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 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 28-13 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, discussed the injury status of a few key players, and broke down why South Carolina will be a difficult opponent this week, among other topics.
Here are the eleven things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Sunday helped players get over Mississippi State loss
Time cures all wounds, right?
Stoops said that while players got back to the practice field on Monday, the Wildcats used Sunday as a day to clear their minds move past the frustrating Mississippi State loss
“[Monday is the first day back] for the players. [Sunday] is their the off day, we have to give them one mandatory day off,” he said. “They can come in and get treatment, get a massage, relax a little bit. For the coaches, though, we’re back at it Sunday, all day and all night Sunday. Monday as well.”
Following the coaching staff’s film review on Sunday, Stoops said he was excited to “get it over with” today with his team so they could go all-in on South Carolina game prep.
“First time I saw them was today for our meetings,” he said. “It’s always good for us coaches because we can’t meet with them until Monday, so it’s always good to get in there and get it over with. Learn from all the mistakes that we made and move on to the next opponent.”
Sawyer Smith will play against South Carolina
Arguably the biggest news from the Mark Stoops Show is that Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith is expected to suit up on Saturday against South Carolina.
Despite fighting through the second half against Mississippi State with a shoulder injury this past weekend, Stoops said his starter is hoping to be “back to 100%” this weekend.
“Sawyer is feeling much better today than he was yesterday,” he said. “That’s good. Hopefully he’ll keep on feeling better each day, be back to 100% by this weekend.”
Matt Ruffolo will start at kicker over Chance Poore
After two missed field goal attempts and one leg injury against Mississippi State, Kentucky kicker Chance Poore was replaced by Matt Ruffolo with 4:39 remaining in the fourth quarter to try a 29-yard field goal.
In his very first career attempt, the junior kicker out of Centerville, Ohio sent the football right through the uprights, cutting the Bulldog lead to just eight points.
On Monday evening, Stoops said Ruffolo will be the team’s starter against South Carolina this weekend.
“With [Poore] having struggles and not at 100%, getting dinged up when he got hit Saturday during that game,” he said. “I think we’ll go with Ruffolo this game.”
According to Stoops, he actually wasn’t too far off from winning the starting job this summer in the first place.
“He’s been a guy that has been there competing all summer and through camp,” he said. “At times, he has looked really good, at times has competed with Chance very close. But through the whole competition, Chance did win the battle. But Matt was very close to winning that job. On certain days, he looks better, he looks stronger than [Chance].”
While he thinks Poore will bounce back and have a successful year once he gets back to full strength, Stoops said he felt he owed it to Ruffolo to give him the starting nod against South Carolina.
“Like most kickers, they go through some ups and downs throughout the year,” he said. “I expect Chance to bounce back, but it’s like any position. If you’re not getting it done, next man up. Let’s see if the next guy can do it and give him an opportunity.”
Missed opportunities were tough to watch on film
After three dropped touchdown receptions, one missed throw for a score, and two brutal field goal misses, Stoops was admittedly frustrated after watching film from Kentucky’s loss.
“It was really amazing to see all the plays we didn’t make and still have an opportunity,” he said. “Got off to a terrible start, pulled it in the second half, but we really had so many opportunities. We missed three catches that were touchdowns. Another opportunity where we had Keaton Upshaw open and ended up only getting three there.”
Despite several explosive plays that usually end up being difference-makers in close games, the missed opportunities ruined Kentucky’s chances to pull off the road victory.
“That’s just it, had you played better defense and not given up the pick-six, you never know what happens. It’s frustrating,” he continued. “We had just as many explosive plays as we’ve ever had. One out of every five plays was a big pass or a big run. You usually win those football games, but we just missed too many opportunities on Saturday. You just can’t do that, you can’t go on the road in that environment, play just okay, and win the game.”
Mississippi State flipped the script from last year
Remember when a talented Mississippi State squad came into Kroger Field last season and got run off the field by Benny Snell and company?
This year, the same can be said for Kentucky’s efforts in Starkville.
“A year ago, we ran it  times against Mississippi State. Most of the time, you’re going to win the game by doing that,” Stoops said. “This year, they ran the ball 40 times [compared to our 28 carries]. It controls the clock, moves the chains. They completely flipped the script on us this year.”
Stoops stressed the need to run the ball more
Building off the previous point, the Kentucky head coach spent Monday afternoon harping on his team’s passing attempt numbers against MSU during his pre-South Carolina press conference.
“What did it get us?” Stoops said, “Everyone wants to see the ball thrown 42 times, well, you did. I hope you’re happy, because I’m not.”
He said it happened because the team got behind early and felt they had to throw the ball in order to catch up.
“It was not by design. We got behind. We got down,” Stoops said. “You go down 14-3 relatively quick, it kind of gets you out of it.”
On his radio show, Stoops was made aware of a statistic recently posted by Corey Price of UK Athletics on Twitter. “Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 passing attempts in a game 49 times,” the tweet read. “Their record in those 49 games: 8-41 (.163). Since 2000, Kentucky has had at least 40 rushing attempts in a game 69 times. Their record in those 69 games: 48-21 (.696).”
Stoops said those numbers didn’t shock him in the slightest, adding that he certainly plans on getting back to what he knows will work.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “It’s interesting how some people love talking about that, telling me, “throw the ball more, you idiot.” Now it’s, “run the ball, you idiot! Run it! Run it!” Even those fans that like chucking the ball are realizing it now, they like winning a lot more than chucking it. That’s how you win in this league. This past week, one out of five, but who wants to do that in lose? It feels like crap.”
Logan Stenberg needs to be more disciplined
After picking up a few more costly penalties on Saturday, including another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for flipping the bird to a Mississippi State defender, Stoops said that he is “aggravated” with the flags Logan Stenberg continues to get thrown on him.
“It’s aggravating. I called out some of those guys in front of the whole team today. It just can’t happen,” he said. “I can be very critical, and they’re accepting of it. They mean well, they have good intentions, but we have to be more disciplined in what we’re doing.”
And it’s not just Stenberg and/or penalties. It’s the team’s overall lack of discipline.
“It’s not just penalties, it’s a missed tackle, given up sack, missed assignment,” he said. “We’ve just got to clean those things up.”
Terry Wilson’s leadership is missed
When asked about Sawyer Smith’s leadership compared to Terry Wilson, Stoops was quick to acknowledge that there is a significant difference between the two.
While the team likes and respects Smith, there is no denying what Wilson brought to the table both on and off the field. After spending the entire 2018 season and this past offseason building chemistry with his teammates, Stoops admits Wilson’s loss in the leadership department hurts.
“The thing is, Sawyer just got here this summer,” he said. “Players like him, and he’s definitely a great guy. But the thing is, Terry has worked so hard to build a relationship with these guys, he’s worked so hard on being a leader. It takes time to do that.”
Stoops sees comparison between Darius West and Terry Wilson injuries
Speaking of Wilson, Stoops again updated the Kentucky quarterback’s injury status with optimism.
While a torn patellar tendon is a difficult injury and can lead to longer recovery periods, Stoops compared Wilson’s injury to former Wildcat Darius West and his season-ending injury back in the summer of 2016.
“Darius West came back, originally had the fibula injury, then had the torn patellar tendon,” he said. “Had a really strong senior year. We’re hoping for the same from Terry.”
Stoops also used the West comparison two weeks ago when the injury took place.
“I do anticipate a full recovery from that,” Stoops said on the Monday following Wilson’s injury. “Should not be an issue. Very similar, really the same injury that Darius West had. And Darius came back with no hiccups from that whatsoever. So anticipate a full recovery from Terry, and we’ll miss him this season.”
Stoops was not pleased with the team’s effort on Saturday
As frustrated as he was about Kentucky’s performance against Mississippi State from an X’s and O’s perspective, his biggest issue with the loss had to do with his team’s overall effort.
“We did not play as hard as I wanted them to,” he said. “When we walk off the field, I want the other team to look at us and go, “Wow, you guys play hard.” That’s coaching. We have to get it out of them, that’s our job. We have to get back to that.”
South Carolina is “the best 1-3 team in the country”
So what does he like about Kentucky’s upcoming opponent, South Carolina?
“They’re a very talented football team. Very explosive team,” Stoops said. “Always have good tight ends, good receivers this year. It’s going to be a very tough environment. Will [Muschamp] always coaches his defense up well. We definitely need to tighten up if we want to come out of there with a win.”
Earlier today, Stoops called South Carolina “the best 1-3 team in the country.”
“I’m sure they are a lot like us in that they went on the road last week, and didn’t play their best,” he said of USC. “I’m sure they are anxious to get back home and play a good game and get back to doing all the good things they did. I guarantee you, they’re the best 1-3 team in the country, there’s no doubt about that. They’re a talented group. They’ve got very good players.”