While Mark Stoops typically speaks to the media a few times per week during the season – 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.
With kickoff just five days away, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to preview Auburn, break down the depth chart, and update fans on injuries, among other topics.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Testing continues, all players need to be ready to step up
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and that’s exactly what’s happening as Kentucky prepares to travel down to Auburn for the season opener.
“We’re excited. Definitely been a long time coming. Like you said, you go through some ups and some downs. The guys have worked hard, we’re excited that it’s game week,” Stoops said. “You plan on what you have. We’re testing three days a week, we’ll do a test Friday morning when we get into the facility. Hopefully we don’t have any positives that day.”
Should we see any late-week cases, the UK head coach will have backup plans ready to roll to ensure the Wildcats have enough bodies to play.
“You have to develop more guys and have more guys ready to go, work deeper into the lineup than in previous years,” he said. “We have to bring in some guys Friday, have them ready. They’ll test and be ready to go in case someone else tests positive.”
Terry Wilson is ready for the moment
Despite the time off and excitement surrounding his return, Stoops isn’t concerned about Terry Wilson getting too amped up for the Auburn game.
“Not too much to this point, we’re pretty much business as usual right now. He’s comfortable, working hard, anxious to get out there,” he said. “I don’t want to overthink it too early in the week.”
When watching him at practice and in scrimmages, Stoops feels Wilson’s comfort and feel for the game is at a whole new level, something fans should be excited to see on Saturday.
“I saw that last summer as well, he improved over his sophomore year, just more comfortable,” he said. “Understanding the offense, making good, quick decisions. Knowing when to pull it down and scramble, buying time, stepping up in the pocket to throw it. He’s always had good instincts, but I think he’s improved. He’s much more comfortable, and that comes with playing. Any quarterback with more reps and experience is going to be more comfortable, we’re seeing that with him.”
Beau Allen is QB2
With Joey Gatewood’s eligibility still in question, Mark Stoops has officially named true freshman Beau Allen as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart for the first game of the season.
“The past two weeks Beau has gotten quite a few reps, getting ready to go,” Stoops said. “We have a lot of confidence in Beau, he’s very comfortable. The talent is there, you see that. He’s also a guy that doesn’t really get flustered, he may make a mistake or two, but he shakes it on, moves to the next play. He’s learning. You can see his comfort level going up.”
Which freshmen are expected to make an impact this year?
Each year, a few true freshmen separate themselves from the pack and earn playing time from the jump.
Who are the possibilities this year?
“Hard to say. True freshmen, maybe Izayah Cummings a little bit, Michael Drennen. He is another guy that was doing some good things, had a minor setback. He’s a very, very talented guy.
“Defensively, maybe Josaih Hayes, Octavious [Oxendine], Justin Rogers a little bit. Maybe Carrington Valentine, as well. He’s done well for us at corner, getting some reps. He’s impressed us.
“With redshirt freshmen, certainly JJ Weaver is a guy to look out for.”
Auburn will get creative offensively
When Tom Leach referred to Kentucky’s offense under Lynn Bowden Jr. last year as “eye candy,” Stoops said UK expects Auburn’s high-tempo offense to get a bit creative in their own right on Saturday.
“It can be a concern if they’re rolling, if they’re going. A tempo offense, if they get plays, that’s generally when they like to go fast and can get you off balance from time to time,” he said. “They give you a lot of different sets, different motions. They’ve got shifts in there, orbit motions, fly motions, things like that. You’re going to get a couple trick plays. You’ve got to stay on point. If you get that tempo we were talking about, that’s when they like to dress it up and give you some trick plays.”
For Kentucky, Stoops hopes his team remains disciplined, and feels they will under defensive coordinator Brad White.
“You’d like to believe so. Our guys have seen a lot of football,” he said. “Brad [White] does a great job. Our defense, structurally, it’s strong. They stay in great position, so let’s hope it stays that way and we play very solid. We didn’t give up a lot of big plays a year ago, one of the best teams in the country at that. Hope that continues.”
Just how good is Bo Nix?
After earning the starting job as a true freshman, Stoops knows they have a difficult task at hand in containing Auburn quarterback Bo Nix.
“Bo just has a really good feel. All the talent you’re looking for, he can make all the throws,” he said. “He’s also very good at creating. For a young guy, he’s got a good feel for the pocket. He can step up, elude pressure, keep his eyes downfield. He can create some really good throws on the run. For a freshman, that’s what really stood out to me.
Their big wideout, Seth Williams, number 18. He can really make some tough, competitive catches. They love taking shots with him, back shoulder. He’s a big guy, strong guy, makes tough catches. Of course they have number one, Anthony Schwartz, he wore number five last year, wearing one this year. One of the most explosive guys, one of the fastest guys in the country. He can really go as well.
How will Kentucky’s secondary slow down Auburn’s weapons?
Is Kelvin Joseph up for the challenge?
“It’s good, I’m excited to get him out there, see what he can do,” Stoops said. “He’s handled his business off the field and put himself into position to play well. We’re excited to see what he can do.”
After a season-ending injury last offseason, is Davonte Robinson ready to return?
“Davonte, he’s getting better,” he said. “He’s coming back off the injury, had a setback with something else, something different that limited some practice time. Davonte is going to be fine, he’s a great player, he just needs time to work back into great shape and get himself back to normal. There’s been couple things slowing him down, but he’ll get back.”
Max Duffy, Matt Ruffolo deserve praise on special teams
After naming Matt Ruffolo the starting kicker last week, along with star punter Max Duffy returning for a final year in Lexington, Stoops feels his special teams unit is in good hands across the board.
“Looking very good. Guys have worked very hard,” Stoops said. “We have quite a few bodies, certainly our kickers. I’ve been impressed with [Matt] Ruffolo and what he’s doing. Chance will kick off for us, and he’s been hitting it deep. Of course, you’ve got Max [Duffy], who is a big piece of it.
“A big piece of special teams is the kickers and how well they’re kicking the ball. Your kickoff team coverage is pretty darn good when you’re getting good kickoffs, and the same with Max. Max is such a talented punter and he’s so good at placing the ball that it puts a lot of stress on the punt return team. He’s so talented at placing the ball and giving you a variety of kicks that it helps with our coverage. We need to continue with that.”
Players are adapting well to new coronavirus protocols
As tough as it is to navigate through the coronavirus and new protocols as a football team, Stoops is pleased with Kentucky’s maturity and how hard they’ve worked to stay healthy for an opportunity to play.
“They’re handling it really well. I just appreciate our team, I appreciate our guys,” he said. “It’s really important to them and they’ve worked extremely hard. They want to play. They’ve made sacrifices to put themselves in position to play. It’s evident by our numbers. I’m not comparing numbers across the country or across our league, but I know our cases are very low. I hope it stays that way. I appreciate their effort. A mature football team seems to adapt. You go back to the years I’ve been here, that’s a saying I’ve used a lot.
“Adapt and overcome. It’s a military term, and it’s very true. It applies to life, and it certainly applies now. You have to be able to adapt to the circumstances, and you have to overcome.”
“Still a battle” with John Schlarman
After being diagnosed with cancer back in 2018, UK offensive line coach John Schlarman is still fighting.
According to Stoops, it’s “still a battle” with Schlarman, but the prized Kentucky assistant “feels his best” when he’s working with the team on a day-to-day basis.
“He’s doing good. Still a battle,” Stoops said. “Still definitely a lot of concern because this is a hard job that John is handling, along with the treatment that he’s going through. Unbelievable inspiration, and believe me, it’s always on my mind. It’s something that I think about daily, how to take care of John, how to help him through this.
“It’s hard for him to do. From his mouth, when he can live his most normal life, that’s when he feels his best. He doesn’t feel right when he’s not doing his job with everyone else. Certainly someone who is an inspiration, definitely on my mind constantly. One heck of a coach, he’s doing a tremendous job.”