While Mark Stoops typically speaks to the media twice a week – 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 (or plans for the bye week), and answers questions via phone and social media from the Big Blue Nation.
This evening, Stoops went in-depth about Kentucky’s 24-7 loss to South Carolina on Saturday, discussed the injury status Sawyer Smith, talked about what he plans to do at quarterback moving forward, and explained his decision to kick a PAT following the team’s lone touchdown score, among other topics.
Here are the ten things we learned during the Mark Stoops Show this evening:
Sunday was tough for the Kentucky coaching staff
Last week, Stoops said Sundays were great days to move on from the team’s previous game and start fresh in preparation of a new opponent.
Today, though, the Kentucky head coach said the staff’s film sessions and meetings were brutal on Sunday given the team’s tough road loss at South Carolina.
“Definitely was not [easy], we went through it obviously and spent time with the staff watching film, making corrections. Sunday was a rough day,” he said. “It is nice to have a bye week this week. Get some guys healed up, we need to get healthy. It’s a good thing for the players, don’t have to worry about game-planning or anything.”
Sawyer Smith is banged up
To no one’s surprise, Kentucky starting quarterback Sawyer Smith’s health was one of the first (and most prominent) topics of the show.
In short, Stoops doesn’t want the Troy graduate transfer to even pick up a football in practice until he gets healthy.
“He is beat up, but he will recover. Hopefully this week, we will have to rest him all week,” Stoops said. “I would anticipate resting him all week, that’s the plan anyway. Maybe he starts feeling better, but he’s got two injuries, actually a third one came up. Hopefully he’s looking better. … But unless something drastic happens, he won’t pick up a football until Monday.”
When asked about what the third injury was outside of his wrist and shoulder, Stoops wouldn’t say.
While he’s disappointed Smith is injured and that his play has left a lot to be desired over the last two weeks as a result, Stoops is appreciative of the way his starter has fought through adversity.
He also admitted that he likely should have pulled him from the game to avoid even further injury.
“There’s no doubt, you have to have great respect for him to put it on the line for his team, do the best he can,” he said. “It’s a fair criticism to say, “Why didn’t you get him out earlier?” I can accept that. We were just trying to put a drive together and get back in the game, but in hindsight, I probably would have taken him out of the game much earlier. It just needs time, it can get aggravated during the game. Use, things like that. Didn’t think it would be anything long term or he wouldn’t have been in there, our doctors and trainers do a great job and wouldn’t put him in that position.”
Lynn Bowden will get QB1 reps this week at practice
While Sawyer Smith is recovering from his various injuries, Stoops announced on Monday evening that Lynn Bowden would be receiving first-team reps at practice this week, and very well could play quarterback against Arkansas in two weeks if Smith isn’t ready.
“I think it’s no secret we’re going to continue to work Lynn in at quarterback, and then Walker Wood. We’ll use both of them out there [during practice],” Stoops said. “Everything is in play. We’ll see, it’s hard to see how this week is going to go. We’ll get those guys ready. A lot of talk has been out there about our quarterbacks, but Lynn gave us the best option. He gave us a great two or three weeks at the position [in practice].”
Stoops added that he will be relying on Smith to be completely honest about his recovery and whether or not he would be effective enough to win football games health-wise. If not, he will likely go with Bowden against Arkansas.
“Definitely, yeah. We have to be cognizant about that,” he said. “He needs to be honest about that, whether or not he’s going to be effective. If he’s not 100% or close to that, he needs to tell us that. We’ll have a package this week that will work specifically for Lynn and Walker. Even if Sawyer is healthy enough to practice next Monday, we have to be ready for Lynn.”
If Bowden starts in two weeks against Arkansas, Stoops said he will not have to hold back in terms of the offensive playbook. The Kentucky believes his star receiver has a firm grasp of the playbook and can run the offense in its entirety.
“We’ll run our entire offense, his vision is so impressive,” he said. “Dropback and RPO-wise. It also helps to have an athletic guy back there, you can’t just tee off and rush. It helps when we have struggles on the offensive line like we’re having now. You have to be disciplined in your rush lanes when you have Terry back there, he can get around you and beat you in a hurry.”
What does Bowden bring to the table at quarterback? According to Stoops, it keeps defenders honest in the same way athletic quarterbacks do to elite defenses in the NFL.
“You can tell just by watching that game. When he went in there, the pass rush was different,” Stoops said. “They had to be more disciplined in their rush defense. They had to be more disciplined, so it wasn’t as effective. You can watch that in the NFL right now, some of the very elusive guys, the defense has to be more disciplined. They’re also in a predicament because they have to decide whether they’re going to go man or zone. If you go zone, Lynn can nickel and dime you, and then pull it down and run it if need be.”
What’s up with Walker Wood?
For the second week in a row, sophomore quarterback Walker Wood threw his helmet on and joined the offensive huddle once it looked like Smith would need to be pulled from the game due to injury.
And for the second consecutive week, Wood was replaced – by Smith again once he returned from the locker room against Mississippi State and by Bowden against South Carolina – before he got a single rep.
Why? Stoops acknowledged that while he’s technically 100% healthy from a physical standpoint following the trio of surgeries he has undergone since arriving in Lexington, there is still work to do from a mental and mechanical standpoint.
“He’s had three surgeries over the last several years. He’s fully healthy, but it’s tough for players to come off shoulder surgeries,” Stoops said. “But if his number is called, I’m sure he’ll come in and give us everything he’s got.”
Kentucky has to get back to the run game
After Stoops voiced his displeasure to the media about throwing the ball 42 times last week against Mississippi State, Kentucky followed it up with a 34-throw, 97-yard performance against South Carolina.
On the flip side, the Wildcats only carried the ball 28 times for a total of 115 yards, even factoring in the -34 yards from sacks.
On Monday, Stoops said the team went away from the run too quickly due to a few early struggles.
“We’re getting away from the run too quickly. It kind of spooks you a bit, there was a play early where we lost three yards on a 1st and 10,” he said. “I mentioned it after the game, but it feels like it’s getting away from you early. You have to get some stops early, just feels like you’re behind right away. We just can’t do that. Right now with the injuries that we’ve had, we’re not as explosive as we were to start the season. We have to get back to playing winning football, using that winning football, and that includes running the ball effectively.”
The lone bright spot in terms of running backs? Chris Rodriguez, who finished the day with 65 yards on six carries in his first game back receiving reps since his two-fumble performance to open the season against Toledo.
“He’s earned the trust of the coaches and players,” Stoops said. “It was good to see him step up and get reps.”
Kavosiey Smoke will be okay
On that note, redshirt freshman running back Kavosiey Smoke managed just seven yards on two carries, missing the majority of the game due to a migraine.
Today, Stoops said the doctors confirmed there was no concussion and that he would be back sooner rather than later.
“I was worried it was a concussion, but no, it’s not that. The doctors confirmed that,” he said. “He has a history of migraines, he was really struggling there, but it won’t be a long-term thing.”
Will Xavier Peters get more reps after the bye?
After getting in on the very last series of the game against South Carolina, Stoops believes Florida State transfer Xavier Peters could receive more reps after the bye week.
“Definitely, we have to look at all options, give all of our guys opportunities,” he said. “Inexperience is a problem for us. It wasn’t a problem at quarterback, but now here we are. That was going to be. Just so inexperienced, especially on defense. But we’ve got some good players.”
Stoops said he didn’t go for two after UK’s lone touchdown score because a comeback was unlikely
After Rodriguez scored Kentucky’s lone touchdown of the day with 2:32 left in the fourth quarter to cut South Carolina’s lead to 18, Mark Stoops opted to kick an extra point instead of going for two, sparking some questions from fans and the media.
According to Stoops, though, a comeback simply wasn’t reality and he valued getting another attempt for Matt Ruffolo and potentially another series of reps for Lynn Bowden at quarterback.
“The first thing I was thinking was to get Ruffolo a kick,” he said. “You have to get a two-point conversion, onside kick, touchdown, two-point conversion, onside kick, touchdown, and a two-point conversion [to tie]. It’d be a seven-step process. Seven looks better than six, let’s be honest. It allows Lynn to get back in at quarterback. Tell me the Einstein who things seven things are going to happen in two minutes, give me a break.”
Max Duffy has been “amazing”
After managing a single-game Kentucky record of a 51-yard-plus average, holding the top spot as the all-time leader in school history in terms of school average, and his status as the nation’s leader, in punting average, Stoops said punter Max Duffy has been nothing short of “amazing” this season in Lexington.
“He’s been amazing,” he said. “He can punt in the pocket, he can give it hangtime, he can roll it left and punt it left, roll it right and punt it left. If you put two returners back there, you know we’re going to have some fakes. He probably had an opportunity to run a fake there on Saturday, probably should have.”
The redshirt and transfer players are coming along
When asked about true freshmen and four-star in-state signees JJ Weaver and Jared Casey, Stoops said he was pleased with the progress they are both making, adding that Casey nearly got playing time on Saturday against South Carolina.
“They are doing a very good job, two very good players. Love both of those players,” he said. “They work very hard, they’re going to be very good football players for us here. We were thinking about putting Jared Casey there in the fourth quarter, but the goal is to redshirt both of those guys. You never know with injuries, you have to be ready to plug in everyone, make sure they’re ready to go.”
As for LSU defensive back transfer Kelvin Joseph, Stoops said he is impressed with how far he has come along since arriving right before the season started and that he expected big things from the 6-foot-1 cornerback next season.
“Kelvin is doing a good job, taking care of his business,” he said. “Doing well in the weight room. We will be excited for him when he can step on the football field.”