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.
As we slowly inch closer to the season, Stoops used this evening’s edition of the call-in show to update fans on impact players during fall camp, injury updates, and how the team is navigating through the coronavirus pandemic with less than two week till kickoff.
Here are ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Extra time is appreciated
While the ACC and Big 12 got things rolling this past weekend, Stoops appreciates the extra time his team is getting to work out some of the issues you typically see early in the year. By watching other teams play, he’s hoping his players can learn from the mistakes we’ve seen elsewhere in the college football world.
“You could tell it’s early in the season in the bit of college I’ve watched, along with the pros,” Stoops said. “If anything, by the time we play, I hope we’ll have things more cleaned up because we’ll have more time.”
The added time has also allowed Stoops to push his team a little harder in practice knowing they have more built-in days off.
“We had more heavy reps than we did all of last year’s camp. Four heavy practices, four more than we did a year ago,” Stoops said. “We’ve had built-in days off, same number of practice. That way you’re not worried about pushing them a little bit harder. … Two heavy days, a day off, two heavy days, day off.”
This week in particular, they hope to begin planning for Auburn as they head into the weekend.
“I want to have everything cleaned up and ready to go” he said. “We’ll have a good heavy day tomorrow, built-in day off Wednesday, and then we’ll start getting into Auburn.”
Covid-19 hits the team, but it’s “under control”
After the University of Kentucky announced 14 current Covid-19 cases among student-athletes on campus, Stoops confirmed that some of those include members of the football team.
One position group was hit with the virus, but overall, the UK head coach said the team could play tomorrow if they had a game.
“Nothing we can’t handle, but we’re getting hit with one position group,” Stoops said. “It is under control, we could play a game if we had to tomorrow. When we’re scrimmaging. We’re doing good with our testing still, but it does affect you in other ways with contract tracing. Sometimes it’s actually longer with contact tracing than actually testing positive. We’re diligent in how we try to space them out. If you start having some positives and you’re not careful in how you set things up, it can certainly affect your team.”
In particular, they’re keeping a close eye on travel logistics to ensure they stay safe when the season begins.
“We’re watching out for traveling, how they’re getting on the bus, where they sit on the plane, who they room with, stuff like that,” he said.
Justin Rogers is “coming along”
When asked about five-star true freshman Justin Rogers, Stoops said he was pleased with his work ethic.
“He’s coming along, he’s getting better,” he said. “Like most of these freshmen, with each practice, he’s getting better and better. He’s got a great work ethic, it’s important to him. In scrimmage two, he reached out to the coaches, met with [UK defensive line coach] Anwar [Stewart] at 8 a.m. Sunday morning and wanted to watch film with him, go through things with him.
He also singled out Octavious Oxendine and Josaih Hayes as newcomers to catch his eye.
“Octavious [Oxendine] and Josaih [Hayes], they’ve got a great desire to be great,” he said. “The great part about us now is that you could play them, you could bring them along, but you don’t have to rely on them.”
What’s the latest with Chris Oats?
As fans wait patiently for an update on UK pass-rusher Chris Oats, Stoops said he wasn’t prepared to reveal any further details on his health status.
Instead, he’s going to leave that up to Oats’ family.
“I think I’d better leave that to the family. Just continue to say prayers for him,” he said. “He’s always in our thoughts and prayers with the team, we break it down on Chris [in huddles]. It’s a tough situation.”
Nik Scalzo will sit out this year
After back-to-back knee injuries in high school and as a freshman at Kentucky, quarterback Nik Scalzo will sit out the 2020 season to give him time to heal.
“Nik is coming along,” Stoops said. “We’re in a position this year where, last year he was cleared, but he was coming off a knee injury. We’re in a position where we have depth, and we want him to get healthy. I want to give him some time to heal up, get healthy. He’s going through drills [and individual work]. The plan is to not play him this year.”
Davonte Robinson has missed some time in camp
Speaking of injuries, Stoops revealed that defensive back Davonte Robinson has dealt with some lingering issues following the season-ending quadriceps injury he suffered last offseason.
While he’s confident Robinson will make a full recovery, Stoops believes he’s still “a few more weeks” away from returning to full strength.
“He’s coming along, definitely feels the effects of that [injury]. He’ll be the first one to tell you,” Stoops said. “He’s had some other things slow him down. He’ll be fine, he’ll make a full recovery, but he’s missed some time in camp that has slowed him down. But he will be back, and he’ll be as good as he was before, if not better, but he’ll probably need a few more weeks before he’s [completely healthy].”
Matt Ruffolo wins kicking job
In a kicking battle between Matt Ruffolo and Chance Poore this fall, the former came out on top and will start this season.
“They’re both kicking the ball really good, hitting it pretty consistently. I’m excited about where we’re at there,” Stoops said. “Ruffolo won the job, he’s earned that right. Chance will do the kickoffs, which will help us, but Ruff has been consistent. He had a career-long field goal during Saturday’s scrimmage. It was about 52 or 53 yards, may have been 54, which was great to see.”
Stoops is pleased with tight end play
Between Justin Rigg, Keaton Upshaw, and Brenden Bates, Stoops believes he has a solid trio of tight ends that will help produce this year.
“Justin is just solid, he’s been there. Great in-line tight end,” the UK head coach said. “Keaton has unbelievable upside, he’s a bit dinged up right now, but nothing major. Bates has really been the guy I’ve been really pleased with. He’s another freshman that could have a big year, I’m really happy with him.”
Joey Gatewood news expected this week
After months of waiting, we could finally hear about Joey Gatewood’s waiver this week.
According to Stoops, the school is anticipating an answer from both the NCAA and SEC, and he feels it’ll be good news.
“Still waiting on the waiver. It’s a two-part process with the NCAA and the SEC because we’re going from one SEC school to the other,” he said. “I feel good about that, but you never know till it’s done. Hopefully we hear something this week. We have to move forward until we get that final waiver, so we’ll see where that goes. I do anticipate getting an answer this week.”
No matter what, Stoops is happy with his group of four healthy quarterbacks.
“We’ve got a lot of options there, I feel like we’re playing winning football with all four of our options.”
How is Stoops preparing the team with limited fans?
With limited fan capacity at Kroger Field this season, Stoops says the only way to prepare for that is by watching other games and creating your own energy at games.
“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Stoops said. “You need to discuss it and talk about the energy because it will definitely be different. I don’t know how else you educate your players but tell them watch other football games with no fans or limited fans. We’ve just got to create our own energy. We’ve got a mature football team, I don’t have a hard time getting my guys motivated. I like that kind of team”