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Stoops enjoyed consistency of offense against SEC opponent

2021 marks the first time Kentucky has produced back-to-back 500-yard games to open the season.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops (center) runs out with his team before an NCAA college football...
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops (center) runs out with his team before an NCAA college football game against Missouri in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)(Michael Clubb | AP)
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 5:37 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Kentucky beat Missouri 35-28 Saturday night and proved they could move the ball consistently against a solid SEC East opponent.

After dropping 45 points against Louisiana Monroe, the Wildcats scored 35 against the Tigers and it should’ve been 45 points. Chris Rodriguez fumbled at the goal line near the end of the half and they also had a field goal blocked.

2021 marks the first time Kentucky has produced back-to-back 500-yard games to open the season. Kentucky scored 35 points against the Tigers, most in an SEC opener since a 42-29 win at Arkansas in 2007.

Stoops recapped the win against Mizzou and previewed their September 18 home game vs. UT-Chattanooga at Monday’s press conference:

Opening statement …

“After reviewing the film and watching the Missouri game, it was much like I thought after sitting here and visiting with you all -- a lot of very good things. Many things to build on, really credit the staff again with having a very good plan, certainly a lot that we need to get cleaned up and will. I felt like defensively making some critical stops when we had to, offensively really had a good grip, good control of the game, really the entire game. We got to get the fumble, fumbles situated, obviously another interception that slowed us down, but outside of that really controlled the game, pretty much on every possession, with the exception of possession eight for us. We went three and out, outside of that really good. So, did some really good things.

“You know it’s about us this week, much the same, we need to concentrate on ourselves, playing a very good team in Chattanooga, and we just have to focus on ourself. It was a very physical game. Our guys were emotionally ready to play, took a lot out of them, played extremely hard, very proud how physical and how hard we’re playing; just want to get some details fixed up but it’s our job to get our team right here this week, continue to build on the good things were doing, tighten up the ship on certain aspects of it. We got a lot of good football ahead of us, so I’m very encouraged and looking forward to this challenge here this week.”

Davonte Robinson and Jordan Wright injury status..

“We’ll see how it goes. Davonte should be good. Jordan is day to day.”

On possibly using some additional players at outside linebacker …

“Yeah we will. We got some ideas. We’ll continue to bring K.D. (McDaniel) along and then he can help us. He’s doing some good things. He made a few critical mistakes Saturday with some inexperience, but we have some other guys that we fool around with as well.”

On importance to give players more game reps …

“I think you could tell after watching for all those years as games go along and you get more experience and the more confidence you get, you generally make those plays. It’s a little different, when you’re out their full speed in an SEC game, you got number one (Tyler Badie) out there in the perimeter, he’s a pretty good little player and he realizes that now and with more experience he’ll come along.”

On taking care of the ball…

“We’ve talked about it before. I captured this (thought), I don’t pretend it was mine, it was another coach said it that I listen to. I thought it was a good way to say that ‘when you have the football in your hands you have the program in your hands’ and that’s a pretty good statement. I think that was coach (P.J.) Fleck if I’m not mistaken. I heard him talking about that. I borrowed that from him, but you know we talk about that. He’ll get it corrected. I’m confident.”

On Carrington Valentine separating himself…

“He’s getting better, again just like we talked about, with every opportunity, with every rep. You know as he gets experience to see new offenses every week, you get used to playing our offense then maybe game one or game two each week it will be a little bit different. It’s just hard to gain all that experience fast as you need it.”

On if he is surprised on how quickly the players have picked up the new offense…

“I’m pleased. I’m very pleased, I will say. I don’t want to use the word surprised. I’m pleased with how well they are adapting to it, how much they are picking it up. Each week we are seeing little details that we’re leaving things on the field. That’s the good news. We can be a lot better. I love the fact that we’re doing what we need to do. You saw that in game one. In each game, you look at maybe a little individual war going on or whatever. You have to do what you have to do to be successful. First game you saw us throwing it, all over the yard, the second game you’re seeing us with balance, you’re seeing us run the ball when we have to or when we needed to. That’s critical for our success but I love the balance we’re still showing. We left some yards out there on the field but anytime … if you look at our drive chart, you go touchdown, touchdown, interception, touchdown, it would have been a touchdown, get another fumble, then you got the end of the half. Then you come out and then you go touchdown again. Then we had the three and out, the only three and out there. That was a bad possession and then backed up but still have an opportunity, we have a drop on the 50, we maybe still would be moving on that possession. Then we come out on the next possession in a tie game and we are able to throw the ball down the field and have some critical throws to go back up seven (points). Even basically the last possession, the one where we drive down and miss the field goal. We have some critical throws in that, critical third and six. They challenge us, put everybody in our face and we create a big play down the field. Anytime you get a completion percentage of 18 yards per completion, that’s pretty good.”

On responding to the pressure after being tied 28-28 vs. Missouri...

“It feels great. Because again when they’re challenging us, we take that shot, we make them pay, we make them hurt, you know, on that third and six. That’s a backbreaker, actually that’s when we were up seven. But yeah, we definitely can. But also, don’t underestimate how demoralizing it is when you run the ball for 12 straight plays as well. You could do that and run it straight down the field and have an opportunity to go up 28-7 is a pretty big deal as well.”

On Eli Cox during the Missouri game...

“Eli did some good things. He played better in this game. More consistent, played better. Our whole center and right side really played well.”

On his thoughts about so many players being put in the defensive box on several occasions...

“That is what they had shown. We had a good plan, even our run game that we had where we were blocking down and pulling, we had a good plan for it. They had shown that, and put on the film, you go watch the Rams and the Browns in 2019 you’re going to see the same look.”

On the quality of offense from beating ULM, to now beating an SEC team...

“I like the consistency of where we’re at. We’re not there yet. We want to keep on working, keep on getting the details, but the fact that you can move it that well against an SEC East opponent says a lot. Again, I know it’s not, but if you’re looking at us strictly on the coaching part of it, you’re looking at 45 points. Liam (offensive coordinator Liam Coen), when you’re sitting there drawing it up, you’re sitting there saying he had 45 because, he can’t control fumbling it at the six-inch line, or getting a field goal blocked.”

On Jacquez Jones meeting Coach Stoops’ expectations...

“It was a big play, it was nice to see him step up on that play (interception). Once again, I addressed it in postgame, you look at the middle part of the game and we’re in full control and then that (fumble) happens it can flip back on you, that momentum. For us to get a stop to start the second half was big. He made a very good athletic play there, and then we punch it in and get the momentum back. It’s a big piece of the game. I was happy for Jacquez, I was happy for us. He did some really good things in this game, one of our better defensive players in this game.”

On Jacquez Jones showing his athleticism...

“He has. He does some good things in the box, he’s a physical guy, he’s shown that (athleticism) as well.”

On if he considers the Chattanooga game a “breather” ...

“I would never use the word, you would never hear me use the word ‘breather.’ That’s not in our vocabulary. The only we’re interested in is pressing on and moving forward. Any great team, no matter what competition level is, plays to the best of their ability. That’s what we’re trying to do. We have so much to do, so much work to get caught up on. I always say that but it’s exciting for me on Mondays, win or lose. It’s on to the next opponent, it’s on to the next challenge for me, it’s trying to get their minds right. Physically this game took a lot out of us, so we’ve got to regroup in a hurry and get ready to play a very good football team. This team was picked to win their league, so you know they’re talented and can do some good things. No matter who we’re playing you’re always going to hear me talk about us. We have respect for everybody that we play, but it’s about us and how we play.”

On Wan’Dale Robinson having 11 targets...

“We knew going into that game that he was going to be targeted a bunch. We knew by our plan and the way were, their matchups and their man (coverage) and putting guys on you. We felt like he was going to get a lot of targets in that game.”

On Liam Coen and Will Levis decision-making…

“I’m very pleased, with even the interception he went to the right place, right spot, just got to make a better throw. But, very pleased with the way he’s calling it and very pleased with Will’s decision-making and as the game slows down, more reps, he will continue to get better and better. But I love the fact that we attacked when we had to attack and we scratched where it itches when we had to do that.”

On using Trevin Wallace more…

“It is, especially with where we are at right now with some of our outside backers and with J-Dub (Jordan Wright) being banged up, there is some roles. Don’t ask me anymore so I can’t keep on going.”

On looking at the defensive line …

“There are still some things that just are aggravating for us that we have to clean up. It’s a guy here, a guy there, certain things that we can tidy up and execute better and that’s where you have to have it. You can’t have one guy making a mistake or one person running a stunt that’s not (supposed to), one D-liner (defensive lineman) running it, one not, just little things that we will continue to work on.”

On throwing the ball with the new offense…

“We are going to get better at the pass game, we already have. I think that was evident in both games, no matter what the statistics say. Even though they were pretty impressive, again 18 yards per completion is not bad, I’ll take that, 10 yards per attempt. Compared to theirs was 8.6 yards per completion and ours was 18, so we will continue to do what we need to do to get better and we will take what they give us each game.”

On if Liam Coen has ever run the ball 52 times…

“I doubt it, I don’t know, I doubt it. He is a quarterback by nature so I doubt it. But again the only time we were in run overdrive was the end of the first half and you would be stupid not to at that point. We ran it 12 plays in a row because we could.”

On Vince Marrow helping call the screen to Justin Rigg and how the new coaches are working together...

“Vince wants the ball thrown to the tight end all the time (laughter). They are working together very well, the camaraderie is very good, love our staff, a lot of guys that are unselfish and just worried about the team and that really was a great play call at the right time and it was dressed up very effectively. They hit us with some good screens as well, with the way they were set up was very effective as well.”

On worrying about special teams...         “Well, no, we are fine. Wilson (Berry) is not flipping the field like we’d like, he is dealing with an injury, we will see where it’s at. He’s doing the best he can. The field goal obviously is a concern, that’s easily corrected. We have some people up front that did something they don’t normally do and didn’t on the kick before, so we will get that fixed.”

On the blocking problem on the field goal attempt…

“It was a blocking problem. With the way they came through with what happened, really it had no chance because I thought it (the kick) was a little low to begin but there was definitely a mistake on the blocking part.”

On Wan’Dale Robinson returning punts…

“He’s done it a lot, you have to trust him.  It’s good for him to continue … Prior to week one, when we were out there on the field, I told him to, and we’re getting him more, it was interesting because game one he had a little muff there, because I want him to get more catches in the stadium. It’s different in there when the wind is circulating and all that, so I’m trying to get him as many he can.  I think he gets more comfortable as he gets more reps in the stadium.”

On the last 63 games (39-24 record) being the best winning percentage for a 63-game stretch since the 1950s…

“I didn’t hear that. Thank you. I didn’t know. But those are the kind of stats you like to hear. So, we’ll continue to try to do that.”

On this particular news conference being the first one in which he has an overall winning head coach and if he feels “smarter” because of it…

“There are a lot of things I could say (laughter). But, I really don’t (feel smarter). I really don’t, just continue to do what I know, the best I can. I promise you, it’s always been that way.”

On how he feels considering he came into a 2-10 program, and went 12-26 in first 38 games, and is now an overall winning program…

“I’m not just saying this to be boring, you know, I’ll give you a couple of clips here and there and I try to make your job fun too. I am what I am. It’s day to day, it really is. It’s week to week. And that’s how I look at it. I like my job, I like what I do, I like our team, I like where our program is right now. But it’s truly one day at a time. You know, and I know, how quickly that can be flipped.”

On why he doesn’t like being asked about himself or his success as a coach…

“Because it’s not about me. It’s about our program, it’s about our kids, our staff, there’s a lot of things that go into it. I’m just the guy holding down the seat for right now.”

On Eli Cox’s improvement and what it means for a local kid to do so well with the program…

“It’s very gratifying because he is what we thought he would be: a program guy. A guy to come in and develop, and give you everything he has, and play hard and play physical, and he’s doing that. And again, I can’t underestimate, I greatly appreciate our team and how hard they play. Again, we made plenty of mistakes (against Missouri) on all sides, but man we played hard. And I appreciate that because we challenged them all week to be physical and to play with an excitement, with an attitude because, again, I don’t mean to go back, but I felt like I was outcoached in that area a year ago.”

On the future plans for the fieldhouse…

“We need to address it. Got my assistant AD Marc Hill back there.  Trying to get me in trouble, Lonnie? (laughter) We need, we need an indoor (with a full 120-yard field). I mean, let’s face it, we need an indoor. You can do the research in the Power 5 how many teams don’t have an indoor, there’s two.”

On Ray Lewis being here for the game and whether or not he talked to the team…

“He did not talk to the team. He wanted to be low key, but it was great just having him here. (He’s) Just a wonderful guy. I talked to him briefly before the game and I’ve met him several times. He didn’t remember this -- I doubt he did -- but I was at Miami at the time and I was the DB coach, and we were playing Temple; this was in 2000 or 2001, one of those years we were dominating everybody. We won one national championship, we’re undefeated. And then my next year, somewhere in that run, Randy Shannon was the defensive coordinator and had to go up to the press box, and we were only winning by a few and not playing very good; uninspired football, to say the least. And so Randy was like, ‘Gather them all up and talk to them, fire them up.’ So, I did my best and brought up the Hurricanes, and we’re getting on them. And I saw Ray (Lewis) standing there, so I said ‘Tell them Ray!’ He jumped right on up the bench (laughter as Stoops waves his arm). We went out in the second half and just imploded them. He did a very good job.”

On Chris Oats’ mom radio comment about the support from Big Blue Nation and telling recruits they need to come to Kentucky…

“We need to help Kim more than she needs to help us, truthfully. I wanted to put that message on the board last week and I wanted to revive that because this is real. I don’t know what we can help in the state and what we need to do with insurance, our university is amazing. Mitch (Barnhart) and Marc (Hill) and all these guys are amazing doing what we can do, and we all have. But it’s monumental, the help that she needs. When I heard that we had gotten her a handicap accessible van to get Chris to his rehab and everything and it broke down on her on the highway and she can’t get him to rehab, that’s a problem. That’s when I called on the Big Blue Nation. Certainly, I’ll do my part, and everybody will, but I need the help of the BBN. He’s a wonderful young man, she’s amazing. She has to do an awful lot for him right now. And we love him, and we love her. They’re an inspiration to us but we need help. I think we’re getting it to a tax-sheltered portion of it this week. If I’m not mistaken, I’m not going to talk about it, but we are working on that. We need to. I need to call in some of my friends that can do it. She needs some major help. We appreciate it and we want to take care of her.”

On are you concerned fans that won’t show up as well in this upcoming game as last week’s conference game…

“Well, our players deserve it. We all want a successful program. Well, that comes with some sacrifices. I greatly respect the fan base. You hear me talk about it a lot. I know it takes a lot to get to a game, especially early games. Getting up, parking, fighting traffic. It should be beautiful. Hopefully the heat is gone, it should be a nice day now. But we give them a little pass that first weekend because it’s a holiday weekend but there’s no excuses now. We need to pack this place. It makes a difference. You see our recruits talking about it. It’s a great atmosphere. I greatly appreciate the support, but we need it. We need it all the time.”

On how every offensive drive that turns into a tur-over, your team comes in a drive and scores. How does that speak to the level of the mental health of your team going into the next drive?

“It’s a big part of it. Being able to overcome adversity and momentum. We’re going to need to be able to do that throughout this year, it happens. It’s a big piece of our game and you have to be mentally strong enough to overcome adversity and I feel like our team has done that over the years and I feel like this team will as well. There’s a great deal of maturity and some leadership on this team.”

On Coach Coen going back to players if they make a mistake, is that part of his nature…

“It is. He’s a confident guy and he instills that confidence into our team and that says a lot. That’s the way it should be when players are deserving of it. If we can’t trust guys, then we have a problem. But the guys that we can trust, we can go right back to them.”

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