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 his 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.
Following Kentucky’s loss to Ole Miss in the team’s home-opener, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to discuss what went wrong, break down specific play calls, and preview the Mississippi State game, among other topics.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Stoops is ready to move on
As crushing of a loss it was, the UK head coach is ready to move on from the overtime defeat that came at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels.
After reviewing film and finishing up team meetings, the Wildcats have hit the reset button and are officially focused on Mississippi State.
“We had a great meeting, just talked to them. It was a long Monday,” he said. “It feels good. Interestingly, this year is so different. Ten SEC games, just a different year for everybody. You’ve got to look at it as one-week seasons for us, hit the reset button.
“That’s the beautiful thing, I felt so horrible Saturday and Sunday morning. But once you get to work on Sunday, it’s a lot of fun because you get to move on to the next challenge. I really appreciated our team, we owned our mistakes, very critical of ourselves, everybody within the program. Today, we moved on.”
Film review was frustrating
While the team is moving forward, Stoops had to take a step back and discuss the difficult loss in depth on the call-in show.
As expected, reviewing the film was an unenjoyable experience for the coaching staff and players, specifically with how the Wildcats started the game.
“It’s frustrating. I own my frustration in the game, and I’d like to say I’ve gotten better through the years,” Stoops said. “Just like I tell the team, adjust and overcome, and we’ve done that. First play of the game, we didn’t leverage the ball. They get a 12-yard gain, and they’re off and running. Later, we leveraged that same play two, three, four different ways, and they gained nothing. Then they get off, go down and score, get you off-balanced, and then we go rip off the run. We’re about to score and match it, then we have the silly deal with AJ [Rose getting tackled after the premature celebration]. Then we don’t get it in again on the goal line. It’s just, the frustration sets in right away. You feel like you’re chasing it all game.”
As a whole, Stoops feels Kentucky played a great game as a whole, but a select few individual errors ended up costing them. With a complete effort for four quarters, the Wildcats could have come out on top.
“We don’t play great at the beginning, don’t play great in the middle after we take the game over for a while,” he said. “We’ve just got to do it for four quarters, because we’ve done some exceptional things at times.”
“Blame goes around”
Instead of pointing fingers at any particular coach, player, or position group, Stoops said the entire team from top to bottom deserved a part of the blame.
“That blame goes around. I try to be very honest and own it,” Stoops said. “You have to look at the scheme first, did we put our players in a position to be successful? There were definitely things we needed to do defensively, things we would have changed defensively. Brad White has done a remarkable job, and the defensive coaches. But yes, schematically, there were certain things schematically we were off on, or they were going so fast we couldn’t get that in. The blame goes around.”
Stoops compared Kentucky’s situation in the SEC to the NFL, noting that the margin of error is minimal.
“Our margin for error is low,” he said. “It’s like a pro league, look at the parity in the NFL. Playoff teams go .500. … That’s what I was getting at. One play here, one player here, one bad call here. There’s enough blame to go around. That’s not an excuse, that’s a fact.”
The kicking job is up in the air
After one missed field goal and one extra point from Matt Ruffolo on Saturday, Mark Stoops says the starting kicker position will be reevaluated moving forward.
Still, though, the UK head coach feels Ruffolo’s mistakes are correctable, noting it was a slight technique issue.
“Everything is open. We always look at the best option, absolutely,” he said. “I have confidence in [Ruffolo], we talked and looked at it. He was slightly off in his technique, nothing that he can’t fix.”
“Do Your Job”
Legendary NFL head coach Bill Belichick has lived by the phrase “Do your job” with the New England Patriots over the years, noting that if every player on the team does their part and plays their specific role with discipline, you win games.
Following Kentucky’s individual issues against Ole Miss, Stoops used that comparison for his own team.
“Listen, this is the most selfless sport there is. You have to have 11 guys doing exactly what they’re supposed to do and trusting them,” he said. “I think it’s Bill Belichick, don’t quote me exactly on that. We all know he says “do your job.” I read it recently, he also said [something like], “If they do what we tell them to on every play, if they do their job on every play, we win.” Please don’t misquote me, I’m not Bill Belichick, but it’s true.
“The point is, if all 11 guys in our sport, if anyone goes rogue or says, “I want to make a play [for myself]…” One example, and I’m not going to say any names, but it’s something people don’t see.”
Stoops said there was one play in particular that this situation was true, highlighting a mistake from a defensive lineman that led to a 30-yard gain for Ole Miss.
“We got gutted for like a 30-yard run, and it’s all because someone just wanted to get up the field and do something,” Stoops said. “He totally got cut out of his gap. I mean, 30 yards! Everybody knows Ruff missed a kick, but what about that play? That led to a touchdown. If we all do our job, it’s 2nd and 10, maybe we stop them and they don’t score.
“But nobody sees that, because it’s a defensive lineman going rogue. You just can’t do that, you can’t be selfish. You have to trust your teammates. Our team is good, I’m not saying they’re selfish, but it’s a play here, play there.”
Max Duffy is still the best punter in college football
After being named to the Ray Guy Award’s Ray’s 4 honor list this week, UK punter Max Duffy earned high praise from Stoops.
“Last year, there were a couple punters that netted over 50 [yards] last year, which is remarkable,” he said. “We were netted over 50 this last week. Max just consistently does that, he’s just so talented, especially with how he can place the ball.”
Defensive pressure needs to improve
Tied for No. 48 in the nation in tackles for loss per game and No. 50 in sacks, Stoops knows the Kentucky defense needs to improve as a unit when rushing the passer.
“We do. Again, we’ve been close,” Stoops said. “There was a play Saturday, one, we almost got him on the sack. We were draped all over him, the quarterback does a great job drifting away, throws the ball to the flat. We miss a tackle and it goes to 3rd and 4 instead of 3rd and 14. How do you know that’s not the game? That is aggravating. They did a great job eluding and buying time, we were draped on him. We’ve got to get better pressure, but there have been times they’ve just gotten rid of the ball. … It’s been so aggravating, we’ve been close.”
Individually, players are getting a solid push on the quarterback, but they’ve got to start finishing plays.
“Guys are getting good pressure,” he said. “Phil [Hoskins] is getting good pressure, Boogie [Watson] is getting good pressure, Josh Paschal is getting good pressure. Same with [Quinton Bohanna]. A lot of their hay is being made on 1st and 2nd down. That’s deception of play action, there’s ways to protect it. When it’s a predictable pass, we’re generally pretty good.”
Fan attendance helps the team
With an announced attendance of 12,000 fans, Stoops said he appreciated those that came out to watch the Wildcats play on Saturday. Even though he’s focused on the game from start to finish, the support makes a difference.
“I put the headset on and get locked into it,” he said. “As always, I appreciate everybody there and I encourage everybody to come and support and make noise. I promise you it really makes a difference and we really appreciate it.”
Who is stepping up at receiver?
Josh Ali has been Kentucky’s star receiver leading up to this point, but who else will step up? Stoops has a few names in mind.
“A young guy is Izayah Cummings, big guy. He’s played a little bit, had a good camp,” he said. “Bryce Oliver is coming back, he was one of our weapons in camp. He had a hamstring injury, which is aggravating. That’s not something you can come back and be 90%, you need that speed at wide receiver. You’ve got to be healthy and ready to go. Hopefully this week he’ll be back at 100%. He’s a big, strong guy, put him opposite of Josh, now you’ve got a couple of guys on each side. Akeem Hayes has been stepping up on the inside. Allen Dailey does a lot of things, he’s a little bit of an unsung hero. He does a lot that people don’t see, he’s a tough son of a gun. We need to get him some opportunities.”
After a drop-filled afternoon against Ole Miss, Stoops says redshirt freshman DeMarcus Harris needs a big turnaround against Mississippi State, as well.
“DeMarcus Harris has to bounce back,” he said. “He ran a great route, beat press coverage on one. Maybe Terry [Wilson] underthrew it a bit, but everybody we play jumps up and makes that catch. Everybody in this league does that. Sometimes, we’ve got to make the quarterback right on those, we’ve got to make those plays. I expect him to bounce back because he’s doing good things, beating press coverage. Overall I think we’re getting there. I know we could have thrown the ball more, but we were having too much success running the ball and we were playing so poor defensively. I didn’t want to get behind the sticks.”
Defense has to step up
Rounding back to the individual struggles, Stoops reiterated that the defense has to start playing better, specifically when it comes to explosive plays.
“Defensively, we played a lot of plays good, then we gave up way too many explosive plays. We normally don’t do that,” he said. “We had some coverage [issues], we were beat. Teams like that, they spread you out and the tempo they go at, you have to win one-on-one matchups, and we lost a lot of them.”
As a unit, the defense hasn’t played this poorly “in a while.”
“Defensively, we’ve just got to play better,” Stoops said. “We haven’t played that in a long time, we haven’t played that poorly in a while. We did good things in a good portion of the game, but they are so fast and can strike you with big plays, and we gave up big plays.