MARK STOOPS: Wrapping up last week again, just did not play a clean football game. Got off to a bad start and didn’t really play very sharp in any area, offensively, defensively or special teams, so need to improve. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Time to go back to work and another big challenge here this week. So we have got a lot of work to do and really excited about getting back to work, to be honest with you.
Q. Re: Sawyer Smith injury
MARK STOOPS: Well, hopefully he will be good today. We will see but he was definitely sore yesterday. Wouldn’t have been able to throw any passes yesterday at all, so need to see how his recovery goes the next couple of days.
Q. Re: fans staying invested in the program
MARK STOOPS: Keep them invested? Where are they going to go? I mean, come on, we have won a lot of football games here. I thought we were over that. I’m disappointed. We accept the criticism. We are all in this together. It’s not okay with us either. As a program and an organization we need to find ways and find answers. It’s what we do, go back to work.
It’s a good football team. On the road with a young team and didn’t play our best. That kind of talk seems a little crazy to me. I’d like people to — no offense to anybody in this industry here today, but people like to panic. We don’t necessarily panic in our building. We just go back to work and get better.
Q. Mark, it seemed like there were a number of tackles that were missed. What would you attribute that to? Was it more technique? You said it put the offense in a hole, or was it pure luck that they got away?
MARK STOOPS: No, this was one of the worst games we played in a while as far as being precise in our fits. Then we weren’t as physical as we have been. It’s not just simply a physicality issue. It’s also about the precision and executing our defense and doing your job. We were not very detailed in executing the defense this past week.
Q. How is Walker Wood coming along?
MARK STOOPS: Walker is an extremely hard worker. Knows what to do with the football. (He) Has worked hard coming back off his surgeries to compete and play at the highest level he can. So we are confident in Walker. We would also have to look at some other options with some other guys as well.
Q. How is Amani Gilmore doing?
MARK STOOPS: He’s got a ways to go, just coming with learning everything and executing the offense and all of that. He’s got some work to do. Nik (Scalzo) was a guy doing some really good things in preseason camp, and lost him early. So he’s out of the picture obviously as well.
Q. Do you see encouragement from how they responded in the second half?
MARK STOOPS: As a mentioned after the game, I certainly challenged them at halftime. That does not meet our standards at all. It wasn’t good in any area. I was pleased with the way they responded but that’s too late. Against a team like that to come out and try to turn it on at halftime is not going to get it done.
Even with all that, we have an opportunity to cut it to three or four points, what was that, early in the fourth (quarter), right, maybe ten minutes to go in the fourth I want to say. You look at our draft chart and it kind of makes you sick because we really were moving the ball. Then a couple of drives stalled. That aggravates all of us, but if you look at it early, and I want to say we had ten drives and one touchdown, two field goals, two missed field goals, three punts and an interception. What really hurt us was dropped passes again and dropped touchdowns. I want to say there were three, three dropped touchdowns. You put two of those in there and maybe one field goal, and what does that put that game in? I don’t know what you do.
These are guys that we have a lot of confidence in and guys that have played their tail off for us. They have done some really big things for us in our program. We just didn’t play very good on Saturday. With all the things that happened, you make a few plays here and there, and you are still right in it. That’s actually kind of amazing to me because when you look at the film, there are so many areas that we need to improve. It wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up to our standards and expectations. We have got to go back and try to get them fixed here this week.
Q. About Ryan Hilinski, your thoughts on what he does well that will challenge your group?
MARK STOOPS: He gets rid of the football. He’s a rhythm guy. He likes to throw in rhythm and get there and disperse the football. He’s got a lot of good guys to throw it to. They’ve got some talented guys at wide receiver. He likes to get rid of it. He makes good throws. He’s made some extremely tough throws, and then he just looks good when he’s comfortable out there and throwing in rhythm. There has been times when they’ve looked really good.
Q. How do you balance being in a zone with inexperience groups versus putting them on an island (in man coverage)?
MARK STOOPS: It is. There is a balance there. You are correct, that’s a good observation. That’s something that we need to continue to mix things up, and we have to win some one-on-one situations. We have to get some pressure when we are pressuring people. Mix up coverages and the old term there, affect the quarterback somehow. Not just all the time with sacks and pressure but with pressure and mixing coverages, and not letting them get in rhythm.
Q. There was a lot of preseason talking about Boogie (Watson) taking a next step. What does he have to do to get there?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t like to call out any one guy, but he had some one-on-one situations Saturday that we didn’t win. One in particular with a running back that we have to get some pressure. We didn’t get that. So we have to continue to bring along some young guys and continue to push Boogie and others to step up.
Q. Re: Jordan Griffin limited playing time
MARK STOOPS: He was banged up. He was a little banged up.
Q. Talk about the kicking game for a minute. You had Chance Poore miss another field goal again this week. Then you put in Matt Ruffolo, who made one. Are you getting to the point where they are having a little bit of a battle? Also, with Chance, it seems like it’s becoming more mental than anything else. How do you overcome that?
MARK STOOPS: We will go with Ruffolo here to start the week. Chance’s leg’s hurt after he got hit Saturday in the game. His leg is injured right now, he’s a little dinged up. Ruffolo will start — at least right now. We don’t kick today, they rest today. The kickers will kick tomorrow and Ruffolo will go with the ones (first team).
Q. Re: fixing drops with the receivers.
MARK STOOPS: I think there is a combination of things. I think the guys are really working hard. Some of them, Lynn (Bowden) we have to look at the amount of plays we are giving him and asking him to run all over the field, and sometimes on reverses and things of that nature and taking shots down the field. Sometimes back-to-back plays with him. We have got to be smart and try to give him some rest when we can, because he’s doing an awful lot and we appreciate his effort. Ahmad (Wagner) has made some extremely difficult catches as you’ve seen. Just misjudged that one, didn’t come down with it. I expect him to make the next one.
Q. Kylin Hill is obviously a really good back but Garrett Shrader also hurt you in the run game with scrambles and designed runs. Was that on the defensive line? On the linebackers?
MARK STOOPS: We were just not clean in our run fits and our precision defensively was not good enough and not up to our standards, and our effort was not up to our standards and our physicality was really not up to our standards.
Q. Re: Taj Dodson returning from injury
MARK STOOPS: Hopefully he will. I hope he will be back this week. He was better yesterday and this morning, so I expect him to be back out there.
Q. Isaiah Epps, how is he looking right now?
MARK STOOPS: He is running in the treadmill and things of that nature and in the water. I still want to say they gave me no indication he will be back this week, but it’s getting close. I think it’s after the bye.
Q. Re: additional receivers who could be used.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, there is definitely guys we could put in there. Clevan (Thomas) went in there this past Saturday and caught a bubble on an RPO, he (Smith) could have handed it off or thrown the bubble, and gave it to him and he made and eight or nine tough yards, good catch-and-run. So we have guys we could put in there.
Q. re: Akeem Hayes
MARK STOOPS: He did. He did some good things through the summer and through camp. There may be some opportunity for him. Even a guy like Bryce Oliver, we have to get him back out there and for Ahmad, and some of those guys, get them a little wind or a little break here and there. Get some fresh legs in there.
Q. Are we getting closer to seeing Xavier Peters back in?
MARK STOOPS: We will see how that goes. Could be.
Q. AJ (Rose) had one of his better games, any difference in the way he was running. Was it good blocking?
MARK STOOPS: He did. I really liked the way we started the game until the interception. That’s what’s so aggravating for all of us. We get off to positive, positive, positive, I think one more positive yardage and then pick six.
But AJ started the game with a nice run, nice near leg, near shoulder. Gave a good physical shed. He shed that tackle and got an extra probably four yards on the first run of the game. Later he obviously had many more explosives. He had the yardage he did. He averaged almost 11 yards per rush. That’s again where everybody can see that now. I think y’all do when you make assumptions with Kavosiey and AJ or AJ and Kavosiey. They’re both good players. They’re both gonna play. Everyone gets all bent out of shape. Some days somebody is gonna rip off some explosives (plays). Another day it’s a different guy. It’s good to see them both doing that. Because Kavosiey’s average was through the roof, as well, on certain game. So they’re both good players.
(Chris) Rodriguez got back in there. It was good to see him get back in and get some touches. Did some good things, a couple of good protections. I think he missed one, but gotta bring him along as well.
Q. You threw it 41 times I think —
MARK STOOPS: 42.
Q. Is that the most since you’ve been here?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, what did it get us? (Laughter). Everyone wants to see the ball thrown 42 times, well, you did (laughter). I hope you’re happy, because I’m not (laughter).
Q. Re: number of passes
MARK STOOPS: It is. Not by design. We got behind. We got down. The pick six, as I mentioned. Defensively we hung in there but they were getting good yardage and aggravating yardage most of the day. Even if they didn’t punch it in either. Go down 14-3 relatively quick, it kind of gets you a little bit out of it.
But it comes down to a lot of things. As I mentioned, the drives were good, a couple of stalls in the red zone. If you think about it, you talk about three dropped touchdowns, one missed throw that late in the game where we had another opportunity to Keaton (Upshaw) and we missed it because they were doubling the outside guys. So they took away Ahmad and we go through the middle, and try to hit Keaton we had him open and missed him, just a combination. Some other drives it’s a protection here. It’s one guy getting beat. Those are the things that we just have to get cleaned up as a team. Just across the board was just not clean enough. It was one guy this time, one guy another time. That’s not winning football. So we got beat and didn’t play or coach good enough. We have to get it out of them this week.
Q. Re: offensive balance
MARK STOOPS: You want balance. Look at a formula or a recipe, if you will. Last year you guys probably have the statistics, off the top of my head, we rushed it against Mississippi State 46 times; this year we throw it for 42. Mississippi State conversely didn’t have as many runs a year ago; this year they have 40 runs for 250 yards. If they rush the rush the ball for 40 times against us, I don’t like our chances because they’re obviously having success. I think for us and Mississippi State are very similar in that way, want to be physical to set up opportunities and our completion percentage has to go up.
So you got to have balance but it starts with an effective run game, and think we were at times Saturday, but as a team as I mentioned postgame on Saturday, we didn’t play a good formula. We didn’t play as a team. Defensively it was getting nickeled and dimed, getting driven on, gave up some early scores and getting behind. Not a great recipe.
Q. Since Will Muschamp has arrived in South Carolina, do you feel the program has evolved in certain ways?
MARK STOOPS: I really don’t spend any time concerning myself about his program. I don’t mean to be an idiot. I don’t know. I’m not worried about his program, really, you know what I mean?
Q. Is there motivation after losing five in a row to you guys to end that streak.
MARK STOOPS: I don’t think it’s going to matter to us going up in that meeting room today what the last five years were. Really, we have to have great preparation. We have to have a great week. We have to win this game throughout the week. I have to do a better job motivating them and getting them ready to play.
Q. Do you think there is more juice in this game, against this opponent than your typical going on the road in the SEC?
MARK STOOPS: I think every week when you go on the road in the SEC, you better strapped up and ready to play. We talked about it, we just didn’t do it. I have to do a better job getting their attention, getting them focused. Having the week and the preparation throughout the week, but you have to have a mentality about you. You’re not going to walk on the field against anybody and think you are going to have some walk in the park. Not that our team did. We obviously have great respect for Mississippi State, and they are always big and physical, good players. You know that going into it but just talking about it and going out there and doing it are two different things. We have to be prepared. I didn’t feel that we were at our best, that’s for sure.
Q. Re: Logan Stenberg being a very good player but also getting personal fouls
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, there is with him and others on our team and in our program. We have get out of the personal little games that are going on within the game. It does not help you win. We have got to find that balance and we have to find that right mentality for an offensive line. When it is crossing over that, it is counterproductive. I don’t necessarily like what I see all the time, not just with Logan but on our team.
Q. Each year every team is different, different makeup, different coaching. For a head coach, how difficult is it to judge what kind of personality the team is taking, how it will react to certain things, like you said, you take it on you that they weren’t ready to play Saturday. How difficult of a job and how important of a job is it for a head coach to judge the makeup of the team?
MARK STOOPS: I think it is very important. You have to find a way to get them to play at a higher level, and play disciplined football and play selfless football. It’s hard in this day and age. Everything is about me and me, me, me, and not so much always about the team. We have to find the leadership within our team and the coaches and myself have to do a better job getting them ready, if we are not having the leadership that we once had.
We have got to find the balance the best way we can. I still have great respect for this team and believe in them, but we have to show them sometimes as well. That’s where the coaching — we have to do a better job. We all know that going out and playing like Saturday is not something we are very proud of. I know I am not. We always want to take great pride in playing the game disciplined and playing the game hard, and playing fundamental and playing selfless. I didn’t necessarily see that Saturday.
Q. In the situation that you find yourself in, do you find your thinking back and not think about a third straight loss, not get into that losing mentality?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t foresee us falling into a losing mentality. Just having the habits that are necessary to put yourself in a position to be successful. You heard me say it a bunch it’s well documented, but under extreme pressure, your habits will come straight to the surface. What are our habits and how are we practicing and how are we doing things throughout the week in our preparation? If we are disciplined in the way we do things, then that’s how we’ll play.
Q. Re: South Carolina QBs Bentley and Hilinski
MARK STOOPS: They are different people. They are different guys. I don’t know. I don’t coach them, but just seeing them on film, they are both talented, big arms, they both do certain things well. So you look at the way South Carolina played against Alabama at home and, shoot, they had 92 plays, and played with great tempo, and really moved the ball quite well against an awfully talented team.
I’m sure they are a lot like us in that they went on the road last week, and didn’t play their best. I’m sure they are anxious to get back home and play a good game and get back to doing all the good things they did. I guarantee you, they’re the best 1-3 team in the country, there’s no doubt about that. They’re a talented group. They’ve got very good players.
Q. Re: defense forcing two turnovers
MARK STOOPS: The turnovers have been good. We needed the one at the start of the second half there, because they were getting some aggravating yards down there, to come up with a stop. Unfortunately that’s the way we have been. Unfortunately, in that we have been giving up some yards and drives. The good part of that is we have had some stops to give us the opportunity to win, going back even to the Florida game. Giving up some yards but coming up with some huge stops. Had we not gotten a targeting — you find a way to get a stop.
This past week it is aggravating. Trying to find the best way to get some stops and three-and-outs. We didn’t get any three-and-outs this past week. I can’t remember the last time that happened. So those are aggravating yards but we did find a way with a couple of turnovers and find a way to get some stops but you have to play better from the beginning.
When you play like that as a team, it’s not a good formula right now if you’re giving up yards. Again, the offense is not getting as many possessions so if you stall out or miss a field goal, things are magnified. So we have to play better across the board as a team.
Q. Having your first road game under your belt, how much do you feel that eases you all going into Columbia?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know if “eases” is the right word, but you do learn from it and you get some experience from it from guys that are in a much more significant role this year. Hopefully they will learn from that and we’ll learn from that, and have ourselves more mentally prepared for this game.
Q. Za’Darius Smith going into Sunday was leading the NFL in combined sacks and hits. Are you surprised at all by how well he’s played in the NFL?
MARK STOOPS: I didn’t know that statistic. I didn’t know that he was that high up. That’s awesome. I did see the sack on a highlight of something. One sack from yesterday. I like the one where he was crawling on the ground (laughter). I have to give him a text about that.
I’m not surprised he’s having a big year. You could just see him, his maturity. He got rewarded with the big contract in the offseason. I did speak with him in the offseason. You could tell how confident he was and how much work he’s put in to get himself in this position. Man, he looks pretty, he’s a grown man, isn’t he? That’s a man. So I’m happy for him.