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UK's Stoops on rivalry game vs. Louisville: 'They’re good across the board'

UK head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to discuss the loss to Georgia and to look ahead to a Saturday afternoon game against Louisville. (UK Athletics)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKRC) - UK head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to discuss the loss to Georgia and to look ahead to a Saturday afternoon game against Louisville. It will be the 30th meeting in history, a series which the Wildcats leads 15-14 all-time. But the Cardinals have won five of the last six matchups.


Opening Statement …

“Just like I said after the game, tough loss to Georgia. They played some very good football. We had a few opportunities early, did not play our best. We knew we had to execute at a high level and did not do that. Got to get that behind us and look forward to this week’s challenge with Louisville.”

On TE C.J. Conrad’s injury …

“Unfortunately C.J. will be out for the remainder of the year (including the bowl game). He has a mid-foot injury, a Lisfranc. Will require surgery tomorrow morning.”

On TEs Greg Hart and Justin Rigg …

“We feel good. Unfortunately, Justin got hurt in the game too. He’s in a boot. He has an ankle injury as well. Greg is playing with a cast on one wrist for about two or three weeks, and then the last couple weeks the other wrist has been cast during practice. Hopefully he’ll be healthy this week.”

On Nick Haynes being an option at tight end …

“No. We tried it just a little bit for field goal and a few certain things, but we’ll move him back inside.”

On importance of medical staff to program …

“They’re a major part of it. Jim Madaleno does a great job and his staff, and of course all the doctors, Dr. (Darren) Johnson and his crew, they’re phenomenal. We see those guys often. Jim comes up every day and gives us the injury report and does a wonderful job. And of course our strength and conditioning people do as well.”

On how Louisville is different from last year …

“They’re still a very good football team. When you have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (in Lamar Jackson) back there behind center, it puts a lot of pressure on you. He’s a fantastic football player. He creates plays all over the place. He’s a dynamic guy. He does a very good job, I think. He’s throwing the ball. He’s always thrown the ball good in my eyes because he’s always been so dangerous. He’s got such good touch on it, but he’s definitely, you can just see from experience, just sitting in back there and distributing the ball when he has time, he does an excellent job there. Of course he ad-libs, design run plays, whatever it is, he can put a lot of pressure on you.”

On who will portray Lamar Jackson on the scout team this week …

“We’re going to look into that. We have a few guys in mind. I think we may go with (wide receiver Charles) Moushey a little bit today. He’s involved in the offense some, but he also comes over and helps us when we need the speed at wide receiver. He helps us there. He’s such a good team player. He has an active role on special teams, but I may talk to him and see if he’ll come do that. Zy’aire (Hughes) did that last year as well (along with running back A.J. Rose), but he’s not been 100 percent healthy last week and I’m not sure where he’ll be right now, but Zy’aire helped us as well. “

On Lamar Jackson improvement from last year …

“Like any quarterback, just like any player, just experience, just more reps, just seeing things. It’s just a normal progression. He was excellent a year ago, and he’s excellent now. I think where you see the growth is the ploys maybe in the pocket and the time to distribute the ball.”

On the other factors to watch for going into the Louisville game …

“They’re a good football team. They’re good across the board. They’re good on offense and defense and special teams. They’re well coached, and of course Lamar’s a big part of it.”

On the Louisville under defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, who was coordinator at Mississippi State in 2016 …

“They’re similar in some ways. They’re both very multiple, but very similar to what he was doing at Mississippi State.”

On possibility of finishing with eight regular season wins…

“I saw somebody, I think Slax (Susan Lax) tweeted that it’s the best finish we’ve had back to back in the SEC (since the league split into divisions in 1992) and I’m disappointed about that as well. I think everybody, I said that last week, we had one more opportunity to get an SEC victory this past week, and that didn’t happen. But I am proud of the way we’re working and continue to improve.”

On LB Jordan Bonner foregoing his final season of eligibility…

“Yeah Jordan’s done. He’s (medically unable to play) at this point.”

On fourth-year seniors not having the opportunity to redshirt …

“You’ll always look at those guys, and you see a senior that’s a true senior you obviously wish they could come back and play another year. Maybe Charles Walker’s a guy that jumps out at you right away, but anybody that has some eligibility, of course we’d like to have back. I think Marcus (McWilson, 2016 senior) is definitely one of those guys, I just think he had so much more football ahead of him. I think in the right situation, even in the NFL, if he can continue and get an option, I think he’s a guy that could play some more. And we would certainly like to have Charles back, that’s for sure.”

On less pressure on having to play true freshmen …

“I do feel better about that. As we look at some of these guys that are redshirting this year, and we thought about playing them, at this point I’m glad we were able to save quite a few of them because that will pay dividends five years down the road for sure. And even a lot of times there’s two theories on that if you get some guys some reps you think it helps them as a sophomore, but sometimes redshirting them helps them because they do get extra lifting. They get some extra time with Coach Ed (director of performance Corey Edmond) and those guys and it helps their bodies a little bit more. Especially for the big guys, I think it’s really good to redshirt them.”

On Mike Edwards and Quinton Bohanna, who were injured at Georgia …

“Mike will be fine. Quinton should be good, hopefully. We’ll see. He had an ankle, but it wasn’t high (ankle sprain), it was a regular ankle so hopefully he’ll be okay.”

On the senior class …

“I just really appreciate those guys. They’ve been really a joy to coach. And as I mentioned countless times in here throughout preseason and throughout the year, that the leadership on the team is very strong and it starts and ends with the seniors. Those guys have been very good and instrumental in some of the positive steps we have taken and hopefully the younger guys will learn from that and continue to grow and push the program forward.”

On Nick Haynes’ role and why he continues to pick him as a captain every week…

“I think he just deserves that, I think that’s who he is. He’s done a lot for this program. He’s sacrificed a lot and he’s not at 100 percent health, but he’s still a very good leader and captain.”

On Stephen Johnson and Courtney Love’s legacies…

“I think that they just, it’s hard again to describe exactly how much they’ve done for us. They’ve both been such great leaders and very impactful and very good football players. More importantly what they do off the field was probably their most significant contribution because they both are just really special people.”

On if there is anything they would have done differently with Matt Elam…

“I don’t want to get into the ‘what ifs’ with that, you know it is what it is. Anytime anybody didn’t reach their goals, as a coach you always wish you could do as much as you can for any individual.”

On what a win or loss in this game will do for the vibe of the program…

“Losses are difficult at any time. So, anytime you are playing a game on the last game of the year, sure it’s important. I think it’s big because it’s important to our players, it’s important to our fan base, it’s a rivalry game and there’s a lot at stake. Eight wins (in the regular season), I don’t think it’s been done in what, 33 years? That means something to me. I think you keep on trying to knock down as many doors as you can and the fact that we had back-to-back .500 seasons in the SEC is again, we want more. It’s easy to look back and get the what ifs, that’s human nature. I understand that, but I am proud of some of the things we’ve done. Getting eight wins is another step forward.”

On if he has every coached a player like Stephen Johnson, who was not well-known to being the face of a program…

“No, I can’t say that I have. I definitely have been around guys that have come out of nowhere and been All-Americans, first round draft picks, and Thorpe Award winners and things like that. I have done that. I’ve coached a Thorpe winner, Antoine Cason, nobody recruited and was a great player for me at Arizona. I have only been a head coach for five years so I can’t say anything about quarterbacks. Certainly as a quarterback, I haven’t been around it. Just appreciate Stephen. You could go on and on, but he’s definitely, as we’ve mentioned he’s a leader, he’s a winner, he’s done a lot of good things and we appreciate it.”

On if Johnson looks banged up physically…

“Yeah, he’ll be fine. He’s fine. He’s like Gumby, he’s gonna be okay (laughter from audience).”

On how his team has improved from game one to this week…

“I think we’ve been more consistent. In our approach, the way we prepare, the way we play, we all want to play better every week, and we’re striving for perfection. I just think their mentality, I think we’re still more mature each and every year, we’re getting more mature to be able to handle the schedule. We’ve improved that way and just the way we practice and the way we’ve gone about our work for this entire year. I haven’t had to alter schedules and taper things back, and that’s a good sign for the future because your guys are mentally and physically able to handle more and more. Doesn’t mean there’s still not a lot of things that we need to get cleaned up and we’ll continue to do that, but just physically and mentally there’s growth, there is no doubt in my mind.”

On the young defensive linemen, such as Quinton Bohanna and T.J. Carter, having good weeks and the hope it gives him…

“It gives us a lot of hope, it does. I have been very impressed once again with Quinton (Bohanna). I think he’s definitely going to be a very good football player. He’s very big, but he’s sudden. He has some movement about him and some explosiveness that you really like and same with T.J. (Carter). I think he’s a guy that unfortunately we did have to play as a freshman, but that’s one of those guys as soon as the season is over he’s got to get right in the weight room, he’s got to eat and lift and just grow and mature, but very talented.”

On what Stephen Johnson revealed to him that maybe he didn’t see while recruiting him…

“I’d be lying if I sat up here and said I knew exactly what you were going to get. That’s not true. We do a lot of research; we work hard to get to know these guys. Stephen we recruited probably less as far as time than a lot of guys. We’re fortunate to get the player we’ve gotten. He has probably exceeded expectations as far as some of those intangibles that you are looking for. For a guy to come in and be a junior college transfer and to have the type of leadership that somebody in here was just asking about is definitely something special.”

On what he thinks it’s going to take for Kentucky to reflect the atmosphere of Sanford Stadium last week…

“Obviously it’s a great environment. You go into a place like that with the tradition and the players that they have, they are a very talented football team and as I mentioned after the game for a good portion of this season they played like the number one team in the country. They had one hiccup in there and we got them a week after that and certainly I’m sure (coach) Kirby (Smart) had their full attention all week. They played very good in a very hostile environment. I think the parts of the game I was disappointed with was, you know you have to play and execute at a high level and I don’t feel like we did that all the time. I feel like there’s technique issues that still the game is a fundamental game and we all have to scheme and draw up a lot of things, but you still have to fundamentally play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. I think we took a step back at times in that game and also some missed opportunities, some mistakes. That can’t happen. We start the game playing straight up, playing pretty good and then we get a stop, we get an interception, we get three points and then the mistake on the blocked punt, that can’t happen. That’s a big mistake. That’s a big momentum swing right there. To go in knowing you have to play a very good football game and then making mistakes like that does not help you. You get behind and some bad things start happening. Bottom line is we did some good things, but I think we did take a step back in certain areas and we need to get that cleaned up.”

On not letting one loss turn into two…

“I don’t think that will be an issue with this team. I really don’t. We’ve never just shelved a game, we don’t do that. We are going to be held accountable and everybody is going to look at this all together, the good and the bad. We will do that again today but we will do it rather quickly and move on because we are able to do that. You know everyone can take their mistakes by group. We’ll look at it, review the film but we will move on pretty quickly and get on to Louisville. I don’t anticipate it at all that there will be any kind of fog or hangover or anything with this team just because that’s the way we have responded all year.”

On Georgia’s multiple outstanding running backs…

“You ask me, I’m not sure. I just don’t want to make an outlandish statement but I don’t know if I’ve played a more talented group of running backs. I don’t know. I can’t recall, let’s put it that way. They are exceptional players and they played very well. They complement each other very well.”

On the play of the secondary…

“Yeah we made a couple, got beat on some balls that we could have defended. I think again you have to credit Georgia and what they do. The stress that they put on you with that run game and off their pinch sets. Some of the plays and play action and some of the things they do off of that, it is very tough. It is difficult and certainly we could do some things better but they put you in some binds. To win some one on ones against some very talented guys.”

On growth of WR Garrett Johnson…

“I think that is a great point because Garrett really sometimes flies under the radar. He has made tremendous growth off the field, on the field. I really appreciate Garrett and the way he has gone about his business. He’s reliable, a lot of his catches this year are critical third downs. He can still make explosive plays and he has been steady. He has really taken a lot of steps to be a leader in the wide receiver room. I have just been impressed with him and appreciate him. He does fly under the radar sometimes because he is a very good football player.”

On if Louisville’s wide receivers compare to other teams played this season…

“Like a lot of the guys we have played, very good and explosive. Can make plays like most teams we’ve played. So it would be much the same.”

On playing Louisville at the beginning or end of season…

“I really don’t get involved. I’ve put zero thought into it so I don’t really care to comment on that since I really haven’t thought about it. It is what it is. You know that is above my pay grade.”

On the play of Louisville’s Russ Yeast…

“He has stepped in and played when their corner No. 10 (Jaire Alexander) got hurt, so you know he has done a nice job. I don’t think there is any doubt they are glad number 10 is back healthy.”

On if deep throws are being better defended against Kentucky this year vs. last season…

“Yeah, and we still need to try to connect on some. You know we really do. It was nice to see Blake (Bone) catch one explosive play this past week. But they have, when you are running the ball like we do, you know that is what you want to do, you want to run and take your shots down the field. And they have been cutting them off and playing them much better, yes.”

On if Lamar Jackson should be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy…

“Without a doubt. I said it in here in my Monday press conference last year that I thought he was the best player in the country. And certainly I don’t watch everybody all the time and I know there are some guys playing some exceptional football but he absolutely should be in New York because you’d be hard pressed to find a more talented guy than him.”

On learning from losses…

“Yeah I think our players like most, you are constantly learning. That’s why you can never put one on the shelf. You learn with every opportunity. I think our players, our football IQ is improving but it needs to be higher and that is what we constantly try to emphasize and watch on film and just continue to grow and understand all situations. Again you hear me talk about it, the game is difficult sometimes when you play people. The matchups are tough, you understand the conflict you are in. You are going to win some, lose some one on one battles so you understand that but there are some things that you can’t take a step back on with football IQ and understanding a lot of different situations. And that’s where the teaching and the coaching just never stops.”

On Benny Snell’s yards after contact vs. Georgia…

“I saw a lot of tough yards. I really did. You have to admire how hard he was running the football. He ran the ball and has been running the ball like those yards are personal to him. I appreciate that about Benny, he’s been getting some tough yards and he’ll be the first one to tell you that obviously he’s getting some good o-line play and tight end play and so on but he is also running exceptionally hard.”

On recapturing momentum that the Louisville victory last year gave to this past offseason…

“It’s important. The last game of the year. It’s important against our rivals. Today, yesterday they are long days after a loss. Nobody likes to lose and the fact that there is a long time between our bowl game and this game, it’s important. It’s important to our fan base. Again you all have heard me say that every time I’ve spoken to you since I arrived on campus that I didn’t deny that this was an important game.”

On team plans for Thanksgiving…

“Kind of have the same routine. Normal Monday, normal Tuesday, normal Wednesday. Our players go to our coaches’ house - each position coach - for Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night and spend time with their families and then Thursday after we are done with practice we have a big Thanksgiving dinner together as a team and coaching staff. They’ll get done a bit earlier than normal on that Thursday, then they can go home and sleep it off or can go back to their coaches’ houses and eat again. The good news is Friday we have a run-through so we can run some of that off.”

Information courtesy UK Athletics

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