The Difference in the Defense
Mark Stoops brought plenty of positivity to today’s press conference. “It was really nice to see us play well in all three phases.” Stoops added, “I felt like we made some big gains and we need to continue to do that.”
The biggest gains came on the defensive side of the ball. They didn’t schematically change what they’ve been doing all season. Previously, they were missing the little things, but on Saturday, they finally put it all together.
“There was better technique. There was better effort. We executed our assignments much better.” Stoops’ coach-speak might not translate very well, so he broke it down even further.
“When you have plays defended and you have guys in the right spot, you gotta do that. If you have the right thing called in the right situation and you’re in perfect position, there’s supposed to be 2nd and 10 by the play you called and the play they called, it better be 2nd and 10. It better not 2nd and 2. Then you got no shot. There’s enough pressure on you across the board. You have to make plays.”
Some will translate that as, “Stoops throws players under bus.” A real translation, “If you draw up the play perfectly and can tackle the guy in the backfield, you don’t let him break that tackle and go for 8 more yards.”
Even though Kentucky was much better at the line of scrimmage, recording 5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, there were still a few that got away. They were better, but Stoops knows they can be even better moving forward.
On a related note, Kash Daniel received his first reps at middle linebacker all season. They planned on rotating him into the game even more. Expect to see his reps increased this weekend.
The Boom and Benny Show
With a junior college transfer in his first game starting under center, Kentucky needed to run the ball well to leave the game victorious. The one-two punch of Benny Snell and Boom Williams did exactly what they needed to do.
“It’s gonna take those tough yards to win tough games,” Stoops said. “I think they complement each other very well.”
Snell’s physicality and mentality enable him to power through piles of people, while Williams’ athleticism is unrivaled. However, Boom’s ability isn’t the thing Stoops has been most impressed with this season.
“He’s really grown up. He’s really maturing,” Stoops said. “He’s always been a talented guy but he’s more detailed in his runs, and his mentality is much better. It’s great to see him on the sidelines smacking Benny on the head and giving him a high five and cheering with that complement, instead of it just being about Boom.”
Evaluating Stephen Johnson
“I saw a guy that made plays when he had to. He really did what he had to do to manage the game and win the game.”
Stoops was not happy with the turnovers, but as the game progressed, Johnson’s decision-making improved.
“There were some throws that he could’ve forced later, but he didn’t. He made good decisions and got critical first downs with his legs.”
Alabama is No. 1 For a Reason
Mark Stoops showed the utmost respect for the Crimson Tide. “From top to bottom, they do things right,” and “We haven’t faced anything like this,” were just a few of the times he sent praise Alabama’s way.
One reporter asked Stoops if the team believed they were capable of taking down the defending National Champs, but he wasn’t going to give them any bulletin board material. He responded with an angry look, “You trying to get a headline?”
The best saying I learned from Stoops is the term he used to describe Bama’s special teams: “War daddies.”
Close Connections with Alabama
There are a few people in the Alabama program that played a part in Mark Stoops’ Kentucky career. No one helped more than Derrick Ansley.
Even though the former secondary coach knows Stoops’ system, not much needs to be changed. “Our signals are different, they’re changed, but we don’t have to change much about what we do,” Stoops said.
Running back Damien Harris could have changed the Kentucky program if he stayed home for school. Instead, he’s Alabama’s leading rusher. Stoops sees exactly what he expected when they were recruiting him; an explosive back with great vision that can change a game.
Just because Harris didn’t come to Kentucky, doesn’t mean the two still aren’t in touch. Stoops said the pair got lunch together when Harris was back in town over the summer, “But I’ll keep what happened between he and I.”