While Mark Stoops typically speaks to the media twice a week – once on Monday afternoon for a weekly press conference and another post-practice session on Thursday evening – the Kentucky head coach usually uses weekly call-in radio show on Monday evenings to kick back and relax a bit.
During the hour-long show with Tom Leach, Stoops usually opens up about his team’s performance from the previous week, previews Kentucky’s upcoming opponent, and answers questions via phone and social media from the Big Blue Nation.
This evening, Stoops went in-depth about Kentucky’s recent bye week, discussed the injury status Sawyer Smith, and why he’s excited about Jared Lorenzen Day on Saturday, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Stoops is excited to honor Jared Lorenzen
Kentucky will honor UK football legend Jared Lorenzen on Saturday against Arkansas with “Jared Lorenzen Day,” something Mark Stoops is very excited for.
In fact, he said the team will actually be watching film of the former Wildcat quarterback in preparation of the matchup.
“It’s an honor for us to recognize Jared. He’s one of the most beloved and iconic players of all time here, and we want to recognize him for that. We’ll be watching film on him this week. I just want to continue to embrace the history and the great players that were here. He was definitely one of them. He laid it on the line every week, did whatever it took to win games. You can’t help but put a smile on your face and a little chuckle because it’s like, how did he just do that?”
Practice today was a success
After a rough three-game losing streak, Stoops said his team had a bit of a pep in its step during practice today after a relaxing bye week.
“Practice was really good today for a number of reasons,” the Kentucky head coach said. “It was the first time they were able to catch their breath for a minute after resting up, healing up a little bit. Very engaged and very locked in. It was pretty nice to be in some cool air, got some football weather.”
Sawyer Smith health update
How did Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith look in his first practice back after getting banged up against South Carolina last week?
“No [I don’t have anything to add about his status], I just said in my news conference that he was feeling much better,” he said. “It was great to give him a full week where he didn’t have to throw at all. He’s feeling a lot better out there.”
Other health updates
How about some of the other Wildcats dealing with injuries?
“[Kentucky safety] Jordan Griffin, I just saw him pulling out when I was heading out,” he said. “He said he’s feeling much better today, it was nice to see him basically back to full strength. Almost 100%, so it’s great to see. It’s important for depth, looking at nickel packages and stuff like that. We need as many hands on deck as we can get.”
After a rather pessimistic update this afternoon on defensive lineman Phil Hoskins, Stoops was rather upbeat on his status this evening.
“Phil [Hoskins] was better today, he was out there moving around a little bit,” he said. “He’s not back to full strength yet, but he’s progressing well. It was good seeing him back out there.”
As for wide receiver Isaiah Epps? Not so much.
“Isaiah [Epps], not so much. He was out there last week, made a cut, and he just didn’t react as well to it,” he said. “He’ll need a little bit more time before we throw him back out there.”
As a whole, he could just tell that his team needed some time off to recover.
“Our team is always fun to coach and good to coach. They mean well. But sometimes they can just tell whether they are banged up or not right,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of respect for what they do [in regard to their rigorous daily schedules]. It’s a mental grind. It’s not just “get out there and play” like we did in the street growing up.”
Chris Rodriguez continues to impress
After being one of the lone bright spots in Kentucky’s loss against South Carolina, Stoops said running back Chris Rodriguez continues to impress in practice.
“Chris is doing good, he really is,” he said. “It’s not surprising me. Any of the mistakes he made early on, he’s moved on from it. He’ll definitely see a lot more reps moving forward.”
What makes the bye week so important?
What did the Wildcats learn about themselves during the week off?
“There have been times during my tenure here that the bye didn’t come at the right times, sometimes they come right when we’re finding success and it kind of slows us down,” Stoops said. “There’s no denying that we needed this one though. It was time to hit the reset button. Rest, mentally and physically. It’s a good time for look at ourselves, look at our tendencies, get us ahead on Arkansas.”
How did he get Max Duffy?
Stoops received a question about the recruiting process with Max Duffy and how he was able to secure a commitment from the talented punter.
“Max was a really good get for us, we were actually dabbling with a couple Aussies,” he said. “We were recruiting a few others, really close to getting another that was sensational. Actually a little older than Max. I got in touch with a few guys, got me connected to Max, and thank goodness we did. He is one of the most talented guys regarding his ability to do so many different things. He’d even tell you. There may be other guys with stronger legs, but there’s not many other people out there that can do what he does. He’s a beauty.”
Lynn Bowden at quarterback
An individual called into the show to ask Stoops if star wide receiver Lynn Bowden gets a bit of leniency in regard to his playing style and the playcalls when he receives reps at quarterback.
In short, Stoops says he trusts Bowden to find success, even if he has to go off-script a bit. And he expects to see it if the Wildcats are forced to utilize him at quarterback this week against Arkansas.
“A couple things. One of our best plays against South Carolina was where we had one thing scripted, Lynn ad-libbed, the play broke open, and he took it down to the one or two (yard line),” he said. “That was a broken down play where he just created on his own. You can go back and look at a player like Lamar Jackson. When we played him, there were so many plays that stood out because he can sit back there, and because of the disciplined run lanes, he can take his time and make plays through the air. Then there are other plays where you can have him for a four-yard loss and he turns it into an eight-yard gain. All of those players have plays called, but they have the ability to pull it down and do certain things. Some of it is between them and God. It’s instincts.”
He compared the situation a bit to punt and kick returners.
“It’s like people in the return game,” he said. “Someone may have electric speed, but they don’t rip many off because they don’t see the field as others. Sometimes you just have to let [guys like Lynn] do their thing, let them play.”
The tight ends are progressing
How do the tight ends look in practice?
“They’ve been doing really good, they really are. They’re getting better,” he said. “Part of the run game, they need to be physical. They need to be 100% on our looks and on their blocks. There is a lot going on up there. Again, I give so much credit to Coach Schlarman and our offensive line. There is a lot going on in a short amount of time.”
Balance of plays
Stoops received a call asking about the offense slowing down when they revert back to old tendencies or go away from what has been working in recent games.
While he believes there are just as many mistakes in regard to calling too many pass plays as there are with calling too many run plays, he does understand that they have to get better at finding the right balance.
“A lot of people look at things, and when the drive slows down, if it’s because of run plays, then that’s a fair criticism,” he said. “But sometimes it’s because of us throwing the ball too much. I get really upset when we get ahead of the chains, we’re ripping it, we throw it incomplete on first down, gain just a yard or two on second, and are stuck behind the chains on 3rd and long. I think that’s a tough balance, I really do. I think it’s tough. Is that a fair criticism though? Sure. We just need to find the right formula. And when we’re banged up, especially at quarterback, then we really need to find that right formula.”
How close is Florida State transfer Xavier Peters to seeing the field?
“He’s doing good, definitely getting better,” Stoops said. “A young man like that, he has a lot of pressure on him. He was a highly-recruited player coming out, people expect him to live up to that because of it. I think he’s getting closer and closer. When he’s ready, he’ll definitely be helping us.”
How does he keep his team focused?
To close things out, Stoops was asked about how he keeps the team morale up during difficult times.
In short, he’s confident in his team to bounce back mentally just as much as he expects them to physically.
“I think it’s not difficult for our players and team. Do we go through difficult times? Absolutely. The schedule doesn’t relent,” he said. “We went on the road and played two teams like us who had good moments and bad moments, had their backs against the wall. We’re hoping to do that this week. We’re going to play better. Our team, they’re always engaged. They try and they work. The situation changes every week. We’ve been dealt some hands that no one anticipated, I didn’t expect to be short my three top quarterbacks. It is what it is. We just have to adapt to it, find a way to win.”