LEXINGTON, Ky. - At his weekly Monday news conference, UK coach Mark Stoops said the bye week was good for his team and he called Florida a solid team in all phases. The Cats face the Gators Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium
COACH STOOPS: Looking forward to this week's game with Florida. It will be another great challenge as we all know. A very solid team on all phases. Been very familiar with Florida having played them the past three years and knowing quite a few players on their team. Very good team, very well coached in all phases of the game, very physical team. So we'll have a real challenge ahead of us this week.
Q. Mark, is there much difference from the Florida team you have seen a few times this year compared to who you have prepared for in years past?
COACH STOOPS: Not too much, really. They want to be physical. They're very good defensively; as good as maybe anybody will play this year. So very good, very talented very physical defensively and offensively, the same thing. They want to control the football, keep the time of possession and be physical in the run game, and, again, take their shots off of that.
Q. How much, if any, does it change your prep depending on their quarterback situation?
COACH STOOPS: Little bit, not a whole bunch. I think both guys can run the ball a little bit when they want to. Certainly (Tyler) Murphy showed some athleticism and some speed, and I'm sure they'll want to use him from time to time.
Q. How did the off week go and work out for you guys?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I thought it was good. Like most people, we are a little bit banged up. So it was good for us. We needed the time just to work on ourselves to continue to get better. So fundamentally we had some good, hard work last week, and used the weekend to heal up a little bit.
Q. Mark, when you talk about Florida being as good as any team you will play this year, why is that? Anything jump out at you particularly?
COACH STOOPS: Their front four, they're very disruptive. Very dominant up front, and their secondary is fabulous. They cover the heck out of you. They're very good players in the secondary. I've known quite a few of those guys for some time, very good. Their three corners, basically, that they play with have been playing for a long time. And of course with (Vernon) Hargreaves coming in, he's a great talent. But very, very talented in the secondary and very disruptive up front.
Q. re: Florida’s game with Tennessee.
COACH STOOPS: Well, the only thing I take away from it is something that's very obvious is you can't turn the ball over against the Gators. They feast on that. Again, they're very good and very disruptive defensively, but you can't turn it over. You've got to be very smart and very conscious of the ball.
Q. Did you encourage your guys to watch that game?
COACH STOOPS: That was up to them. I didn't encourage them. If they wanted to. I'm sure most guys tuned in.
Q. Do you think the team will have a little extra emotion knowing their old coach is coming back in here? Will you address that at all?
COACH STOOPS: I wouldn't think I don't know. I wouldn't think that that would give any extra motivation for us. I think we ought to be pretty motivated as it is to prepare to play a very good football team.
Q. Do you worry about the emotion of it though, being an old face on the sideline?
COACH STOOPS: I wouldn't think so. I think most people around here have good feelings about Coach (Joker) Phillips and the work that he's done at Kentucky. He's a very good person and good coach. I don't think that will have any bearing on the game.
Q. Avery Williamson is leading the SEC in tackles. Can you talk about that?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, that's good to see. He's a very good player. He's been playing solid all year. He's been a very good leader for us. I've been proud of him and the way he's playing. It's nice to see him up there in tackles. I guess we've got to get some other guys making some more tackles around him, but he's doing a very good job.
Q. That becomes a leadership thing though, right?
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely. I think when you look at Avery (Williamson), you look at how he goes about his work. He's always very serious about what he does. He works extremely hard every day, pays attention in the meetings, is always there. He's been very solid since we've been here and for a long time. I just really appreciate the work he's doing.
Q. Can you talk about the linebacker situation? I saw Josh Forrest is on the depth chart now …
COACH STOOPS: It depends. As you saw in the last game we played with Bud (Dupree) standing up. So if you really want to get specific, it depends on the package that's we're in. Jason Hatcher and Bud were in there as well when we were doing some of the odd stuff and trying to get a little bit bigger and give them some new wrinkles and some new things. We'll continue to build on that package. It all depends on the front that we're in and what we're doing there.
So when Bud is playing defensive end, then Josh (Forrest) will be the Sam (linebacker). And that wasn't a whole heck of a lot of snaps in that package in the last game, a handful.
Q. Coach, where do you want to see growth in specific areas?
COACH STOOPS: With us? I think just with the overall preparation and just feeling more comfortable with the defense certainly. Offensively, the same thing. Just getting familiar with what we're doing. On offense, you know it and I know it, it comes down to execution a lot of times and the same thing defensively. But I see our awareness getting better defensively. That led us to play a little more aggressive the last time we played and hopefully we'll continue to build on that.
Q. Josh playing the Sam, is that more an injury thing with Kory (Brown) or has he passed him on the depth chart?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, Kory was out for some time. He's back now and trying to work his way back on the field.
Q. Is Max (Smith) still on pace with where you thought he would be?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, from what I understand with the rehab over the weekend. We'll see this afternoon. He's planning on practicing this afternoon, so we'll see where he's at. Hopefully he'll be on point.
Q. Is he going to practice full reps?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he's going to practice. He'll be on a pitch count. We'll keep an eye on how many throws he's making, maybe, just to let him ease back into it for a day or so.
Q. Do you add any stress on defense, high points, focal points when you are going up against a read option type quarterback?
COACH STOOPS: Well, there are certainly some things that you have to look at when you're doing that. Yeah, absolutely. That's why it's a big deal. In the NFL all the way down to college it gets to be a numbers issue with how many guys you're committing one way or the other. When the quarterback can run the ball, it's an added dimension.
With them, they're quite physical when they want to be as well. So when they get under center, it's a lot of downhill running. They're not getting away from that. I know Will (Muschamp) and how tough he wants to be and how tough his team is on offense and on defense. So they're going to get under center and they're going to run the ball downhill as well.
Q: You have (Jojo) Kemp and Raymond (Sanders) listed on the top of the depth chart, is that more what Kemp has done this year compared to what Raymond hasn't done?
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely, yeah. It's just Jojo (Kemp) getting touches and getting him on the field, some meaningful reps.
Q. Can you talk about how Raymond has played for you this season?
COACH STOOPS: Ray's doing a good job. He's a good player and he's got to continue to work and make big plays for us.
Q. You mentioned run defense, and Donte (Rumph) is a big part of that. Do you have any injury updates on that?
COACH STOOPS: I feel good. I feel fine. Again, I'll tell you if I feel like anybody's out for this week, and other than that, we should be good.
Q. You talk about Hatcher. Talk a little bit more about his skillset and what has done to cause you to have confidence in him?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we just feel like he's one of the better football players, and we need to get him on the field. You know, we talked about it going all the way back, some of how this season has progressed and going back to an injury early in the year and us not having the bodies at certain positions that we've needed to. We need to get bigger in this league as we move forward, when you're playing the teams that we're set to play here. When they're in big sets, we need to be bigger.
So that's what we're looking at with getting Jason on the field. He has the ability to play with his hand in the dirt, and he also has the ability to play standing up.
Q. What have you seen now specifically with how he's grown in the last few games?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think Jason has always been that way. We knew since we recruited him that he's a guy that loves to play football. He's very explosive. He's big, he's fast, he's inexperienced, and that's going to show from time to time. But I love his work ethic. I love his attitude and his toughness, and he's going to be a very good football player.
Q. You guys are the only team in the SEC that hasn't recorded an interception yet. Do you think that might be a little misleading in that your secondary is actually better than what people might think it might be?
COACH STOOPS: Well, it's disappointing. I think we need to come up, when we have the opportunities, we need to come up with the catches. I think we had one bounce off our chest in the last outing and that can't happen. You've got to catch the ball especially against quality opponents. When you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of it. So we do need to do a better job of creating turnovers and getting some interceptions. But with that being said, I think we're doing some better things back there.
Q. It seems like Kentucky has had coaches approach this losing streak from every perspective. Where do you fall on that and how you will approach that?
COACH STOOPS: We can't well, you've heard me talk enough that we won't get all into all that. Sure, I think it's motivation, I do. I think it needs to be talked about, but that can't be the focal point. We have to get better each and every day, each and every game. And that's what we're worried about and that's been our message since I've been here is just to get better.
Q. Even though you're focused on this game, have you talked to them or what have you said to them about South Carolina and Alabama?
COACH STOOPS: We haven't talked about the stretch other than what our plan was in the off week. Talked about getting better, getting back healthy, and going through a three game stretch after that. We didn't talk about the opponents. We can't worry about that. We've got to worry about Florida this week and getting better.
We talked about it, but it's the truth. We just need to get better. The last time we stepped on the field, we got better in certain areas. Let's hope we get better in all areas with this next game.
Q. Mark, are you satisfied with how your tight ends have played?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, they did a nice job. There is always an issue trying to find a balance with what we're going to do and what we can do, what we can do successfully. So we're still working our way through this, offensively, defensively, special teams, what we're best at, what our players can handle and what we can execute. So, overall, I think they've done a nice job.
Q. Comfortable with how the defense is picking up these added wrinkles each week?
COACH STOOPS: I am. I thought we did some better things (vs. Louisville). I thought they executed it very well. I think they're preparing the right way, so we need to continue to do that to give us an opportunity.
Q. You talked about trying to get Jalen Whitlow off to a good start. Last week he said before they go on the field he was amped up and he wishes he could play defense and hit someone to get that out of him. Have you ever had a player like that and how do you manage a guy that gets too into it?
COACH STOOPS: Not on the offensive side of the ball I haven't had that. I haven't had to worry about that. So that is something to think about how we handle him. Got to get on our psychology team there.
But, no, we need to get him off to a fast start. Once he settles down he gets into the game and makes some very good throws at times and has the proper reads and all of that. So we've just got to make sure we get him settled down and get him off to a fast start. Defensively, that's usually a good thing if they're all amped up and ready to go.
Q. How much did you factor coaching in the SEC when you took the job at Kentucky?
COACH STOOPS: It definitely came into play. I just felt like the league is so strong and it's getting stronger. So that's good and bad. I think we're getting better and the whole league is getting better.
Q. Sometimes players talk about playing a Noon game instead of a 7 o’clock game and having to sit around that much longer. What does that do a coaching staff that is still trying to find its way in new positions?
COACH STOOPS: I hope the excitement in our stadium for a 7:00 o'clock kick will offset any of that where you sit around all day and get a little bit anxious. So I just walked in and heard Tony talk about South Carolina kickoff at 7:30. Didn’t know that until just now. It's certainly on the road that makes for a long trip, getting back at 4 a.m.
But playing at home in our stadium here this week at 7:00 o'clock, I'm excited about it.
Q. You watched games like Alabama and A&M a couple weeks ago and all those points that are put up. Do you feel that defenses are at a disadvantage the way the game is played?
COACH STOOPS: It's certainly difficult. It is. I think with the tempo and the way offenses are very creative, they're very smart in the way they attack you. They're not into banging their head on the wall as much as they maybe used to be. If you're giving them something outside or they're taking all the free yards, and that's where we need to be better offensively.
We talked about it. The plays that are there, the routine plays we need to execute when they're there. Getting the proper calls and getting the ball to the person and getting up field and getting the yards when they're there.
I think when you look at this week, that's going to be a real challenge because they're overwhelming at times. Florida can get in your face and not give you anything easy. So it will be a real challenge this week.