The Cats are off to a 2-0 start as expected, but are nowhere close to where many thought they'd be at. It has definitely been a slow start but the optimist in me will tell you that it's still early and that they have plenty of time, because they very much do.
After remaining undefeated through the first two, the UK head coach sat with reporters to discuss how the second game unfolded. Read what Mark Stoops had to say after Kentucky's 28-17 win over the Colonels.
Mark Stoops' opening statement: "In the first half, the defense got two turnovers and some stops, and kind of we were consciously not wanting to give up long drives and try to get the offense in rhythm and, you know, a little more aggressive and got stops and turnovers that I thought were big. The offense struggled a little bit in the first half to get the punt return at the end of the first half and another big play for the special teams and get the seven points I thought was really big. You know, give Walt and Coach Wells in Eastern the credit. I am not going to be over-critical. I know we have a lot of work to do. But that's how you expect them to play, you know, to come in and play us and very familiar with us and, you know, they have a lot of pride in their program and are very good. And it doesn't surprise me they came in and played extremely well. I give them the credit. We know we will get better. I thought, once again, they were just -- we left some plays on the field. But they did a lot of good things as well. So, I was proud of our team. And, again, we find a way in difficult circumstances to kind of complement each other, whether special teams or defense. And then later in the second half when we gave up a drive, defensively, they hit us with some pressures and free release the back and created an explosive play. Later we made that adjustment and doubled that back, and that is where we got the sack at the end. So, you know, we talked about some things and got some adjustments. But it was nice to see after, my point was, after the defense gave up that drive it was nice to see the offense get it and drive right down and score and protect that lead again. So, anyway. A lot to work off of. It is a lot better to go to work 2-0. So we will get some more things fixed."
Q What is the team leadership?
MARK STOOPS: "I like our leadership. We have got some very good leaders."
Q You said the team makes a big jump in the second week. What is the big jump this week?
MARK STOOPS: "Again, I think the good thing is we protected each other. When the offense was struggling, the defense played really well. And then the defense gave up points and the offense goes down and scores. When we are both struggling, the special teams got the seven points. The bottom line is winning. An area where we didn't get clean, and we have to improve is the penalties. Penalties are really hurting us."
Q What is the offensive line kind of having a main difference in the lead at hand?
MARK STOOPS: "We just got down to playing. We just have to play better. Early, I have to look at the film, some things that were disappointing were runs that we were in. And we did not establish the line of scrimmage in this game. We were running for one yard. Second and ten is a lot harder to call and set up all of our stuff. Our play action game is not nearly as effective when it is second and ten. So, we have to continue to improve in that area."
Q Coach, a couple of weeks you begin conference play. What do you take away from the first two weeks as we get closer to the SEC play?
MARK STOOPS: "I think we have a good football team. We need to improve, but I like their attitude and the way they are playing. We are 2-0. And there are plenty of teams around the country that have a lot to do. It is early in the season, and we have to worry about ourselves and improve. If our team continues to have the same attitude they had last week in practice and willing to commit and work and play together, then we will get better."
Q What is the message you had? What did you tell him at half time?
MARK STOOPS: "To quit looking at the scoreboard and play the game, play one play at a time. And, you know, once again, it is not like we played terrible all the time on defense. They were moving the line. They are a good football team, they really are. And they have great pride within their program. They didn't like the way they played last week, either. And they were coming here and very familiar with us and that's the way I expected them to play."
Q What was Devin's half time adjustment? Like last week, he missed some throws in the first half.
MARK STOOPS: "I think he felt a little disappointed in himself. He made a comment to me late in the game, you know, just the first half he was a bit off. I think he will get better and better. And that makes it tough, you know when you miss some throws, some explosives that are out there and you miss them. It doesn't help the situation. But you calm down, and he made much better throws in the second half."
Q You talked about the receiver Tayvion in bringing everyone together to make a big play. How nice was it to see him respond?
MARK STOOPS: "It was very good. You know, he is explosive. He is good in the return game, he had the sweep, he had the explosive play, and I believe set up a touchdown. And he is showing better leadership and just playing really hard. And within this offense, you know, and most guys just have to continue to grind and some days they pop up with statistics, and other days they are not. In today's world, in the media, and appreciate the coverage, but then it is, you know, X or Twitter or social media and everything, as I told them, they cannot let people take our joy. We know there are areas we did good things, areas we need to improve. We need to stay close, united, and go to work. And it will look different for different guys as the years go on."
Q You had 51 plays last week, 61 today. Can you comment on the tempo of the offense and the flow.
MARK STOOPS: "Yeah. I think we are still taking some time and the overall procedure will continue to improve. You know, there were opportunities left out there as well. And when we missed some throws and killed some drives, you are leaving some things out there that we will improve on."
Q You talked this week about Eastern Kentucky but to see on the sideline with the tough time for the programs. How nice was it to have that moment there after the game?
MARK STOOPS: "That is always, you know, good. Like I told them, it does not surprise me that they bounced back and played one heck of a game. And that's the -- that's the team that I expect to play right there. And you have to earn it, you have to work and you have to beat them. They did a really nice job."
Q How was it for Devin to take over the game when you were struggling?
MARK STOOPS: "I thought it was big. You saw Deone in some one-on-ones getting immediate pressure. You saw Trevin, you know, having an impact with rushes. And, again, I think when they hit us on a couple of things, Brad, we talked on the headset, made a nice adjustment late, and got the big sack on third and four and five on the end there. And took away things they were going to. They are good at draining, quick game, free releasing the back. And I thought we did a nice job early with bringing pressures and doing things to not get nickel and dimed, so to speak, you know, all the way down the field. So, we were aggressive. But that aggressiveness sometimes gave up a big play, too, setting up one of their touchdowns late."
Q The penalties that were issued, 10 for 70 this week and last week the same issue. What do you attribute to the penalties at these early stages? Early game jitters?
MARK STOOPS: "There is no excuse. I can't make an excuse for them. You know, I can't do it. Do I think our guys are, you know, a little amped up and all of that? Yeah. But bottom line, it is still not okay, and I have got to find a way to get it corrected and, you know, like on the last drive there we had a third and one and we flinch again. And, you know, early in the game when we had the third and one, there are things that go on in the line of scrimmage that are tough. You know, so, I am not being critical of officials but there is a simulated, you know, our guys felt they were simulated. So got us to flinch but it happens, and we have to do better."
Q The point on the punt that was blocked, is that something you are not really having?
MARK STOOPS: "It was odd for us. On the field, we knew they were not selling out and were trying to block it. They were forcing, I believe with three, I could be wrong, but I know three guys were forcing and the snap was not perfect and pulled us out of the pocket a bit. So, the details, little things. So... The rest of the night we were pretty clean, pretty solid, and impactful. When they don't kick all day, it varies. The respect that he has in our return game and explosive return on the punt return, once again, was pretty big."
Q Offense obviously has not been as smooth at times. But you got four straight touchdown drives and you could have five and you wanted to at the end. What was going right and what are the things you could try to build some momentum with that?
MARK STOOPS: "Early, again, critical penalties. I think we had a hold that we didn't overcome, a false start I don't think we overcame on that drive, you know, I believe. There were two penalties that obviously didn't help us continue drives. That's part of it. I think we have got to be a little more accurate. And I am not worried about Devin. He is one heck of a player, and he will get it ironed out. And he missed some things. I thought there were balls we could have caught as well. And there are things we can all do better. You know, there's -- be more physical at the point of attack, get it at second and five rather than second and nine or 10. We will all share in it, but later I thought we had some critical drives that were successful. So..."
Q Is Barion lobbying to get back there on punt returns?
MARK STOOPS: "He always returns some as well, you know, so the two of them get back there and get some. So... I'm trying to get his legs up underneath him and get him feeling good. He had a soft tissue injury a little bit during camp that hindered a little bit of his conditioning. Do you know what I mean? Playing and that. You can see his speed elevating and getting his legs up underneath him, as other players are."
Q Not letting anybody taking your joy from being 2-0. Last week you were not happy with the score.
MARK STOOPS: "I took my own joy last week, didn't I? It is pretty hard, it is pretty rough, isn't it? I'm pissed off if we win or lose. It hurts. It is rough. Yeah. Ha! Ha! I don't know. I don't know what the balance is. You know, I know that we are going to be back in, and I know that the team is eager to get back to work. You know, the staff and the team know that we have work to do. But they are willing to do it. And they have a good attitude about it. They know it is still not quite our standard. And we want to play better."
Q Mark, as good as you knew McKinney, what was he doing that still threw you off balance?
MARK STOOPS: "Well, I mean, have you watched him? I mean, he's an All-American. The guy is a good player. As I said last week, he does a great job when you are in his face. Do you know what I mean? He is like a magician, you are in his face, and he buys time and, you know, can get rid of the football. And, so, they have good schemes. When they are at what's time there are concepts and things that are challenging for us that we work. But there are different calls, different ways. There are things that they do that are good, you know, and one of the reasons why they have had such good seasons."
Kentucky will look to face Akron next in Week 3 of the 2023 season.