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 emotional victory over Vanderbilt, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to discuss John Schlarman’s legacy, the offensive improvement, and the team’s upcoming trip to Alabama.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
John Schlarman’s memorial service was “part of the healing process”
The UK football program hosted a memorial service to celebrate John Schlarman’s life this afternoon, a ceremony Stoops says was “really well done” and was “part of the healing process” for the former UK offensive line coach’s family.
“It was a really nice service, thought it was really well done,” he said. “We’re blessed to have Aaron Hogue, our FCA director, he’s very close to myself and my staff. He’s very close to John and LeAnne, so it was really good for him to put that together. I thought Mitch Barnhart, no surprise, did a wonderful job. He goes above and beyond for the families, put on a first-class event with Mark Hill and Mitch, all the UK people.
“Doesn’t surprise me for Mitch to go above and beyond to do the very best. I thought it was really well done. I think it’s important, it’s part of the healing process for LeAnne and the kids to see how much love and appreciation people have for John.”
Schlarman will be missed and they will continue to honor the beloved coach
Stoops will be the first to tell you that Schlarman’s presence was missed on Saturday against Vanderbilt and will continue to be missed.
The UK assistant was more than a coach to his players, especially those on the offensive line.
“Luke [Fortner] mentioned it before and again today, Coach was much more than a coach to them, he always taught those young men life lessons every day,” Stoops said. “He’s definitely a special person and he did a remarkable job with those guys. He’s missed. There was definitely something missing Saturday. We did our best to overcome it, but he was missed.”
Now, the team will have to learn how to navigate through the season and life without Schlarman.
“We have to move on now, it was a really nice memorial service,” Stoops said. “I hope it helps LeAnne and helps the kids, and I hope it helps our players mourn and have some closure. Now it is time to move on, and John would be the first person to tell you that. That’s what we all must do. John did a remarkable job and we’ll continue to build his legacy and honor him.”
Offense improves while defensive effort dips
After weeks of waiting for the offense to get rolling, they finally found success against Vanderbilt, putting up 38 points and 458 total yards in the win.
In fact, the unit would have likely added more points to the scoreboard had the defense stepped up.
“I was really pleased with the improvement offensively,” Stoops said. “Really felt during the bye week we went back and looked at ourselves, looked at camp, all the reps we invested, kind of narrowed some things down, cleaned some things up. We went out and were much more efficient offensively, threw the ball more effectively, good in the run game, really they were explosive all day. Had we played better defensively, our offensive numbers would have been even higher because we had so many yards on 55 plays. We were very explosive offensively, it was good to see. We were able to be that way because we made the routine plays look routine.
“Defensively, we had our spots, we had our moments where we did some good things, but overall I wasn’t very pleased with the performance defensively.”
Terry Wilson “looked very comfortable”
With 110 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 13/15 passing, along with 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground, Wilson did more than enough to help the Wildcats win on Saturday.
As expected, Stoops was pleased with the all-around effort, singling out only one missed throw on the day.
“He just looked very comfortable out there, very decisive, made very good reads and made good throws,” he said. “The one throw that stood out, he only had one incompletion, and that one was close, maybe just underthrown a couple yards [to AJ Rose]. He did very good things.
“When he pulled the ball down and ran, he was also very decisive there and made some good yards, looked extremely fast and was hard to bring down. Had some explosive runs that really helped us, as well.”
Kentucky’s last game at Alabama was the start of Schlarman’s “Big Blue Wall”
Kentucky lost in its last meeting against Alabama back in 2016, but it was a game that left several members of the Crimson Tide defense complimenting the Wildcats for their toughness and physicality.
“I got to give it to the whole Kentucky front,” Alabama pass rusher Allen said at the time. “When I say that was probably the most physical game that I’ve played in this year, I have to give it them. They came with it that game. It kind of caught us by surprise. That was a real physical game.”
That physicality has been the calling card of Kentucky’s “Big Blue Wall” ever since.
“I think it at least solidified some of the things we were trying to do and who we were trying to become. I said this day one, you have to be physical on each side of the line of scrimmage,” Stoops said. “To be competitive and successful year in and year out in this league, you have to be successful on both sides. Now, the elite, the Alabamas of the world, they’re physical, but they also have talent and strength at the skill positions. That’s when you become elite, some of the teams at the top of the SEC. That game, being physical, everybody we play will you the same thing, but we want to be more than that. I respect our players and our physicality, the way we practice and how we go about business. We try to play the game the right way.”
Schlarman’s hiring was a no-brainer for Stoops
Looking back at his original decision to hire Schlarman, who was an assistant at Troy at the time, Stoops said it was a “no-brainer” to bring him on.
In fact, he said the entire conversation took just five minutes.
“It’s a five minute conversation. Through my discussions with Neal [Brown], we talked several times. When we were in discussions to bring him in as the offensive coordinator, John was already with him. You do the background on John, and it was a no-brainer. Once I got the recommendation from Neal, it was very, very easy. It was a great hire.
While he admitted he deserves criticism at times and accountability is necessary, he also stressed that Schlarman’s development as a coach is why patience is important when building a football program.
“I can remember how often we caught heat about our O-line, and that’s a great example why we need to be patient,” he said. “There’s a rhyme and a reason for everything, everybody was calling for our struggles. You have to build the program, you have to physically develop them and mentally develop them, and John did a remarkable job. I’m so glad we got to have him on our staff for so long.”
Alabama is a “different beast”
Shifting back to Kentucky’s upcoming opponent, Stoops doubled down on his strong statement from his press conference earlier today: the Alabama offense is one of the best he’s ever seen.
“Well, they mix it up pretty good,” he said. “In predictable pass, they can overwhelm you. You have to mix it up, be efficient passing the ball on first and second down. We did that this past week. Obviously, Alabama is a different beast. We’re going to have to keep them off-balance as best we can.”
Max Duffy not expected back this week
After missing the Vandy game for undisclosed reasons, UK star punter Max Duffy is expected to be out against Alabama, as well.
“Nope, unfortunately do not anticipate getting him back. Really impressed with Colin [Goodfellow], ended up with a 46-yard net. Max is my man, he’s a great guy and I love him, but he better watch it. He’s going to lose his job [laughs]. He’s only a Ray Guy [Award] winner. Great opportunity for [Goodfellow]. It doesn’t surprise me, I see him in practice and he really hits some good ones. He stepped in and did a good job”
No update on Chris Oats
When asked about Chris Oats’ status and where things stand with his health situation, Stoops said he didn’t have an update at this time.
Oats was able to attend the Georgia game last week, which was a great morale boost for the team.
“No update on that,” he said. “It was good for our team to see him [against Georgia], see his mother. He has a long road to recovery, but he’s a fighter. He’s continuing to battle each and every day.”
Stoops provided injury updates on several key players, notably DeAndre Square, Isaiah Epps, and Quinton Bohanna.
On Square, who saw limited action against Vanderbilt…
“Hopefully he’ll be ready to go [against Alabama]. He tried to get in there, wasn’t 100%, wasn’t effective. Don’t think he had any setbacks. He’s a presence there in the middle. We need him back.”
On Isaiah Epps, who returned to the field on Saturday…
“Definitely, good to see him out there, fresh legs. Hopefully we’ll continue to build on that and phase him in.”
On Quinton Bohanna, who also returned from injury on Saturday…
“Yeah, Q is a big leader, good to see him back out there.”
Appears UK’s injury situation is favorable heading into the Alabama game.