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October 13, 2014

Mark Stoops

COACH STOOPS:  Good victory, once again, going back to ULM.  Proud of the guys.  Obviously we'd like to start better.  We gotta work on that and get off to a better start.  A little flat, but give ULM credit.  I thought they had some good schemes and played very well early.
It was good to see our team have the ability to make big plays on both sides of the ball.  So overall, good team victory.
Really excited and looking forward to the great challenge of going to LSU this week.¬† Typical LSU team, extremely physical, well‑coached team.¬† We'll have our hands full, but again, looking forward to it.¬† It'll be a great challenge and a great opportunity.

Q.  Coach, aside from some of the emotion, how about the practicality of their offense.  The fan noise.  Also having a bigger offense.  Does that change how you communicate?
COACH STOOPS:  We'll do what we do on the road.  Same communication that we used in the swamp, you know.  So of course, you know, each of these challenges going on the road in the SEC, it's going to be loud and all that, so we gotta deal with it.  We'll be okay.

Q.  When you call on your linebackers, how did they do on film?
COACH STOOPS:  We were better.  We were much better.  I really was proud of Khalid.  I thought he played his best game.  He really improved.  Josh played better against the run as well.
Like I've said over and over, Josh does some things very well, but overall as a unit, they took great pride in trying to improve, and obviously that's going to‑‑ we're going to need a great week of preparation this week, because it's a different challenge this week.
You know, they run the ball extremely well.  They're extremely physical.  You know, with the emergence of their freshman tailback, Fournette he's a physical guy, and of course, Kenny Hilliard, their senior.  They got some good backs.  Very big, very physical.  Their whole line does a great job, so we'll have our hands full this week.

Q.  Is this one of the cases where you fight fire with fire and being more physical?
COACH STOOPS:  We need to do a lot of things better.  As coaching staff gotta do a better job of putting them in position to be successful and so scheme wise, we have to be good and on point.  And we need to continue to play great technique up front and we're going to need improved play from the linebackers and we're going to need great support from our secondary as well.  So it's always team defense.
You know, obviously starts up front with the technique of the D line and the linebackers.¬† So it's a combination of things that we're‑‑ you know, and obviously you know, they keep you off balance.¬† They know what they're doing.¬† They can run the ball, you know, a lot of different ways, and it's not just about brute brawn, you know.¬† They're big and physical, but they also know what they're doing.

Q.  You talk about a potential positive.  But winning some games where you haven't played your best.  Along those lines (inaudible).  What do you see in any trends there?  Is that one of those areas that you feel like you can fix that?
COACH STOOPS:  Well, I think that's part of it.  You know, we've talked about it.  We have not played our best.  That is the good news.  I think there's an awful lot of room for improvement in all phases.  We can coach better.  Guys can play better.  We can be more disciplined with penalties.  So that's what we're looking to continue to get better and improve.  So we'll continue to work on that with penalties.
Hey, when you have an aggressive team there's going to be some penalties, too.  So we will work on that and continue to work on discipline, but we do want an aggressive team.

Q.  Can you talk about Boom Williams?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah.¬† Boom it was great to get him back again last week, he had a big impact.¬† He's explosive.¬† You know, the kickoff return, getting him on the perimeter with some of those runs.¬† He's got the big‑play capability.¬† So he definitely helps us and gives us that added dimension of a home‑run guy.

Q.  Was that just a matter of riding the other guys?
COACH STOOPS:  No.  Again, we had 59 touches and splitting it up.  That's the good news as we move forward here with a big, physical game coming up this week, we have a lot of backs that we have confidence in.

Q.  (Inaudible) Sampson?
COACH STOOPS:¬† He's fine.¬† He's been playing‑‑ he's been a little bit sore, but he's been playing through it and he'll be okay.

Q.¬† And Darrian, do you know how he‑‑
COACH STOOPS:  Darrian will be fine as well.  He could have went back and played, but you know, once we were in control of things in the second half, we didn't feel the need.  And you know, so he should be healthy and ready to go.

Q.  You all kind of talked to your guys about not overreacting to touchdowns, act like they've done it before.  How do you kind of balance that wanting your guys to play with emotion?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah.  Well, we just need to constantly preach being unselfish, and you know, I want aggressiveness.  I want them enjoying it.  We're always toting that fine line of, you know, letting the guys be who they are.
You know, I want them excited at practice.¬† I want them excited in the games.¬† But we can't be selfish.¬† You know, we're not good enough to overcome foolish penalties, and you know, all those things.¬† So we've gotta continue to work on that, and you know, it's a situation this week where I'm going to self‑impose a penalty on one of our guys that's going to miss the first half of this game for that very reason.¬† So we just gotta continue to grow.

Q.  (Inaudible)?
COACH STOOPS:  Not really.  (Laughs).

Q.  The run game.  Having different players?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah.¬† You know, it just depends who gets hot, and we feel‑‑ each of those backs are a little bit different, and maybe it depends on what's hitting and what style, whether it be the Wildcat, like we talked about or Braylon hitting the big crease or Boom getting on the perimeter and Mikel.¬† Mikel is kind of the complete back as well.¬† He's a guy that has good vision for a big guy.¬† Some of those yards don't look real fancy, but really he's got good vision and he's a big, strong guy; and Mikel is a guy that I think the more and more touches he gets is better and better as well.¬† So we have a nice mixture.

Q.  What do you think of Marcus's progress at secondary making a couple of big plays?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah.¬† Marcus is growing.¬† And I gotta continue to lean on Marcus, and we've gotta continue to really push him, because he's got great ability, and it's just a matter of just really being disciplined in his preparation.¬† You know, he means well.¬† He's just gotta concentrate and be more precise in his practice habits, because he's got some big‑play capability, and he's a big, physical guy.¬† And so we gotta continue to work with him and continue to push him.

Q.  (Inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah.  He always sends texts, and we communicate back and forth throughout the year.  Bradley Dale has been a close friend of mine for a long time, and we'll continue to be.  I don't think we'll talk much this week.  Maybe he'll send me over some crawfish to the hotel or something, but we talk throughout the year.  Yeah.

Q.  Do you have to change anything in terms of signalling?
COACH STOOPS:¬† We're different‑‑ we already have different signals this year.¬† Yeah.

Q.  (Inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:  We just gotta, I think any coach will tell you just look to improve, you know, in all areas.
You know, I think just, again, talking about them, they're just very physical.  That's what you expect when you play LSU.  You know, I'm sure Coach Miles prides himself on that, and they are.  They're big and physical up front, big strong backs.
They're inexperienced at certain positions, but very talented.  They're extremely talented in the secondary.  You know, that's something that I noticed right away in watching them.  Just have great appreciation for the way they cover people.  They're big and long and athletic, and obviously very well coached with Coach Chavis being around forever, doing a great job.  So they're just good across the board.
And that's, you know, that's us, all we're doing is do is improve in the areas like you talk about, maybe we've not been strong, we gotta continue to improve and that's the good news is we're just scratching the surface.  I think we can be a much better football team.

Q.  (Inaudible) what are the characteristics of it?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Just well coached, always in position.¬† You know, aggressive, but they're in position.¬† You know, they're not going to give you anything.¬† You have to earn it.¬† You have to beat them.¬† And just a well‑coached team.¬† And always play hard.¬† I think any‑‑ that's always a compliment to any coach with the attitude of your players.

Q.  The hostile environment, are there things you can do to sort of prepare for that?
COACH STOOPS:¬† I really don't think there is.¬† Crowd noise is not going to simulate what it's like down there at 7:30 kickoff.¬† The good news is we've been to a hostile environment, and hopefully as I commented last week, I think we grew from that game, and hopefully we can take something away from it again, because you know, the way‑‑ you know, if we execute and do what we're capable of, you know, they can't get down there and play.
But I love the atmosphere.  I've been down there before.  They are passionate fans, and it's a hostile environment, and that's why we play.  That's why we coach.  You know, we want to continue to win games to put ourselves in position to play in big games.  So this will be a great challenge.

Q.  You had a slow start offensively.  Anything go wrong?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah.  It was a variety of things just like we talked about before.  It was always one guy.  You know, that's the good news because we talk about being flat and whatever.  There's no excuses.  They performed better than we did.  And but it was one guy.  It was a breakdown here or there, and those are things that we gotta get fixed.

Q.  Is it good or bad, though, that a lot of your players admitted that being flat was an issue?  Are you glad they understood that?
COACH STOOPS:¬† You're always glad to get through with a victory.¬† And you know, we can‑‑ I said it in a press conference last week, I believe, but I mean you can talk till you're blue in the face.¬† You can put all kind of examples in front of them.¬† We try to prepare them the best we can, and hopefully they learn something from it.
You know, it's not just emotion either.  You don't just turn emotion on on Saturday.  It's about the week, and I know I talk about that all the time, but it's so true.  They've gotta walk in our building today with a great attitude about them and a strong mindset to have a great week of preparation to put ourselves in position to win a game.

Q.  Halfway through this season, how would you evaluate the first half?
COACH STOOPS:  Progress.  We're making progress.  And I think you know, there's still a lot more in our tank.  There's a lot more we could do better.

Q.  Boom made a long return at the end of the game.  Overall can you talk about the return game?
COACH STOOPS:  No, I think we've been solid.  I really do.  I think we've been solid across the board on special teams and our return game.
You know, we had a muff here and there of a punt return; that's an individual decision that we got corrected.¬† But overall I'm really proud of our team's effort on special teams.¬† I've gotten‑‑ you know, I think as I just mentioned, you know, I've gotten some comments and some compliments of the way our teams are playing, and special teams is a big indicator, because you have to be unselfish to play special teams, and they don't get a lot of credit all the time, and I think our guys are playing very hard, and I think that's a credit to Coach Naivar, and he's very passionate about what he does, and our players really love playing for him and they played very hard and they've been unselfish.

Q.  How surprised are you at the leadership you're getting from either younger guys or transfers?
COACH STOOPS:  I think the tone is set by our older guys.  I don't think they get enough credit for what they're doing to try to change the culture in our locker room.  They've really been good, and they've been a pleasure to coach.  Our older guys have really kind of set the tone, and you know, are constantly working to continue to improve and be an unselfish team and a team that is doing the right things.  You know, we're not perfect, but there's a bunch of guys that are working extremely hard and doing a lot of good things.

Q.  Early in the season one of the best players in the conference in the country.  But in doing the other things, sort of the way he talks.
COACH STOOPS:  It's a great example, because all the great players, they want to jump out right away and get all those statistics and everything.  Everybody talks about them off season and in the preseason and all those things, and that's where you can get in trouble.  And we had some circumstances where, you know, not Bud, but certain people were trying to do too much, and it was hurting us.  And everybody's bought in trying to do their part.
You have to be very unselfish to play D line, and I think we're getting good D line play.  No matter what the recognition they're getting, they're playing very hard and fundamentally getting better and better and Bud is starting to get his statistics.  Z is starting to get his stats but the bottom line is those guys want to help us win football games and obviously play good and improve their stock in the draft and things like that by just playing good football, and people recognize it.  And they're just doing good things and they're getting better and better.  And again, I think, you know, you need that type of unselfish play.  The recognition and the plays will come if you play good.

Q.  At the beginning of the year the players talked about last year how frustrating it was not to (inaudible).  Can you talk about the turnaround?
COACH STOOPS:  I think, you know, as you've seen throughout the year, some of it has been great individual efforts.  Some of it has just been good team defense.  Some of it's just been a fortunate break here and there.  And you know, the harder you work, the luckier you become, you know, and so you know, I think our guys have really bought into that and we're working hard to put ourselves in position, and you have to have great structure and great position on the football to make plays.
And I think you've seen a variety of things, like I just said, you know, some individual effort and some just good position on the ball with team defense.

Q.  One of the open practices in preseason, we were walking by your (inaudible).  Seemed like the team was breaking on the ball, taking chances, wanting to make places, that's what we didn't see last year.  Is that from a confidence level of being in the system a second year?
COACH STOOPS:¬† I think it's a combination of things.¬† I think our coaches have done a good job of working with them fundamentally getting better.¬† I think‑‑ a big part of it is understanding.¬† You know, you have to be mentally sharp to play this game, know where and how to take your chances, where your help is, just understanding the whole situation.
And so a big part of it is technique, and a big part of it is mental, just like a lot of things, you know.

Q.  How did Patrick break out on the film?
COACH STOOPS:  Patrick did some good things.  I thought we took care of the football better in this game, outside of Jojo's pass (laughs).  So I thought Patrick really did some good things, and you know, maybe wasn't flashed everybody and all that, but really threw the ball well when he had to and really had some good throws.  We were off a little bit at times, too, whether it be a receiver or high throw here or there, so we weren't perfect, but he did some good things.

Q.  Good decisions?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, I liked his decisions, yeah.  Gotta keep him honest.  We're working two or three more this week.

Q.  (Inaudible)?
COACH STOOPS:  Well, I think if you're going to play quarterback, you better embrace that tag because there's times when, you know, whatever.  You know, they may be covering you.  You know, may call for more runs.  You know, you gotta protect the football and play defense.  You know, game changes all the time.  It very rarely goes according to script.
But with that being said, I think Neal's done a nice job, and certainly I try to, of instilling a bunch of confidence in him.  We believe in his ability and we want him to go out there and throw, and there's going to be moments when he's gotta go win us a game, too.  It goes with the territory of playing quarterback.

Q.  Being quarterback, you're that game manager.  What's been put on him as a label (inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:¬† I don't know.¬† You know, I don't know what he thinks about that.¬† I'm not going to ask him.¬† You know, I know he's going to have to throw the ball well for us to win some games.¬† And this week it's not going to be easy, and he has to be more than a manager in this game.¬† He's gotta have‑‑ his talent has gotta show and he's gotta play confident and he's gotta throw the ball and he's gotta play aggressive.

Q.  I don't know if you saw some of what the press said after the game.  Is that what you want your guys to do that you pay attention to what he said?
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah, I did not pay attention to what he said.¬† I didn't see it or hear it.¬† Sorry to offend you guys like that, but I can't‑‑ (laughs).¬† I can't read the good stuff because I know you're going to get me when it goes bad.¬† Believe me.¬† So I don't.
But I do want him to own up to his mistakes, and you know, that's what we try to do.  Again, we're far from perfect, but we're going to hold guys accountable.  We did some things amongst the team that holds that accountability at a pretty high level where they had to address the team and talk to the team and not just, hey, I'm sorry or any of that.  They came into a team meeting and sat and addressed it with their teammates.  So I think, you know, how they are dealt with by their peers is as strong as anything.  And we're trying to, you know, teach them some lessons.  They're good kids that made a mistake and I'm glad we've put it behind us now and hopefully we'll learn from it.

Q.  On that subject, (inaudible) he thought this team was different from the standpoint that guys can get on other guys and they take it the right way, like hey, you can do a better job doing this, I saw you doing that where in the past maybe guys didn't take it the right way.  What's behind that?
COACH STOOPS:  Well, there's no place to hide.  There's accountability at a high level, and we've gotta continue to push that higher and higher and that's what we're preaching more.  We want more, whether it be more effort, more accountability.  You know, and players' self awareness, too.  The players gotta understand they can't be naive, and that's what helps with some of the things we're doing, whether it be peer evaluations and different things.  We don't want to create a culture where they can hide anywhere.

Q.  You talk about managing emotions and the maturation process.  Is there a pretty fine line between that?  When you talk to them about that?
COACH STOOPS:  I'm sorry.  Start the beginning of that question.

Q.  When you talk about managing your emotions, you're pretty fiery on the sidelines so have you talked to your players, does it help keep it in check?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, and again, you know, there's a balance there.  There's a fine line.  We want to be intense, and you know, play with great emotion and great passion, but we have to keep that in control.
You know, I'm certainly not perfect in that area.  I told you, I think it was after the South Carolina game, Swindle, he said, "Coach, you got too much juice' (laughs), which means calm down, you know.  So we always tease each other about having good energy and having good juice in practice.  He told me, smiled at me during the game and said, "coach, too much juice" (laughs).
But I think there's a balance for all of us, and you know, that's the great thing about sports and that's the great thing about college football, and you know, you gotta go out there and play, and there's times to be poised and there's time to be enthusiastic and energetic and all that.  But you know, I know you gotta have great emotion and great passion or, you know, we're going to have a difficult time winning some games in this league.

Q.¬† What's the closest you've come to‑‑ (inaudible)?
COACH STOOPS:  I've been pretty good.  No, you know, I do make a conscious effort to make sure things are in control, and again, I think your team is a reflection of you as well.  So there's times to be passionate and there's times to be calm, and I'm by no means perfect at any of those, just I am who I am.  I think you all know that by now.  I really can't be any other way.

Q.  (Inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah.  We got some stories about that.  (Laughs).  No.  Coach Edmond and I go way back, you know, back to Arizona.  And he had that job at Arizona, and he will not do that here.  He's done with that (laughs).  So we got some other guys.

Q.  (Inaudible) you get a lot of players, guys who wouldn't dare.
COACH STOOPS:¬† Yeah.¬† We have an open relationship.¬† I think there's great respect amongst the coaching staff and the team, and we're all in this together, and so I think we have‑‑ we have a good bond in our locker room and within our program right now.

Q.  You talked about managing that juice, big game.  Win on the line.  Is that a challenge to kind of manage that?
COACH STOOPS:  It is.  It always is.  Like we talked about last week is if we want the opportunity to play in big games, then you gotta take care of your business, and you know, last week taking care of that business to move on and play in a big game like this one.  So for me getting them excited to play this game shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Q.  You mentioned the leadership program a little bit.  How much has that helped you get through?
COACH STOOPS:  It's helped a bunch.  I think it's helped us all give us some structure and how we manage this situation and communicate about it and hold accountability to all of us in the program.

Q.  Game in between now and then obviously, but 3:30 (inaudible) here on CBS.  Been a long time since you were in that position.  What does it say about where you are headed that you can play him in that position?
COACH STOOPS:  You know, that's great.  Obviously I'm not going to get ahead of myself.  But every time you win in this league, you're going to put yourself in position for a bigger game.
So I think it's a compliment to our team what we've done to this point, and I know, you know, every game gets bigger and we have a huge one at LSU this week, and that's what's on our mind.

Q.  Mississippi State is No. 1, Ole Miss.  Got off to a great start.  Just the way you guys have improved.  Does it show that the league is becoming more balanced?
COACH STOOPS:  I believe so.  We've commented on it a little bit through some of these press conferences through the year, and I've mentioned it before.  You don't see anybody backing up in this league, and I know quite a few of the coaches in this league and their staffs and the commitment from a lot of people.  So nobody's going back, and I believe it does give you a little bit more parity.

Q.  Have you talked to some of the other coaches in the league about the turnaround of Kentucky this year?
COACH STOOPS:¬† We're all busy and different things.¬† Just congratulations here and there and texts.¬† You know, so we have some‑‑ I have some friends throughout the staff‑‑ or throughout the conference, like most people.¬† Like a lot of people in this business, just like Coach Peve and all the other guys.

Q.  Got some compliments along the way about how this team is playing.  What's been the best compliment anyone's given you so far?
COACH STOOPS:  Yeah, I don't want to get into too much, but the bottom line is just about the attitude and how hard we're playing.  You know, if it's a group that plays hard, then that's a compliment to me, you know, so they've gotta be passionate and hungry and playing hard.

Q.  (Inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:  I mean it was beautiful at the time, you know.  I loved it.  It was great to see guys make individual efforts, you know.  I think as a team it's well documented, we're trying to do things necessary to improve, but you gotta have some individual players that make those great plays and that was great to see.

Q.  (Inaudible).
COACH STOOPS:  I know Les just from the years of coaching.  You know, not on a personal level.  I really like him.  I think he's fun to watch.  You gotta give him credit.  Boy, he wins a lot of close games.  And he's obviously doing something right, and you know, I think, again, going back to the things I just talked about the best compliment you get is your team is tough.  They're always tough and physical and that's a direct reflection of him.

Q.  Do you get nightmares because he's going to do something that is not on the script, it's not on the sheet?
COACH STOOPS:  I don't know.  I mean I don't know why, but he wins close games, and obviously his team's belief in him and what they're doing, because they're never out of it.

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