Mark Stoops spoke to the media after Kentucky’s 35-20 win over Central Michigan.
From UK Athletics
University of Kentucky Football Media Conference
Kentucky vs. Central Michigan
Kroger Field – Lexington, Ky.
Saturday, September 1 2018
COACH STOOPS: Good first victory. Proud of our team, the way we played. Obviously there’s a lot of things to get better. A lot of people say that you’re going to get the most improvement from week one to week two. I hope that’s the case with us because I think we have a good football team. I was proud of the way defense played. The penalty in the first half extended that drive. It kept us on the field too long. Really proud of the defensive effort; to overcome 0-4 turnover margin and win says a lot about our football team and how good of a team we have to come back and win by 15.
So proud of the effort. It’s a starting point. That’s one. And we’re excited to get back to work. That’s the good thing about this team. They’re excited just about the opportunity in front of them and getting one in the books and getting ready to get back to work on Monday.
Q. What do you think about A.J. Rose?
COACH STOOPS: You know, when he broke off that long one in the first half, it was nice watching him, because you saw another gear in a big, strong guy that can run like that. So it was good to see.
Q. How much do you chalk up the turnovers to early rust or jitters just playing the first game?
COACH STOOPS: It is, but you know, there’s no excuse for that. We’ll get on it and get it corrected. We had one game like that last year where it seemed like — we’re reckless or careless with the ball, and one particular game a year ago we were the same way, the ball was on the ground. So we’ll get it fixed and we’ll move on.
Q. You don’t get a chance to win too many with a minus 4 turnover margin. Does that say a lot about the defense?
COACH STOOPS: It does. And, again, I think, you know, if we’re a little more aware of the situation on third and 14, you know, and get the targeting call, we’re off the field on that drive as well. You know, that extends it, keeps our offense off the field, just momentum, the whole deal. We gotta be aware of the situation, down, distance and what you’re getting into there. But yeah, other than that long drive on the defense with, again, could have been stopped on that penalty, I was proud of the way they played.
Q. What did you think of your quarterback play?
COACH STOOPS: You know, I think early on, you know, I think we could do a better job of putting a little bit of pressure on Terry, and a lot of those plays are reads. And we’ll look into that, try to put him into a situation to get him comfortable and get him started. And I was really proud of the way Gunnar came in — I just mentioned that to the team — because the quarterback battles are always so public. And a lot of these guys that are young players, maybe redshirt a year ago are freshmen now, and they come in here and they’re used to be a superstar, and we have a lot of good players now. And so when they don’t get their opportunity, I use that as a great example, because Gunnar, when we sat in my office and we went through that, I talked about being prepared and when he gets his opportunity, show what he can do. And what a moment to come in there when we’re losing in the first half, and I think it was 55 seconds and drive us down and score a touchdown, said an awful lot about Gunnar and his character and his ability, and I was really proud for him. And it was good. Then Terry coming back in, settling down, playing much better in the second half. Good effort overall by the team.
Q. Second-to-the-last drive, probably would have been going for about a 40-yard field goal, you went for it. What was the thought process?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah. It would have been 49, I believe. 49 or 50 and my cut off is 48. I said that earlier this week.
No, I didn’t really want to put him in the first one right at his limit. Really, you know, we’ll do a better job in that situation. Third down could have been a little better for us. Put us in a situation to kick it right there or go for it fourth and short. So I really was more aggravated with the third down play.
Q. Question about making an adjustment to the offensive line in the second half …
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it’s like that sometimes early, and the guys were settling in, breaking in some new left tackles. I thought they did a really good job on a team that plays super hard. They play hard up front and come after you. You know, we did a good job of protecting them at times, where we’re taking our shots, how we were doing it, chipping and helping a little bit. And they settled in and played much better. We’re at our best when we get that balance going and get the running game going and play action and setting up our shots.
You know, I thought we had some good plays set up and tried to attack them down the field. Protection, gotta get cleaned up a little bit, but we’ll start hitting those.
Q. Question regarding Josh Allen’s production …
COACH STOOPS: I didn’t really realize that until you told me that. I knew he had the sack and he was playing well. I didn’t realize his production was that high. So that’s good. Couldn’t tell during the game, you know, but I can’t.
Q. Question regarding is that is the kind of game Stoops envisioned from Josh Allen when he decided to return for his senior season …
COACH STOOPS: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely. I think he has a chance to have a real big year.
Q. I always want to give you an opportunity to comment on special teams play. What do you think?
COACH STOOPS: I thought it seemed pretty solid. I didn’t notice anything that stood out. There was some — their punter was spraying the ball early, and it was hard to judge, and then once Bouv, you know, he started making some tough catches off the bounces and just saving us those yards, you know, everything else seemed pretty solid. The one kickoff return they got late, we gotta look at that and see what happened there. I know we got the clip or the hold. But overall I thought we were pretty solid. Thought Max punted the ball very good.
Q. Bouvier seemed fearless a lot of times on the run.
COACH STOOPS: He is. You know, he’s made big plays all through camp. He really did a good job on offense, made a critical play and a critical catch. He’s been very solid.
Q. Central Michigan had 250 yards of offense. You talked about this being your best defense yet. In the preseason how did they perform? Were they up to their standard today?
COACH STOOPS: Today was really — in the scrimmages, I mentioned it in my press conference afterwards because I could have been very frustrated after the second scrimmage because the offense played real good, but we were out some real key guys, and when you’re playing with some young guys and trying to be as multiple as we were getting them ready for, some things stuck out. So this is the best we’ve played as a unit for a full game or full scrimmage or anything to this point. And I felt like if we get at full strength and play together, and I thought — I really liked the way we played as a unit today. So it’s what I expect of them and to improve from here.
Q. How do you think Jordan Jones did first game back after the injury?
COACH STOOPS: Didn’t seem like too many things jumped out at me during the game. There was one thing that he didn’t get a check and didn’t run something properly, but other than that, I thought he was pretty solid. Seemed to play pretty disciplined within his drops and run fits and all that, so nothing that stood out to me until I watch the film.
Q. Could you dissect Benny’s play today, and also, was he a little under the weather this morning?
COACH STOOPS: He was. He was. He had a virus last night or what did (athletic trainer) Jim (Madaleno) tell me to call that? He had a temperature and a viral infection, and Jim thought he’d be okay overnight. We were watching him. And he woke up and wasn’t feeling great. And so they took him to the hospital and gave him a bag of fluids and checked him out and he came back and played pretty solid.
Q. Courtney Love not being there, Kash Daniel has stepped in. How much has his leadership and the fact that he sat behind him for two years really contributed to his leadership on the field?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s a big part of it. He had a great guy to watch and play behind, and Kash has a lot of those characteristics himself. And I thought the combination of that is a big deal. And you know, Kash is a guy that’s hard not to root for. He’s a Kentucky guy. He cares about this program. He’s passionate. He plays extremely hard. Very unselfish. For those years he was sitting there behind Courtney, didn’t say a word. Just what can I do to help, how can I help on special teams and just learn his position. And that’s what I told the guys in there. The young guys gotta understand that and learn that. We have a great example of some older guys that have paid their dues and worked on it, and we have very good leadership on this team. So I’m excited and we’ll get some guys in gear and get them going.
Q. Talk about Jamar Watson.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, Boogie seemed like he played pretty solid again. There was a couple of things, I thought the game early I was a little agitated some things were outflanking us in our leverage on the ball. Early in the year we’re so used to playing our offense, and when you see somebody new and see different formation and different things, I thought we were a little slow, a little lethargic at times. And then we picked that up, and that really helped us in the second half. I think the speed of the game and just basic stuff. Nothing — could be a six-yard gain or seven-yard gain that shouldn’t have been there, and we started doing some things better as a unit, but overall I thought Jamar played really good. He’s a good football player. I expect him to play well.
Q. Kash Daniel led on tackles on the defensive side. Was there anything you were a little concerned about on the defense? Is it secondary? Is it defensive line or are you happy with it all around?
COACH STOOPS: Like I just mentioned, I think there were some things we needed to get ironed out that was a little bit agitating, you know, in the first half. But you talk about them. They understood it. I think once they come to the sidelines and we talk about those things and we get it figured out, then, you know, they were better. And, you know, again, I think they were nickel and diming us a little bit early and, you know, the penalty really kind of — you know, really bugs me, because you got them so backed up, you know, fourth and 14.
Q. Did you consider leaving Gunnar in for the entire second half or were you always going to put Terry back in?
COACH STOOPS: Terry was ready to play at the start of the second half, and Gunnar deserved the opportunity to go back and play for what he did at the end of the first half there. And I’m glad. In a way, I mean obviously we don’t want anybody to get hurt, but to be forced into that situation, see the way Gunnar responded, and the way he played says a lot about him, like I mentioned, and then to come back in the second half — and now you gotta do the same thing with Terry. You gotta get him back in and let him get acclimated to the game and the speed of the game and get some positive energy going for the season, and so it worked out very good.
Q. Next week you have the first road game of the year at The Swamp. Do you think both Terry and Gunnar are ready for it?
COACH STOOPS: You know, obviously we’ll worry about that next week. It’s a tough environment. And yeah, I anticipate that both guys will be ready to play. We’ll see where we’re at this week and get back to work, but yeah, both guys will be ready to go.
Q. Are we still going to see two quarterbacks going forward?
COACH STOOPS: I don’t know.
Q. It’s a long season. If A.J. continues to develop like he has, how much will that help Benny?
COACH STOOPS: I think it’ll help all of us, yeah. It’ll help our team. I think, you know, again, there were some things, he gave up one pressure that I know of. And but that just comes from playing. He’s gotta play. And we’ll let him go. He’s not going to be perfect. We don’t expect him to be perfect, but you gotta tighten up some things and do all the things necessary for us to function offensively. But I’m very proud of A.J. as well because he’s one of those guys that’s kind of matured, and it’s been not easy for him, you know, all the way through. And he is another great example of just kind of looking at himself and seeing what he can do better and not pouting and crying and all those things, and he kind of just went about his business. He took the coaching, improved himself, and you’re seeing that. So I’m very proud of that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
Central Michigan Head Coach John Bonamego
On the difference between the first half and second half …
“Two things. In the first half we got the benefit of the turnovers, which our defense did a great job of creating. (In the) second half, Kentucky did a better job of taking care of the football. In the second half, I think we really hurt ourselves with some critical penalties that eliminated some big plays and had a long kick-off return. The difference with this young offense starting at midfield and then having to start backed up (is big). We had two targeting calls. I would never dispute anything related to a player’s safety – and I believe they were called by the letter of the rule. They were accurate, but I think it’s also important to point out that those weren’t dirty plays. I think we made it through relatively clean injury wise. Jarrod Davis is probably the most significant one, but we did have some guys cramping up, particularly on defense when we started getting into the fourth quarter. Inability to sustain drives, defense on the field too long, penalties, those were the main things.
On Tony Poljan’s first start …
“Well, he didn’t turn the ball over and that’s a positive. You look at that and I think he made some big plays with his legs. He needs some people around him to step up. We made a couple nice catches out there and we need to firm up our pass protection a little bit in those situations when we know we have to throw it. I thought he did well. I know he’s going to look at this and we are all going to look at this and see there is a lot to improve on across the board
On tackling and leading with the head …
“The two examples that happened with our two players are bang-bang plays. It wasn’t a case where they were leading with the head or anything like that. Those things happen in football. We teach five different techniques in tackling and it really depends on how we relate to the ball and where we are trying to leverage the ball. These are some things we work on sometimes without pads on. Overall, defensively, I think we tackled well today. For the most part, take out a handful of plays – I was pleased with defense, and we kind of knew that coming in. We know just because the veteran players that we have back on that side of the ball to play really good defense and we also know that offensively, we have to find our legs a little bit.”