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Coach Mark Stoops talks Georgia showdown in weekly news conference

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 6:44 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WYMT) - In a huge win for the Kentucky football program, the now 11th-ranked Wildcats toppled the LSU Tigers in Kroger Field Saturday night.

Head Coach Mark Stoops was once again all business as he made remarks Monday afternoon ahead of a huge road showdown with the newly top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. That huge road test is set for a premier spot for SEC football: 3:30 p.m. Saturday right here on WYMT.

You can see the transcript of Coach Stoops’s comments below.

Opening Statement

“Okay, once again, proud of the victory, thought our guys played very good this past week. After watching the film, did some really good things. We executed well in all areas. Guys played extremely hard. Fundamentally, we are doing some very good things and so that’s good. There is a lot to build on. Hopefully, we’ll have another great week with a bunch of discipline, focus, execution here this week. We are going to need to play our very best. There’s no question about that when you’re going in to play at Georgia, what Kirby (Smart) has done there and the team he has put together. You see why they’re ranked the number one team in the country and leading and dominating in the defensive statistical categories and playing extremely well offensively. Just a complete football team and also hurt you at any given moment in special teams, so they’re playing well in all areas. Very talented football team, very well coached and a great challenge ahead of us. We’re worried about ourselves and our preparation and that’s why we’ve been getting better as the season has progressed because of the way we’ve approached the weeks, the way we approached practice, and that will be not different this week. As I mentioned the last couple of weeks, if you want to continue to play in big games, then just care of the business you have right in front of you and for us it’ll be a great start to the week, with a great Monday practice and getting these mistakes that we made in the past game cleaned up and preparing for Georgia. So, excited about the week, just getting ready, and going back going to practice. Again, I have told you this each and every week, it doesn’t matter to us who we play. They are all big games when you want to win and prepare, so it’s about the preparation, it’s about what we do here this week and looking forward to getting back to work with the players.”

On how he sees the upcoming game similar to an NFL playoff game…

“I really don’t look at it like that at all myself, but you can look at it how you want, but for us it’s another week. It’s the next game and so for us we just have to have a great week of preparation and continue to get better, continue to cultivate the good things we’re doing.”

On if he’s trying to not get the team too hyped…

“That’s never anything different. Have you ever heard anything different in nine years? That’s not coach speak, that’s the way it is.”

On defensive tackle Octavious Oxendine not being on depth chart…

“Octavius, unfortunately, will be out for the remainder of the season, so that’s a big loss for us considering (noseguard) Marquan (McCall) is already down and Octavious was playing (well), he played his best game. This past week, he played his best game. It’s unfortunate, he got hurt late in the game.”

On the exact nature of the injury…

“Yeah. I know what it is. It’s out for the year, it’s a lower leg.”

On the UK fan support in Athens…

“I expect us to be loud as we can be with as many tickets as they allot us, but always appreciate our fans and showing up. Hopefully we will hear the number of the amount of people we have there.”

On having to move some players around to fill voids…

“We do, we have to move some guys around. We have to get better, some of the guys that are going to be forced into playing time. We have to look at all aspects of what we’re doing and what they do best and try to have it by committee and moving guys around and look at different ways on third down. The thing about Georgia is … what’s difficult is there’s no masking things. They’re very well coached and very physical and you have to play them. Of course there are game plans and change-ups and things but you have to just match up and that’s difficult to do, but we have to get better, we have to ways to protect certain guys but with them you just have to man up and play.”

On being “who we are” and challenge of playing “who they are” …

“I’m saying that Georgia is so balanced so physical and so good in so many ways, when we have guys that are out or whatever that there’s no protecting guys. Certain teams we played we could run simulated pressures, do different things, but with them you just have to man up and play. We got to play to a high level.”

On Georgia’s blitzes and different defensive looks, the challenge for quarterback Will Levis...

“They put a lot of pressure on you because they’re good. Lining up in their base defense and playing, they’re good, then you start mixing in any kind of pressures or different looks. The big thing for Will will be him having some time. The protection being good, guys getting open, it will be a challenge for everybody. They give up 200 yards a game or something ridiculous? They’re number one in our league by like 100 and some yards, giving up 50-some a game rushing. They are playing at a ridiculous level defensively.”

On playing previous Georgia teams, compared to this team...

“I really don’t go back and look at much that way as far as personnel, I look at scheme. Take a big picture look at what they like to do against us and what we’ve done well. As you know, we are quite different offensively. But, you still go back and look. If you have any success, your margin for error is very small in this game. They are so good and talented and can hurt you in so many ways. You have to take advantage of any and all opportunities that you have.”

On having confidence for this game...

“It should give us confidence knowing that we’re just getting better as this season goes on the way we’re playing. Our preparation, that’s where it comes from, and just being disciplined throughout the week. It’s always that way. We have to worry about ourselves and have the discipline and preparation, sacrifice some things such as sleeping (getting enough sleep), maybe watching some film and being dialed in for a big opportunity. Our guys do that no matter who they play. It gets late in the season and you can tell we’re getting beat up. We have guys injured, and you start getting thin. We have to do the very best we can with who we’ve got and what is going on and our guys playing at a high level.”

On the status of injured wide receiver Josh Ali…

“It looks doubtful at this point.”

On Will Levis being a good football player...

“It’s fair to say he is a good football player. With the way he runs, the way he ad-libbed a little bit. We do a lot of different things as you can tell with a lot of different shifts, motions, and different actions in the run game. Whether it’s a bad snap, or a bobbled snap he’s made plays with certain things. The other day we were mixed up on a play, and he turns around and runs it for eight yards or something. Things of that nature, he’s playing very good football. Watching that film, Will definitely played a complete game. I mentioned after the game, I thought he started well but he played well the entire game, he really did some good things. Some of those throws he made, even on the incompletion to Wan’Dale (Robinson) was just a beautiful pass. He played at a very high level and threw some really impressive throws.”

On learning from the 2018 Georgia game...

“I think you do. There’s nothing for me to talk about with that. The guys know, the players that have been around, the leaders, guys that have been here for three, four, five, six years. They understand the situations and different learning opportunities and the things that we learned from that game. I’m not going to get into it because it was two years ago. I believe as an organization you get better with every opportunity and I think we’re getting better each and every day.”

On Georgia being the best defense UK has faced in Stoops’ nine years at UK...

“It is hard to argue that. I haven’t put much thought into other great defenses. We certainly have played a lot of great defenses through my time here. You watch these guys on film, and it is another level of good. It’s impressive what they’re doing defensively.”

On the win against LSU and how it helps prepare for Georgia...

“Last week was about hitting the reset button again and having focused hours of discipline and preparation. Again, it goes into the sacrifice that you make throughout the week, to have great practices, to get sleep, to get to class, to eat right. A lot of things go into it. Hours and hours of focused, disciplined preparation, whether it’s in film, or on the practice field and staying true to who we are. We’re always building and cultivating the good things we do, finding ways to exploit that and get better in those areas and areas where we’re falling short, work to get better.”

On how much he is enjoying the process of playing the No. 1 team for his players …

“Anytime you have success and you see them and you are around them … as you know, it’s brutally hard, it is just hard. Football is a hard game playing at this level, playing in the SEC, it is hard. So, anytime they have success, it is fun for them. But why are you having success is what you want to dig into. Yes, everybody is happy and everybody wants to win, but what are those steps you are taking to put yourself in a position to win is more of what we concentrate on.”

On the stress Georgia puts on the defense with their tight ends …

“Yeah, that guy is impressive. Brock Bowers, man, as a freshman, really impressive player. He is the guy that jumps out at you all year. For a freshman, quite impressive player. It just puts stress on you anytime that position (is involved) because they are good everywhere. When you are physical and have the backs that they have and the wideouts that can hurt you outside. You pick your spot, they will put stress on you.”

On his relationship with Kirby Smart …”I have a real good relationship with Kirby. I think a lot of him as a coach.”

On Jeremy Flax’s availability last week …

“No, Jeremy was not available Saturday. He will be back this week.”

More on his relationship with Kirby Smart …”I like Kirby. You asked what our relationship was and if I had a friendship with him. I like his personality and he is a fun guy to be around, but it is not like we are besties or anything like that.”

On having to face a tough atmosphere Saturday …”We prepared for it going on the road to South Carolina, obviously this is a different team, different environment. Hopefully, we learned from that experience just as far as our operation, our preparation. Guys feed on that sometimes too. Even though it is hostile, there is something different about it. You have to do it. You know you’re going into some tough environments, so you better embrace it. I said it a long time ago in one of the games, but run to the roar, man, enjoy it. You are going to hear it, there will be rocking. You better embrace it and play at a high level, because you can’t hide from it.”

On if it is fair to say this is the best defense Georgia will see …”Those are your words not mine.”

On if Georgia is any different with Bennett at quarterback instead of Daniels …

“Not much. Stetson is doing a great job of managing their offense and making impressive throws when he has to. You saw it last week, quick strike when it is there. You see him working it and running their offense. Not too much different, no.”

On why the pass to Izayah Cummings was ruled incomplete …”Number one, I have not received my voiceover back yet. Sometimes I talk with (SEC officials coordinator) John McDaid and I think he does a remarkable job of communicating with us. But I have not received that back and unfortunately, even when I do, I am not allowed to relay that to you (laughter).”

On if Stoops thought it was a catch …”I think whatever it was ruled on the field was going to stand.”

On if playing the No. 1 team means anything different …”Not really, if it does to our players individually, so be it. Whatever they need to motivate them and whatever they need to sacrifice – getting a little extra sleep, eating good, watching a few extra snaps or watching a few extra minutes a day on film – whatever individually needs to motivate us. But our process, our preparation needs to be consistent if we want to be what we want to be.”

On if hard work and discipline is that simple to being successful…

“It is but it’s harder to do. Do you know what goes into that? Yeah, it may be the same talking points to me. I wrote some things on the board last Monday that probably are still up there but I’ll reiterate it and have a new message. But it’s the same, it is the same. However, that’s easier said than done, right? These guys have a lot on their plate. They are physically and emotionally going through a lot. There is quite a bit that goes into a week. The preparation and that needs to stay the same, yes. But again, they are physically beat up, they are mentally beat down. They have school, they have a lot of things on their plate. They know the systems and the processes that we have in place to be successful. They know that, but they have to go do it, we all have to do it.”

On how having an open date next week will impact the team this week…

“We haven’t changed our approach in the last several weeks as far as me and my practice schedule. We haven’t changed. Again, I said it last week on Monday or the week before and I’ll say it again. We are going hard. There is no laying off the gas, we are banged up, we are beat up. I don’t give a crap, we are going hard. We are going to be who we are and do the best we can.”

On how the team is handling the additional attention with the success…

“That is different, and even for myself there is more things you have to do. But that comes with the territory and again, I talk to them about managing that. And I have to make sure Susan (Lax) and Tony (Neely) don’t put too much on my guys with them individually, not trying to do too much with some of them. Last week I noticed it because I got done with one of my meetings and I got up to my office and I got that good view. And I saw Will (Levis) out there on the field and I was like, ‘That’s enough. Get him off the field.’ That’s enough of that stuff, whatever they were demonstrating out there.”

On having JuTahn McClain back…

“You saw it Saturday. He is a guy that we like in this offense because he can catch and make plays out in the backfield and do a lot of good things. He is getting back and it’s nice to have that option.”

On JuTahn McClain being a natural receiver…

“He does a nice job with that and it’s nice because we can get Michael (Drennen II) going a little bit as well. So, there were some options on some of the things we did Saturday that we can build on.”

On Kavosiey Smoke’s success and using two running backs…

“It helps a lot. Last week we talked about it in here as well. I felt like Kavosiey (Smoke) was starting to take it to another level. Again, it comes with his approach through the week. As coaches get more and more confident in players when they are consistent and they are consistently doing good things. Sometimes young players don’t understand that, ‘What do I have to do?’ You have to do things right, all the time, it’s a pretty big deal for us when they don’t. It doesn’t mean anybody is perfect, guys are going to make mistakes, but some guys have earned your trust through the course of thousands of reps.”

On if Kavosiey Smoke is healthy…

“Yes, he is healthy.”

On if this success is what Stoops envisioned when he took this coaching job…

“That’s for you. I don’t mean to be disrespectful in my answer. I don’t think about it like that, I don’t. I mean I am happy being in this position, I’m happy with being 6-0, it’s a lot better than being 5-1, you know what I mean? But again, it’s this week, it’s the way I look at it. This week.”

On how reactions are different from when Stoops played college football to his players receiving national attention now for things such as Will Levis eating whole bananas and drinking coffee with mayonnaise...

“Things are a lot different right now than nine years ago, it is what it is. Social media is different, phones are different, the info is different; name, image and likeness is different. I’ve always been good with ‘be who you are.’ That’s what makes coming together as a team and an organization fun. There’s a lot of different characters in there. I love each and every one of them in a different way, but we are all different.”

On the family interaction right now with the Stoops family being undefeated at Kentucky, Oklahoma and alma mater Iowa…

“Oh, it’s good. But we aren’t totally. My brother Mike is down there at FAU, so Mike is the defensive coordinator there and they have had some ups and downs this year. My brother Ron is still coaching, trying to help my high school out and they are having a rough year (laughter). My uncle Bob will come in here once and awhile and still be Uncle Bob (laughter). We got a lot of us still active but good day Saturday, obviously, with the Sooners coming back and Drake having a big game and doing a lot of things and Bob, I’m sure. We talked through text, had a great time being back in Iowa City where all three of us played and us with the win. My mother was here this past weekend, so it was great to see her.”

On if you still talk to Bob after every game...

“Yeah, we still talk quite a bit. Depends now, he’s doing that media and who knows where he’s going to be and he’s always flying around doing that stuff.”

On how do you build on Will Levis’ momentum…

“Just continue to do what he’s done to improve. The talking points from last week, obviously, Liam working with him, just continue to build on them. Like I always say, cultivate the good, right? Anything he’s done well, continue to do that and not get too far ahead of himself.”

On do you feel like Will Levis played his best all season vs. LSU…

“You guys are trying to put a lot of words in my mouth this week. You guys phrase the questions, so that’s your opinion and you can write and talk about it how you want, I can’t control that (smiling). He did a really good job. But you’ve heard me talk about it since day one, how much confidence I’ve had in him, every day. I’ve never wavered from that.”

On how much does it mean for Will to play with his feet and get first downs…

“It means a lot. Sometimes you have to go play the game, sometimes you have to ad-lib a little. It’s hard to coach all the time -- when you need to stay very patient in the pocket, when you need to move and buy time in the pocket, when you need to pull it down and run. I think he’s making really good decisions. Not perfect but he’s playing the game and he’s a good football player. He’s playing ball and doing a good job and getting better with every opportunity.”

On the area of most improvement this season…

“That’s a great question. Obviously, the turnovers is probably the biggest area of improvement, ball security. I’d like to continue to create turnovers, but us, we have control over the ball security, in particular fumbles, so I think any one specific area that would be it the past several games.”

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