COACH STOOPS: Looking forward to getting back out to the action this week. Team had a good bye week. Rested up, got some good work. Looking forward to a big rivalry game this week with Louisville. They’re certainly playing some good football, coming off a big win this past week at ND. So we’re excited and rested and ready to get to this challenge here this week.
- (Dorian) Baker’s not on the depth chart?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he got hurt last week, so he’s done for the year. He’s going to need surgery.
- On what?
COACH STOOPS: Knee.
- So if you went to a bowl game, he wouldn’t be available?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah. Unfortunate accident. We were practicing against each other doing some good‑on‑good, but really it was no‑contact. He just planted awkward and hurt his knee.
- When you get back to basics during the bye week, what do you think they benefited the most from during that time?
COACH STOOPS: It was good just to get out. After a couple days’ rest, get out and do some good, competitive work. Get back to some fundamentals. Do some things that we do through camp where we go good against good, do some one‑on‑ones. We do some half lines where we just technique‑wise need to get better sometimes throughout the season. You get so enamored with the X’s and O’s and assignments that you drift from some of the basics. We obviously try not to. We constantly have individual (practice periods) in certain things, but it was good to spend more time with that last week.
- Neal (Brown) mentioned you would break down every play they run, every position grouping together. Is there anything you guys do similarly on the defense?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we’ll go back ‑‑ when you have time like that, we go back and look at all the things we’ve done well, things we’ve done poorly. Whether it be technique, somebody just getting beat, scheme, whatever it might be and try to zero in on things that they’ll be looking at and things that they’ll want to exploit.
So we spent a good dose of time looking at ourselves trying to get better, and obviously getting ahead of Louisville.
- Does that reveal anything to you that you may be in the moment, or as the games were just going week to week, you hadn’t necessarily identified about yourself?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think you’re always learning. As I say, just speak in general terms here, I think you’re always looking at things and seeing things you could do better. Again, whether it be fundamentals or scheme.
- You sitting here today, do you feel a little fresher as a coach?
COACH STOOPS: A little what?
- Little fresher just mentally.
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, you can’t help but feel better. Yeah, it gets to be a lot when you’ve got, I think it was eight straight weeks, so it was nice to have one day off.
- Which day was that for you?
COACH STOOPS: Saturday.
- Did that mean you got to watch football on that day?
COACH STOOPS: I did. I did, yeah. I couldn’t get away from it too far. I didn’t watch as much as I normally do though, actually. I got out of the house. Took my boys out of the house for a while.
- Did you catch the Louisville game?
COACH STOOPS: Most of it. I caught a good portion of it. Obviously very impressive win for them. Their coach is doing a great job. They haven’t missed a beat to what they’ve been doing. They win a bunch of football games, they play extremely hard. They’re very well‑coached, and that’s an impressive win. They’re playing good football.
- What are your impressions of Reggie Bonnafon?
COACH STOOPS: I’ve been impressed. Very cool. He’s been just very poised back there, making good decisions. I think it also speaks a lot to Coach Petrino and what he does and how he calls plays and protects him. He’s got a very good football team around him that are physical, they can run the ball. They do a nice job of mixing it up, keeping you off balance. You’ve heard me talk about that all year. That’s why you need balance. They have very good balance. They’re physical. Can hurt you in the run game, and then they have the play actions off of it.
I think Reggie has played some very good football, along with their whole offense. Certainly them having DeVante (Parker) back outside is a real weapon. He is a fantastic football player and a guy you’ve constantly got to have your eye on and know where he’s at.
- Some rivalries are built on respect, others are built on a dislike. How do you define this rivalry?
COACH STOOPS: Well, we’re trying to create it to be a bigger and better rivalry. I think that comes from us having to play better football and winning more games and putting ourselves in a position where we can get this game on a more national scale. But it’s important. It’s important to the people in this state. It’s important to our fans and our players and coaches.
So, you know, I think it’s just like most of these games. It’s important to a lot of people, and you feel that, and you want to go play well.
- In retrospect as you look back, do you like it being the last game of the year?
COACH STOOPS: I really don’t put any thought into that anymore. It is what it is. So we’re excited and ready for this opportunity.
- Coach, we often talk about the physicality of playing in the SEC. How do they stack up compared to the opponents you guys have had?
COACH STOOPS: I think there is no question they’re a nationally ranked, top‑20 team and deserve to be. They’re a very good football team that’s physical and they’re balanced.
So it’s hard to say. I don’t know. You’d have to make your own decision on where they stack up with the rest of the SEC.
- They ran the ball pretty effectively in the second half, Louisville. They ran some sets where they ran offset lines and tackles with tight ends. What would be the key to try to stop that?
COACH STOOPS: I think they do a very good job. I don’t think it’s any secret that Coach Petrino does a nice job of setting up his run game and scheming the run game, not so much like some teams (that) are gonna line up and pound you with certain run games. They scheme their run game really well. They have some really good boots (bootlegs) and play actions off of everything, and they keep you off balance. I think that is the key to any good play‑caller is keeping you off balance.
- One guy with 13 interceptions in the secondary, how do you combat a guy like that? Is it possible to throw away from him?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, (Gerod) Holliman, I remember him coming out of high school. Very good player there from Florida. I remember the other safety, No. 2 (James Sample), just as good. He doesn’t have the numbers, but they’re good football players, both of them.
- Talking about the run game and how they scheme it. They run unbalanced line and stuff like that.
COACH STOOPS: They do some. They mix it up, but he likes certain run plays versus four downs (down linemen), certain versus three down. Certain guys are going to pull. Once again, just a variety of things.
I think it’s a credit to them sometimes when you look at their whole body of work, they do quite a bit and execute it very well. So what and how they want to feature each week is something you’ve got to keep an eye on. But he likes certain plays versus four down, certain versus three. And again, I think they execute them. The key to them and their success is they execute them very well.
- It’s a rivalry game, you’re playing for a bowl. Are you concerned at all that you guys might get a little too caught up in the moment, especially the start?
COACH STOOPS: I hope not. I don’t think we’ll be tight. We shouldn’t be. We’ve got a lot to play for. Guys are excited and energized. Like I said, it’s been a good, tough stretch against some quality teams down the stretch here. We’ve got time for a bye, and we’re playing our rival on the road for an opportunity to go to a bowl game. So it is what it is.
We’ll prepare and be excited to go play. But there is no reason to be tense or to go play tight. I don’t anticipate that. I’d like to see us play with that great passion and energy that we did for most of the season.
- Will it be extra gratifying to get it against your rivals?
COACH STOOPS: I really don’t care who we get it against. (laugher) It really doesn’t. No, I think, no, I’d just love to get it.
- (Question regarding Reggie Bonnafon.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think I’m just impressed with him. I think you can see that he comes from a great high school program. You can see that he’s won a lot of football games. I think, again, it’s a credit to their coaching staff and the positions that they put him in.
I think that’s the nice thing when you have balance in your offense. So they don’t have to necessarily just put it all on him to win a game. They have good players around him and a good scheme.
- Has Patrick (Towles) had any lingering effects from the ankle injury at Tennessee?
COACH STOOPS: We’ll see how he is today. Hopefully he’ll be out there at full strength today. So we’ll see.
- What would you like to see from him?
COACH STOOPS: I’d just like to see him go back to really playing a quality game. He’s had some ups and downs; we’ve all seen that. He’s done some very good things at times. So I’d like to see him really put it all on the line this last week and go out and just play and be the great leader that he’s shown at times this year and really just lay it on the line and play a quality football game for us.
- Obviously a lot has changed since the last time you played Coach Petrino. What have you learned about him this last year?
COACH STOOPS: I think I need more time to study him. We’re different right now. He’s different in some ways, but some things are a staple that you can go back a long time with him. But just the opportunity to really study him some more and just see what he likes in certain situations and what he likes in the run game to certain people.
But he’s a very good football coach and has a lot of answers. Again, he mixes things up very well.
- When you struggled defensively, were there things you tried to do in the off week to build those guys back up?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we did. And a lot of it was putting guys in competitive situations and making competitive plays. I think you look at those games and we weren’t making our fair share of competitive plays. It gets down to making plays and being a good football player at times. Fundamentally getting guys in the right spots.
So we worked on everything, yeah.
- What have you seen on film with Louisville’s front and maybe Saturday’s game, what stands out about how they attack, how they pressure a quarterback?
COACH STOOPS: Well, they play extremely hard. They play very hard. I think if you look at Coach (Todd) Grantham and what they’ve done defensively, I think in certain ways may be simplified maybe in certain ways. Their guys are playing very hard. I think that’s the thing I’ve noticed the last two years playing Louisville.
To their credit, I think they play very hard. And their guys, their front gets after it, and plays, like I said, plays relentless, as does their whole defense. They’ve played really well.
- Would you say win or lose, this has been a successful season for you?
COACH STOOPS: I’ll let you decide on whether it’s been successful or not. I really haven’t put any thought into that, to be honest with you. I know we’re a better football team. I felt like that coming into the year that we’d be better. I think we are better. Are we where I want to be? No, and probably not where a lot of people want to be. So we’re going to keep on working, and keep on getting better.
I am proud of this team. I felt like they’ve been a fun group to coach. They mean well, they work hard, and they have a great attitude. We’re just not quite as good as we’d like to be.
- Along those lines, what would a win this weekend mean?
COACH STOOPS: I think a win this weekend would do an awful lot for these players. I think they deserve it. That’s what I’ve told them. They put in the work. They’ve put in the time and they care and they deserve to win and have that taste of success and that taste of a bowl game.
I’d like to see that for them.
- For a coaching staff, you guys started so well, 5‑1, and to not go into the off‑season with six losses in a row, momentum‑wise, recruiting, everything, how important is it to try to avoid that?
COACH STOOPS: I think it’s important. You really try not to ever think about this streak or that streak or whatever. You put your head down and go one at a time. Obviously, anytime, I’ve made no bones about that. Every win is a huge win for us when you’re trying to build a program. That’s what’s difficult when you play the stretch that we have. When you’re trying to build a football program in the SEC, there is no easy one out there. It really can take its toll on you when you’re not as physical as you’d like to be. That’s where it’s pretty evident that we have to go back to recruiting like we talked about, and really work on our players in physically developing them to get bigger and stronger.
- On the recruiting side, do you feel like the losses have maybe put any doubt in players’ heads?
COACH STOOPS: No, not at all. I feel very good about where we’re at and where we’re going recruiting.
- You mentioned Parker, a fantastic player. What are your corners going to have to do to contain him?
COACH STOOPS: Well, I think we’ve got to compete certainly better than we’ve been the past couple of weeks. We’ve got to compete at a much higher level. We’ve got to be conscious of where he’s at. We’ve got to have guys underneath. If it’s zoned coverages or different things, getting to their spots, getting under him, so we can affect him a little bit. And, again, I think that’s where any offense that has the balance and can run and pass and put you in that situation where they can put him in some one‑on‑ones because they can run the ball. So once again, once we read the play action or boots and certain things, trying to get people under him to help.
- Are your corners healthy?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, we were banged up pretty good. We’re in good shape now. We’ll be better. We’ll see what this weekend did for them. They should be out there this week ready to go.
- You had a rivalry game against Tennessee. This one’s Louisville. I know the players are excited but how fired up are you to play a rivalry game?
COACH STOOPS: I think the whole staff and everybody’s excited about it. We’ve talked about that right after the last game. It’s a beautiful thing, as we have this opportunity in front of us to get the sixth victory against a big rival. A lot of people would believe in this state that it’s the most important game of the year.
So it’s important and it’s exciting.
- Do you believe in it?
COACH STOOPS: I think every game is important. I really do.
- Do you put any more importance on this game?
COACH STOOPS: No, I don’t. No. Like I just said, I think all of them are important. We all know how difficult they are to come by. So I think each one is very important to us. Just winning, when you win, it obviously builds that confidence within your team. That is what’s difficult when you’re playing the schedule that we play. The players need to feel that success. I think that’s why it was great to get off to that start that we did. But anytime you’ve lost a certain number of games in a row, that doubt is obviously going to creep up into your mind, and that’s what we have to get out of there.
That’s why we had to have a great week of preparation, and go play with that great excitement and enthusiasm that we did in certain games.
- It’s often said that players are perhaps the best recruiters. Does the doubt in their mind seep through to recruits?
COACH STOOPS: No, I don’t worry about that one bit. We have a good group of players that enjoy playing here and have really worked hard and done the right things. I think you could ask them, I think they have full trust in what we’re doing. So I don’t worry about that at all on the recruiting front.
- In college football you rarely get the chance for a win‑or‑go‑home opportunity. Does that change the message to your team this week?
COACH STOOPS: To some extent, I guess. Just a simple change in the message. I think they all know what we’re playing for. They know that. There’s no point in hiding from it. But it’s not the only message, right? The message is to do what we constantly preach, and that is put the time and effort and focus into our preparation. It’s not just turning it on on game day. We’ve got to have a great week.
- Anybody else you’re worried about injury‑wise this week?
COACH STOOPS: I think Kyle Meadows will probably be a long shot to play.
- Looked like Denzil Ware tweeted he was injured over the weekend.
COACH STOOPS: He’s fine. He’s fine. He did Tweet that? I didn’t hear that. Freshmen.
- Do you have any guidelines you enforce on the guys?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I tell them to not Tweet about injuries (laughter), amongst other things, amongst a lot of things. We bring in professionals with a full seminar on what to do and what not to do. It doesn’t always work, no. You need that seminar about once a week.
- (Question regarding the play of the offensive line.)
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, I think we’re developing some depth inside. I think we’ve done some good things. Once again, I know it’s a broken record, but we’re not where we want to be. I think they’ve battled hard. They’re trying. We’re inexperienced at certain positions inside that we’re trying to gain some depth. I thought the tackles have played extremely hard. (Jordan) Swindle is a great leader and a great player for us. We know he’s made some mental mistakes. Again, it’s not for lack of effort with him, that’s for sure.
I thought Darrian’s (Miller) really done some good things and played through some injury, and really left it all on the field this year. He’s played really hard. I’m very proud of Darrian and the way he’s tried to battle and help this team.
- Through the first year, has Matt Elam progressed at the rate you would hope for?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, he’s about where we thought he would be. He really is. He’s done some very good things and once again, he’s still a work in progress. But Matt’s going to be a very good football player. He’s got the right attitude. He works hard and he’s getting better and better.
- Is it just technique?
COACH STOOPS: Well, it’s technique and understanding the urgency that you have to play at this level. Just takes some time.
- What has this season brought out of you as a coach in terms of keeping the players motivated and focused? You had the 5‑1 start and now a losing streak. How have you been able to keep that even keel with the players?
COACH STOOPS: That part of it, you know, I’d say it’s not going to be hard, but I don’t know. It’s always a challenge. Anytime you go through a long season, we’re no different than anybody. Win or lose, it’s a challenge getting guys ready each week. I think you’re dealing with college kids that sometimes are very, very young and haven’t been through this thing before. I think it’s consistency in what we’re doing as a coaching staff, and what we’re teaching them and how we’re going about our business. We’ll keep on doing that and keep on pushing them, and keep on being consistent and the players will obviously keep on getting that message, and keep on getting better.
- (Question regarding Kentucky fans being vocal at the game on Saturday.)
COACH STOOPS: I think it would be very important. That doesn’t surprise me that they’d find their way into this stadium and see a lot of blue, and I look forward to seeing that on Saturday.
- (Question regarding youth of several teams nationally.)
COACH STOOPS: I really would have no idea. I’d be throwing a dart out there to speak on their behalf, so I don’t really know.
Of course, LSU, I know them because I’ve played them. I think if you ask them, they’d probably say that, but again, no coach wants to sit up here and make excuses. It is what it is. We all know we’re a better football team with experience. We all know the teams that are winning a whole bunch of games out there have some very good older guys on their team. That’s what we’re all striving to do, is have that experience, that leadership and that depth.
But it’s not always the case. There are cases where you could also look around the country, and I’m sure there are some freshmen making some big impacts on some top‑10 teams as well. It happens. When you’re counting on quite a few of them, it’s hard to count on a whole bunch of freshmen to go in and win a bunch of SEC football games.
- There is a chance the SEC could have 13 bowl teams. What’s that say about the conference?
COACH STOOPS: I think you’re starting to see that depth top to bottom that we all want. I think it’s pretty evident. It gets talked a lot about certainly in the preseason what the SEC (has done), with conferences and all that stuff. But I think it’s pretty evident that all 14 schools in this league are doing everything they can to build a quality football team. Obviously, it’s difficult because, once again, there is nobody really going backwards. Everybody’s going forward.