Full transcript of Mark Stoops’ press conference after win over ULM:
COACH STOOPS: Okay. Once again, it wasn’t the prettiest thing early, but our guys hung in there. Faced a little adversity, and came up with some big plays on both sides of the ball when we needed it.
I was somewhat concerned. Obviously, we talked all week about making sure we had the energy and the focus and the discipline to come out and play a complete football game. I think we played a good football game, but by no means a complete game. So that’s the good news.
Got another victory. Like I just told the team, we are always going to appreciate wins. We’re 5 1, took care of business. I’m proud of them for that. There’s an awful lot on both sides of the ball that we need to get cleaned up. That’s the good news. So we still haven’t played our best. We have an opportunity to go back to work this week and see what we can do to improve.
ULM, Coach Berry, their staff, they do a very good job. We knew they’re a well coached football team, and I have a lot of respect for Coach and his staff. So we, by no means, thought it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t.
So proud of our effort. Proud of our team for making the plays when we had to. So, again, we’re excited to get back to work and see what we can do this week.
Q. (Question regarding if UK plays better trailing and its backs against the wall.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, surely we don’t want it that way. We’d love to go out there and start fast all the time, but sometimes we don’t. I think it does show some maturity of hanging in there when things don’t go well. Keep on battling, believing in each other and believing in what we can do on both sides of the ball and special teams. Fight back when we have to and get ahead.
Got fortunate to get a couple of big plays. The big play by Javess (Blue), I thought was big at that time, and Josh (Forrest) came right back with the pick or vice versa, but some big plays on both sides of the ball.
Q. (Question regarding Bud Dupree’s play.)
COACH STOOPS: It was very big. Once we started realizing kind of what some of their game plan was again, I think they’re very well coached. We started playing some coverage, and that let D linemen rush, and they had a hard time blocking them.
But Bud’s an impact player. Coach Berry and I were talking about that before the game. He came up with some more big plays today. He’s very disruptive.
Q. (Question regarding Stanley “Boom” Williams’ play.)
COACH STOOPS: I’m sure he did. He was focused and fresh. So he went out there and did some big things.
I thought it was good because, obviously, we had our struggles offensively early, and having Boom get that big kickoff return right from the start, we got three points. Didn’t get very many yards, but we still got three, and it was good to start that way.
Q. (Question regarding Javess Blue’s play.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah. I think Neal did a good job of making a conscious effort of trying to get him involved because he’s a heck of a football player, as you can see. He’s just been a little bit off, whether it be him or the quarterback or protection. So he’s had some opportunities set up for him. We just didn’t get it to him, we’ll continue to work on that.
We have some other weapons, but Javess is a very good football player. We knew he could play like that.
Q. (Question regarding Josh Forrest’s play.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it seemed like he bounced back. It really did. Josh, like I said all year, he’s done some things exceptionally well, and some things he needs to improve. We all could say that every day.
I love his effort. He’s been solid. He holds the defense. He makes a lot of adjustments and calls, and he’s been on the money. So we just need to play more physical and clean up some things in the run game, but it was good to see him play well.
Q. If somebody had told you in camp you’d be 5-1 at this point, would you have been surprised?
COACH STOOPS: No. You know I don’t I mean no, I wouldn’t have been surprised. We knew we had an opportunity. I really did. I felt like we had a good team. I didn’t know for sure. We have to go prove it and see what we could do. I felt like we had some pieces in place.
Like I said, I felt the coaching staff, offense, defense, and special teams, really do a good job, and our team worked extremely hard. That’s been the message this week. We worked extremely hard for whatever it’s been, 18, 19 months, and in 60 minutes, all that could go down the toilet if you don’t take care of business in a game like this.
So we haven’t been perfect, but we’ve been doing the things necessary to put ourselves in position for this.
Q. Mark, the defensive line, you’ve been able to substitute in and out. How do you feel about that right now?
COACH STOOPS: I feel pretty good. They really have played very well. The minute you give up some rushing yards, you have to put it on the D line. You know I’ve talked about all phases of the defense. So up front, they’ve been pretty solid.
I feel like we had some good depth. Even tonight, we were playing one short a good amount of the night, and they were still stopping the run game, and we were one short in the core.
Q. (Question regarding Matt Elam.)
COACH STOOPS: I wasn’t able to see much. I asked Matt, how did you do? And he said good. All right, big fella. I really did. I asked him late in the game, I said, how’d you do, and he said good. All right, good.
Q. Last week Bud got the pick-six and this week he blocks the field goal … Is there anything that he can’t do?
COACH STOOPS: You’ve heard me say it all along, how versatile he is. He’s an exceptional football player. He really is. He’s instinctual, plays with great energy. He’s been a great leader. Very versatile. I feel like he could play a lot of positions. I feel like he could play any three linebacker positions. He’s very versatile.
Q. (Question regarding what it said about his team that they were able to get that Blue touchdown when ULM had all the momentum.)
COACH STOOPS: That was big for us because I just felt like we were really obviously, we weren’t playing very well at that point, and they were playing good. Give them credit.
So I thought it was important to what came first, Javess’ ball? To get that, Javess making that great play, and then we got the pick six after that. So it was nice to see both sides step up when we needed it.
Q. (Question regarding Jojo Kemp’s interception and fumble.)
COACH STOOPS: Shouldn’t be a problem now. No, we love Jojo. Like he told me coming out, he said, I’m sorry, Coach. I said for what? You’re not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s why we had to get him some touches there in the half to get him back out there doing it and operating and everything. He’ll need it, and he’ll play well.
Q. Looking at the numbers here, you weren’t able to get a lot of your running backs a good amount of carries. Was that due to time of possession?
COACH STOOPS: 59 snaps, we had. That’s not what we want to do, obviously. So what we have, that’s two possessions on pick 6s, right? And then the one short field on the kickoff return. That basically takes about three possessions away from the offense right there.
And we didn’t do as good a job of getting off the field real quick early in that game. Later, I felt like we got some stops. The ball controlled it a little bit and moved it on us, and that shortened up the game, 59 snaps. We were struggling. Nobody offensively got the touches they probably wanted to.
Q. (Question regarding Reese Phillips.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, absolutely. That’s where that fine line of letting him go out there and operate to get some experience. We need to throw it around a little bit in that situation to let him get some experience. On the other hand, I have great respect for Coach Berry and that team and just wanted to get out of there.
But there’s always that balance between just getting him some practice. We had a new center out there too. He started the first snap and the ball snapped at his feet. That didn’t get him off to a good start. He was a little flustered. We’ve just got to get him in there and get him going.
Q. (Question regarding UK being tied for first place in the SEC East.)
COACH STOOPS: I love it. I love it. Let’s go.
Q. (Question regarding UK dancing on the sidelines and following with 45 unanswered points.)
COACH STOOPS: I didn’t. I really didn’t. But we needed to create some energy today. It was a little obviously, everybody was a little flat, whether it be the fans and the team all week. I was honest with you all week where I felt like we were having good practices and everything, but the energy wasn’t as high as it normally is. So that always concerns you a little bit.
But I felt like they kind of took care of business, and I wanted them to create some energy amongst our team, amongst all the guys who are dressed and just sitting back there. We need everybody pulling and everybody having an impact.
Q. What did you say to the team after the first quarter?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I just didn’t feel like we were real locked in. It’s hard to define that.
You’ve heard me talk about some other games where I felt like we were really locked in with the adjustments and coverages and really on point. I just didn’t feel like we really were. We were just off. Again, they were making good plays. Give them credit.
Q. Overall, do you feel like the team’s confidence has grown?
COACH STOOPS: I do because I think we’re seeing us win some games even when we’re not playing our best. It’s not like we’re out there playing above what we can do. We really feel like we can play a lot better, and that’s the good news.
Q. (Question regarding UK scoring 48 points, but only 1-for-12 on third downs.)
COACH STOOPS: Is that right? We were 1 for 12? It’s not pretty. It’s not what we want. You’re right. That doesn’t happen. I think obviously the two defensive scores were set up with a big kickoff return. Just wasn’t our best effort, for any of us really. We just didn’t play our best on offense, defense, or special teams. In any phase, we really didn’t play our best.
Offense, we really got off to a slow start. So that didn’t help us.
Q. Mark, when you walked over to the veteran there, was that kind of spontaneous?
COACH STOOPS: Pardon me?
Q. End of the third quarter, when the veteran was on the field, and you walked over. Was that kind of spontaneous?
COACH STOOPS: I didn’t plan it. I just saw him over there. We have a good relationship. So I just wanted to go say hi to him. I told him he was milking it. He was trying to get attention. No, we have a good relationship. I love him and I have a ton of respect for him.
Q. (Question regarding if he thought UK would improve this much with interceptions.)
COACH STOOPS: No, I don’t think I would have believed that. I’ll give you, it wasn’t that. Got to be honest there, I don’t know if we’d have been second. I’d be lying if I told you that the other day.
Q. (Question regarding four defensive touchdowns this season.)
COACH STOOPS: That is. And three in the last two games, last game and a quarter or so. So that was good. Obviously, they were big in both games, really at times when we needed them. For sure in the South Carolina game, but even in this game, it came at the right time.
That’s nice to see us have the ability to make big plays on both sides of the ball and in special teams.
Q. Coach, you need one more win to become bowl eligible. I’m sure they’re aware of it, but have you talked about it?
COACH STOOPS: I’m sure they’re aware of it. I really don’t want to talk about it because every time we tee it up, we go play to win. That’s the message, and we can’t worry about that or try to get ahead of ourselves, or we’ll get in trouble.
You can see today even, I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves. We didn’t really take care of our business. We had an opportunity to lose the game the way we started. We’ve just got to learn that every time we take the field, we get better.
Q. I know you want to take it week by week, but how does it feel to be 5 1 right now?
COACH STOOPS: It feels good. It does. I’m proud of team and how hard they worked. It’s not just those six weeks. It’s everything that they’ve done since we’ve been here to put ourselves in position.
Q. In your mind, are you guys a top 25 team?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Just got to try to win. If we win we allknow that. If you get enough wins in this league, you’ll get your respect.
Q. (Question regarding what changes for UK heading back into SEC play next week.)
COACH STOOPS: Nothing. Nothing changes. Just got to go out and get better.
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