Stoops: ‘No excuse’ for Vanderbilt loss

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Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 7:23 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WYMT) - Mark Stoops addressed the media after Kentucky’s 24-21 loss to Vanderbilt.

Opening statement...

“After watching the tape, there (are) really no excuses. I give credit to Coach (Clark) Lea, Vandy for outplaying us, outcoaching us. They did a very good job. I said that to you a week ago about how much respect I have for them, about the way they were playing and how hard they’re playing and getting better. Certainly, came in did some really good things with a quarterback that played a very good game. They played good as a team. We had our opportunities to win and we can’t put ourselves into a position where it comes down to a play here, a play there. We had those opportunities. Once again, we’ve won those games in the past at times and we’ve lost some. That’s going to happen if you continue to play very close games and we didn’t make the plays down the stretch to win. We need to continue to find ways as always. We’ll continue to work extremely hard and evaluate all aspects of the program and constantly learn and try to improve. We always accept the responsibility. I’m not going ever put my head in the sand but I’m not ever going to have a knee-jerk reaction and overreact to things as well. Constantly learn, shift, adjust and do the best we can to put ourselves in a position to win games. Again, there’s no excuses, we need to get better, coach better and play better. We will continue to do that and continue to work at it. Once again, I know the questions that are going to come at me. I think you know me and know I’m not going to make any knee-jerk decisions without thinking things through properly but I also don’t put my head in the sand. Also realize it’s on me but we’re two penalties away from sitting here at 8-2. We can’t have those penalties at the end of the game. We eliminate them, we’re sitting here at 8-2 and still feel like we can do better, we can coach better. You know that’s the message. Wanted to start with that to not deflect on my responsibility on that.

“Also want to send my condolences to the Somerset community. Coach Robby Lucas, two of our players, Jase (Bruner) and Kaiya (Sheron), were very close to Coach Lucas and his family, what a great man. My condolences there, and certainly the people from Magoffin County, I’m don’t know exactly what’s going on there, and the students and the players at Virginia. As you can imagine since the game was over, I’ve been in my own world working hard to try to find solutions. I always meet with Tony (Neely) and Susan (Lax) before I walk over here with things that are going on and things that I need to know. I just kind of got briefed on some of that stuff. Obviously, I knew about Coach Lucas a little bit earlier and reached out to Kaiya and his family. Again, those are some serious issues and I want to send my condolences but, obviously, own my responsibility of what went on with this team on Saturday. Don’t ever want you to think I’m trying to deflect, but certainly want to send my condolences there.”

On team leadership generating excitement...

“I think that’s a fair point. I still don’t question the leadership on this team, I think there’s a big imbalance. I think there’s some really young players and players that maybe haven’t gone through the trials that maybe some of the older guys have and the appreciation that we have for all of the hard work that we did to put our program in this position. That’s my job as a coach and our job as an organization to teach and try to preach and do that. As I tell the team a lot, you learn from scars, you learn from the beats, you learn from mistakes. Some of our older guys have been through that. Again, not an excuse, it’s just something I have to overcome is educating and putting all of our players and having them understand what it takes on a daily basis to compete in this league, to do the things we have done to this point.”

On the challenges of coaching a team that received preseason hype...

“I think that’s fair, because it’s human nature and we fight against it as strong as we can. It’s something, I had a conversation with one of our leaders and one of our great players yesterday. We talked about that exact thing. We know we can be, but we have some youth and things to fill. I’m just not one to, I don’t feel comfortable talking about excuses. Fire at me, we have a good team? What am I going to say, no? I believe in our players, I believe in our team, I still believe in them. Nobody’s giving up. We do have a very good team. We have to play better in certain situations. As I mentioned a thousand times to the team, there’s so many plays in a game, you don’t know which one is going to determine the outcome of it. We’ve let a couple games come down to a couple mistakes. We’re not good enough to overcome them or we didn’t overcome them. We still have a lot in us. We’ve done a lot of good things and could certainly be better. That’s a fair question. It’s a balance but I don’t know if anyone has the exact answer to that. The coaches, we all go through it, and we all believe in our team. Again, we go to line up to compete, to practice, to play to win every game. I’m not giving up on any. We understand there are real challenges.

“By the way, I didn’t even in my opening statement, talk about and praise Georgia, but I don’t think I have to (laughter). With what Kirby has done and the job he’s done in recruiting and coaching, playing the number one team in the country and they deserve to be number one. They are awfully impressive in every way, shape or form. They deserve to be where they’re at and we have a great challenge ahead for us.”

On the overall theme of the season, or at least lost games, being general sloppiness…

“I don’t disagree. Really look hard and I don’t get discouraged, I fight and look to battle and look to improve and find solutions, but that does bother me, bothers me as the head coach. Being undisciplined, having those penalties, being sloppy, not executing in critical moments. Just the things that we’ve done to help win a lot of close games and that’s on me. You asked me how I felt, and I don’t feel good about that. It does truly start with me and making sure everyone executes in those critical moments. Under, extreme, extreme pressure your habits are going to come straight to the surface and obviously I haven’t created enough good habits with this unit, with this team.”

On if DeAndre Square will play Saturday...

“Yes, as I mentioned last week, he is day to day. I don’t say that to throw people off, he’s day to day. I hope so. I know DeAndre and I know him, he’ll try to play today. He’ll try to be out there today.”

On the perception of ‘getting up’ for a game against Georgia and not ‘getting up’ for a game against Vanderbilt...

“You’ve heard me discuss it, you heard me talk about it for many years. Coaches, it’s not hard for us. I said it (last) Monday, I’m not saying it for coach-speak and people think I’m just sending you some BS. We watch. We watch the tape. I know how hungry that team (Vanderbilt) is and how they’re coached and how they’re playing. I mentioned it last Monday, when you have a team that plays as hard as they have, no matter what the scoreboard says, that’s good. That team has a chance, they’re fighting hard. When I said they had an opportunity to beat a very good – I don’t care what their record says – a very good Missouri team, you know they’re good. I know how hard Missouri plays, and it was at Missouri, they (Vanderbilt) were in position to win that game. Missouri made the plays, credit Missouri. In this game, they made the plays to win. We had our opportunities. You don’t know what one play, there are so many plays in that game, and I hate to single out anybody, essentially we have the game iced if we don’t get a penalty.”

On if the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game exemplifies how tough the league is...

“I’m worried about our school and our program but it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve credited them and see the way he’s (Coach Lea) building a program. I can tell because I’ve been there. I don’t know if anybody in the league has been where Vandy was when he took over and where Kentucky was. I’ve been there, I’ve been through it and I know the sacrifice that goes into even where they’re at right now. Anybody thinks that’s easy, go try it.”

On if there are overall offensive philosophies that you’re looking at big picture...

“I think that’s a very fair question and very true. I’ll say this, there’s not one other school that hasn’t gone through that too. I wish there was space in our league and not as good of defensive players (laughter). Yes, I have, I’ve thought about it. There are definitely, yes, some philosophical things that I have to think through and do think through a lot.”

On what you’re telling current players and recruits about the future of the offense…

“They know, they can see things, they watch it. I’m not sitting here saying I have my head in the sand. I accept it, I shoulder it, we look at things, we’ll get better and we can make adjustments. That doesn’t always have to be personnel to answer your question, we have smart good coaches in here and there are things we can do. There are things we do well; we just need to execute them better. We have a really good, experienced, talented quarterback and we have some really young guys in certain positions. Again, I’m not comfortable talking about excuses, there are no excuses. You go through things, you get caught, there’s reasons why we get caught thin in the offensive line and have gone through some real-life stuff that’s been hard, three years. Change doesn’t help either with guys coming and leaving. We got put in this position and it’s my job to get it fixed. There are some things that can fix and they will get fixed. That’s where the portal and things of that nature can help you, to where when we took over 10 years ago, those things weren’t there.”

On if the slow pace and the verbiage is affecting the offensive players...

“I think that’s to the point where we talk about philosophically, style and everything else, but there are things, yes. We started to do better. The stuff where we’re not, the things that are confusing, or complex, are going to stop. We may get beat but we’re not going to beat ourselves. That’s a philosophy I had for a long-time starting day one. You can’t beat anybody until you stop beating yourself. We are beating ourselves at times without not giving credit to people where they deserve it but there are times when we are beating ourselves. As I mentioned, just two penalties alone. If we could change it, we would be 8-2and still about our problems and I know our problems. That’s where you look at it and like hey, that’s one me, to the other question, the sloppiness, the play, the discipline, maturity and all those things. You put it together and it takes a bunch of grown people, grown men to win in this league consistently. A lot of them (are) pulling in the right direction and that’s my job to continue to work on that.”

On if this team plays too hard …

“I don’t know about that, I don’t think you could ever play too hard, I talked about the penalty. I hate to single him out because I don’t know if there is anybody who loves and works harder than that gentleman and I love him, we all do. With Ox (Octavious Oxendine) and the way he plays and how hard he plays and how much he cares and he is a great leader, great player, great person, I love him. I wouldn’t trade him, but it wasn’t a selfish penalty, but it was a penalty, it was quick, it happens, it happened to us earlier in the game. It wasn’t called and I’m not picking on that, and it was, and it’s got to be a long delayed hand, where you’re sitting there saying you know better, that one was quick but his helmet came off. It wasn’t like he left his hand up there in the face. It’s unfortunate, I love him, it wasn’t selfishness, it wasn’t undisciplined, it was quick. But it popped off, so that’s a penalty. Again, that happened to us, and they didn’t see it and that happens.”

On preparing for Georgia that has so many offensive weapons...

“We prepare the same way every week. We all understand it’s a real challenge, it’s a team that’s very deep and very physical. Obviously, getting your team and getting their minds right to go out and have a very good week of preparations is where it starts.”

On players being a team’s best recruiters...

“Yeah, and I love that, being on a Sunday any time we have an official visit in, and you go through a tough time like that, it’s tough. My exit meetings on Sunday with recruits were phenomenal and I didn’t bring it up, but they brought it up to me how good our players were with them. And that’s a great sign, that actually picked me up a little bit Sunday, which I had no problem because again, losses are so hard, it’s a way of life. We live this, I live this every day, but it’s really not hard for me because there is so much to be done. There is so much work to be done, I say that all the time, it’s like you get up Sunday and you go. You kind of bury yourself in that cave over there and you go to work. You need to be updated on life things and these guys do a great job, like I don’t want my head in the sand, but I’m over there doing work and consumed with it and that’s healthy for me. It’s what keeps me going, and again, life that goes on outside of here that I need to know about, Tony and Susan do a good job of briefing me. Other than that, it’s hard, and I appreciate our players that way, the mentality and some of the young guys that were around the recruits and that’s good to hear. And the old guys (have) been through it, they understand, they’re committed. We just all need to do a better job and I need to do a better job of, getting to the earlier question, of getting that consistency of us playing with that intensity and practicing all the time.”

On the program that Kirby Smart has helped build...

“No. 1, you have to credit him, I know the work that is involved and the resources. It is a very good place, and they are in the heart of some very, very good players, arguably some of the greatest players in the country. But that’s not to demean the work that he put in and his staff puts in and how hard they’ve grinded on recruiting and developed them. They worked hard to get into a position that they are. Yes, it’s a very good school with very good recourses and very good players, but they also do a very good job.”

On the meaning behind Will Levis saying postgame that some players are not on the same page...

“That’s definitely true, hear me and keep this in context, those are nuances, not on different pages. So, sometimes when people hear the headlines they are not on the same page, everybody will overreact to that. They’re not coaching them, they are doing not doing that. You guys have all listened to Peyton Manning and see the stories of just how hard they work. And Tom Brady, and even after all those years, they constantly grind for all the little things and all the little nuances, and we haven’t had the time for that. So yeah, there are some things that’s not on Will. But I’m not throwing those guys under the bus either. Those things just take time, so that’s not like there is some big, you know. When I say they aren’t on the same page someone will grab that and say oh they’re -- you know what I mean, they are 10 weeks in and not on the same page. We don’t stop growing and learning and getting better for 20 years, if they’re blessed enough to be in it that long.”

On Kentucky’s defensive performance against Vanderbilt and how Georgia’s tight ends will put stress on you ...

“Different, different. Their (VU) quarterback put us in bad position. We had good coverage, he pulled it down and ran a couple times. We were a bit off balance. We still played solid defensively, not a great effort, we gave up an explosive run to the quarterback and an explosive run to the running back. The running back, they crack/replaced and one guy missed and that’s it and took it down to the one or two (yard line). Then the QB made a good run with some misdirection. Different type of stress, but with Georgia, you’re not going to have the quarterback run game, but you’re going to have a lot of weapons and a good scheme where they continue to push on you. They are one of those teams that are big and strong and will come at you with a bunch of backs that are big and strong and talented. An offensive line that will push on you and push on you and push on you. You may see teams lingering around, lingering around, lingering around, then all of a sudden, their depth and their strength take over so you have to be able to handle that.”

On Will Levis holding up with the adversities he and the team are going through...

“Will is fine. He and I just had a good heart to heart talk yesterday and that’s not holding him back. He really is a guy that cares deeply about this place, his legacy and the way he performs for his team, and I feel for him, too. I need to do a better job for him, too, and we need to play better for him. We are all in this together, so he is not concerned about that. He is concerned about doing the best he can and leading the best he can. That’s what you want.”

On if the transition from NFL to college was quick for Rich Scangarello...

“It was, it was probably quick but that’s, again, there’s no excuses. He doesn’t want them, I don’t want them. But it was quick, the guy got here when I was supposed to be in spring ball. So, you really don’t have that off-season to piece things together. So, it has been quick that way but he’s also adjusting, he is very bright and a very smart and good coach. He understands that there are issues going on and things and constantly looking at it. We met for hours yesterday and everybody on the offensive side and myself, talked through things and looking at things. But again we’re not, none of us need excuses, but is that a reality, yeah I think that’s a reality.”

On what you see when you look at the offense on tape...

“I see some really good things and I see inconsistency then I also see things that we have to adjust quicker than we did. You know what I mean, with some of that, quit getting every headline that I’m throwing darts. We’re all in this together, it’s on me. But yeah, there are things we certainly could do better. If there are things that when it gets too much, I don’t want to say too complex, but you have to invest too much time, we don’t have that. We have to build on the things we have done that we can carry and the areas we’re not targeting things right and the things that are too complex we have to toss out. Our players still play hard, Chris (Rodriguez Jr.) runs hard, Will (Levis) is a very good player, our youthful receivers are very talented. There are still some really good things but there are things we all understand. We understand that there are some areas that are unacceptable. When we are driving the football and get the ball in the red zone, and you have three opportunities (and) get six points. That’s not good, and those are things that yeah, we are driving it and moving it but you got to get it in. Some of that is a limitation on Will, again, no excuses, but Will being banged up and not having a quarterback run game, not being 100 percent, it doesn’t help when you’re in the red zone in particular.”

On if the Kentucky-Georgia game being at home helps...

“It helps in that way any time, instead of you going to their stadium with 100,000+ going nuts. It will help my head on practice this week (laughter) not having to hear that noise all week in practice, I guess. But to our players, it’s still a real challenge. Our approach really isn’t any different other than handling communication with the noise.”

On if it surprises you that Georgia had five first-round picks from last season’s defense and it’s still as good as it was last season...

“No, that doesn’t surprise me (laughter). I mean that as a compliment. No. It doesn’t surprise me. You just reload.”

On if you had doubts about the offense when you saw them in the preseason scrimmages...

“Where are getting your info, Lonny, you sneaking in there? (laughter) I can’t think back to the scrimmages. I think, like most scrimmages, they were a little give and take, both ways. The defense should have been further ahead, just with the continuity we’ve had and things of that nature. There are certainly moments. We’re not good enough, and you saw that Saturday. We’re just not good enough to dominate and win one-sided. We have to play good as a team. To win, you have to be good as a team. We have to play good in all of our areas.”

On if you can take anything away from last year’s game against Georgia and use it to help in your preparations this year...

“You always look at last year’s game as a piece of what you look at. All of us grow and evolve and have to adjust, and so, it’s just a piece. We don’t take any solace in thinking that was good enough. It’s not good enough to win, and we understand what a real challenge that is.”

On if it is realistic to expect Kentucky’s offensive line to get fixed in one offseason...

“Like I said, it is different now, Jon (Hale), the one good thing is there is free agency. I didn’t create that. Let’s be honest. There’s a salary cap, that some people have none (laughter), and there is free agency. It makes life different. You better adapt, and you better adjust, and you better be able to overcome it. Again, I play by the rules that are put in front of me. But, I didn’t create that free agency. The sustainability of 85 free agents a year is kind of interesting (laughter). How would you like to operate an NFL team with every one of your guys are a free agent every year? How do you think they’d do? Seriously.”

On if you sense any frustration from the defense...

“It’s fair, but it’s not an excuse. Defense has to buckle up and make plays. I mean, again, we played a lot of good plays in that game, but a couple not good enough. It comes down to that. It also, with the style of offense, and again, to your point, I’m not saying I went into it for that reason, but when we are taking so long in our methodical (offense), they’re not playing as many snaps, so they better play better. They don’t have to defend 13 or 14 possessions. When I was a coordinator for so many years, I told you this before, but I really looked at possessions. Like drive charts. Like, how’d we do? Did we get three-and-outs, did we get stops, did we get fourth-down stops, did we get interceptions, and Saturday, we had a good fourth-down stop, we had a fumble and an interception. We did some things that were good, but the possessions aren’t very long. I think it was nine.”

On if there is more pressure on the offense to convert when it has long drives...

“Without question. No doubt about it. When we drive - I think we had a 15-play drive or a 16-play drive and got zero, that just seriously helped Vanderbilt right there.”

On how many capable offensive linemen you think will be in the portal and if it will be incredibly competitive...

“Without a doubt. That’s not end-all, be-all. I’m just stating facts, that it is different now. It’s just different right now than it was 10 years ago. These are new rules and it’s different. I’m not saying it is the end-all, be-all. I have talked to quite a few coaches, and we talk a lot, and there have been coaches, and colleagues, and friends, and people that you consult with from other leagues and different people that are like, ‘I made a mistake.’ So, there is give and take with everything. You’ve got to do what is right for your program. We all know how hard we have worked to be who we are and build our culture and do the best we can and all that, well you’re bringing in 15 new guys every year, and you’re already taking 20 young guys, so if you take a lot of that, then that gets challenging.”

On if there are players behind the starting offensive line that you feel good about in the future...

“We’ve definitely got guys that can work. They just need time. They might need an offseason, they may need strength, they may need to gain weight, they may need to lose weight. There are things that constantly work. Just from covering our team, there’s guys that pop up, like Jamin (Davis). Nobody talked about Jamin until what, that year he blew up. So, you don’t know. That’s a good lesson for our players. He didn’t play a whole heck of a lot, but when he was ready, as he was working, working, working, and then he had that opportunity and blew up in one year. So, we have guys that we don’t know when that time is going to come. We just have to continue to put in the work, continue to get better, and then, eventually, when they get on the field, how good are they going to play. That is who we had to be for all these years. That is still what you have to be in my opinion, to have the consistency that you want.”

On the reverse effect of the portal and fearing Kentucky players entering the portal...

“Yeah, of course, oh yeah. It’s a reality. We’ve been blessed. I think it is a credit to the players and the staff. We’ve been blessed with guys that have left probably almost 100 percent of it have been mutual. Now, that will change, but that’s everybody. That’s reality. That’s the new world. That’s not a knock, that’s ok. There are players on our team right now that I absolutely love, and I think they down-deep love it here, but they may decide to go somewhere else (that’s) better for them. That’s just the new world. You don’t take offense to it anymore.”

On if five blocked kicks has been a surprise to you or if you saw it coming...

“I don’t want to say it came out of nowhere, we let it happen, but there’s a combination of things again. Is it a blocked kick or do you kick it into somebody? That goes both ways. So, yes, it is a blocked kick, but it’s not just on the line every time. It was a low ball again. Kicked three really good, three much better. The operation was smooth. The operation was on time. Kicks were perfect, great, smooth, routine and one wasn’t.”