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Mark Stoops recaps Tennessee loss and the state of the offense

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Stoops talked about the offensive struggles and if there will be changes moving forward.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Saturday’s loss to the Tennessee Volunteers was a tough one.

Everyone was hoping for a bounce back win and an end to the losing streak against the Volunteers in Knoxville, but the Kentucky Wildcats were soundly defeated by a struggling Tennessee team.

Things got off to a bad start and Kentucky was never able to get anything going offensively. Drive after drive would start well and then stall after the Wildcats crossed midfield. And the defense was unable to stop Tennessee’s offense, even after safety Darius West returned from his first half suspension.

Kentucky’s defense was able to manufacture some stops and even some takeaways in the second half, but the offense continued to struggle. Terry Wilson took a couple sacks that negated some positive gains and, more crucially as the Wildcats tried to mount a comeback, kept the clock rolling in the fourth quarter.

All in all it was a pretty depressing day for Big Blue Nation. A win would have kept the Cats on track for a 10 win season and restored some positivity after last week’s loss. As it is, UK still has two more winnable games this season and with that a chance to post 9 wins this season.

On Monday, Mark Stoops met with the media to recap the Tennessee loss, as well as talk about the upcoming matchup with Middle Tennessee. Here is a recap of everything he had to say, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Opening Statement…

“As I mentioned Saturday night after the game, feel the same way today. We obviously didn’t play good enough. I didn’t have them prepared well enough and we need to do a better job. That’s a very important game that we did not put forth our best effort, and that can’t happen. It’s inexcusable and we need to do a better job. With that being said, that’s one game and we have to move on and get ready to prepare for a victory here this week. We’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do to get ready to play this game against Middle (Tennessee) to get our eighth victory. Again, it’s very important. Doesn’t diminish all the good things our team has done throughout this year, and appreciate their effort throughout this season. Again, as I mentioned Saturday, I didn’t do a good enough job getting them motivated and getting them prepared to play last week, and that’s what we have to do. We’ll get back at it here this week.”

On if he thinks it’s time to re-think the entire offensive scheme…

“That wouldn’t be a very good idea. We got two opportunities to get the most victories we’ve had in a regular season since 1977. I don’t think that’d be very wise. We did a lot of good things to win seven games, and we plan on trying to get to eight and nine. I appreciate all the good things that they did to put us in that position. That would be called panic mode.”

On if he considers this to be somewhat of a breather game…

“There’s no team that we can say that’s a breather. You see it again, you see it in college football, and you see it all the time. You saw Tennessee score seven points on Charlotte the week before, and come out and play lights out against us. These are college kids, there’s going to be ups and downs. You’ve have to be good enough to win when you don’t play your best. It’s very difficult to play at your peak for 12 straight weeks and some of the teams that are competing for 13, so it’s difficult. You’ve got to be good enough to overcome them when you don’t play well. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. I think there are three teams in this league, we’ve got a pretty good league don’t we? 14 teams in this league that have pretty good programs, and I think three of them have a better record than us. I don’t think it’s time to scrap everything.”

On if the film showed that some guys were just going through the motions Saturday like Benny (Snell Jr.) mentioned…

“Definitely. I said it after the game, I was the first one to say it. I said it to the team prior to them talking to you. I didn’t do a very good job because we weren’t ready to play at the level that we needed to play at. I think you could see Tennessee, where maybe they played that way the week before, and they got straightened out and came out and played with a lot of passion and energy. Our team has done that throughout this year. We didn’t Saturday and that’s on me. I appreciate Benny (Snell Jr.) pointing those things out, and that’s what leaders should do. I don’t think he’s pointing at any one person, just in general, I told them that we didn’t do a good enough job.”

On Benny mentioning the physicality of the team and if he can re-inject that into the team…

“Yeah, there’s a lot of things that go into it. You’re not going to play very good football when it’s like one person here and one person there, or just little things. That, we can’t do. We’re at our best – you’ve seen us this year – and part of our recipe to win a bunch of games is we have to make long drives. In our victories throughout the season, we’ve had 12, 13-play drives because we’re not overly explosive. But, you have to be very good and you have to be very precise and you can’t have a missed assignment here, a missed assignment there. You go down through it and you talk about efficiency and being physical and it looks that way. It certainly felt that way to me also, but you look at it and 17 of 27 runs that we ran the ball we were very efficient on, or we hit our efficiency mark of four yards or more. But, when you miss a third-and-one that kills you. That kills a drive right there. Really, on second down we had it and we missed the cut. We tried to create a huge play, instead of hitting it up in there for another 10 (yards) and then we get to third-and-one and miss that. That’s a big drive to start the game. Later, we have a good drive out together, one of our longer drives and we drop the snap. Those are things that we can’t overcome. That’s where we have to put it all together and play clean. The opening question about the offense – we left two missed field goals, and certainly we had another one that drive where we had a first-and-10 at the 26, I believe going in, and we had a well-designed play right there. It was very well set up. We felt like it was going to be an explosive play. Instead it’s second-and-12, or second-and-14 or whatever it was. But, defensively we didn’t play very good at all, didn’t play up to our standards whatsoever.”

On how much they missed Darius West…

“Definitely missed him. I think his presence and being out there and doing that, but we gave up…then you look at efficiency and when you just look at the overall statistics and even myself I’m sitting here saying how in the world did we give up 200 rushing yards? We gave up, I don’t know the exact yards -- 40 or 45 – on a simple technique of our four-technique (defensive lineman) trying to do too much. Has the block controlled, sticks his head out in another person’s gap, runs it right down there and led to a touchdown. 40, 45 yards leads to a touchdown and then the reverse was a huge play. That’s a finesse play, but it was set up and we need to play better. There’s like 100 yards on two plays. You look at the rest of it and we had quite a few tackles for a loss and zero-yard gains and things of that nature. Just as a team, we didn’t play good enough. Definitely offense always wants to take the hit because they look at the bottom line and we missed two field goals, turned the ball over in the red zone and had other drives stalled for various reasons, various mistakes, but the defense we definitely should have done enough to keep it in the game like we’ve done in other games.”

On if Dorian Baker went to Knoxville…

“No. He was suspended for that game, but he’ll be back this week.”

On Middle Tennessee being +8 in turnover margin the last four games and what he has seen of their defense…

“They’re creating big plays and they’re getting ahead and scoring some points and then teams are throwing the ball and certainly that was the case this past week with UTEP. They jumped out on a big lead on them and then they’re throwing it and creating big plays. Their defense has been very good at forcing turnovers. Their offense is good, they do a good job, they are well coached. I want to say they are 7-1 in their conference. So, obviously anytime you’re leading your conference you’re a good football team.”

On when you get to a point whether, it’s offense or defense, that you don’t trust the scheme and try to do too much…

Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I think it’s a little of that. That’s where everybody needs to watch the film and not hit panic mode. It’s about controlling the things we can control and doing what you’re supposed to do. That’s a perfect example of, again, it leads to a touchdown. When he had the block controlled, just wanted a peek and do his own thing and creates an explosive play for no reason.”

On Terry Wilson making good decisions and not pulling out and running on run-pass options…

“There were a couple in that game when we watch it and see that it would’ve been 50/50 on a pull or not to pull (the handoff). He’s not been perfect on all his reads, even with where to go with the football at times, but he’s doing some good things and it’s not all on him. That’s one of those games where it is aggravating to everybody because when we had guys open the protection wasn’t there. When we had protection we didn’t get guys open or complete it and there are a few where he’s gone to the wrong side but there are a lot of moving pieces and he has to see all that and he is getting better but the decision-making has been good. He’s doing some good things. We have to play well around him and we need to be very precise with the complete game-changers because we don’t have a lot of them on offense, so we have to make sure we execute and are efficient in what we do.”

On looking back on the week of preparation if there was a sign that the team would’ve laid an egg like they did…

“There are things I could’ve done differently. I think as you go through the season, I know that even to myself the days that I get up and I talk to the team every Monday, Thursday and Friday – well, I talk to them every day obviously but we have a team meeting prior to all of our meetings on Monday, Thursday, Friday and it does get monotonous to the players and I think the schedule and sticking to it. That’s where you have to be disciplined, that’s where I felt confidence in our leadership and veteran team to make sure we were ready to play and in hindsight I have to do a better job somehow in some way to tweaking it and changing it, getting the attention and getting the guys ready to play at a high level. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve won some games that experts gave us no chance of winning. We haven’t been very good when we’ve been the hunted. We’re a much better football team when we’re the hunter and we’ve got to understand what level we need to play at all the time. I constantly try to teach that and constantly talk until I’m blue in the face about that and we’re intentional about leadership and trying to do things the right way and you have to be good enough to overcome things when you’re not at your best.”

On finding ways to keep it fresh…

“There are definitely things I need to do or can do. Again, I think that’s part of it, to be a successful head coach you gotta have a great plan but you also better have good instincts.”

On his message to the team this afternoon…

“I’m going to keep that (to myself) because I have some messaging but I’m going to wait, I’m going to hit them with it here in a little while.”

On the senior class going out with as many wins as any Kentucky group in a long time…

“And the most in school history as far as SEC victories. I think they deserve a little credit for that and I think we all, me, I’m the first one, that you always want to hang on to things you can do better and that’s what drives us every day, and drives me every day and that’s what I want to do but I also want to give recognition to that senior class and what they’ve done and what they’ve meant to this program and how much I greatly appreciate them and I think the Big Blue Nation appreciates them. In the last three years, they’ve won the most SEC games as anybody in the history of this school. That’s a long time, folks. I appreciate what they’ve done.”

On liking that the BBN is really mad after this game and changing the culture at UK…

“I’m not arguing with you. I think if you heard the beginning of my statement I was the first one to say how much I hang on to things, how much we can do better. That’s my mentality 24/7 but I also want to give recognition to them for what they deserve. The most in school history is a long time and I appreciate that.”

On it being the last hurrah for the seniors to end on a positive note…

“We’ve got two games guaranteed that we have to go play. We talked about it last week, what we want their legacy to be and of course that game was important to us. We didn’t get it done and now it’s back to this one. We have two guaranteed opportunities and we want to take care of business this week and move on to the last (game).”

On the younger players talking about older players taking them under their wing…

“I think it’s real important and I’ve been constantly this year trying to point that out to the younger players to understand what’s going on and the amount of work and the amount of sacrifice that’s gone in to doing what we have done. I’m constantly trying to plan for the future of this program and develop the young guys both mentally and physically. I think it’s real important to embrace the good things this group has done and try to continue with that.”

On what he said when recruiting the current seniors about coming to Kentucky to get things done …

“I don’t remember the exact selling point or how we go about that but the big things are relationships and progress. That’s all we ever talk about is making sure we’re going to put kids in a position to be successful, develop them and keep on pushing this program further. There was never any talk about exactly how many wins or what we were going to do or all of those things, it’s about elevating the program and we’ve done that. We all hang on to the what-ifs, that’s human nature, but we’re going to constantly keep on working and keep on pressing to get better.”

On if the mistakes first-year players made were part of the learning process…

“We got beat a couple times at tackle and we got beat (on) the one missed assignment I told you about after the game. One time we just slid the line completely the wrong way and actually I have to get clarification on that because we were in tempo mode and the penalty happened on the left hash and it was behind the line of scrimmage so I have to get clarification on why we didn’t move it up on the left hash(mark) and went over to the right and it didn’t help us so I’m going to get some clarification for why we weren’t on the left hash or left middle. Anyway, we got beat a couple times at tackle, we need to do a better job, and there’s other things we can do to protect and help in certain situations, especially when we’re trying to get the ball down the field. There’s other times where they held up really well and they did a good job. That’s why I said those are the things sometimes you say you feel like it’s so far away when it’s really not. I said it early in the year, a little bit more protection and we got some opportunities there, there’s a lot of things and there’s no excuse. There are just a lot of mistakes. There can’t be one guy here and one mistake on one thing and we’re not built that way and we have to be very precise and do things very good and be very clean and that’s a good recipe to be successful and if we don’t do that we’re not in a good position.”

On Veteran’s Day and the impact veterans have on the program …

“First of all, thank you for your service and everybody in here that served and just really can’t thank you enough, and I don’t think it gets recognized enough. It’s really nice to the way college athletics is trying to embrace that and recognize the military and veterans, and it’s been a very good relationship with us. I certainly embrace the veterans that are in our program (Jon Hill, Freddie Maggard, Jason Cummins) that help us each and every day, so it was really good, and it was nice to have (Marine veteran) Matthew Bradford with us a week or so ago and walk with us on the Cat Walk, come and talk to the team, so we embrace that, and we thank you.”

On Jordan Jones’ Senior Day …

“I’ll be very happy for him and very proud for him and there’s others in there as well that have come a long way. Tymere [Dubose] is one that jumps out at you as well, been documented the struggles and the disputes we’ve had, but that’s our job. But, really there’s a lot of them. Mike Edwards, Darius West, and these guys are going to graduate, and I think there’s times when ‘Why is it more important to me than it is to you?’ but I’m proud of that because eventually the light clicks on, and they want to get that done, and they want to be successful both on the field and off. I’m very proud of a lot of these guys for the work they’ve done, and I’ve seen a change, so they’ve been very good group, special group, not perfect like none of us, but they’ve really done a good job. I will be proud for Jordan and many of the other ones, all of the other ones. Special group. The individual stories of some of these guys, many of you have written about it and talked about it and seen it. Where they come from, what they’ve done, the things they’ve overcome. It’s truly amazing. Guys like George [Asafo-Adjei] and Jordan and just many of them. It hasn’t been easy, and they’ve come a long way, and they’ve done a lot for us.”

On the emotional roller-coaster of the season so far, from two members of the team having cancer, to being ranked in the top 10, and how you deal with that as a coach …

“It’s always been like that. I mean it is. Please tell me another profession that the highs are so high and the lows are so low. That’s the way it is. For us, we really always try to handle things the right way. Of course, we’re going to celebrate big accomplishments and big wins and individual accomplishments and recognize kids for what they’ve done, and that’s great, but you really always have to keep things in perspective, and I really always try and do that. We’ll try to do that this week. You always got to get back on track. You can’t bring last week into the new week. You have one-week seasons. This is a new one-week season for us. We can’t change that past, we can’t change last week, but we can learn from it, and try not to make the same mistakes.”

On how to stop the run better than at Tennessee …

“Just do what we do and play really fundamental football. It’s like I said last week. We’ve given up two explosive runs, and we’re really stout and pretty stern, and you could look at 35, 36, 37 runs (running plays), and we were pretty darn good, and you can look at a couple and give up a hundred (yards). That can’t happen. That’s not the way you play winning football, so we all have to do all of our jobs all the time, and that’s the big thing. That’s where our kids mean well. Their intentions are right, and that’s like last week when I talked about it. I believe the intentions was right, and all I talked about last week was actions. I know they mean well, and I know they want to do good, and there’s nothing intentional about it, but our actions speak louder than words and what we do and what we’re going to do about it. Obviously, that didn’t get done, so we have to make sure we do it this week.”

On Middle Tennessee’s explosive offense …

“Stockstill, Brent, the quarterback. You have to have a lot of respect for him. You could tell he’s a coach’s kid. He plays so hard and makes such critical plays. He’s one of those guys. He’s a real gamer. You can put pressure on him, you can get him out of the pocket, and he finds guys open. He puts it in good spots, he throws a catchable ball. You got to have a lot of respect for the way he plays. He plays the game the right way, very intelligent and great touch on what he does, and they have a good scheme, and they can move it on you.”

On how to keep the same urgency when you’re the one being hunted as opposed to being the hunter …

“We have to play with the same mentality every week. That’s who we are, and that’s always been my philosophy. I’ve always said that as a defensive coordinator, as a head coach, that mentality, that ‘who you are,’ your identity, that’s got to be with you 24/7, and they didn’t get that done. We have to be the best version of ourself, and we weren’t that last week, and so, we need to play with a toughness and an attitude and a mentality along with execution and being precise in what we do. That always goes with it, how you prepare, and you hear me talk about that every week, but it’s so true, what kind of mentality do you have as you’re going through your preparation, are you going through the motions or are you really trying to get better, and that’s where we cannot be inconsistent. We’ve played 10 games this year, and we haven’t been perfect in those 10 but I think all but one, we had the right mentality.”

On focusing on certain plays that everyone is on the same page …

“I would say there’s just been too many, as you look at the film, one guy here, one guy there. That’s not winning football. Without putting any blame on any one thing, I tell the players all the time, ‘How do we know what one play is not going to change the outcome of the game? How do you know?’ So, in the first possession of the game when we have something that would create a first down and instead we don’t make it, how do we not know what would have happened on that drive? The mentality of our team, you don’t know which one play it is, and there’s a lot of plays there that we’re leaving on the field. It’s not just all the O-Line. There’s a couple where the tackle gets beat, and we got guys open. Then the next time, guys aren’t open and there’s good protection. Now, there’s good protection, guys are open, we throw it, and there’s drops. We had more drops last week than we’ve had all year, I believe in a game. We had five drops. What does that do to an offense? How does that help you? Those are hard things for us to overcome. Tennessee didn’t want to live in third-and-long, and we don’t want to live in third-and-long. When we stay on track, we’re pretty good. When we get behind the chains, it’s not where we want to be, and like I said, that’s the same for a lot of people unless you’ve got some freak that’s just going to go up and make some unbelievable play.”