LEXINGTON, Ky. - UK coach Mark Stoops says his players must play smarter and play with pain. Speaking at his weekly news conference, Stoops said freshman Reese Phillips will be an option at quarterback and he previewed Kentucky's Homecoming game with Alabama State.
COACH STOOPS: After going back and watching the Mississippi State game, I thought we did some very good things in that game, gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. Felt like our players competed extremely hard. We need to be a smarter football team. We're not very smart at times, and we need to execute in critical situations.
Looking forward to this week's game, getting back on the horse and seeing what we can do against Alabama State, a team that's very well balanced, won six games in a row, so we'll have our hands full.
Q. Have you had a chance to look at the film on Alabama State? What maybe has stood out?
COACH STOOPS: I think they're a very good football team, very well coached team. I think they're really solid in all phases of the game. I think offensively they do a really nice job of trying to keep you off balance. They run the ball very well. But again, they've got great balance. I want to say they're rushing for close to 260 and throwing for close to 220. So they have balance. They put some pressure on you with the quarterback run game and spread you out and got some good athletes, good scheme.
Defensively just very sound in what they do. Same with special teams.
Q. (Question regarding Alabama State’s Kourtney Berry standing out in film study.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he did. Also the guy that jumps out at me as well is Isaiah Crowell, again, a guy that I know the name and known him for a long time. We recruited him quite hard during my time at Florida State. I remember him. He was a fantastic player, one of the top players in the country coming out of high school, fantastic player, just very hard runner, elusive. For his size and strength, he's elusive. He's coming up on 1,000 yards already I want to say, so yeah, very good player.
And as you know, there's quite a few players that are of that talent playing on this team that signed Division I scholarships, and for one reason or another ended up there, so they've got some talented players.
Q. Could you talk about some of the mistakes at critical times? Do you see that as experience?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it's a little bit redundant, isn't it, too. I talk about that a lot, and it's frustrating. Gets a little bit old talking about that. But we need to execute better and we need to play smarter. Those are things we can control. And that's what's so frustrating. Those are things that we've got to keep on working on. We've got to keep on getting better. We've got to make our players and hold our players accountable to what they do.
We'll watch those critical mistakes as a team, not just an offense and not just a defense like we normally do, but the whole team will watch critical mistakes and plays that are not very smart. We need to play better.
Q. How would you assess your coaches in those critical situations?
COACH STOOPS: Well, there's always things we could do better. I think coaches are very hard on ourselves, and as I've said before, I think nobody beats us up more than we do ourselves. We come in and analyze everything we're doing, and of course there's things we could do better. I said that right after the game, starting with myself.
But I am completely confident in the direction of where we're going.
Q. The mistakes in critical situations, do you think the confidence of the players succeeding has anything to do with it?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I'm sure it does, and the fact that we're losing games and have been a part of a losing culture does rub off on you, and that's where we've got to do a better job and I've got to do a better job to get them to understand and believe that we can do better and there's things we can control.
Like I said, I think we all see us resembling a good football team from time to time, but that's not going to cut it and win you a lot of games in the SEC. You've got to be good top to bottom, and you've got to be good in critical situations, and most importantly when you're under pressure situations, our habits, bad habits, come right to the surface.
Q. Has Jalen (Whitlow) improved enough where he will get significant reps in practice?
COACH STOOPS: He'd better. Yeah, he's going. He's got a dinged up shoulder; it's fine. It's an AC joint. He'll be sore. He'll be out there practicing today.
Q. There were a couple guys after the game who tweeted out optimism and how they feel they are really close. Would you say the majority of the locker room feels that way?
COACH STOOPS: I don't know, I think I saw a group that was hurt after the game that they know the more you invest, the more it should hurt, and I think our team is starting to hurt. They're starting to understand that we can do this. If we, again, just do some things better, control the things we can control, and execute in some critical situations. I think they see us again, they see us looking like an SEC football team at times. We're just not consistent.
Q. How is Jalen's ankle? Was it an AC joint and an ankle?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he should be fine. He should be fine.
Q. You sounded answering that question like a man who doesn't see there being any other option after what happened last week.
COACH STOOPS: I see it as a guy that's leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don't you? That's what we need to do.
Q. The execution issues, is it more a mental thing or is it physical?
COACH STOOPS: It's a little bit of everything, and listen, we all I think the question earlier is a fair question. We could put them in situations to do better. We could all do better. You know, there were some critical mistakes. The 3rd downs we need to improve. Even with all that, we gave ourselves a chance to win, which is surprising. You know, hey, you have to take some of that. You know, I do.
One of the 3rd downs that we blew an assignment, I thought, we can execute it, but we can't. We've got to really spell things out. That's your job as a coach, and so we take responsibility for some of that. They kept us off balance. We pressured early, went zero early. They pinned us, got outside and ran the ball and scored a touchdown. A guy comes again, it's a game of inches; we come six inches under a block, pick off two and go for a touchdown; we go outside the block and contain, it's a zero yard gain; we're off the field with a pressure. Next time we play zone, he scrambles around, throws it down the field.
There's all kinds of issues. We finally got them at the end with an all out zero blitz, but they kept you a little off balance with some of their runs, and that hurt us defensively on some of the 3rd downs.
Starting with the first 3rd down of the game, I think it was the first 3rd down, but the scramble and the touchdown pass. We got him sacked, we got him covered, and then we just leave we don't stay on our guys. We're going to have somebody go tackle the quarterback from 45 yards away and leave their man wide open.
That's not exactly very sound football, but we had him tackled, too. You know, they were initial plays, done, covered, pressure, just can't finish it.
Q. Where are you encouraged?
COACH STOOPS: There's a lot of plays in the game, and so the frustration maybe that you're sensing is from some of the plays that, again, I feel like we can control. The other parts of the game I think, like I said earlier, we're starting to resemble a football team, and there's quite a few plays in there that are pretty good.
Q. You talked about the losing culture maybe rubbing off. Is that something you've combatted at programs previously like when you were at Arizona and starting at Florida State?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it is. It's difficult. There's no gimmes in this league. So anybody that's trying to rebuild a program will tell you that the best way to rebuild and get that confidence is get some wins. Well, they don't exactly give those out in the SEC. Maybe some other leagues but not this one, and that's what makes it hard and that's what makes you have to be a good, sound, good football team, and we're not there yet. We're working on it.
Q. How important is a game like this Saturday when you look like on paper you could get a win?
COACH STOOPS: Well, it's very important. I think if you've noticed us as a program each week, no matter who we're playing, I think we gave ourselves a real chance to go out there and compete and win that game, and that's what we're looking for. The preparation, the effort, and go out and play and give yourself a chance to win. We're never going to concede anything.
I think the Alabama game got away from us, and we went through that. That's a tough match up for us right now, but everybody else we've played I think we can line up and you see signs and you see us improving. This is the next game for us, therefore it's extremely important.
I think anybody that thinks that we can just roll out there because we're an SEC team and think you're going to roll out there and win this game, you're sadly mistaken. This team won six games in a row, averaged over 40 points, very balanced, very well coached I think on all sides. They've got playmakers. They've got, like I told you earlier, Isaiah, I don't know what he was ranked, but absolutely in our eyes when we were at Florida State one of the best players in the country coming out that year. He's running very physical. Good player. They've got players who we've got to manage the things we can control, and that's our preparation and how we're doing things and getting better.
Q. (Question regarding injuries at the QB position and looking to clarify a third option at QB.)
COACH STOOPS: Absolutely.
Q. Do you know what that third option is?
COACH STOOPS: Yes. Yeah.
Q. What is it? (Laughter.)
COACH STOOPS: We will get Reese (Phillips) some reps in practice. Yeah.
Q. How tough has it been for you because of where you've been and the success you've had to step away from the losses and find positives? Does that kind of go against how you've been
COACH STOOPS: I'm sorry, I was distracted.
Q. As you try to take away positives from the loss, is it tough for you having had success at Florida State, trying to find positives from that?
COACH STOOPS: It is. I mean, it's tough. It's just frustrating because we could do better, and that's where that's your job as the head coach, to get them in a position to make those plays and to win those games. I think we are getting closer. I think we give ourselves more and more opportunities by the way we play and the way we prepare, and that's a good sign. You know, that's all we're worried about. Really, and I've said it before, I can't even worry about all the things that have happened. It's just where we're going and what the future holds and our preparation in the next game.
Q. To be clear, is Reese your third option or your second option at this point?
COACH STOOPS: I don't know. We'll work on it this week. He's definitely going to be an option.
Q. Can you talk about what you like in Reese?
COACH STOOPS: Reese, he's always done a nice job of managing the game, going back to the spring game, all the scrimmages he's been in, the scrimmages we did this year during the year. He takes care of the football. If nothing else, if we get ourselves with certain plays and checks and run pass options, if we just execute the call, we give ourselves a chance. We're not even doing that at times, and that's frustrating, let alone throws or different things. It's just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision making.
Q. You and Neal (Brown) both have talked about it's not necessarily making a great play, it's stacking one good play after another. Is Reese that type of player to do that?
COACH STOOPS: That's right. We think so. He's a true freshman, and we have other options. He didn't get as many reps all along, but he has gotten reps and he has been impressive. We keep on waiting, and you know that; we all do. We wait for our other quarterbacks to take it and run. I think Jalen has been there. I think Jalen is the guy that has been very close to leading us, and then we get an injury and set us back, and that can't happen. We've just got to stay healthy. We've got to be stronger, we have got to protect him better, and if he does go down we've got to be better prepared for somebody else to lead us.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, when you said you're getting better as a football team and starting to look better as a football team, some of the offense is the best we've had in 10 years. You've got to give them compliments on that.
COACH STOOPS: I don't know that. I mean, sure, that's a good sign. I think we're getting better. I do. As a coach you know when you put on film when you're playing another team if they're well coached and they play hard. I think we're doing that. We're not perfect but we're doing that. I don't think we play very smart, and that's where we need you play smarter and you play hard, you give yourself a chance to win. And I do think our coaches are working hard to give us opportunities to move the ball and opportunities to stop the ball. You see what we're doing on special teams. I thought we gave ourselves another opportunity to win the game last week with a special teams play. Coach Peev (Bradley Dale Peveto) had it set up; he worked it all week. It's a game changer, and we're six inches offsides, for no reason.
I addressed it personally on Thursday and Friday. That's not very smart.
Q. Has Raymond Sanders the last couple games stood out when you needed somebody to carry the load offensively? Have you been happy with him?
COACH STOOPS: I think Raymond has played very hard. I think he's running harder. We need to both him and Jojo (Kemp) both, they need to make somebody miss. I thought we had a chance to win the game on 4th and 1, we pop it, we're one on one with a difficult tackle, and we get down. We've got to start winning some one on one situations, as well. But I do think Raymond is playing very hard. We've just got to make somebody miss. There's a lot of yards we're leaving out there that we are we have people schemed up, blocked up, and just like the counter, we have a 12 yard we walk for 12 yards and we slip and fall down. Next thing you know it's 3rd and long and we punt. Can't have anyone blocked up any better. Can't.
Q. (Question regarding Jason Hatcher not playing vs. Mississippi State.)
COACH STOOPS: It was a combination of things last week. Jason has been playing a lot of our 3 4 package because of his hand, and he tried to go with a smaller cast. He needed to go with a little bit bigger one, so he's been playing a lot of our 3 4 stuff. And Bud was playing so good and he was healthy; it was hard to get him off the field, and Jason is not quite 100 percent right now. We need to get him going again, though, and get him back in the fold.
Q. Do teams have to learn how to win?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I do, I think so. It's not like not playing smart. There's a lot of situations in a game that there's so many situations that come up, and it's not always black and white. You need to have some instincts, you need to have some understanding, and we do need to make some plays to win and get that confidence level going and everything.
I think our players hopefully do see that. I don't know, I really don't read anything. No offense to none of y'all. I can't imagine it's all good. (Laughter.)
But I don't know what the players are saying. I think if they said anything off the wall somebody would bring it to me. But I think they see the things we're talking about, the position we're trying to put ourselves in to win, and then it gets frustrating because you don't do it or we make a couple silly mistakes. You know, I was so mad, and then you watch the last out of the World Series last night and you realize, you know, it's just really, it's just I was so frustrated over the weekend. I'll calm down by the first meeting today.
Q. Appears to me that Alabama State is coming into this game confident. Are your players feeling overconfident knowing that they're a (Football Championship Subdivision) team?
COACH STOOPS: No, I wouldn't think our players would feel overconfident about anybody we're playing I wouldn't think, and we'll address that. But no, we've taken the approach, we're worried about ourselves. I can see our players doing that. I think we're trying to get better as a program. They (Alabama State) should be feeling good about themselves. They won six games in a row.
Q. You sort of alluded to it earlier, and he's not your player, but what Connor Shaw did Saturday night, can you use that as an example to your team of this is what it takes in this league?
COACH STOOPS: Yep, I do use that, and already have and will again. I've always admired how tough he was, and you can see the leadership and you can see the way his team responds to him, to him giving that kind of effort. Johnny Manziel goes out there and plays with he's a Heisman Trophy winner and up for it again and goes out and plays banged up, and he's not going to feel perfect. But he goes out and plays, and I think people respond to that. People rally around that.
Q. Were you frustrated a little bit then? I know you went to Jalen at halftime and said basically get out there. Were you frustrated that he was maybe just
COACH STOOPS: You know, that's a fine line. I don't ever tell players that's the medical people's decision. But if somebody is sore, then yeah, I'm going to challenge them. If somebody is they (medical personnel) make all those decisions. I can't get into that.
But yes, we have to learn to differentiate between being injured and just being a little bit banged up. That's for the players and for the trainers to decide. But if they can go, they need to go.
Q. Is that part of this process, too?
COACH STOOPS: Let's put it this way: You talked about Connor Shaw. They told him he was out for a week, he walked out there Monday and threw the ball 40 yards down the field. It's up to the players, and they have to decide what they can handle, and our medical people do a great job. But I think that toughness comes from a culture, and we're trying to build it. I don't think we're there yet, and we're going to get there. I can promise you. I don't know I'll stay away from that. (Laughter.)
Q. (Question regarding if he currently has players on his roster that he has to tie on the bench to keep them off the field.)
COACH STOOPS: Well, of course. We mentioned it earlier in the year. I think we've seen I saw Jason Hatcher play with a hand broken in two spots, and I saw Blake McClain come in and the trainer told him he was out and he begged him to put a cast on him, came back and played and made some plays. We're seeing that.
Bud Dupree, Bud is not 100 percent. Bud goes out and has 13 tackles, plays his tail off, gives unbelievable effort, unbelievable leadership. We need Bud out there, and Bud showed me that. He's not feeling great, and went out and played one of his best games ever. Hopefully that'll get contagious. I think we're learning as we go and getting tougher and getting tougher mentally, and we need to keep on progressing.
Q. You say contagious. Who do you look for to spread that disease?
COACH STOOPS: Well, Bud would be a good one to start with, because again, I think he's a great player with a lot of talent, and he's not exactly a vocal guy, but just by him going out there and playing with the type of effort that he did, not being 100 percent and not being able to practice all the time, getting all the reps but still going out and playing like that I think would be a great guy to start with.
I think you see a guy like Ashely Lowery who's not played perfect but he's been banged up all the way through, never wants to miss a practice, never wants to miss a snap. Avery (Williamson), same way. We've got some guys. I think Raymond (Sanders) has been banged up and keeps on going in there and running hard and trying to play physical and doing a good job. (Kevin) Mitchell has been banged up. He's not at all 100 percent and fighting his way through. We need to rally around those guys.
Q. When we talk to the players about the fact that there's some teams in this position that might be looking for a place to fall down, they keep playing hard. And when we ask them about it they usually mention you. Why do you think that is? Why do you think they are playing that hard?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I don't need to go back to the tirade a couple weeks ago, do they? They're going to get called out if they don't that's just the way it is. It's not acceptable, it's not okay. We're there's nowhere to hide. And if they do, they'll get called out in front of their team, and I don't see that anymore. I really don't. I see us needing to play smarter and executing better. I see us growing in that regard. So I'm not disappointed. If I was, I would tell you.
I think we're learning to be accountable to each other.
Q. You talked about going back to work every Sunday, every Monday with new focus. Is that more difficult to do as the season wears on and the guys haven't won a game in five or six weeks?
COACH STOOPS: It is for a while. It is for 24 hours. I ain't going to lie. Maybe 36. (Laughter.) It really is. It's hard. It is. And then, again, there's no there's nowhere to go but just go back to work and keep on grinding and keep on getting better. I think the team is starting to understand that. Now we need to go address the issues again and just see why we're making these mistakes as a coaching staff and as a team. You need to look at the mistakes we're making and the situations and when we're making them and get it corrected and get better.