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Mark Stoops Previews Akron Game

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Mark Stoops took to the podium this Monday - as he does every week - to officially kick-off Week 3 and preview his team's next opponent. The Akron Zips will face Kentucky this Saturday evening inside another packed Kroger Field stadium.


Here's everything the head coach had to say today, via UK's press release.


Opening Statement

“It’s good to be sitting here—it’s a bit redundant—talking about another victory with the good and the bad. It’s two weeks in a row we’re sitting in here on Monday, grateful for any victory as I’ve mentioned before. I really appreciate our players working hard, getting some things corrected, finishing the game strong, and getting the victory. Once again, I think there are things that we know we need to improve on, and have to improve on, as the competition improves. We will be anxious to get back to work again today. I think there were definite signs of improvement this past week, even though it didn’t always appear right there on the film."

“I would also like to acknowledge this [today] being 9/11 and recognize and thank and just remember all the heroes that lost their lives, and all the heroes that saved a bunch of lives. It doesn’t take you very long to be in any type of situation where you need first responders and/or doctors and it happens to hit very close to home with me today and the appreciation and need for those folks. On this day, I think it’s certainly fitting to remember them and thank them and pray for all the people that lost their lives. It has been a challenging day or so for us and we will continue to push forward as always. I think the prognosis of things look good with the people in our office and that will be back in our office. I will leave it at that on that subject."

“Again, looking back at the film, as I mentioned, give EKU a lot of credit for a lot of good things, no surprise there in the way that they played. Looking forward to this weekend’s challenge with Akron, I have a tremendous amount of respect for [Akron Head Coach] Joe Moorhead, the person that he is and the coach that he is. I believe, in his time at Mississippi State [2018-19], we split one home game each. [His teams are] always tough, physical, and hard-nosed. He is very creative offensively. They have been very multiple. We will go back and look at quite a few things when he was at Mississippi State and we will look at things [from] when he was at Akron and try to put together a very good plan on both sides of the ball to go compete and try to go 3-0, right before conference play the following week. We have some things we need to improve on and looking forward to getting back out there.”

On the stories and memories that you cherish about Kroger Field…

“Just some of the great things that our sports information people put together and our people that put the content and highlight films together. Sometimes I’ll be walking by and see the highlights and hearing those stories. Just great respect for our past players and coaches and the wonderful moments that have gone on. I wasn’t here [until 2013], so I only know the last 10+ years.”

On the balance between your rushing and passing game…

“I think we ended up 24 of 38, close to 300 [yards]. I think we’re always searching for balance. There were some situations in that game, again, where things were blocked well. We had a couple missed runs that we haven’t had and some missed runs for good intentions—maybe trying to create too much or whatever—missing the hole and those lead to some bad things, including two holding penalties that were blocked. Then there were some others that we were trying to establish the run and run the ball, but we would get to 2nd-and-9 or 2nd-and-8, so non-successful runs put us in a bad spot play-calling wise. We want the balance. We have to continue to work the run game. I think there have been some very good spots in there. I believe we ran for 5.8 (average per rushing attempt) this game, I’m not sure what it was last game. Even offensively, as frustrating as we are at times, we’re hurting ourselves on certain possessions, once again good field position, kind of waste a possession. We have some drive-starters [then] things happen. We can’t overcome penalties right now, we can’t overcome drops, we can’t overcome missed throws. You put that combination together and there is enough blame to go around to all of us and all of us [need] to accept that responsibility to continue drives.”

On how to prepare your team potentially without Liam Coen…

“We’ll be fine. We’ve got it under control. We’ve worked extremely hard after a challenging day. We had a good work night and got some things in place. We will move forward and get corrections made from this past game and get going on Akron, and have already done both.”

On the defense giving opponents a more than 50.0 percent third-down conversion rate…

“It needs to improve. There’s a variety of things—there are no excuses. There are things that we will get fixed—it’ll just sound like excuses. Guys missing a signal, two guys dropping to the wrong hook. Things that we have got to get fixed. I think the guys played strong up front and got some good pressure. I thought defensively the good thing we did was we dictated to them early because [EKU] has the type of offense and scheme that can nickel and dime you and create and later they hit us. They were aggressive and we needed that early. When we were struggling offensively, we had a chance to get off on the first one—and we were in a bad situation there—with a third down that you’re talking about and I don’t want to see miscommunication because everybody blows that out of control. One guy read something wrong and went the wrong way. We give up that third down, but that can’t happen as competition improves. We have to get off there and we had the chance to stop that. Then [on] the next two drives, I think we get the fumble first and then the interception at a time when we really needed it and later you get the big punt return to set us up, we really needed it. That part of it as a team, we were better. Instead of ‘okay, offensive is struggling’ and let a good offensive team with a very experienced quarterback nickel and dime and drive and extend it that way. That I thought we did a good job of early. Later, give them credit, as we getting aggressive and doing some good things, they hit some free release stuff and created a couple nice plays, a couple explosive plays. Once again, credit [Defensive Coordinator] Brad [White] and our defense for combing back with the adjustment and get the big sack and kind of ice it. That’s where everything’s not -- the sky’s not falling. There were a lot of things that were good. There were plenty of areas we know we have to improve and I’m very confident we will.”

On Courtland Ford…

“Courtland played really good. I thought he did a good job.”

On how you’re addressing pre-snap penalties…

“No excuse, we talk about it last year, early in the season, going in the hostile environments and executing at an extremely high level with things of that nature in a super-intense situation on the road, why can’t we do it now? I think for us it’s a heightened awareness, the discipline that it takes to always expect that from ourselves, not against some opponents.”

On who will call the offense Saturday…

“Yeah, I’m not getting into any of that right now.”

On if you expect to have Jeremy Flax back Saturday…

“I do.”

On missed tackles…

“I think we’re playing pretty physical still, I really do. We missed some, there was a ton of space when they hit the little angle route and there’s a guy coming from 20-yards. That’s a tough tackle – we gave up another 20, I think, it was a big miss. But as I told you many times, when we’re in position, that’s when you look clean, you look really good. When you have great position on the ball, you have a tendency to really make good tackles. There’s another one that does jump out at me that you’re probably referencing that we missed one that should have been a 5-yard gain that turned into 15 or 20 at a critical moment – we can’t do that. There’s no excuse. That’s just a miss in the open field. The guys around the ball, I thought our edges, you could tell we hit some perimeter runs. They tried some, I thought we contained them pretty well. They were pretty tough between the tackles, with tackles and fits and things of that nature. There were a few in the secondary, give some of them some credit too when there’s a 20, 30-yard space, good luck. That’s a tough tackle no matter who you’re playing. Then there’s one or two that aren’t excusable that you just got to get down and so those are all things we’ll continue to address, continue to work on.”

On what was going right for the offense when Devin Leary was in rhythm in the second half…

“You look at the second half, he was 10 of 13, darn near 200 yards (198), three TDs, scored on three straight possessions in the second half, and we were rolling on the fourth. I think he ended with eight or nine straight completions. And he said it, you know basically, ‘Sorry I missed those earlier’ and I’m like ‘Dude you’ll be alright, just hang in there’. I have a ton of confidence in him. He missed some throws. We mis-ID’ed a couple things we got to continue to tighten down. We had a couple of drops and in the second half we didn’t.”

On how you feel the offensive front is doing overall…

“The front is doing good. Again, we got to continue to ID things clean. We were better but we weren’t perfect and so we need to continue as the competition continues to rise then we need to continue to improve.”

On Trevin Wallace through week two…

“Yes, he’s very sudden as you can tell. He’s very quick, he’s very fast, he’s making quick decisions – he’s just more comfortable with the game.”

On Barion Brown’s presence on kickoff and punt returns…

“I thought they did a nice job on kickoff. Even with the -- our one punt that netted zero with the block -- we were still plus on the day. The special teams were really solid. The rest of the punts netted 50-plus on every one of them and with Barion’s 36 (yard return), even after we had zero, we netted 39 (yards per punt), 38.8 or something like that, and they netted 27. On the kickoff return we got good possession. They did a nice job on their kicks though. I felt like we could’ve gotten a little more out of that we knew that would probably come and we were well prepared for it. If you want to get greedy I felt on a couple of them we could have got 5-6 more (yards) instead of fair catching it. You get it anywhere between the 30-35 you take it. They had one really good kick where it was very high and I want to say it got to the 27, so that’s a win for them, you know keep it out of Barion’s hands and take it at the 27, I’m sure they will take that all day. But overall we were still very solid and impactful, and that punt return with him, you know was impactful. It was a time when we needed it, once again it’s nice, back-to-back games where special teams impacted us in an extremely positive way.”

On how Kentucky will match up with Akron…

“They’re doing a lot right now, very creative, I think creative minds, when they have time over the summer, you look at the first two games and there’s a lot in there. They hit a T-pipe, they hit the back out of the backfield that they tried on us a different way but they’ve done it over. We stopped [it], I think Yusuf [Corker] broke it up. I know they hit us maybe a year or two before with the quarterback runs, and the back leading, if you’re at any split safety stuff, they’re always sneaking that back down. It’s a tough play and we stopped it in 2018 or ‘19 and they may have hit us on it; it even might’ve been when Coach [Dan] Mullen was there. They rotated quarterbacks this past week, we got to be ready for a little bit of everything. It’s not exactly like Mississippi State but you see Joe and his philosophies still showing up and you see the creativity from him. I really like Joe.”

On why we’re seeing closer scores across the league and nation this season…

“I think a little bit of everything may go into that. I noticed some of that, I don’t really have time to look at all of it, but some games you may watch, you are seeing possessions down, you gotta look at what you’re doing on possessions on both sides of the ball. I felt like we made a little adjustment, got a little more aggressive defensively on some things, got out of some drives early even though they still had some, I told you that all week. They’re good and they’re smart. Offensively we’re pro style, we are looking at things still to expedite the play calling, operation and getting out there. Liam is harder on himself then anybody is. He’s always been that way, his first go around here, there’s many times early -- people think I’m high strung (laughter) -- I’m like ‘Dude, we’re going to be ok just stay the course, stay with it, stay positive.’ He’s very hard on himself but I think it’s different with the clock (rule changes) and play calling and with us pro style, sometimes the game can go quick. Again I like the fact that I’m looking at the drive chart a lot. The bottom line is we need to win the game and we want to limit points but I’m seeing time of possession, I’m looking at the top of theirs and its 2:30, 2:50, 44 seconds, 47 seconds, 2:30, 2:42, 42 seconds, then 5 I don’t like and there’s some in there but it was better and I think you have to look at all those things and make sure you’re adjusting and preparing the right way.”

On Tayvion Robinson’s role on the offense this season…

“We challenged him, he’s responded, he’s been more consistent. There’s a great example of just maturity, just being an older guy, being coachable and playing within the offense. With the question we were just talking about with limited play sometimes, we have one football and some playmakers. And I’m not saying this like anybody was negative, I think unity and talking about that and together and team is a big part of that but human nature, competitive people, they want the football. Each running back probably wants the ball every time, every wideout wants the targets, every tight end wants the targets. Especially with the game expediated a bit this year, you have to play within the offense and he’s done that because it’s been proven, Liam can certainly work targets, but if you play within the scheme people are going to have their big games, it might not be every game.”

On the throw by Devin Leary and the catch by Tayvion Robinson for the touchdown before halftime…

“Great throw, great catch. I don’t think Tayvion really expected it by the way the defender was playing, because he played it but he was flat-footed and so the quarterback -- that was one heck of a throw, there was another option on that route we could’ve gone to but he went for the strike and it was beautiful. He really had some nice throws later. Devin missed some early, he’ll be the first one to tell you. Add in a drop or two, maybe a receiver can bail him out. Second half he wasn’t perfect but he made a couple (throws), I wouldn’t say crazy difficult, but not exactly routine, right? There was a second down, I want to say, the receiver went down and made a catch for him and kept the chains moving. We ended up scoring on that drive. That’s the way you should play for each other.”

On the confidence in cornerbacks…

“We changed it up a bit and again dictated a little bit more at times but Brad always mixes it up. It’s hard to get a good fix on what we’re doing, as we sit there and we’re breaking down and saying ‘Who is this team offensively, who are they offensively?’ I can imagine sitting in another room and ‘Who are they defensively?’ We do a lot, and not perfect but do a lot of good things.”

On evaluating the tackling after looking at film…

“Well, that’s probably the question, the ones that stick out … I’m not saying certain players but we had some things down on one-on-ones that are either going to be off the field or create 3rd downs, 3rd and 5’s, and broke a tackle that created a first down. That’s one that jumps out at me right now. The free release, the angle route, there was a ton of space in that but it did give up another 20 yards, that you got to get them down at that point. That may not look the best but that’s when you got to get them down and it may not be a perfect profile tackle but you have to find a way to get them down, so there were several of those that stood out probably that he [Brad White] was talking about.”

On if you’re shifting your messaging this week after making several of the same mistakes from week one to week two…

“A lot of the message will be the same. I expect our team to respond. They did last week, they did in practice, there were certain things on film that did show up. The drive-stalling things cannot happen, we know that. We got to get those things cleaned up, they're going to jump up and hurt us if we don’t get them corrected. But I’m confident that we will, confident we will continue to grow and get better in certain areas.”

On if Ray Davis displays maturity in his play…

“It was super to see him get the explosive play on the wheel route. It was a great throw, great catch, and a tremendous finish by him to go strong with two hands and dive at the pylon and get the touchdown, it was a heck of a play by him. Ray has been a great member of our team. Like you said, very mature, very talented, and has done some really good things. May have pressed himself a little too much this past week. He had a couple that were there, that he usually hits right where we designed them. Maybe wanted a little too much and bounced them, and with that, actually got us two holding penalties. So, it’s not always on the hold, it’s where the ball is expected and needs to go.”

On if you knew Ray Davis would be this versatile when recruiting him...

“Yeah, he is a complete back, he can play every down. We knew he was very talented.”

On Eli Cox winning SEC Player of the Week and the leadership he brings to the offense…

“Eli is, as I mentioned in pre-season, such a solid guy. A great leader, one of those guys who are just a rock, an anchor. You just expect him to be out there playing well at whatever position. We got, I want to say, nine snaps with him at the end in center, just to make sure we are protecting ourselves and getting some options. I thought Jager [Burton] played better. That was really good to see. I said that a week ago and just the time, and experience, a very good player that needed some snaps under his belt, he played better. [We] Worked Eli there some just to get that under his belt. To him, I think second nature, just go do it with no problem but we still work it during the week, but was good to get some game reps.”

On how Eli Cox helps Jager Burton at center…

“It helps a lot on the IDs and the calls. Jager wants to be the center. That’s great, I love it. I love he is eager and doing it. But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a guy like that, that can ID things that has experience in that way so that way Jager can just concentrate. As I mentioned a week ago, there’s a lot, when you are ID’ing it all, which way this pressure is coming, which way are we sliding the line, where are these safeties rotating, I’m snapping the ball, and by the way I have to go block somebody. So, there’s a lot there.”

On how you refocus on the business at hand when someone close to you has a medical episode…

“It’s always a challenge because we have a very tight staff and a big group. I’ve been here 11 years, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten emotional on this thing, so don’t try to get me (laughter). The emotions could come out on me right now because, you know, we love each other. And when we work, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. So, when anything happens to any of our staff members, it’s hard. I can’t dive into too much but we have a lot of special people there. As I mentioned in the opening statement, with your appreciation for any police, fire, EMS, doctors, and what appreciation you have when you need them, you know?”

On striving for perfection…

“That’s exactly the quote I used with the team a week ago. We’re striving for perfection, knowing you’re probably not going to get it, but in the meantime, you may find excellence. Exactly what I said to them and used it a week ago, it wasn’t mine. I’m not original on that.”





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