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Mark Stoops Monday press conference and Week 2 depth chart

Stoops makes several changes ahead of Kentucky’s showdown with Florida in The Swamp.

Intro Isamu Haynes-Sunayama - Sea of Blue

After beating Miami (OH) to start the new season 1-0, the Kentucky Wildcats are now preparing for a major Week 2 clash with the Florida Gators.

Ahead of the game, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to recap last week’s win over the RedHawks while previewing Florida.

Kentucky also released a new depth chart, which features the following notable changes this week:

  • Kenneth Horsey is starting at left tackle now with Kiyaunta Goodwin as the backup, while David Wohlabaugh is now the backup right tackle behind Jeremy Flax.
  • Chris Rodriguez and Jordan Wright remain absent, despite the expectation Wright would return this week.
  • La’Vell Wright is the backup running back with Ramon Jefferson and JuTahn McClain out due to injury.
  • McClain is still listed as the backup kickoff returner, so perhaps he won’t be sidelined very long, whereas Jefferson is out indefintely.

Here’s the full depth chart for Week 2.

And here is a recap of Stoops’ Monday press conference via UK Athletics.

Opening statement…

“After watching the film, I thought we did some good things, and some things we need to get better. You probably knew that was going to be the opening statement, right? Much like I said after the game, game one, week one. You know after the game, it’s never quite as bad as you think it is or never quite as good. You look at it again and it was a strange game. With having a kickoff return and then a turnover that we scored two plays later. Offensively we really only had nine possessions and you look at that, want to say on the nine possessions and we scored some form of points on six of the nine. The other one, which kind of leaves you a little bit aggravated was that 14-play drive that ends in no points. Otherwise, it’s sitting there looking at seven of nine, so we punt the ball two times. Nine possessions is not a lot of possessions, part of that is defensively we settled in and gave them the long drive early and capped it off at the end just trying to get off the field and give up a seven minute drive that ended on downs. Defensively we really settled in and did some good things as well, they scored on three possessions. We had the one turnover on downs, and five punts, two field goals and one touchdown. All in all, probably a little better than I thought.

“There’s certainly some things we all felt coming out of the game that need to be looked at, need to be addressed and we need to improve. This is, being physical and being able to run the football and being able to protect the quarterback. When Will (Levis) had time, he was very good like he usually is. He made some incredible throws under duress as well. There were some issues in the pass protection as well. After looking at it, it’s never quite as bad as you think it is. We all felt like, and you all can attest to that over the past few years, we felt like we had a pretty solid offensive line. I remember being in here discussing with you, either last year or the year before, or the past several years everybody hitting panic mode on the offensive line. We seemed to pull it together pretty quickly. I don’t think it will be an issue this year as well. I felt like we played a little better than we thought in four of the five positions and those guys will continue to get better. Jager (Burton) made one mistake that gave up a pressure, but outside of that he played a really good football game and that’s really good to see. I felt like we played really good inside. Again, Eli (Cox) had one or two plays we’d like to have over. Overall, very solid there, he’s going to be a very solid player. And, the same with Tashawn (Manning), played a really good game for a guy that missed quite a bit of camp with a couple little injuries, really played well. Jeremy (Flax) did some good things as well. We’ll get them addressed and we’ll fix the issues and get better, just like we will at other positions.

“We obviously have a big test this week going into Florida. Florida is coming off a big win against Utah. So, it shows the improvement that they’ve made under the first year under (head coach) Billy (Napier) and what they have going on, they are doing a very good job. Anytime you go down to Florida you know they’re a very talented football team. It will be a great environment, hostile environment. SEC East game on the road, big challenge, should be a lot of fun. Shouldn’t have any of that issue that I mentioned last week. Coming in after the game I felt like we were a little bit mundane, playing without that intensity and strain that we need to. We’ll get those things fixed and we’ll make some good improvement as we need to, going on the road, but we’re excited about this challenge.”

On an update on Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Jordan Wright…

“I wish I did guys. I wish I did. I don’t know, with being a holiday today, I don’t have anything I can report. Again, I’ve always been transparent with you and try to be the best I can. Again, I’ve been advised there’s things going on, there’s layers to this that I’ve been advised I can’t comment on it. It’s not that I’m trying to hide things from you, but again, the players have rights and things of that nature with this situation.”

On how much of a responsibility is it Will Levis’ to make sure the offense is prepared…

“That’s his responsibility that he embraces, but no more than any other leader on the team. I think we all understand that Will is a very good football player and a very good leader. He makes people better daily. He has a huge impact on our program, the way he leads, the way he pushes the offense. You’ve seen that for the past two years and he will continue to do that.”

On why commenting on Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s unavailability is taking time…

“You have been (patient). Again John, if I could say it I would. It’s that simple. I’m not trying to hold anything back. I can’t be any more clear than that, I’ve been advised not to, I can’t say. Anybody that’s hurt, injured, things that are out there I’ve told you for 10 years. I think you can understand that it’s out of my hands.”

On splitting up players’ suspensions or getting creative with it…

“I do appreciate you using that word because I realized that I contradicted myself last week. (laughter) The reason that I contradicted myself is because I’m used to being forthright with you. Again, I’ve been advised that I just need to stay mum on this situation. It’s not Mark Stoops, it’s out of my hands. What I could call it or not call it, tell you what’s going on. Again, I think you can understand their rights, if you were in that situation.”

On how the running back room is doing after getting banged up in the season opener…

“Yeah, we got banged up in that game. Ramon (Jefferson) will be out for several weeks, for the extended future, Ramon will be out. We will have to see from there where things go.”

On the move of Kenneth Horsey to left tackle and what you like about him at that position…

“Well, what we’re looking for is getting our best five on the field and we feel like we’ve got to experiment with this and look at it. We’ve done it before, It’s not something that’s unusual to him and Quintin (Wilson) can play any of the inside three (positions). So, we’ll continue to bring Kiyaunta (Goodwin) along and we’ll look at Kenneth at left this week.”

On how the secondary improved as the game wore on…

“Certain spots, we did. We challenged several (passes) and made some competitive plays in several situations. There were two or three that stand out to me that we were overly soft in coverage on that. Part of that is a communication on the way we’re going to match it, whether we’re going to zone it or match it. And, with the splits and with the situation being the way it was, we should have been in a man call and could have challenged it better. And we didn’t, so we’ll get some of that ironed out quickly, easily. Some of it’s just player getting some reps under his belt.”

On if the secondary’s situation is a function of new faces back there…

“It is in certain situations, in a couple of them.”

On Trevin Wallace’s status…

“He was really a gameday decision. Thursday is our walk-through, so he was out there walking through. Friday, we did a run-through and there was a minor injury that he wasn’t a hundred percent. So, we do anticipate him being back this week.”

On Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson…

“Anthony Richardson is one heck of a football player, very good player. I think that’s pretty obvious. Just very talented, you could see much more comfortable in this offense with Coach Napier and what they’re doing. He has a very talented arm and could make all the throws and, obviously, hurt you with his feet.”

On the Florida vs. Utah takeaways…

“Both teams are good football teams and Florida is more physical. Their offensive line really played well, and you could see that improvement and the commitment to being a tough, physical unit. They always have great guys on the perimeter and skilled players and Anthony, again, is just a very good football player. I guess you could just hit that on repeat when we get into the league because they’re going to say that pretty good, but that’s the way it is. Then defensively, Florida has three of the four on the back end returning (who) are very good football players, guys with a lot of experience. Trey Dean, their free safety has played — I can’t believe he’s still playing, but no he’s only a fifth-year, but he’s a good player. I remember recruiting him out of high school and just a very good player. Very experienced, very solid and got great length. So, they have a good group back there and their nickel has quite a bit of experience as well. So that group is very good and very talented.”

On the rush discipline with the defensive front in the season opener and the importance of it vs. Anthony Richardson …

“Very important this week. There were times we weren’t as disciplined as we needed to be. It’s as simple as getting past the quarterback on certain things. Taking sides, being able to escape and come back in on certain pressures, things we need to get ironed it, and you’re right, especially going into this week. I think you saw last week, whether it was straight coverage, he (Richardson) pulled it down and just ran it in for a touchdown that looked effortless, what, 40-something yards? Other times where they (Utah) had great pressure on him, and players all over him, and he still managed to escape. That tells you how strong he is and how good a feel he has for it.”

On La’Vell Wright …

“He was really solid, then he got dinged up late in camp, now he’s back healthy. I mentioned Ramon (Jefferson), also, JuTahn (McClain) will be week-to-week right now as well. It’s nice to have La’Vell back because he’s a tough, physical runner. At some point he was running with the ones in the middle of summer and last spring, so we have a lot of confidence in him as well. He’ll get some more reps this week with Kavosiey (Smoke). I think we all understand we need to run the ball more efficiently. It wasn’t awful, when you add in the sack yardages, it takes off the net. But when you just have the running back runs, we only ran it, I want to say, 26 times with the running backs? 25, 26 times for 75 yards is not up to our standards by any stretch, but we can get that ironed out. The good news, I don’t think our running backs didn’t have any negative-yardage plays, so everything went downhill, which is important in our offense, to be able to get those three-, four-, five-yard gains, keep them off balance. I think you could tell, with our run game, it opened up those strikes, opened up those passes we really hit consistently all day. The more effective we are and the more committed we are to the run game, it will continue to open up opportunities.”

On Kentucky’s running back play in the season opener…

“No, I think the running back play in particular, Kavosiey (Smoke), was very, very good, I was very pleased with the way he played, and we all were. I felt like, sure, you look at it in hindsight, and again - what was it, 59 plays? At that point late in the fourth (quarter), he’s out of there, he definitely could get more carries, and we understand that and can feed him the ball. But I was really pleased with the way he played. He played tough, he played physical, and there’s things that you don’t always see that showed up. He stepped up and made some very physical blocks where he needed to in protection, and so just caught the ball well. Will – I think it got cloudy on the sideline, over on our sideline, where Will got the ball to Kavosiey late, a DB came from depth, it got muddy and he could’ve settled down right there and probably scored and Will could’ve got it to him quicker and we probably could’ve scored, right before Dane’s (Dane Key) touchdown catch there but he really did some good things. We were excited to get La’vell [Wright] going again, he’s another big, strong guy that can hit it up in there for some tough yards.”

On if you think anyone played especially well on the defensive line after looking at the film…

“Tre’vonn Rybka played better, and we need him to, and Kahlil (Saunders) did some good things. We played that position by committee, there’s quite a few guys in there and they did their job. For the most part, we played the run game pretty stout, we gave up some explosives with some things that we need to get ironed out, that we can, relatively simple fixes. We gave up a few runs, one of them was a communication issue. We got out of gap, out of position with a shift and a trade. It doesn’t usually bother us, in that particular call that we got in wrong position and gave up a big run, we’ll get that ironed out.”

On Alex Afari Jr. at the nickel position…

“He played a lot of snaps. It says a lot about him. We really talked about him, it felt like we had some trust in him. He’s one of them that you can tell by his length and his range that he’s a versatile guy. We need him at that position right now. I still believe that he can be a very good corner, a good safety, a nickel. You know I like those guys that can play a lot of positions, and certainly like that kind of size and strength at corner in the future. So, we’ll see where it goes but right now, he’s most needed there. He could get on the field and be versatile.”

On if Will Levis needs to take a little zip off some of his throws…

“Those have to be caught. Yes, on the 10–15-yard throws but by the time you add in his drop and where that ball was, that’s what, 20 yards in the air or more? You have to catch that ball. I think I mentioned this after the game, yes, there’s touch but then there’s times when we’re like, just be you and rip it. It’s a fine line but dudes have to catch it. There’s no excuse for that. I think on the goal line, on the interception, a couple things went out of play. (The) Snap got out rhythm a little bit, felt like by the way it was cloudy on a pick, he thought he was wide open so he didn’t rip it because Will knows too, when he rips it, they get dropped. I’m not making any excuses for him, he doesn’t need that. (There is a) Fine line there on certain throws but not the one to Izayah (Cummings), that’s a touchdown. He throws for four touchdowns, if we got that one.”

On Will Levis being disappointed in 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns, being his own toughest critic…

“He is, he definitely is. We don’t need him to put that kind of pressure on himself. We love and respect his drive and motivation and that’s obvious. But there also can be added pressure when the expectations go high on him. We just need him to be him. He is very driven and playing at a very high level. Again, there are some throws in there that with people in his face, he made some remarkable plays when you sit there and watch the film.”

On Coach Stoops’ thoughts when he saw Barion Brown turn the corner on his kickoff return…

“I wanted to see that, because a great returner like that needs to trust his speed in that situation, and guys that have it, do it. In that moment, when he turned the corner, I had a good feeling, and it was gone. I don’t know who was even in pursuit at that point – watching it live as far as what body type, whether it was a DB, safety, kicker. I didn’t know who was in position on that sideline, but I felt like it was going to the house, because the great ones, when they turn that corner in the open field like that – it’s all about the true speed and he has it.”

On if you expected that from Brown when you recruited him…

“Yes, absolutely.”

On preparing your team for an environment like they will see Saturday in Gainesville…

“You do, you have to address it – you have to talk about it. The nice thing is, we’ve had times – even going down there when we weren’t very good, early on and played well because there was some young guys that hadn’t been in that situation that really didn’t give a crap. You know what I mean – and so there’s a fine line there with letting them be them, but also preparing. Because as a team, you have to address that. It’s a loud, hostile environment. I think it was them when they played here last year, it was some pre-snaps (penalties), and going down there, it’s a very loud, hostile environment, so you have to prepare for it. Yes, you have to discuss it, you have to work on it, but with some of those guys, again, you talk about it, I don’t think you beat a dead horse because some of them are just who they are and you love that, let them go play.”

On if the Florida game is a make-or-break game and will he acknowledge that…

“Should I, with 10 games left after that? (laughter) Should I pack it in after this one? What would y’all do? Win or lose, it’s one game. Yeah, in the SEC, every SEC game is important, and again, you know this from covering a long time – tell what game is less important than the other? I acknowledge sometimes over the years when certain things come in here and the way things play out, it’s a big game, yeah. But this is the next one, we’re gonna have quite a few big games and we always embrace that – you better. You better embrace the challenges that are in front of you and this is certainly one of them but you have to look at it. It’s fun. For us, and again I mentioned this through the years, but getting on the plane with a smaller group, focus on what we have to focus, go on the road and take that challenge is something we’ll embrace.”

On expecting to see Kiyaunta Goodwin more in the future…

“We wanted to and had plans in that game and at the end of the game, just to get his feet wet, even for one series we didn’t get that opportunity because they held the ball for the last seven minutes, and they were just getting first downs. We were just going to run it out as well because we were warned weather was coming or had a chance to come and so we wanted to try to run the ball in that fourth quarter and get out of there, but yeah, we had plans to play him. As early as the first half, you could tell we were having a couple of issues and just wanted to get going so it just didn’t happen.”

On having his most dynamic pair of returners with Barion Brown and Tayvion Robinson, and does that change his thinking on kickoff and punt returns…

“Well, that part of it really doesn’t change because we’re always trying to create and get field position. Sometimes as we get into league play, a lot of that has to do with kicking. Think about it for us. Our cover unit looked pretty darn good, didn’t it, because of the kicks, the kickoffs. Some of these guys we play, they’re not going to get a chance to put the ball in his hands. Or, it is going to be hung so high that coverage is brutal. So, a lot of that is kicking, and we face some really talented punters as well. So, when that ball is hanging in the air for a long time and they have a chance to cover, you just have to secure the ball and move on. So, it depends. But, we always work at it because maybe there is that one miss. Maybe there is one miss hit or it’s a little lower and we get that opportunity. And when you get the opportunity, you have to make the most of it. I told Barion (Brown) after the first one, don’t ever catch the ball up there going backwards and bring it out. Next time (laughter), he catches it going back, goes 100 yards. I said I told you not to do that. He thought I was serious. But he does have to learn, because this week, you catch that a yard or two deep going the wrong way, and we’ll be pinned inside the 20.”

On Barion Brown’s confidence as a true freshman…

“I mean, you know how freshmen are. I love it, I love him and all of them, but you know, we all get scars sooner or later.”

On getting to a place where you can put a team on the field in Gainesville that is more confident that it can win…

“Well, as I have mentioned through that time when everybody was bringing up all the streaks and all the different ones, I just worry about our team. As we get better, things change. It’s never any one game or what good would it be to just have one win and the program not get better. For me, it’s always just been about us and what I can control. I can’t control anything outside of here, so it is what are we doing to get the program better, to recruit better, to physically get better, coach better, everything, and it is still that way. We have a long season, this is one game, and we need to go play well.”

On if he’s enjoying coaching more than earlier years …

“I just fool you for a half-hour, that’s it (laughter). I think the comfort level changes. Don’t get me wrong, it all comes and goes. There’s some very difficult times but once you get in season you better get in that rhythm and prepare your team. There’s always different phases. I enjoy that. This is time to play. I enjoy that. I enjoy the strategy, I enjoy the coaching, I enjoy the messaging to the team, getting them prepared, the challenges. Win or lose, that’s your job. I need to concentrate on the improvement we need to make between last week and this week.”

On the importance of the linebackers this week…

“It’s going to be very important. Florida does a nice job of dressing things up, lot of motions. He’s shown through the years to be balanced with ’12’ (one running back, two tight ends formation) and ‘11’ (one running back, one tight end), this past game they were in a lot of spread sets and that probably has a lot to do with Anthony, the way he can be such a threat. There’s still a lot of moving pieces, a lot of eye candy, a lot of motions, play-actions, things you saw us having success with the past couple of years. Experience does matter, it helps, so those guys (UK linebackers) have to continue to lead and play physical in the run game and also pick up some of the play-actions because you’re going to see that this week. They can hurt you with some of the play-actions off all the shifts, motions, flies, all the different things we’re going to see, some shots down the field.”