I have to do a better job in getting their attention and getting them on the same page.”

On the emphasis on passing the ball vs. Chattanooga…

“There was nothing about taking it easy on Chris (Rodriguez). It was simply working on us and throwing the ball. When we were in our quick game and spreading them out, we were 9 of 10. The only one we didn’t convert was late in the game and it was on a third down and Will (Levis) should have stayed to the front side where he was looking, he had his Isaiah (Epps) for a first down and went back late to the field to Wan’Dale (Robinson) and it was incomplete. Overwise we are 10 and 10, spreading them out and going quick game. Then there’s parts of you that say ‘Why did you get away from the run?’ Again, we’re just being honest, it happens. During the game when you only have 20 plays in the second half, nothing is what you want it to be, right? There’s just not enough snaps and that’s our fault. We had a couple of conversions that we didn’t make and fell a little bit short and again the defense was … you know, we had all of those three-and-outs in the first half, in the second half we didn’t have one. Then the pick six takes a whole lost possession for the offense and the defense we go out and give it up again. I didn’t add the time of possession together on those two drives. I would imagine, they were significant.”

On certain things becoming a recurring theme after these three weeks...

“It isn’t any one thing to me. I’ll tell you this, if we did not improve in the areas that we did, then we would have lost that game. Will (Levis) made some really good throws, we made some really good plays, and then we missed some.”

On the defense having nine QB hurries and zero sacks...

“If you watch the game, you see how fast he’s (Chattanooga QB Cole Copeland) throwing the ball. They were well coached. That kid was … you don’t want to be reckless with the ball. He was getting rid of it and the pressure, again, caused an interception for a touchdown. I’m glad we didn’t get the sack there.”

On #23 defensive back Tyrell Ajian’s pick six relieving them of Chattanooga’s pressure...

“Without a doubt, we let them keep it close. Every time we had a chance to go up (larger) ... Once we get the pick six, I’d like to see us come right back with a three and out. I want to say the possession before that the offense went 75-yards for a touchdown, that’s where the complementary football really didn’t take place. Obviously, that was a very big play.”

On Jordan Wright coming back this week after an injury...

“Yes, he is.”

On if Colin Goodfellow being the punter Saturday was because he was punting better or because of Wilson Berry’s injury…

“Both. We’ll keep an eye on that.”

On offensive coordinator Liam Coen expressing his disappointment over his coaching vs. Chattanooga ...

“Liam has been a little hard on himself. You got to realize you can’t give you guys all of those nuggets (laughter). I don’t mean this in any way to undermine what you all do, because I appreciate you. But, you can’t do that because when you want to use it against him you will. True or not true? Believe me, I bite my tongue. You can tell I try to be honest with you, with the way I talk, with what we say, with frustration and being honest without giving you all those nuggets. He will learn that. Sooner or later you guys are going to pull those words out and run him over with a bus.”

On appreciating the challenge Chattanooga gave Kentucky...

“Again, we’ve got to learn from it. I think it will motivate our guys, make them hungry. I hate to be like that, but let’s be honest. I try everything in my power not to have them let down, but I think they all just wanted to wrap that game up, push it aside and move on. You can’t do that. We all know you can’t do that. But I think in their minds it is just hard to. I think Liam, getting back to that question, I thought we did some really good things. You don’t want to throw Will under the bus, but there were some shots in that possession … in our drive chart we go TD, punt, TD, interception, punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception. During those drives, there was one or two plays that were set up absolutely to perfection, that is straight up a touchdown, and we just missed it. He can’t control that. He throws that shot, we get it, we score and he is a genius again. That didn’t happen. It will come. I think Will puts a lot of pressure on himself, and I think Liam puts a lot of pressure on himself. Everything is not always perfect, but there were some really well-designed plays in there. Will did a very good job of stepping up throwing some passes, that again, ‘wow,’ ‘that’s impressive,’ and ‘haven’t seen that around here in for a while.’ There were some beautiful play designs where we were just a fraction off. I promise you as a defensive guy you’re watching that and saying ‘hold on’ because it was there.”

On preparing to play in a full away-game stadium again…

“I do, it is to make these guys aware of it. Because we do have two classes and a significant amount of guys that haven’t been in this environment and we are going to address it. I’m not going to overdo it but they have to understand. I could go to the game two times ago (2017) we go down there first play of the game, bam, the place erupts, goes nuts and we throw an interception the first possession, bam (South Carolina scores on the first play), it goes nuts. We throw an interception first possession, bam, it goes nuts. Settle in and we take full control the rest of the whole first half but you got to take those shots sometimes in these environments. And they do, they just need to understand that ‘hey if we get hit on the chin you gotta stand back up and play the next play’. So, we talk about it, make them aware but I don’t need to over-do it.”

On the two long runs Chattanooga had and missed assignments…

“Yeah, and it was very correctable. Part of it is some guys asking to do what we were doing, uncharacteristic. The first one should have been a 10, 12 yard gain with Yusuf (Corker) replacing, not at all his fault, but it was inside and one of our inside guys didn’t get across but Yusuf (Corker) could have been better cleaning up and then our middle third guy missed as well. Very fixable as far as not turning into a 30-yard run, more like a 10-yard run”

On Shane Beamer and his dad’s (Frank Beamer) tendencies…

“I don’t know about that. I’m sure the basis of what he does comes from his background and who he is, I would think. I am just thinking in my own situation. But you have to be your own self and have to be authentic. He’s obviously being him, with I’m sure taking all the lessons and being around his father his whole life. Again, I can’t get in his head, I think he has done a very good job and seems to be authentic. Because if you’re not authentic in this business it’s not going to work. So, he can’t be his father but I’m sure there are many things he has learned.”

On the history of Frank Beamer’s great special teams and being aware of Shane Beamer’s special teams…

“Definitely, because Shane’s background is heavy in special teams as well. They have a lot of time and it’s a point of emphasis and over the years there’s things in there. For me, we have to not be stagnant, not give same looks and definitely change things up to not be predictable.”

On how Stoops’ tendencies are similar/dissimilar to his father (Ron Stoops), who was a high school coach…

“I think the basic principles of foundation of what I learned from my father growing up, from a young child, being around football and being around the program and spending time with him. I think the big thing is the work ethic, the discipline that comes with it. Philosophically, not very much for me. Even if you go back and pull up some of my dad’s film you will see some carryover, you will see a lot of similarities but that is just by accident a lot of times. I am not going back studying my dad’s high school films for x’s and o’s (laughter) but I think it sinks in and becomes a lot of who we are, at least my family. And I would think probably Shane (Beamer) much the same by just listening to him and listening to his interviews and listening to him talk and can’t help but have great respect for his father. We all do as coaches, have great appreciation. I had some great games, I have been at Miami and Florida State, so we’ve have had some tough games at Virginia Tech, so it was always fun competing against them (Virginia Tech), they were always a good team.”

On if Eric Wolford’s knowledge of the South Carolina personnel gives Kentucky an advantage in the upcoming game, based on former South Carolina coach Will Muschamp being on the Georgia staff...

“That’s funny (laughter). You think anything had to do with it, those beasts that Georgia had on their team (laughter)? Just a little (laughing). This is a different (South Carolina) team, a different mentality. Will (Muschamp), I love Will, I have great respect for Will, I’m friends with Will, but Georgia’s got pretty good players.”

On what his takeaway was from last year’s game against South Carolina and how it might help this year…

“Not much, just because of the situation that they were in last year, very different. You know, down a lot of guys, coaching change in the middle of the season, guys opting out and not playing, very different. This is the front end, so everyone is trying to prove themselves, and there’s a great energy, very fundamentally sound in all areas. So, they’re very motivated.”

On how South Carolina’s quarterback and running back situation affects Kentucky’s preparation for this week’s game...

“Not much, not much. Very good backs, very balanced, either quarterback will run their offense. (They are) Similar to us in some ways. You see some under center, you see the run game carryover, you see the play action, you see the shots; I feel like they have some guys that can hurt you outside, they have some difference-makers at wide receiver, but they also have some really good backs. So, very, very good team.”

On Izayah Cummings’ first touchdown catch and how he is coming along...

“He made a really nice play on that. It’s something little, again, that Liam had a great design there, and it was beautifully executed, to be honest with you. It was a change-up off a corner route and he hit the corner with a double move and it turned into a beautiful touchdown. So, great by Will hanging in the pocket, good protection. Really nice route by Isaiah (Cummings).”

On if he believes that FCS teams are catching up to FBS teams’ level…

“That’s a great point that I said going into it. I know their defensive coordinator and I know their defense is good, they have a lot of snaps under their belt. And you know, especially at linebacker and then their nickel(back), which are all critical positions. Those guys have seen a lot of football and they’re very fundamentally sound. They have different change-ups, but they understand themselves. I thought they did some really good things.”

On how J.J. Weaver has handled the additional reps the last few weeks…

“Probably putting a lot on him, to be honest with you. So, need to try to be conscientious of that and try to back off a touch for him.”

On if he thinks it’s more mentally or physically challenging for Weaver…

“I think it’s a bit of both. His knee, it’s not like you’re putting it in jeopardy; that’s not it. It’s just getting his legs back up underneath so he can play as fast as we need him to play critical moments and predictable pass and things that he’s good at. We all know we need some pass rush, he’s a guy that can do it if he’s fresh and rested and coming in in certain situations.”

On punt returns…

“We lost some yardage in that. We lost yardage on a penalty, we lost yardage on three opportunities. There was a hold. And then on the punt returns we lost significant yardage as well, letting it bounce and roll. That put us in a bad, bad situation. It backed us up, wasn’t good, so overall we have some things to clean up in that area.”

Because of the strength of South Carolina’s front seven and motivation for UK’s offensive line…

“I’m sure they’re going to be motivated, but definitely, I thought they (South Carolina) had some good-looking personnel as well. Those guys are playing really hard and fundamentally sound up front for South Carolina, they had some good-looking guys up there that are playing good. Definitely we have to play better.”

If judgment on catching punts is a learned skill or having a “feel” for it…

“A little bit of both. Number one, we kept on … field position was a factor. That’s part of it, not fielding it. But also letting them drive, also letting them be in situations where I left the defense on there (on fourth downs). I wanted to get the ball back. I didn’t want to let them fake us. We’re in punt safe, he doesn’t have protection on that. He still has to field it. On those, he has to be comfortable, knowing that even if we’re not going for a big return, fielding is a big deal. I think taking it off the foot, reacting to it quicker, being confident, getting more reps in the stadium, get up underneath it, he’ll get it done. We just have to continue to work with him there.”

On Mike Edwards’ two interception returns for touchdowns for Tampa Bay…

“I have not, I can’t recall two pick-sixes. Obviously, we’re in the office working, we’re just walking back and forth, doing our thing, working on Sunday, and I heard it from somebody in the hallway, ‘Mike had a pick-six’ and I’m like, ‘Great,’ and I heard it again, and I’m like, ‘No, I already heard that,’ and they’re like, ‘No, another one (laughter).’ Saw some highlights, really happy for him.”

On the decision to receive the kickoff or defer when winning the coin flip…

“You know it just depends, it depends. There’s a lot of factors, how I feel with our openers, how we feel like we’re going to move the ball or not. In general, a lot of times I like to defer. A lot of coaches will tell you that if you can get to where you win the ‘middle eight,’ you win the last 3-4 minutes of the first half, as a defensive coach, if you have to defend at the end of the first half and then come right back out and defend again at the start of the second half, can put pressure on you. But, you don’t know. There’s wind, there’s factors, sometimes you just don’t know. Sometimes it’s your gut, sometimes it’s your instinct, sometimes it’s what players may want to do, so it’s different factors each and every week.”

On Jeremy Flax, if his playing time because of him playing well or Dare Rosenthal not playing as well…

“Little bit of both, but Jeremy has to continue to come along. We gave him an opportunity there. Same with Austin Dotson, I was very disappointed with him getting a penalty there. It’s uncalled for, you try to get some guys some snaps and bring some guys along. It helps with Kenneth (Horsey) and Dare. Both guys maybe physically, you feel like over a long time need some plays off, some protection. Not plays off, I should say rest. You understand what I’m saying, it’s a long season. We play some very big dudes, so have to bring some guys along. We’ve always liked to rotate O-linemen but we have to be able to trust them.”

Are you able to block out Sandstorm, the crowd, the rooster crowing, etc., at South Carolina…

“I got the headsets on, so I don’t hear any of that. I know it gets rocking and can appreciate it, but once I put the headsets on, I don’t hear any of that.”

After the game Brad White talked about needing to start faster on defense, anything in particular that goes into that…

“Sometimes it may be him, sometimes maybe you have to get them going. Sometimes you have to change it up and get the players attacking. The players have to do their job. That third-and-two was a little different call than we have on some third-and-shorts. It split us, so there’s a variety of things we can get fixed.”

On not flinching or backing down during the Chattanooga game…

“No absolutely not. No, we talked about it at halftime. Believe me, that doesn’t mean my blood pressure wasn’t high and I think it’s all … I respect the game. But flinch, never.”

On the evolution of roster management and playing true freshmen…

“Roster management is very different. With true freshmen, yes and no. If they can help us, they’ll play. I care about all of them but I’m not in the business of trying to cater to somebody to make them happy. If they’re not prepared to play, then they can’t play. If that means they’re redshirting, that’s fine. Guys have to understand. We’ve all seen so many examples of players that are redshirting, when the light switch goes off, it goes off, and great things can happen. It doesn’t always happen for the same people at the same time. So, development is still a big piece of it. I can’t get in everybody’s head. Obviously, you see things with the portal, you see different things. It’s hard. There’s definitely … it’s a different time. I’m not going to change my approach. I always try to communicate, stay positive with the players, make them understand that. If there’s development that needs to happen, that’s on them, too. We give them the medicine and then need to take it. Some guys do a better job mentally than others. That’s our job as coaches to bring them along and help them understand.”