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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.
Following Kentucky’s season-opening loss to Auburn, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to discuss what went wrong, break down specific play calls, and preview the Ole Miss game, among other topics.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Like all Kentucky fans, Stoops was frustrated with how his team played at Auburn, noting they had “a lot” of corrections to make when they returned home to Lexington.
“There’s no doubt, you hit it right on the head when you said frustration,” Stoops said. “That’s certainly how I felt after the game, and then for another 24 hours. Then I had to let it go and move on. We made our corrections, met with our team today, got back at it. We have to move on.
“There’s a lot [of things we corrected]. It comes down to, and I know it’s boring, but it’s such a fundamental game.”
Specifically, Stoops pointed out at least three mistakes and points of emphasis they touched on while watching film and at practice Monday.
“We gave up 87 yards in leverage. They only had 320 yards or something like that, 324, and we gave up 87 yards in leverage,” Stoops said. “That’s turning the ball back into the rest of your teammates, basic football. That’s technique, that’s us, simple things that can add up. On offense, we did so many good things, fundamentally sound. But at times, there were breakdowns here and there. A couple plays, one where we have the over route to Josh open. That’s an explosive play. We’re on the move right there, give up just a bit of pressure to one of our backs. Terry can step up in the pocket and deliver that ball relatively easy without the pressure.
“The hold where we hit the checkdown when we had a 2nd and 2 at the 22. Instead, we get backed up and take a sack. There are drives in the first half that we could go 4-4 on, and that’s what’s frustrating, but it’s also correctable. We’ve just got to learn from it.”
Seth Williams made life difficult for the Kentucky secondary
Following a 112-yard, two-touchdown performance from Auburn star receiver Seth Williams, Stoops made it clear that Kentucky is going to take on several other standout players in the SEC moving forward.
That’s not stopping him from tipping his cap to a tremendous talent and overall performance, though.
“They were big-time plays. They really were,” Stoops said of Williams. “Two or three that we are going to see in this league, some of the guys you play are unbelievably, exceptionally athletic. Seth Williams is one of those guys, one that made big-time plays.”
Terry Wilson was “inconsistent,” but not to blame for loss
On one end, Wilson – who hasn’t played since Sept. 7, 2019 – had a successful debut returning from injury, finishing with 239 yards and a touchdown through the air to go with 42 yards on the ground.
With two crucial turnovers, though, Stoops says Wilson was far too inconsistent for his liking.
“Inconsistent. Did some good things at times, definitely was a little bit rusty,” Stoops said. “For a good bit of the game, he was managing it. Then he made critical errors. That’s the thing about the quarterback position, you have to play good the entire time. Playing that position, the entire stadium sees it, any mistake you make is magnified. Not everybody sees the things we see on tape.”
As for the interception on the goal line that kept points off the board going into halftime, Stoops confirmed once again that it wasn’t totally his fault.
“They didn’t see our wide receiver run the wrong route on that play,” he said. “He brought that defensive back to the party, and he shouldn’t have even been there. The back was open. Our wideout is supposed to be by the back pylon creating space. … No, it’s not a good play by Terry, but the wideout shouldn’t have been there. The defensive back shouldn’t have been there.”
In hindsight, Stoops would have run the ball in that situation, but felt it was the safest option to put points on the board before intermission.
“You know we’re going to pound that ball in there if we have the timeout, there’s no question,” he said. “In hindsight, we probably should’ve run it in anyway. My feeling was, I wanted at least three. I wanted to go into the half with a lead. I thought we played good enough that, going on the road and being up would’ve been significant, so the safer play was going for the pass. He was told to throw it out of bounds if it wasn’t open.”
Inconsistent play on defense, too
Despite holding Auburn to just 91 yards on the ground, Stoops said he wasn’t pleased with his defense’s inconsistency.
“Inconsistent as well,” Stoops said. “We felt like we, leveraged on the football, basics, sense of urgency, competitive play. Just overall, we need to do better, and we will. Coach White does a great job, we were hanging in there. We just felt like we were a touch off-balanced at times. We played well enough to win defensively until late. Have to do better in the sudden change situations, hold them to a field goal there. Short fields definitely killed us.”
Stoops attributes some of the inconsistency to a lack of discipline, something you typically see early in the season, especially against talented teams like Auburn.
“Just comes from doing their own job, I really harped on that in my Friday meeting with them, Friday night, then Saturday before we went out,” he said. “Early in the season, early on, guys want to do too much. Knowing their assignment, knowing their job, doing their job. Certainly playing a team like Auburn early, it’s hard, because deception is a big part of what they do. They dress things up with a lot of eye candy, a lot of motions, a lot of tricks, play with enough tempo to keep you off balance.”
Ball security is a key point of emphasis
Despite finishing with more passing and rushing yards, fewer penalties, and dominating the line of possession, the Wildcats lost the turnover battle 3-0, a key reason for the loss.
As expected, that will be a key point of emphasis in practice moving forward.
“Keep working on that and emphasizing it,” Stoops said. “There’s ball security drills we do before practice every day. It’s as much a point of emphasis as anything, but also having guys pull at it at different angles, continue to harp on that.”
He can live with an interception or two, but fumbles are another story.
“[Takeaways] are definitely manageable, but we’ve got to continue to coach it and protect the football. You can’t do that,” he said. “Interceptions are going to happen, but fumbles you can control and we need to do a better job. … The turnovers are very critical in the game. When you’re playing a top ten team on the road, you have to play clean. We didn’t do that.”
Stoops loves Kentucky’s trio of running backs
When asked about UK’s options for short-yardage situations, Stoops said he was confident in all three rotation backs to fill that role (among others).
First up, though, was AJ Rose.
“We’ve really gotten to the point, honestly, where all three of those guys that play for us consistently that are that guy. AJ is a player who has really upped his game as far as that [goes]. He’s a big guy. We know he makes explosive runs, but I’ll tell you, early in the game, AJ was one where he got it on third and half a yard, and it was a tough half-yard, but he got it. I was as proud of him on that run as I am on any of his explosives. That’s something he’s worked hard on.”
Then the other big names in Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke.
“Chris Rodriguez is an easy pick because he’s a tough back, he is a guy that can get that yard. He’s 225 pounds, but so is Kavosiey and so is AJ. We’ve gotten to the point where I do trust each of those three with getting a tough yard.”
Jared Casey will play more against Ole Miss
Looking for former four-star signee Jared Casey on the field? You won’t have to wait long.
Stoops says the 6-foot-3 linebacker will “definitely” play against Ole Miss.
“Yes, we will. He definitely will be in there, needed to play him in this last game,” he said. “Due to the rotation and the way we were doing things in the first half, we only played like 24 plays. He needs to get in there and he will.”
High success rate on 3rd down, but stats can be deceiving on both sides
Kentucky went 12/19 on third down in the loss at Auburn – a massive success – but Stoops said numbers like that don’t always tell the complete story.
“We did a good job [on that front],” he said. “In this statistic it didn’t work in our favor: Auburn had four 3rd down conversions in the game, but two were touchdowns. We went 8 of 10 [on third down] in the first half, but the lack of converting on that 3rd and 1 on the goal line was critical.”
Stoops wants Chance Poore to boot the ball on kickoffs
When asked about what he prefers on kickoffs regarding touchbacks or opportunities to pin opponents deep with high kicks, Stoops said he wants Chance Poore to send them all through the back of the end zone, if possible.
“We’d like to get them out of the end zone if we could. We did tell him to drive them a little, and he did,” he said. “If he misses, he has a tendency to get under it a touch. Even the ones they brought back a little bit, one was two or three yards deep, another was four. With hangtime, there are things we could do better in the coverage game. Wasn’t a major role in the game, but could be. We can clean things up. I would love it if it were in the back of the end zone.”
Ole Miss’ offense is talented
Looking ahead to this weekend, what does Stoops like about Ole Miss?
“They racked up 600 yards on a Florida defense, that definitely gets your attention,” he said. “Really impressed with their quarterback, he’s a big-time talent. He can make some throws, throw under duress. They throw it around, got some playmakers around them. One of their wideouts went for over 200 yards. They go extremely fast. We have to have a great sense of urgency and make them earn their yards. They can exploit you going as fast as they go.”