Stoops: JJ Weaver is “week-to-week”

Here’s everything the Kentucky head football coach had to say ahead of the Northern Illinois game.
LSU vs Kentucky - Oct. 9, 2021
LSU vs Kentucky - Oct. 9, 2021(UK Athletics)
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 3:40 PM EDT
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Opening statement…

“After reviewing the film and coming in here, really kind of disappointed and a little unhappy with some of the undisciplined play that we had from this past week. Not to take away from so many players that did a great job, and really, defensively, it was a very good effort once again. I felt like the guys were really dialed in, detailed and executed at a very high level. Offensively, there are some things that we have to get ironed out. It just felt like there was a person here, a person there, just undisciplined play. Anytime you have 10 penalties, three turnovers, four fumbles, and you do that at home, it just shows you that that attention to detail was not there. We go on the road a week before, play in a hostile environment, and we only have two penalties and play relatively clean. We play at home against Youngstown and put that kind of play out there, it’s not very good. There are so many things we need to improve on. The positive side was when we did have protection, which the protection was relatively solid, there were a couple sacks in there, one or two on Will (Levis), one he has to throw hot (to the “hot” route) and one we had a guy open and he has to throw the ball, but other than that, Will did make some exceptional plays. Then, there are some things that we have to get better at. The interceptions, they’re not all on him. They weren’t stellar plays by him, he made a lot of fantastic plays, but the interceptions are not completely on him as well. We have to play better and that’s what I suspected postgame when I talked to you in the press conference, that I felt like we need to play better around him and that showed up a bit on Saturday. So, it’s a matter of getting everybody on the same page. Again, it’s not a matter of are we able to do it or were talented enough to do it, there are no excuses, we’ve just got to play better, we’ve got to be more disciplined, but again, pay attention to detail. You know, the little things. It’s always a person here or a person there that is throwing us off offensively, and we need to put that together.”

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On if that is a result of not seeing what is on the defense in front of them…

“No.”

On if the offensive adjustment to an outside-zone run scheme is going as expected…

“Same, I agree. We had a discussion about that this morning with Rich (Scangarello) and Zach (Yenser), and we’ll continue to get better at it. There’s a couple of them that were targeted that were not well-designed plays, that they had numbers and wasn’t good. We need to get out of it. That’s a bit of it, Jon (Hale). There’s a few plays here and there, with the outsize zone, that we have to iron out. With our targets, there’s things, where we are running it, coupled with just the movement up front that we should be able to handle. We didn’t play our best up front with the offensive line. We have to continue to improve.”

On how Eli Cox has progressed through the first three weeks…

“Just was talking to Eli in the coffee room about 10 minutes ago, and he and I had another good discussion. He is doing a pretty good job, and he can be a really strong leader. We just had a good discussion, and he will continue to help push that group and bring them along. And as I just mentioned to you, that is something that he understands, too. It’s just the little things. Little things in practice (are) starting to show up on Saturday. So, we’ve just got to do a better job. Eli is doing – he is playing well.”

On if the starts of games concern you or do you feel like you need to get off to a faster start…

“Defensively, we couldn’t have probably started any faster. I think it was five out of six possessions were three-and-outs, if I am not mistaken. But, yeah, offensively we had some drives stall. First couple. We need to capitalize on that. We had the long drive in the first quarter that ended in the interception. We need to execute better. Not just with the quarterback.”

On an update of J.J. Weaver and Tashawn Manning…

“J.J. will be week-to-week. It doesn’t look like he will be able to play this week. Tashawn, hopefully, will be back.”

On what you like about Keaten Wade on defense…

“Yeah, Keaten is one of those guys, he has a good understanding. He has a good feel for the game at that position. You have heard me talk through the years that there is a lot on that guy (outside linebacker) as well. He is one of those guys that has good instincts. As he gets reps, he will get better and better and start producing the plays that some of our outside backers have over time. Right now, he is just really good and solid, and as he gets reps, and more confidence, he will get better and better.”

On if “running downhill” is an adjustment you want to see in your running backs or offensive line…

“It all fits together. There are certainly things we could do better at the running back position and there’s holes that we can create better as well.”

On if you got as many of the young guys in against Youngstown State as you would have like to…

“Yeah, we got some good reps, but we would have liked to have seen more. Unfortunately, we couldn’t completely pull away and you want to just get better. We’re just working on ourselves constantly. There’s a good rotation in there, but probably not as many reps as we’d like.”

On improving in the red zone…

“Everything tightens up in there. Things happen quicker. The decisions have to be quick, by the quarterback, play calls, putting them in good position, executing at a higher level. The one late in the game in particular, first-and-goal on the three, we’ve got to be able to punch that in.”

On Alex Afari Jr. getting moved to a linebacker position…

“Alex has been playing that position, but without getting overly complicated, that position is a nickel/SAM (strongside linebacker), so it is a matter of what we call it on first and second down. He has been playing that position. It is just a matter of whether we decide to go with a big guy or a defensive back.”

On what you see out of Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi…

“He is a really good player. Looks like he slid and something happened to an ankle or knee or leg, or something, I am not sure. But he came out right after that and then (Ethan) Hampton went in and he went on to throw two touchdowns and keep them in the game and gave them a good chance. So I am not sure (who we will see), but Lombardi is a really good player with some good experience and he is kind of a crafty guy. You could see his comfort level in that pocket early in that game just by the way he was directing things. Even a simple little out pass, waiting, buying time and creating space for his wideout. Then another one later where he bought time and kind of directed a broken play for a touchdown – or to the one (yard line), I think it was – but he is a really good player.”

On if you got a better look at Northern Illinois since they played a Southeastern Conference team the game before…

“I don’t know about better, on film people have a tendency to do what they do. We watched them in the offseason and watched them now and we have three games to look at, so it’s good film.”

On what concerns you about Northern Illinois…

“Again, you hear me say it every week no matter who we are playing, what concerns me is us. That doesn’t ever change. It is about us and being more disciplined and being more efficient and having a good practice and having a great intensity about us. I am not saying it was a whole team, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t know what any one player or any one play is going to affect the outcome of a game. I didn’t feel like we were as consistent as we needed to be on Saturday.”

On if paying attention to detail will be your focus in practice this week…

“That is going to be part of it.” (laughter)

On what you liked out of Darrion Henry-Young against Youngstown State…

“He did a few good things. Hopefully we will continue to get more out of him.”

On Will Levis’ passing play against Youngstown State…

“He really, honestly, he made some amazing throws again on Saturday. Really, the talent just jumps out at you. When he gets moved off his spot and still have the awareness and the arm talent and the way he throws some of them is just really, really talented thrower. He made some plays that kind of go unnoticed in a game like that.”

On what more you want to see out of Will Levis…

“I think, and it is not just him and I am not bailing him out, but on the interceptions and some of that, we need to play better around him. Some guys need to step up and play more precisely. I think him holding the young wideouts accountable, all the little things and continue to grow. It only takes one guy. You have heard the frustration and me talking about it, a guy here and a guy there, but that’s all it takes. You need everyone on the same page. That is why this is the ultimate team sport. You have to have everybody on the same page or it’s not going to work. There are a lot of little things. He threw one off-balance without his footwork being correct, but it was also a bad route. There was a combination of things on that. So, we will continue to grow.”

On if you’re happy with the tight ends’ involvement through week three…

“Sure, there is some good things they are doing, but again I think they are too inconsistent as well. I think they could be a really strong point for us and I don’t think they are as strong at the point of attack as they can be as well, in the run game. They could help us and do more. As a group, they have done some good things, but like most of our team we could be better.”

On Octavious Oxendine’s new body and how that has helped or hurt him…

“Run defense we have been pretty stout. I think he is playing really good. It is a matter of maintaining that through this season as you get more wear and tear and continue to play at a high level. We are able to rotate some guys, which helps. But, yeah, he is quicker and playing more explosive.”

On Kahlil Saunders’ play thus far…

“Kahlil is one of those guys who has some length. You’ve heard me talk about before with guys like Phil Hoskins and guys with that kind of length, they can play looser and have some quick twitch along with a longer body that helps us.”

On defense playing at a high level but has few sacks or tackles for loss…

“Part of that is we need to get home. But part of it is, they are getting the ball out, too, and being creative and not just sitting back there. The sacks, the tackles for loss, the turnovers – those will come if we continue to play at a really high level. They’re playing pretty strong right now. You take out the one go-ball which was a technique issue and you add the penalty on top of that and then the screen, it’s a pretty darn complete game.”

On Carrington Valentine making big plays and how he has developed…

“He has really taken a step this year. You’ve heard me talk about (him in) preseason I felt like he was. He is confident as he should with progressing. I felt like he is stronger, playing much stronger as well. He is winning those competitive matchups and he’s winning his fair share. If he gets beat like Saturday, came right back and made a huge play, that’s his competitive nature. So I really like the way he’s stepping up and competing right now.”

On JuTahn McClain injury update…

“He was week-to-week. He was out there a bit last week in practice and wasn’t quite going to be effective enough so we’ll see how it goes this week.”

On how the defensive backs have been playing…

“They’re playing good as a unit, but the defense in general is playing good. As I mentioned, a guy here, a guy there or maybe offensively or even defensively during this year – it only takes one person messing up to get us thrown off. And those can be little things that you don’t always see, whether it’s rush lanes or contain. You have to play very good as a group and be very unselfish and they’re playing good on the back end, but it’s really the whole structure that’s been successful.”

On what you liked about Jordan Lovett in a starting role…

“Jordan is getting better with every opportunity and getting more confident and getting a good feel for the game. He’s one of those guys who is just playing faster with the snaps under his belt. Very athletic young man and I think has a really bright future.”

On being named the honorary coach of the AFCA Good Works Team…

“It is an honor to be the honorary coach of the Good Works Team. I always just try and do my part, put my head down and go to work. There’s enough to do to keep me extremely busy, but I also like giving back and I’ve attached myself to the UK Children’s Hospital really since day one and it’s an honor for us to be a part of that and help in any way we can. My staff has really chipped in and done an awful lot as well and as I mentioned, at one of the functions we have every year, it just takes any of us to have our child be sick and spend any time over there and you can see why it’s pretty easy to attach yourself to them.”

On potentially the team to the VA Lexington Hospital…

“Sure. I think it would be a great idea. Our players give back a lot and do a lot as well but that’s something that you can also attach yourself to.”

On if “giving back” is something you envisioned yourself doing when you became head coach…

“You always try to do what you can and always have when you’re in a position like that, you should give back and try. It’s very hard. You get spread very thin. That’s something I’ve mentioned and been honest about. It’s hard finding balance in these positions. It’s a lot to do.”

On if your mom enjoyed the Youngstown State game…

“Well, the tight ends caught a few passes (laughter). It was really good to have her here. Not sure how many more football games she’ll be able to attend. That may be her last one. Don’t worry, she’ll be glued to her couch watching them all, she’ll be tuned in. It may be the last one in person, it was great to have my whole family here.”

On the pitch to get Keidron Smith to transfer to Kentucky since he has experience in the SEC…

“I don’t know the pitch, for him it’s a matter of showing him the film, showing him what we do. With the older guys it’s about exactly showing them what role we think he could play within our system. They’re done with the coming out of high school, all the fancy stuff. Generally, the transfers are really looking at where do I fit into their system and how are they going to use me. Those kind of guys are enjoyable to recruit, because for us it’s just a matter of showing them the film and showing them what we’ve done to help other guys reach their goals and be successful in this league and be successful at the next level.”

On if it helped that you already had Jacquez Jones and Keidron already had that relationship…

“Yeah, it did help.”

On giving guys a shot for the purpose of trying to retain them at Kentucky …

“I think that’s fair to say. As I mentioned to the coaches, sometimes we spend years recruiting these guys. They’re really good players. You also have to really take time with the players and help them understand that a lot of these guys are going to be very successful. If they are not successful right now, then let’s talk about it, address it and see where they need to improve and really help them improve. You get caught up as coordinators or position coaches, you get caught up with the game plan, we get caught up with winning, which is ultimately most important. But we can’t forget about development and bringing those guys along. I think a guy like Dekel (Crowdus) is a perfect example. As I told Dekel the last couple of weeks, you can be a great player here, it’s just a matter of when. Continuing to stay positive and work extremely hard. So, when they get that opportunity, how are they going to play? You’ve heard me mention several times, it’s not just about how they play, it’s about how we function as an offense, defense or special teams when they’re in the game. Are they doing all the little things? That’s where we didn’t do a very good job this past week, as a group, like the wideouts. You’re going to see the stat sheet and say, ‘Wow, they caught a lot of passes,’ but they did not play to our standard. They need to improve and they need to do the little things right. They need to block, they need to get lined up, they need to execute. We didn’t do to a high enough standard this week. "

On how important it is for recruits to see Kentucky’s recent history of NFL success…

“I think it is very important. We’re so proud of the guys in the NFL. For us to show them the history and the way we develop players and put them in a system that they can be successful in is helpful.”

On Kiyaunta Goodwin’s development and his play late in the game…

“That was a good play, and was the last play of the game that I believe you’re speaking of. There’s things that he can do very well. That was right at the point of attack, front side. There’s things that go into being a complete offensive lineman. He’ll be fine, he just needs to continue to work, grow and develop. The one play is far from a finished product.”

On the receiver blocking…

“There’s one play with a missed assignment, it goes for negative four yards and everybody is going to say it was on the offensive line. We have it all sealed up if we do what we’re supposed to do. It’s probably a 20-yard gain instead of a four-yard loss. That’s not on the offensive line, that’s on a wide receiver completely whiffing.”

On if it is easy or hard for young receivers to learn when they’re catching a bunch of passes…

“They’re going to learn or they won’t be catching passes.” (laughter)

On David Wohlabaugh Jr.’s play against Youngstown State after Jeremy Flax stepped out of the game…

“He’s going to continue to develop and be a good player. We still have confidence in David. Like I mentioned earlier, you put him on the left early because of need and it was hard for him. But he’s going to play well and continue to be a good player for us.”

On how Kenneth Horsey is playing at left tackle…

“I’m not going to put it all on him, but not as good as we need to this game. He comes out in the Florida game and the whole left side, we bragged on the left side with him and Jager (Burton) after that game. We didn’t play to our standard this week on that side at all.”