LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Blue team (offense) beat the White team (defense) 45-32 Friday night in Kentucky’s spring game. While the score was irrelevant, it was the first time fans could get a look at the Wildcats this spring. Here’s everything coach Mark Stoops said after the game.
MARK STOOPS: We had a pretty good and physical spring and came out of there relatively healthy. That’s always a good thing. I felt like we got better. The guys really worked hard. I challenged them, as I said the other day. We got back from spring break, we had a couple practices before spring break out back, after spring break and challenged them for a solid month. They’ve been in here every day early, working hard on the off days, lifting, watching film. Practice days, they’ve been attentive. Like I said, they’re over here early in the morning during the school year and doing their work. If we continue with that attitude, then I like where we’re headed.
So overall, spring was a success. We’ve got to finish strong academically and hit that weight room. There’s no — we can’t give them very much time off. They’ve got to get back in there, get stronger, get bigger, and get ready for the next phase this summer to continue to progress.
You know, as far as the game went, you could tell we have some options there at quarterback, and we need all the reps we can get. Just with the continuity of the offense, some of the younger wide receivers, it’s nice to see some guys emerge. I thought we did a decent job of catching and getting some yards. Put one on the ground that was a little disappointing.
But especially the second half, I felt like we found our rhythm and threw the ball around a little better. Overall good day. I’m always a little bit torn. It’s hard for a head coach because if one side is doing good, you’re disappointed in the other.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, the last two scrimmages, tonight included, really felt like he took a big step. It was really important for him to come out tonight and back that up, which he did, and that’s really good to see. A.J., as I mentioned, I have a lot of confidence in his ability and what he’s been doing. He’s been working hard, and Coach Gran has been working with him, and it was good to see him have a good night.
Q. How come we didn’t see Sihiem tonight?
MARK STOOPS: He had a head injury.
Q. What was it you guys missed from A.J. last year? Was it just little things he wasn’t doing?
MARK STOOPS: It is. It’s just — you never know when somebody is going to put it all together. You know, that’s okay. You love to see guys getting better and developing over time. Some guys walk in — very few of them are ready to compete at a high level. Sometimes it’s out of necessity that you’ve got to play some young guys, but you never know when it’s going to all come together for him. He’s been doing — he’s been showing flashes for a long time, but to put it all together and play winning football all the time, he’s been doing that this spring.
Q. Is there anything new maybe from Terry or Gunnar that stood out to you tonight?
MARK STOOPS: No, I don’t think anything really jumped out at me that I hadn’t seen most of the spring. I think it’s fair to say that with any quarterback they’d like to be in there getting all the reps. That’s always a tough situation when you’re in these situations because they need all the reps they can get. You know, again, I felt like throughout this spring, we gave them a lot of live looks and put the ball down and had a lot of scrimmage type situations, and I did feel like they got better the second part of spring.
Q. Is there a timeline when you want to make a decision on those guys?
MARK STOOPS: No, I really don’t.
Q. Has one been a little bit ahead, or is it just a dead heat?
MARK STOOPS: No, I just don’t think it’s fair to say that at this point. It’s really not. There’s been days when one has looked better than the other and vice versa. It’s just not fair for me to say that at this point because they’re — I’d be just throwing something at the wall. They both have done some good things, and both need improvement in certain areas. But again, just like you saw tonight, and I can’t say it enough, it really depends on the guys around them. Giving them some time, getting open, creating some space, making tough catches, getting tough yards. That always lets the offense go if we get those things going.
Q. We talked a lot about the young receivers, but Zy’Aire Hughes I felt like was always overlooked. Has he been able to play his way into consistent playing time this fall?
MARK STOOPS: He’s getting better, and pleased with Zy’Aire because he has some juice and he has some speed and he can get open. You know, he’s working, and he needs to continue to work. There’s a lot of details that go into playing winning football, and he’s working at it, and I appreciate it. You know, he’s a good kid, and we all want to see him on the field, but he’s got to be consistent all the time in what he’s doing and assignments and technique and all those things.
Q. He went back and forth from each side of the ball. Has he been able to pick up receiver pretty well?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, he’s working on it, and he’s getting more and more comfortable.
Q. In terms of athletic fluidity and the ability to make plays in space, did you see from Kash this spring what you hoped to see?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Kash has been solid. It looked like he lost leverage or maybe missed one or two from what I saw with the naked eye out there today, and it happens. If you’ve got good playmakers on offense, it’s going to happen to a lot of guys in space, but he’s done a really nice job.
Q. Based upon what you have, whoever ends up being the quarterback, can you tell the fans that whoever it is you feel like your quarterback situation is better than it was years ago since you’ve been here?
MARK STOOPS: Well, without a doubt. I’ve said this most of the spring, that whoever gets under center and takes the first snap that I have a lot of confidence in them. I have confidence in all these guys. You know, each of them have some strengths and some weaknesses, and we’ll make it work. We’ll make sure we build a package around them and have them have success.
I think it’s also fair to say that I need to see both of them in a game because scrimmages are different, practices are different, and when the lights come on and you’re in a game situation and the bullets are flying and you’re really taking sacks and you’re really getting hit, it’s important to see how they play in games. That’s why I’m not in any big hurry.
Q. The offensive play calling, is that what you have wanted to have over the last couple years if you have had a healthy quarterback?
MARK STOOPS: Part of that pace tonight was just to get some reps in, as well, because we’re on a timeline here with the SEC Network. You know, so I think some of that was just to get some plays and make sure we got enough looks because just the four quarterbacks alone, you want to give them some opportunities.
Q. We didn’t see a whole lot from Benny tonight, but you know you’ve obviously seen him all spring long. How motivated is he coming into this?
MARK STOOPS: Very motivated. Benny is always sitting on G, waiting on O. He’s ready to go, and he’s always wired and has a great strong mentality, and he’s done really well.
Q. You also experienced some young guys back there (indiscernible)?
MARK STOOPS: I think Michael — I like the way Michael Nesbitt has come along. Stanley has done really good for a true freshman just coming in. All those guys are getting better. Yusuf is a guy that’s stood out to me. We have some good talent there. It’s good to get those guys in there. I’m getting more and more confident with those guys.
Q. I know you’d like to be more healthy at inside linebacker, but giving DeAndre Square kind of all this opportunity early on, did that show you something you otherwise might not have seen if he were healthy?
MARK STOOPS: Definitely. I think any time you force them in there to play with the ones at that age, it puts a lot of pressure on him, but you also can see what you have, and I’ve been very pleased. I didn’t notice him tonight, good or bad. Maybe he was out of position on one of the long runs. But things we can get corrected.
MARK STOOPS: Definitely. I definitely do. He’s very reliable. He’s competitive. He gets open. Makes tough catches. I definitely think he’ll contribute.
Q. I know you’ll break it down much further, but based on the naked eye, who won in the trenches tonight?
MARK STOOPS: You know, any time they run for that many yards, you’ve got to give it to the offensive line. I think they did a really nice job. We had very little movement in there, but some of the movement we had in there they picked up and it created some of the long runs. I have to look and see, I think it may have been one of the backers, the young backer DeAndre or — I’m not — a couple of the other guys, but I think we were out of position on that once or twice, so it’s hard to tell until I watch that film exactly what was going on with some of the runs, but our offensive line, you know they do a good job. They can move people, and they pick up a lot of things. They have some experience. They’ve seen a lot of different blitzes, different run pressures, so they’ve done a really nice job.
Q. I know you were not happy with the pre-snap penalties. Was the just jitters?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s something that we’ve got to address, and we’ve been working on it because it showed up in one of the other scrimmages, as well, so we’ve got to work on that.
Q. Since practice started until the game tonight, specifically what do you want to see Gunnar and Terry respectively improve before summer starts?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s a challenge to the entire offense, and I told them that the other day, yesterday. We had a practice yesterday with just helmets, and I thought it was a really efficient practice. I thought they were really competitive, and they had great urgency about getting open, creating space and being efficient in the pass game, and that’s what we have to do all summer. They have to spend a lot of time with themselves. We’re not allowed to be out there with them in the summer with the football. They’re going to be on their own, and they have to play like that. They have to be efficient and really playing at a high level. If they’re just out there milling around, you’re just going to get worse. That’s what I think is a challenge to the quarterbacks, to get the entire group to play at a high level this summer.
Q. We saw a little bit of Terry, a couple scrambles and he had a long pass. How important is it to have that skill set?
MARK STOOPS: I think it’s fair to say that it’s very important because we’ve all seen what quarterbacks can do. If they can buy a little time and create some space, and we saw it here the past couple years, and any time you can get a guy that can do both, that’s a good thing.
MARK STOOPS: Not really. I’ve got to watch the tape. I couldn’t even tell who was hitting the punts. I thought Duffy hit a couple. I know Grant pinned him once or twice. As far as the overall strength, I’ve got to watch the tape. I thought miles — the kick before half was good to see, the field goal, what was it — was that before half? 43, yeah. It was good because he’s been reliable, and good to see him out there. It’s a lot of pressure on with no offensive line, no defensive line, just him and the snapper and the holder, so you’ve got to make it.
Q. How confident are you out of the spring that there will be significant defensive improvement overall?
MARK STOOPS: I definitely feel stronger about the defense, there’s no doubt. I think we’ll be an improved unit. I think we have to have all hands on deck. We have to be deeper than we’ve been. But no, we’ll be an improved unit. There’s no doubt that we’ll be better, and we’ll continue to challenge them.
Q. The guys that were injured or didn’t play, do you fully anticipate them being back, and have there been any updates?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I don’t see anybody that shouldn’t be back at full strength in the fall.
MARK STOOPS: Darius had a death in the family, so he’s been gone. He really wanted to play because he’s had a really solid spring. He was disappointed, obviously, but our prayers are with him and his family. He’s really worked hard, and I’ve been impressed with Darius.
Q. Can you elaborate a little on that because a couple other coaches have said in the last week that they saw a light sort of come on —
MARK STOOPS: I just think with Darius, he’s gone through some tough injuries, and leading up into last season through the summer and camp, it gets so long. I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself because he wanted to be out there so bad, and he got out there and started playing, and at that position you need reps. It’s really important to have that kind of experience. And for him to stay healthy through the entire season and then have a solid spring, we all see him more comfortable. He sees things and is playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of poise. He’s an impactful guy. He’s a strong person and can also run. He’s one of the fastest guys we have. So I’ve been just pleased. I think it’s his comfort level and his instincts.
Q. Best thing this spring was?
MARK STOOPS: Staying completely — staying healthy for the most part was important, but I think — I’ve just been pleased overall. I’ve said it, but I like their attitude and the way they’re working. If we stay with that approach and continue to grind out every day and get better and honestly control the things that we can control, then I like where we’re headed. We’ve got to stay hungry and work exceptionally hard between now and the opener, but I like the way they’re working.
Q. Do you think that working, that attitude, has something to do with having all the seniors back?
MARK STOOPS: I definitely do, definitely. We have some experience and we have some leadership, and we have some guys that have been around for a while. You know, that’s always important.
Q. Did Jordan have his surgery, and is he —
MARK STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. Did everything go as you expected?
MARK STOOPS: Yes. Yeah, he’s on the road to recovery and doing his rehab, and everything seems to be on point so far.
Q. What’s the goal for you as far as between now and the team starting up again?
MARK STOOPS: Tell me that again.
Q. What do you hope the team itself is going to accomplish before we start practice again?
MARK STOOPS: Well, just like I said, the next phase is a strong summer. We have to finish this semester academically and get guys in a good position to do the best they can here and take care of business that way, and we’ve got to get right back in the weight room. So there’s some time between right now and when we report in the summer. We don’t have time to take any days off. The guys got to get right back in the weight room and eat the proper foods and get in there and work hard in the weight room and get stronger. You know, the more physical we get, the guys will stay healthier and be stronger and be stronger at the point of attack, so I think that’s the big thing is hitting the weight room right now, and then we have to have a great summer.