Here’s the full transcript from Mark Stoops’ postgame press conference…
MARK STOOPS: “Certainly trying to be aggressive on the first play of the game and giving up a sack for a turnover and then giving up a one-play touchdown is not exactly how we want to start the football game. So kind of chasing it uphill from that moment on. There’s no excuses. We just need to play better than that.
“Our team, what I like about them is we did win the football game. We found ways to win the football game when we did not play our very best. That’s what I appreciate about them. We need to get — they need to get some rest tomorrow, and we need to come back in Monday focused, energized and ready to play. There’s no excuse for not playing our best at home.
“So we need to get back to work and improve. But appreciate the fact that we’re 4-1 right now, and that’s better than 3-2.”
Q. After you beat South Carolina, you said sometimes you play up to your level of opponent and down to your competition at times. Is that a fair description of this team?
MARK STOOPS: “I don’t want to believe that, but certainly I don’t think we played our best football today. You worry about that all week, and you do everything you possibly can to offset that, starting Monday. So I’ve got to do a better job, and we’ve got to be ready to play.
“The good news is we won because, if you watch college football, with these guys with what they have to do in their life and the way they play and the way they strain and what they have to do, you’re not going to play your best for 12 games. And good football teams win when they don’t play their best, and I think that’s across the board.
“The better you are, your margins are a little bigger. So we know our margins aren’t very big, and we know we have to play very good football or we could lose to anybody. The good news is we can beat anybody. So we just have to be more consistent, and you have to play a cleaner version of football, and that certainly wasn’t very clean today.”
Q. Mark, can you comment. Stephen (Johnson) got sacked five times, and I can’t count how many other times — he seemed to get hit a lot.
MARK STOOPS: “Not very good. Not very good protection. That’s the bottom line. So we need to protect better.”
Q. On the flip side, you guys put a lot of pressure on them. Their rushing yards were nothing.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, that’s a good thing. I thought defensively we gave up some explosives again, and that’s never a good situation. I think the second half we played very good football until that late drive. Unfortunately, we’re not getting any first downs, and we’re on the field quite a bit, and field position was an issue, and they found a few plays and created a drive there. Outside of that, I thought we played some very good football in the second half.
“First half was pretty good as well. There was a couple plays, the one double pass that we need to improve our awareness and play that a little better. And I forget, there was a couple plays in the first half that we knew we could get some things fixed at halftime and go out there and play sound football in the second half, and that’s what we did.”
Q. Mark, every game so far this year has been sort of low scoring, really physical, a tight game throughout much of the season in every game. Do you take that as a positive takeaway, or does it kind of wear on you a little bit?
MARK STOOPS: “Well, it’s hard on the players, that’s for sure. These guys are out there battling. They have to put a lot into it, and they do. They work extremely hard, and they have to strain quite a bit. You know, we left a lot on the field last week right here, and we have to find ways to get them back and get them energized and get them ready to play the next week.
“So, again, that’s the good thing. We’re all in here a little disappointed because of the way we played, but you won the football game.”
Q. Do you have an update on Charles Walker?
MARK STOOPS: “He had an injury to his back, to his rib really. There was a situation with a rib that wasn’t feeling real good. So he had to go get that checked out.”
Q. Did you think, for the most part — I mean, especially at the end with those two big interceptions, and then it seemed like you guys were pressuring the quarterback for most of the night. Were you pleased with how the defense played?
MARK STOOPS: “I was for the most part. I know we can play better, but I was pleased. I thought rushing — you know, rush defense again was very good, and we said all week how well they threw the football, and they do. I thought we were in really good position and had pretty good coverage for the most part. Came up with some big sacks and had an opportunity for a few more pressures. And some things we missed, we were a little late on, but overall they played pretty solid.”
Q. Eastern Michigan had 10 tackles for a loss. Is any of that attributed to rotating in new guys? I know (Mason) Wolfe got a lot of snaps. Drake (Jackson) got some snaps, too.
MARK STOOPS: “It could be. Again, we have to play better. We played five straight weeks, and this will be six. We’ve got to find a way to — all hands on deck. And get some guys healthy. And we’ve got to really grind through this week, and then the guys can get a little time to heal up a little bit, both mentally and physically.”
Q. Drake Jackson played center quite a bit. What did you think of his performance?
MARK STOOPS: “I couldn’t tell. I’ll have to watch the film and see exactly how many snaps when he was in there and what he was doing.”
Q. You all were really good at grinding out wins last year down the stretch.
MARK STOOPS: “Again, we’re still not where we need to be as far as that consistency with running the football. So we need to get better. I thought too many times tonight we got behind the chains, and we’re getting too many negative plays, like you guys just pointed out, whether it be sacks or tackles for loss and all that.
“And I want to give Eastern credit, because we knew that going into it. They had given up two touchdowns in regulation all year. So we knew they’re a very good, sound football team and make you earn your yards. So they do a nice job.”
Q. Mark, this is a positive question about special teams. You made a lot of good plays.
MARK STOOPS: “Yeah, I think we’ve been solid all year really for the most part. The punt block was huge. Dean (Hood) asked me whether — you know, to go after him or to get the possession, and I first said to get the ball back, and then I told him to go after it, and I’m glad I did. So we went after it and got the block, and that was a big play in the game.
“So Dean’s done an excellent job. He really has. Our guys are playing hard, and they’re in position. We’re not perfect, but I appreciate Dean and the work of all those guys because you’ve got to be very unselfish. These guys practice a lot, they meet extra and they do a lot of things. They’ve done a really nice job.”
Q. On that punt block, did you guys overload that right side because he always drifted?
MARK STOOPS: “We felt like we had an opportunity to get it at some point, and that’s always a double-edged sword because you’re starting to play really good defense, but you’re not moving the ball. So if you rough him, that’s a bad possession there if you rough him. So you’ve got to pick your spots when you come after him.”
Q. Did you guys expect this level of production for (Joshua) Paschal this early in the season?
MARK STOOPS: “Yeah, we did. We really did. We really felt like he was a difference maker and a guy that was going to be an impact player, and he’s getting better with every opportunity. He’s making some mistakes, but he’s talented. He’s a different kind of guy with his size and his versatility.”
Q. What did you tell them out on the timeout before the Hail Mary?
MARK STOOPS: “Oh, we just wanted to get their formation and get it cleaned up and make sure we were exactly where we needed to be. So we put our guys in spots where we wanted to. There’s always a double-edged sword there whether to rush three or rush four or five and not give him the time to set up, but we felt like they were going to sprint out and dash a little bit and buy some time. So we set up a pressure with at least four.
“But he got off a pretty good throw. He’s a good quarterback, but we wanted to get in position with guys under and guys over.”
Q. At this point last season, I think you all were minus-five in turnovers. You’re now plus-seven. What’s been the biggest contributor to that?
MARK STOOPS: “I don’t know if there’s any one exact reason. I mean, obviously, we stress that, but we always have. I think the offense has done a really nice job of protecting the football. Stephen’s done a good job. I’m not positive if Tony’s (Neely) in here, but it may be his first fumble of the year. It is? Yeah. So that’s a big deal. That wasn’t his fault, I don’t think. I’ve got to see it.
“But I think Stephen’s done a nice job of protecting the football. Our ball security is the first thing we do offensively and defensively. In our circuits, we try to create turnovers, and guys are making plays.”