LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Blue Team topped the White Team 31-14 Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium. Here’s what Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said after the spring game.
Opening statement: It was a good spring. It was a good spring game, mainly because we stayed healthy. A.J. (Rose) will be fine. Nothing serious there. It was more of a neck than a head injury. So that’s good. It was a neck strain. He’ll be fine. But what I liked most about the entire spring was we were very physical. We fundamentally needed to get better. You heard me talk about it a lot at certain positions. I felt like we made giant strides. Today, again, we were very basic on both sides of the ball. But it was relatively clean football. Physical, but kept guys healthy.
We got a lot of work in this spring. I was very proud of our players, their effort for a long time. We talked last summer about their capacity to handle more. Well, they took a lot of coaching for a long time. We have been in spring ball for six weeks with one week off for spring break. So to keep their attention for that long to be very disciplined, to come in and early in the morning, have lifts meetings on our off days and then practice Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for five weeks, we got a lot of work in.
So I appreciate that effort by our players. We made some strides. We still have a ways to go in certain areas, but I like this team. There’s certainly fewer question marks coming out of spring than in years past. So, I feel like there’s a lot to build on. Our players need to — they need a little rest right now. We’re going to be in next week Monday and Tuesday finishing up with some meetings with those guys and some evaluations of their spring and before the coaches hit the road and go on the road recruiting.
So, after that, the players will get a little bit of time off. They need it. Then back to the grind, back to lifting and running, so they won’t get too much time off. But they put a lot of work in. Appreciate their effort and our coaches’ effort.
Q. When you say giant strides, which specific ones did you see?
MARK STOOPS: I just feel like there’s fewer questions across the board. I think that we made strides up front. I think we all know that – I talked about it – that we need to get better and fundamentally play better up front on the defensive line and we have improved a great deal there.
Q. Was tonight kind of an indicator of what Gunnar Hoak has done all spring?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it is. He’s been very poised. You see he’s effortless at times. And I just like the way he handles himself back there. He throws a very catchable football. He’s very accurate. The more experience he gets, the better he looks.
Q. Are you more happy that he did what he did against a starting defense or frustrated?
MARK STOOPS: No, I wasn’t at all frustrated with that part of it. We need to see some offense. We were very vanilla and we didn’t have the full group of ones over there and hardly did anything out of our third-down package.
But — so I thought it was a good game and I wanted to see — fans want to see the ball, you want to see a few points out there. So I felt good across the board.
Q. For people who will be overly excited about the spring game stats, you telling us you teed it up for him a little bit?
MARK STOOPS: I’m not saying I teed it up there a little bit, but it was about fundamentally putting them in bad situations and see who’s going to win.
Q. You say there were fewer questions coming out of spring. What questions do you still have that jump into your mind?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you’re constantly striving to get better across the board. We’re going to put the foot on the gas. After these guys get a little bit of rest, then we got to have a great summer now. It’s a new phase. They got to finish strong academically and then it’s a full steam ahead across the board. So, we have a lot of room for improvement.
Q. Jamin Davis and Boogie Watson had really active stat lines. What was your impression of them and was their play reflective of their spring?
MARK STOOPS: It was. We feel very good with Boogie. I feel like Jamar (Watson) really made, again, some strides. He’s a guy that, with reps, you could see he has the ability and he has a good understanding. You heard me talk many times about the nuances of that position, and I like where he’s at. I think he’s going to be a good player. Same thing with Jamin. You saw that on film when we recruited him; you saw him here. He’s a guy that takes the game very serious. He works at it, he’s gaining weight, he’s getting stronger, but he’s got the instincts to play linebacker.
Q. Along with Jamin, Clevan Thomas had a pretty good game. What does it say that these early enrollees aren’t afraid to go out there and make plays?
MARK STOOPS: That what’s we’re hunting. That’s what we’re looking for on the recruiting trail — the guys that can in and compete and are serious about their approach to the game and those guys are.
Q. Was the plan tonight to kind of ride Sihiem (King) on that first option because you know what you had?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we wanted (to get) AJ some reps as well in the second half with the ones but we didn’t get that opportunity so Sihiem had more carries.
Q. What happened with Jordan (Jones) and is that going to extend further into the season?
MARK STOOPS: No, we’ll handle it. He missed a meeting, so we’re not going to tolerate that.
Q. Special teams wasn’t live tonight. What’s your overall general feeling about special teams heading into the summer?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we’re building on it. We need to punt the ball better. Grant (McKinniss) needs to punt it better. He needs to continue to work. Austin (MacGinnins) missed a field goal tonight. Uncharacteristic of him. But our cover units and the guys have worked extremely hard and I like what Coach (Dean) Hood’s doing, so we’ll continue to work on it.
Q. Did you get everything you wanted from spring practice looking back?
MARK STOOPS: I feel like we got an awful lot out. I don’t know if we’re ever completely satisfied, but I feel good that we had long, physical practices because we stretched it out for so long. The downside of that is it’s a long time to keep their attention — to be practicing spring ball for six weeks and with only going three days a week. We have the option to go four days a week or five and get over shorter, but then they’re not getting as much in the off days. We have a lot of time to slow it down and have long meetings and get them in their and lift and that way you could have good physical practices when you’re not going back-to-back.
So, I feel like, again, I’m proud of our players and it was good physical practices. Fundamentally, we had more live plays this spring than we ever had. And we need that and we stayed healthy. That’s a testament to Coach (Corey) Edmond and Coach Mark Hill and what we’re doing in the weight room. And these guys are physical. They were able to handle a lot, and we need to do that; we need to play the game and we need to play it physically to get better. Defense needs live reps, because when you put it all together with the run game and the play action and the boots and so on, they just need to see it full speed. And I was pleased that had we got a lot of live reps this spring.
Q. Coming out of spring, do you feel like you have improved your depth a lot or a little?
MARK STOOPS: A little. I think in the spring it gets tough because you always want more depth, you don’t have everybody here. You don’t have your freshmen here that are going to contribute or at least be backups, so you’re always a little bit thin, but, yes, in general, I think we’re definitely better. We’re deeper than we have been.
Q. Who would you point to on defense that stood out?
MARK STOOPS: Point of attack. I mean, it’s about pad level, it’s about being disruptive up front and playing solid up front. You got to have some guys physically play the game the way it’s supposed to be played up front. It starts there.
Q. What do you want to see from Justin Rigg between now and when you get back to work in August?
MARK STOOPS: Just continue to improve like he’s going to do. You could see him — you see the ability that he has. He’s a natural tight end. He’s got to get stronger, and he’ll do that. He’ll work at it. But he’s a good football player.
Q. Does the touch sack setup sort of work against a guy like Stephen (Johnson)?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think so. I think so. That’s the negative. We certainly aren’t going to turn the quarterbacks loose and go live with those guys. But there’s a comfort level that he knows he can sit back there and — but, yeah, he has the ability to ad lib and make plays and extend plays and he really didn’t have that time today.
Q. You mentioned Jamin and Boogie on defense as some of the young guys that stood out. Who kind of stood out to you at first glance?
MARK STOOPS: Looked like (Kordell) Looney had a few plays today. Looked better. Tobias (Gilliam) had a nice spring. Jordan Griffin. A few guys.
Q. You were happy with the defensive line going into the spring. Did you see any development or growth out of that group?
MARK STOOPS: They played — you know, it looked like we got some pressure tonight, uncharacteristic of the rest of the spring practices, but we — the good side is the defensive line was getting some pressure. The bad side was the offensive line was giving up some pressure today. Because I sit back there and that’s one of the reasons I stand back there and I could feel that pressure and that’s a good thing for the defense, but offensively we got to clean it up a little bit.
Q. Did you get what you wanted from them in terms of coming off the ball, coming off the snap?
MARK STOOPS: The O-line? D-line? The running backs? Yeah, they have been solid all spring. We really feel like we have got some guys that can play. You know you need to be deep at that position. So, with losing the guys that we lost, we need these guys to be players and fortunately for us they are.
Q. I would assume you were happy with the decision about the early signing day today?
MARK STOOPS: We’ll play by the rules that they give us. I was in favor of it, but I was probably the minority in our league about that. But the way it was packaged, I think there was some give and take. And I don’t know if anybody’s completely happy with all the rule changes, but it is what it is.
Q. Are you satisfied with the nose guard position?
MARK STOOPS: We’re getting better. I think we’re getting better. We need to have a long, hard summer. We need some guys to really get in really good shape and work hard and be ready to come back out next fall and play better. I feel like — so I don’t know if I answered that, but we grew, we got better, we are better, but we need to continue to push.