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 big win over Mississippi State, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to discuss the team’s dominant defensive performance, break down specific standouts, and preview the Tennessee game, among other topics.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Offense needs to respond like the defense
Two weeks into the season, Kentucky’s defense was one of the worst in college football. With a dominant performance against Mississippi State, though, Brad White’s unit now sits in the top ten of six major defensive categories and in the top 25 of ten.
Following a disappointing effort across the board by the UK offense, Stoops hopes that unit responds to adversity the same way the defense did.
“Without a doubt. They played exceptionally well, that was a big point of emphasis in our team meeting today,” he said. “A week earlier, we felt like we really didn’t play well. That’s a good lesson for our offense to learn, because a week ago, our offense played well and our defense didn’t. The defense stayed positive and went in looking for results, ways to get better, improve. They really put it upon themselves and came out, played a fantastic game. First time [Mississippi State head coach Mike] Leach has ever been held scoreless.”
The defensive line is doing more than the stat sheet indicates
Through Week 3, Kentucky is tied for No. 49 in the nation in team sacks and tied for No. 53 in tackles for loss. If you were simply looking at the box score, one would assume UK’s pass rush needs to make a stronger impact.
After reviewing the film, though, Stoops counted two unofficial forced turnovers by the UK defensive line, with the unit also making an impact well beyond the stat sheet.
“Big time. Our guys really played well,” he said. “Quinton Bohanna is a guy that, it didn’t show on the stat sheet, but he played really hard and created two turnovers himself with pressure. He was relentless up front. Same with Phil Hoskins. Josh Paschal is playing really well, getting the statistics. We played 11 guys inside on the defensive line, and really all of them did good things. It was impressive, a really big piece of the game.”
He doubled down on that sentiment later in the show, crediting several of UK’s interceptions to the defensive line, and more specifically, Bohanna.
“A couple of them were forced by our defensive line,” he said. “It won’t go on the stat sheet, but some credit should go to Quinton Bohanna.”
Injury updates (Josh Paschal, Bryce Oliver, Brenden Bates)
Defensive lineman Josh Paschal (knee) and wide receiver Bryce Oliver (hamstring) are expected to play against Tennessee, while tight end Brenden Bates will be out for “several weeks.”
“I believe [Paschal will play]. I know Josh, he’s champing at the bit,” he said. “Didn’t participate today, but we’ll see if he’s ready to go. He’s playing really good, getting a lot of pressure. Looking more and more comfortable each game.”
“[Oliver’s] close. He’s close,” he said. “I think this week he’ll be ready to go. …We need him, we’ve missed him. Big, sstrong guy. Outside receiver who can make tough, competitive catches. Hopefully he can give us something this week.”
“Brenden’s gonna be out for a few weeks,” Stoops said of the redshirt sophomore. “Got hit low, he did have a lower extremity injury. He’ll be out for several weeks, we’ll see how it goes.”
Get ready for more reps for JuTahn McClain
Speaking of injuries, with Kavosiey Smoke out with a rib injury, along with AJ Rose and Chris Rodriguez both “banged up,” true freshman JuTahn McClain will get reps this week.
“JuTahn will have to step in,” he said. “Our running backs, as deep as we are at that position, when you play a 10-game SEC schedule, these guys get beat up. AJ [Rose] is banged up a little bit, Chris [Rodriguez] is banged up, Kavosiey [Smoke] is already out, so JuTahn will get a few carries this week, for sure.
After an explosive run in his debut last week, Stoops is confident McClain will continue to impress.
“He really does, and he’s just one of those guys that has such a strong attitude,” he said. “His attention to detail for a young player is through the roof. He picks things up, and that’s partly instincts, partly work ethic.”
The passing game must improve
Sticking with the offense, Stoops acknowledged that the passing game left a lot to be desired this past week and must improve moving forward.
After an efficient game against Ole Miss, Terry Wilson simply didn’t make the throws UK needed against MSU, but the issues extended beyond the quarterback position.
“This past week, we were trying to throw it, weren’t having much success,” he said. “Didn’t play great up front, didn’t pick up some of their twists and some of their pressures. A couple, we didn’t give Terry a chance, others we did not throw the ball very good. A couple, we could have gotten open better. You name it, there was a variety of things in the passing game. Terry’s got to throw the balls and hit the receivers, receivers got to catch it. I think we’ll get that soon, I really do.”
Will to win was evident against the Bulldogs
While there were struggles, specifically on offense, Stoops appreciated his team’s will to win on Saturday. When a shift of momentum felt imminent, both sides held firm and pushed forward for the 22-point victory.
“The will to win [was most impressive],” he said. “Just like all these teams this year, you’re going to go through tough times. We had frustrating times offensively, times it felt momentum could shift, and we didn’t let it. Had they scored [prior to Boogie Watson’s interception in the end zone], could’ve cut it to four or five. Offensively, we hung in there and did what we had to do to win the game.
“Have to be pleased with the defense, it really shocked me [that we shut them out]. Mike [Leach’s] been a head coach a long, long time and has never been shut out.”
Stoops says giving Chris Oats the game ball was “really special”
After dedicating Kentucky’s win over Mississippi State in Chris Oats’ honor, Stoops and his staff made the trip to Cincinnati to give him the game ball, a “special” moment for the team.
“It was really special. So glad I went up with Coach Sumrall, Coach Marrow,” he said. “We were talking on FaceTime, giving him some encouragement and visiting with him. I told him we were going to give him that game ball. His mom was telling me that, that morning, he was saying it. We didn’t tell anybody, but he knew I was going to show up with that game ball. It was touching, to see what he’s going through, it’s hard to even put into words.
“In certain ways he looks like Chris, he looks big and strong, but he’s in that chair. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but got a long way to go. There’s a lot of love on this team. He’s very cognitive and he watches those games. He understands what’s going on. It was special being able to bring him that game ball.”
Will Oats return to football? Stoops thinks so
Despite avoiding the specifics of the situation, Stoops was asked about Oats’ status as a football player moving forward and whether he would be able to return to the field at Kentucky.
While it may be a bit optimistic and there’s an understanding that he has a “long, long way to go,” Stoops genuinely believes Oats will suit up again as a Wildcat.
“I do, I do. That is being very optimistic, but that is what I believe. He has a long long way to go, and he needs our prayers.”
What concerns does Stoops have about Tennessee?
Once again, the Wildcats will take on a team filled with physical, competitive playmakers.
“[In recent years,] this game has been close, physical, has come down to competitive plays,” he said. “We have to make competitive plays. It’s going to be a physical game. Tennessee has recruited well, improved physically. The way he’s recruiting, it’s a very physical team with playmakers outside.”
Stoops could see some starting seniors return next year
With the NCAA granting a free year of eligibility for student-athletes participating in fall sports in 2020, college football seniors could legally come back and be eligible to play in 2021.
Will that happen with any of Kentucky’s standout seniors? “It’s possible,” though Stoops completely understands those who are ready to move on and pursue their professional options in football and beyond.
“Yeah, it’s possible. It is,” Stoops said. “I would think most of the guys who are in their 4th year or 5th year may be ready for the next step, but it’s certainly possible. We’d welcome it back, but I feel like most would be ready to move on for the next part of their life.”