After 48 hours of diving into the film, statistics, and analysis of Kentucky’s 38-24 victory over Toledo on Saturday afternoon, UK head coach Mark Stoops spent his Labor Day holiday breaking down everything he learned to the media and fans.
This afternoon in his weekly press conference, Stoops discussed his enthusiasm with Kentucky’s win, but stressed that there was still work to be done prior to the team’s game against Eastern Michigan this weekend.
Tonight on his weekly call-in radio show, the UK head coach was even more optimistic about his team’s performance and his overall outlook on the season.
Here are 15 things we learned from Stoops this evening:
Labor Day was a success for the program
Instead of taking the holiday off, the football team used the day to get better.
“We did a whole lot of film work, figured out the players of the game, talked to the team about the good and the bad, all that stuff,” Stoops said. “But then we moved on to our new opponent, had an hour practice. Out players are still a little banged up, a little sore, but we had a good hour practice today.
“I really love Mondays. There’s always so much to correct, so much to work on, but it’s always a great day for us from a learning perspective.”
Stoops is “really encouraged” after watching film
The film proved to be quite impressive for Stoops and his coaching staff, as he raved about Kentucky’s complete performance, especially in the second half, on Saturday.
“After games, it’s never as good as it is, and it’s never as bad as you think it is,” Stoops said. “There’s always frustration,” he said. “They’ve been working all winter, all spring, all summer. It seems like you have a tendency to hang onto the negative because you haven’t had anything to critique in so long. We won by 14 should’ve won by 21, that last fumble aggravated the heck out of me. Tried to open things up at the end of the game, get Terry comfortable. Still have a tendency to hang onto the bad immediately. But man, I am really encouraged.
“You make the most improvement between week one and week two, and I hope that’s the case for us. The mistakes, I feel they are very correctable. We can iron them out. I am really encouraged with this team right now.”
Max Duffy was incredibly valuable on special teams
After a standout 6-punt, 324-yard performance with a 54-yard averaged and 61-yard long for Kentucky punter Max Duffy, Stoops was asked if he was the best punter in the SEC.
“I haven’t seen them all yet, but he certainly could be,” he said. “The LSU and A&M guys are good, very talented. But Max did a phenomenal job, I think the average field position was the 19-yard line [on his punts]. Shoutout to Coach Hood, because in the hidden yardage category in special teams, we were plus-76 overall. Pretty strong statistic.”
DeAndre Square has grown as a player
Following a performance that included a game-high 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, a half sack, and an interception that helped Kentucky seal the win in the fourth quarter, Stoops was thrilled to discuss DeAndre Square’s growth since he first arrived on campus.
“Much more confident player, he’s so much bigger than he was last year,” he said. “So instinctual, so smart, great tackler. He’s making some really good plays. We’re so excited about him.”
Stoops is surprised by the struggles of the SEC East, but focused on Eastern Michigan
In a weekend that saw SEC East foes Tennessee, South Carolina, and Missouri all lose to mediocre competition, Stoops was quick to admit that disappointing losses early in the season can happen to anyone.
Instead of poking fun, he wants his team to focus on Eastern Michigan.
“I didn’t get to see much [around the SEC East], saw a few series here and there. It’s surprising,” he said. “But as I said earlier today, things happen early in the year. One of the things I harp on early in the year is that we will play aggressive, we will play to win, but you can’t beat anyone if you beat yourself.
“Eastern Michigan is a good football team, try to play very physical. They’re physical in the run game, take their shots when they get their chance in the pass game. Very pro-style offense. We’re going to need to play very solid football this week.”
Terry Wilson is progressing as a quarterback
The film on Terry Wilson, who threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns on 19-26 passing, was certainly impressive for Stoops.
“Very pleased with Terry, he’s a hard worker,” he said. “To come in as a first year starter and help us win ten games says a lot about him. Very pleased with his progressed, I saw the work he put in this offseason. Worked on fundamentals, mechanics, footwork, everything. Schematically, he’s so much more comfortable with the offense and aware. You saw him step up and make confident throws this week.”
The wide receiver group turned heads
Those 246 yards through the air had to go somewhere.
With eight players making catches on Saturday, led by Lynn Bowden with six receptions for 77 yards, Stoops felt it was a great place to start this season.
“Very pleased, it’s a great starting point,” he said. “They’re only going to be better. Lynn’s catch on third down was incredible, and that one where he was just out of bounds by an inch was even better. That [touchdown catch on] second and 14 for Bryce Oliver, that’s a very nice catch. Ahmad, you see what he’s capable of. He’s starting now, playing with a lot more confident. You saw what he can do with the ball in his hands, threw that stiff arm and kept on running. He’s got some speed. Josh Ali, Allen Dailey, overall, we are so impressed with all of those guys.
“You’re seeing more and more playmakers on that side of the ball. That’s going to be huge for us moving forward.”
Stoops is intrigued by the idea of exhibition games
The Kentucky head coach wants to have a few opportunities prior to the season for his players to get their feet wet.
“I would be interested in that,” he said. “I would imagine, all of us have someone close to us. Look at Eastern Kentucky, schools like that, we could put something together. I just think it would be good. NFL teams do it, we could scrimmage, do some one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens. You just like seeing other guys every once and a while. The players get so settled in with their own team, so young guys don’t know what to expect when they see new teams. I would be in favor of that, for sure.”
There were a few pleasant surprises
Who stood out for him?
“Bryce Oliver was a good surprise, Josh Ali was impressive. He only had one catch, but he played so fast. Ahmad, as well. Very excited about [the offense as a whole]. They’ve worked hard all spring and summer. Protection was good, Terry was confident, and the receivers made tough catches.”
After some worry about the secondary going into the year, Stoops said he was also impressed with them, as well.
“I feel good about the secondary,” he said. “[Jamari Brown] misplayed the first ball in the air, but it was fixable. His eyes were just in the wrong spot. Jamari came back and made big plays, Brandin Echols had a big game, as well. I’m confident about that unit for sure.”
Expectations for Jordan Wright are high
He likes the potential of sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Wright.
“I should have mentioned him with the previous call, as well, he was another one that was a pleasant surprise,” Stoops said. “We’re counting on him to make the next step, and he did in the first game. He played really well, I was pleased with him. We have high expectations. Can play either of the outside linebacker positions, had some really quality snaps.”
Josh Paschal’s season-opener was special
In his first game since undergoing his final cancer treatment in early August, Stoops is thrilled about Paschal putting that behind him and becoming a superstar for the Kentucky defense.
“He had a forced fumble, sack, was voted team captain last week,” he said. “He’s only going to get better, too. I laughed at him a little bit, he was a bit amped up and missed some plays early, but he got settled in after a while and played really good football. What an awesome story he is.”
Stoops wanted to point out that the players in the Kentucky locker room really respect him both on and off the field.
“Guys have a lot of respect for him and he’s a guy that everybody is excited to have back, just be around the team. Have him be healthy,” he said. “He goes about things his own way. He has a voice, but he doesn’t have to be the most vocal. We love the way he carries himself.”
What pleased him the most and what does he feel the team needs to work on moving forward?
“[I really liked how when] things didn’t go according to script, no one got panicked. Everyone got settled in and just improved,” he said. “Physically, we just wore them down. I just liked the improvements on offense in the pass game, specifically Terry at quarterback.”
And the bad:
“Communication needs work, a little off from time to time,” he said. “Didn’t like our start and didn’t like our ball security, but overall, I was pleased with the game overall.”
Allen Dailey Jr. shined at receiver
He only had two catches, but Stoops feels redshirt freshman Allen Dailey Jr. was a difference-maker on Saturday.
“You heard me talking about him last year,” he said. “We’re so excited about him. Had two catches, but should have gotten three. Logan Stenberg’s penalty negated that. He’s got a nice toughness about him, gonna get bigger, faster, stronger. Both of his catches were on third down and resulted in first downs.”
Chris Oats will “do his time” and move on
After being ejected for targeting on Saturday, Stoops is ready for Oats to sit out the first half on Saturday and move forward with the season.
“I can’t fault him, he’s working hard and just trying to make plays for this team,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to hurt anybody, we understand the safety aspect of it. It wasn’t intentional or malicious, but he’ll do the time and we’ll move on.”
Stoops was happy with the crowd turnout
Ticket sales had been a topic of controversy leading up to the season-opener, but the Kentucky head coach was pleased with how the crowd looked against Toledo.
“It filled up pretty darn good, we were very happy with it,” he said. “Thank you guys for that, I know it was pretty hot. It’s really nice that we have a night game this week, supposed to be really nice weather I think. High of low-80s I believe, so that should be great.”