An Interview With:
COACH MARK STOOPS
COACH STOOPS: It's been a good week, very productive week. Had an opportunity to heal up a little bit, and also improve as a football team. We'll be excited and ready for another great challenge going on the road to play Mississippi State, another very good, tough, physical team.
Going on the road on a Thursday will be another tough challenge, but like I said, we'll be excited and ready to go.
Q. What's the latest on Jalen (Whitlow)?
COACH STOOPS: Jalen has improved, practiced yesterday, he'll practice today. We'll see how that goes.
Q. You've had tough games here the first half of the season, played all these top ranked teams. Do you feel the schedule gets any easier now with all that behind?
COACH STOOPS: No, I really don't look at it any easier really. We talk about it one week at a time, and going this week, playing Mississippi State on the road is just a different challenge. Very good team, well‑coached team. Again, I think they're very physical, a team that's won plenty of football games the past two, three, four years, and to play on a Thursday night, I think they're going to be very motivated, as we are, to get our first SEC win.
Q. Did you enjoy the weekend? Did you get to watch your brothers coach?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, Saturday was a Monday for us. We were ahead quite a bit. We went to work last week on Mississippi State for the most part, so we were ahead, so I got a chance to watch a little bit of football on Saturday.
Q. Talk about the advantage in your schedule. You've had 12 days off before this game coming up. You'll have about nine days following that. The advantages of that?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I do like that. I think coming off this stretch that we talked about before and being a little bit banged up and a little bit physically drained, I think having a chance to recoup physically and mentally I think should help us going into this game. I think our preparation has been very good. I feel like the team is in a good place right now. I feel like we're getting our legs back up underneath us. I feel like we're getting a little bit healthier, and we've had some good work, so that should be good, and then having nine days for the next opponent, again, just a few extra days to help just get refreshed a little bit for a tough stretch to finish. Should set up pretty good.
I think it's obviously ‑‑ everybody knows the challenge of going on the road on a Thursday night. I think it's a very unique challenge.
Q. Is Jalen going to practice in a limited way?
COACH STOOPS: He was out there practicing. Max(well Smith) was getting most of the starting reps but he was out there working, and we'll see how it goes the next couple days.
Q. Did you sort out who the backup would be if Jalen wasn't able to go?
COACH STOOPS: We're working on a few guys, but it looks like Jalen or Max will be able to go.
Q. When you see games like the SEC had Saturday, does that encourage you?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think you just watch it, and yeah, I think it does. You look at it and say, anything can happen in this league. I think it's such a tough, physical league, and if you don't come ready to play, anything can happen. I think with the injuries that happen throughout this league because of the physicality, I think that changes things week to week, as well.
Q. What do you know about Dan Mullen?
COACH STOOPS: I think he's a hard‑nosed good football coach. I don't know him personally, but you look at his teams, they're very good, well‑coached, tough team. I go back even to my first year at Florida State, I think Dan had just left, but you see the type of offense in my first year there at Florida State, and just playing Florida, and then here doing the same thing. You see a physical team, a team that can create the quarterback run game, put you in a bind with the quarterback run game and still be physical, throw the ball off of that, the play actions off of that. It'll be a real challenge. I think he's a very good football coach obviously. I think his record has been outstanding.
Q. Do you do anything different when you travel Thursday rather than Saturday?
COACH STOOPS: No, not much different. It's just very different for the team. Leaving on a Wednesday is a little bit odd, playing a Thursday night game when the players are getting up in the morning and we have walk‑throughs and meetings and things. I don't like a lot of dead time. There will be some subtle changes in there because Saturday morning they're up usually watching football if we're playing a Saturday night game or in between meetings, and now they'll be sitting there watching soap operas, I guess (laughter).
I think we'll try to get them up and have a few more meetings and not as much dead time. I think we have a pretty good bus drive from where we're staying to the hotel, as well, so that'll take another hour, hour and 15 minutes out of the day. Hopefully that'll help a little bit.
Q. (Question regarding QB position.)
COACH STOOPS: Max is taking the starting reps right now. We'll see how it plays out here today and tomorrow.
Q. You talked about Mississippi State being physical, you talked about how Alabama was so physical. Is that just part of the growing pains when you're trying to play so many young guys and their guys have been in the weight room for three or four years?
COACH STOOPS: I think it is. I think it's a sign of where we need to be in this league. I've said that all along. I think to be a good, consistent winner you have to be physical, and yeah, I think it comes from time in that weight room and having some more guys, and we need to continue to work on that, and we need our older guys to step up and improve, as well.
Q. Mississippi State is really big on starting fast. What can you do to replicate that?
COACH STOOPS: Well, they do start fast, and again, the last time we talked about that on the road at South Carolina, we didn't get off to such a fast start, and I think Mississippi State will be a lot the same way. They're going to try to get their home crowd very enthused. I understand that their crowd gets into it quite a bit, and they're going to want to play well and get off to a fast start. I think it's no secret any time you're playing a team that's struggled a little bit like we have, that's what they're going to say, they're going to want to get off to a fast start and put a dagger in us early. We have to go out and offset that and play and execute well to start the game. Again, no matter what happens we have to stay the course and stay poised and be ready for a battle.
Q. How do you prep a team for the cowbells and just kind of the atmosphere?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I don't know. The cowbell is going to be new to me. The atmosphere, the crowd noise and all that, we'll continue to work.
Q. This will be your fifth straight game on national TV. Do you feel like the country is getting good exposure of what Kentucky football is all about and what you're trying to build here?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I hope so. It is nice to get the national exposure. It's certainly nice to play a Thursday night game because I think a lot of people watch that game, so hopefully we'll go out and represent us the right way and play tough and play the way we're capable of. I anticipate that we will.
Q. Your team has said they enjoy playing on the road. Is that player‑speak or do they really mean that?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think certainly it's a different challenge in that you're on the road, you're isolated, there's not as much family around, not as much commotion around the hotels. You're very tight and very close, and you have to have a very tough mindset to go out and win against a quality opponent on the road.
I hope our players feel that way, and we've talked about it this whole week, to have a tough mindset and to prepare to win and to play poised.
Q. (Question regarding taking a young team on the road for the first time a few weeks back compared to now.)
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think we have a little bit more experience. I do feel better about it now, and hopefully we'll respond a little bit better than we did in the opening quarter of the last game we went on the road.
Q. You said in the preseason your goal for this year was drastic improvement. Six games in, record aside, are you where you want to be?
COACH STOOPS: I do think we're improving. I'm not going to sit here and judge that yet. We'll wait until after the season and all that. But we also talk about controlling the things we can control, and I thought we had a good week. I think we're in a good place mentally. I think physically we're getting better. I think we're doing the best we can. We all know we can do things better, and we're looking to start this Thursday.
Q. On the physical play again, until you get as deep and as strong as you want, how do you compensate?
COACH STOOPS: Just keep on developing, keep on developing players and getting our players to play better. I think you're constantly looking at schemes and things that we can handle, things that we can execute to put us in a position to win.
Q. What are you challenges against a guy like Dak Prescott?
COACH STOOPS: I think he's physical, he's versatile, and that goes with their offense, as well.
Q. Along that same line of questioning, getting Bud (Dupree) back, how important is that even if it's on a limited basis with the packages and schemes you're going to try to run against them?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think it's important to get Bud back. He's obviously one of our best players at any position, and it'll be good to have him out there, have his leadership and have his experience out there, and it does give us some versatility with what we're doing with our package.
Q. Recruiting is such a big topic with this program right now. Much of the talk and question is how much of this early impact will continue throughout this season? Will you be able to keep the guys that have committed? How does your message change at this point?
COACH STOOPS: We're worried about continuing to develop the relationships that we have with the players that are committed and getting our team better. There's no pitch. There's just relationship building. We're getting out there. We're seeing a bunch of guys. We were able to get out and recruit last Friday a little bit, which was good, and we just keep on improving the program day‑to‑day. That's a daily chore, daily task for us to recruit.
Q. Will the next two weeks provide more opportunities (to recruit) with the time in between?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it will.
Q. (Question regarding Big Blue Madness and if the football players attended.)
COACH STOOPS: I don't know. I had some work to do, but I would have enjoyed being there myself. I like to see Matthew Mitchell do his dance and all that. But no, I think that's fantastic, that energy and that passion that this fan base has. I was able to just see clips of it on the news and all that.
But I don't know to be honest with you if our players went down and took part in that at all. I know we had practice on Saturday morning and we had a good practice and guys were ready to go. We had a practice yesterday on Sunday. I thought it was a very enthusiastic, good practice. So I've been encouraged with the way our players have handled this weekend.
Q. If you thought it would help you get a recruit, would you dance?
COACH STOOPS: That's a good question. (Laughter.) I probably would. (Laughter.) In fact I know I would. (Laughter.) I probably have. (Laughter.) I'm just not as talented as Matthew, so I can't do it for everybody to see.
Q. Can you feed off the success of another sport at your school? Can that happen?
COACH STOOPS: Oh, I think it does. It certainly does. I think when our recruits come on campus and our players are on campus and they see the success of all of these programs and the way they go about their business, I definitely think it helps. I think we feel an obligation to live up to those standards, and we're working to get there, and we embrace that. We want to be at the level of some of these programs, and we're working hard to get there.
Q. Do you have a go‑to dance?
COACH STOOPS: No, no, I really don't.
Q. Do you get any sense that your guys feel a desire to prove themselves Thursday?
COACH STOOPS: I really don't feel that they have to prove themselves. I just feel like our guys are working so hard to get ourselves in a position to win one of these games, and this is our next opportunity. We're doing everything we can to put us in a position to win this game, and I feel like our players are in a good place, and they're going to be energized and excited to play.
Q. They not only have to learn how to play a game but they have to learn how to practice. Do you feel like that's getting to where you want it to be?
COACH STOOPS: I do. We're not as deep as we need to be and we're not as physical as we need to be, and that's a work in progress. That's something that we're constantly working with day‑to‑day to see how much we can do and how much we can handle.
Q. Is it a matter of having enough people to practice against?
COACH STOOPS: That's correct.
Q. Is it hard for you guys, the coaching staff, some of these younger players that came from highly successful programs, they didn't know what losing was, to have battled to a 1‑5 start?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it is hard because the players put a lot into it. You know how hard ‑‑ if they're a freshman they've been here since June working extremely hard. They've come from successful programs, and they're working as hard as anybody in the country. We're just not doing it as well as we need to be, and that's the bottom line and that's where we've just got to stay in the moment and control the things we can control. I like that. I like the fact that our team has been good that way.
There's been times it's been difficult. We've talked about those. But I think having a chance to freshen up a little bit mentally, physically heal up a little bit and get better as a football team, I think we took advantage of the 12 days in between games here, and hopefully you'll see that on the field.
Q. Some of your players have told us they look at this as a second season. Are the coaches looking at it that way?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I told them that after the Alabama game because it was halfway right there, and we had a little break, and we talked about that. I don't mean to keep on going back, but it was a tough run. That was a tough game, and we said, we're going to watch it, we're going to correct our mistakes and we're going to hold everybody accountable, but after that let's put that down and let's get ready for the next half of the season and in particular let's get ready for the next game, which is Mississippi State.
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