Opening Statement

JM: "Good afternoon. How's everyone doing? Just reviewing Kansas State. Obviously suffered a hard-fought loss against a quality, Power 5 and Big 12 opponent. It was a tough and physical football game, and closely contested for four quarters. We knew in a game like this, that the margin of error was going to be small. I think Donald Rumsfeld said that "lack of precision is dangerous when the margin of error is small." The kids played hard, but as we reviewed the film, we pointed out, and I think I might have mentioned this after the game, that there were one or two plays in each phase that we didn't make the plays and they did make the plays that kind of dictated the outcome of the game. We really lost momentum with that kickoff return. We had made the field goal to go up 21-17, and right away they flip it around and they return [the kickoff] to make it 24-24. There was a little over 12 minutes left in the game there, we had a little bit of back-and-forth and were never really able to regain it [momentum]. It was disappointing in that regard, that we weren't able to finish it off. Certainly, it is a cliché: you win as a team and you lose as a team. For players and coaches, if we are all going to bask in the praise of a victory, we are all going to share in the blame of a loss. First and foremost, we want our guys to be thumb guys and not finger guys and looking in the mirror and not out the window. The first thumb always goes back to me to make sure I am doing everything necessary to put the kids in position to be successful and we indicated that in the team meeting [on Sunday] and talked about that. We watched the film and made the corrections yesterday and we have moved on to Kentucky. We are in the process of game planning that game now.

"Looking at it from an overall perspective of three game, I think there are a lot of positives going on right now. Obviously, on offense, Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing and explosive plays, and is second in the country among Power 5 [running] backs for yards. Osirus Mitchell playing at a very high level right now, I think he is ninth in the conference in receiving with over 200 yards and three receiving touchdowns already. I liked the progress of our passing game through two games, obviously took a step back a little bit in the last one. Defensively, I believe that Erroll Thompson and Brian Cole II are playing really well. Jace Christmann made a career long field goal this past week. We are also playing a ton of freshmen and first-year players for a myriad of reasons, but I think the guys that have been asked to do that have stepped up very well.

"From a Student-Athlete of the Week standpoint, it is De'Monte Russell and Dylan Lawrence.

"From an injury standpoint, I will try to get out ahead of that a little bit for you guys to help you out, instead of being peppered with questions that I really don't have the answers to. Nick Gibson continues to be day-to-day with a lower body. Dareuan Parker continues to be day-to-day with a lower body, as well. Then, Tommy Stevens, obviously, with the upper body is day-to-day. Those guys all participated in practice on Sunday in some form or fashion. Cameron Dantzler with a lower body and is still day-to-day.

"Moving on to Kentucky. It is the SEC home opener and we encourage our fans to come out. We are going to need a big crowd this weekend. Bulldog Bash on Friday night and a 3 p.m. kickoff at Davis Wade Stadium. We are certainly excited to kickoff conference play.

"Mark Stoops is the head coach [and has] an overall record of 38-40 at Kentucky. He began coaching [the Wildcats] in 2013 and was the [SEC] Coach of the Year last year. He led Kentucky to its third 10-win season in school history and had their first year New Year's Day bowl appearance and New Year's Day Bowl win in 20 years. He was the defensive coordinator at Florida State from 2010-12 and transformed their defense from 108th in the country to second nationally. I have a ton of respect for Coach Stoops, being a Youngstown guy, a Midwestern guy and obviously comes from a great coaching family. I think he is a great person and think the world of him as a coach, as well.

"Eddie Gran is your offensive coordinator and a well reputed spread guy. He does a really nice job. They mix in 11 and 12 personnel, with a little bit of unbalanced, and have shown some wildcat [formations] with [wide receiver] Lynn Bowden. They are averaging 32 [points] per game with 430 yards, 185 rushing and 245 passing. The quarterback is a pretty interesting kid. I had a chance to sit back and watch the Florida game. Sawyer Smith, a transfer from Troy [University]. He is a little bit different than the Terry Wilson kid. I think [Smith] is a little more passer than a runner but is a guy who can beat you with his feet. I thought he made some good decisions and some good throws throughout that game. He was a kid that was pretty impressive and very confident. They have two running backs that they play, Asim Rose has good vison and is a long strider, more a linear or a one-cut guy, more of an I-Back. Then, Kavosiey Smoke, you saw him in the Florida game, a really explosive, quick [runner] with a little bit better change of direction. Those two guys really complement each other very well and, quite frankly, run behind a very big, physical and aggressive offensive line. Look at their guys across the board, they are averaging anywhere between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, and I think all of them are well above 300 [pounds], getting up into the 322 [pound] range. I have been very impressed with size and the physicality and the athletic ability of their offensive line. We mentioned Lynn Bowden at wide receiver. I recruited Lynn out of high school when I was at Penn State from Warren G. Harding [High School in Ohio]. He is just a multi-facet guy: get him the ball in the pass game, get him the ball on speed sweeps and plays a little bit of wildcat quarterback. Obviously, in the return game, as well, so he is very dangerous in space.

"The defensive coordinator is Brad White. [They play] a base three-down [lineman], with 1- and 2-high zone. They are giving up 23 [points] per game and averaging 390 yards [allowed per game], 122 rushing and 267 passing. Up front, Josh Paschal has 10 tackles, three for a loss, and one sack this year. he is long, physical and rangey, kind of in the mold of [former Kentucky defender] Josh Allen. He plays that same position. Kash Daniel, the linebacker, had 10 tackles last week versus Florida. A team captain and emotional leader. If you look at him, he is all over the field. He is 100 motor, 100 percent of the time. I really respect his game and he effects the run game, covers in the pass game and runs sideline to sideline. He gets downhill and I have been really impressed with him for two years. He is obviously the emotional leader of the defense and really gets them going. He is really impressive. On the back end, Cedrick Dort, the defensive back, is a smooth athletic corner that is playing with a lot of confidence. He is the one guy on the back end that returns [from last year]. He has been playing really well, as of late.

"Dean Hood is the special teams coordinator. [They use] multiple formations on punt to create mismatches and are pretty simple on kickoff and kickoff return scheme and similar on punt return. The punter [Max Duffy] is averaging 51 [yards] per punt, 50.6 in net [punting], which leads the country. They are 85 percent touchbacks on kickoffs and kickoff return they are averaging 23 [yards per return]. We talked about the punter, Max Duffy, and Lynn [Brooks] is the punt returner and kickoff returner, as well. I believe he had a couple of touchdowns last year in the return game and continues to do that this year. He is a very electric player and one of the top playmakers in the SEC.

"The keys to victory will always be the same; how we approach it during the week from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint, how well we play and how well we execute on game day. Talking to the kids after practice yesterday, you want there to be a certain level of disappointment for the loss, but at the same time you can't let the game beat you twice. We allowed them to be upset about it, we allowed them to make the corrections and do the things we needed to do, but when that got done at practice and we moved on to Kentucky, I think there was a good energy and good bounce in their step and a good understanding that our singleness and purpose of taking it one week at a time. We have gone 1-0 twice and 0-1 once. We have to put this game to bed, understand the things we did well and continue to do them. Understand the things we did poorly and work to correct them. And, now get on to our first SEC game against a great opponent.

Q: Has there been any talks about redshirting guys at this point this season?

JM: "We review that every Monday. So, guys that are either true freshmen or have a redshirt year available, we kind of put them into three categories: green, yellow or red. Guys we know are certainly going to utilize the year of eligibility and play them, guys who we're not quite sure and possibly to go to four [games played] based on, as you mentioned, injuries and other circumstances that you may have to activate them, and guys that are for sure redshirts. It does change on a weekly basis based on what the need is per position. That is something we have to address every week."

Q: Any freshmen that at this point will be redshirted?

JM: "Yes. I don't have a list in front of me, but there are more than a handful that are going to be redshirt guys this year, as of now. If could change, but as of now they are."

Q: After looking at the film, there was a little pressure on the punt protection unit?

JM: "It happened twice, and it is correctable. It was a left tackle on that side of line. It was stepping down and it was not too much of an all-out rush as it was just a fundamental and technique thing that was stepping down, staying square and not opening the gate and letting that guy get up and inside there. From a protection standpoint we worked on a bunch of that in individual time yesterday during practice. That is something that is very correctable."

Q: The tight end kind of leaked out a few times after staying in to run block, so what did you see on some of those play actions?

JM: "The one time they overthrew the guy and we were in man coverage on that thing and it goes back to what we talk about heading into the week...for as well as they run the ball they are going to try and put you in conflict in the second and third level and create eye violations, where you are playing your run gap, but you are also responsible for the pass. What happened on the one you are talking about is that the tight end fanned out and blocked the corner, which activates the guy who is in coverage on him and in the run fit. They leaked him out late. So, it was a very good play design. That eye discipline on the back-end with making sure your eyes are staying on your keys is what led to that tight end being opened on that play."

Q: Where is Stevens in terms of comfort level and practice availability?

JM: "It was way better yesterday, today, and heading into tomorrow than it was at this point last week."

Q: How was Stevens' shoulder feeling against Kansas State?

JM: "I mean he was 7-for-13 and was moving the ball around pretty good and had a couple of drops. [Then] it just got a little bit weak on him at halftime. He wanted to try it out and we wanted to see how it went and it just got to the point where we felt it was that we did not want to leave him in the game when he was not able to perform at 100 percent, so we had to move on."

Q: You talked about it last week a little bit, but what is the quarterback preparation looking like this week?

JM: "I mean we want to get all of those guys ready to play in the game if the situation dictates. Certainly, as I have mentioned after the game that Keytaon [Thompson] is still rehabbing from a lingering upper body injury that occurred during the course of camp. We want to be fair to him and make sure he is fully healthy before we continue to work him into the rotation. Certainly, between Tommy [Stevens], Garrett [Shrader], and we got Jalen [Mayden] some reps last week, but as KT continues to heal up and he is performing better at practice we will feel more confident with him as well."

Q: In what ways have you seen Kentucky's offense change with the new quarterback?

JM: "Not as many designed quarterback runs as they did with [Terry] Wilson and that is just one game [they have played since the change at quarterback]."

Q: You have had multiple quarterbacks play in the last two games. How important would it be to have one quarterback play an entire game?

JM: "It would be awesome. I think just from a consistency standpoint and when you look at the minor step back, we had a bunch of different guys catch passes, but we fell off from a completion percentage standpoint. That continuity in the pass and when we talk about the elements: protection, route, read, throw, and catch. I think that is where we had times where the protection broke down a little bit. We only gave up two sacks, but there was a little bit of leakage on some of the third down stuff. We had people open and maybe missed a read or two, or had people open and threw it accurately, and had a couple of critical drops, or we misread it or had an overthrow. I think that lack of consistency with who is throwing the ball and who is making the reads. particularly when the second guy in there is a true freshman. You love to keep one guy in there the entire time, just to build off of all the positive things we did the first two games."

Q: With Cameron Dantzler banged up last week, how comfortable are you with Martin Emerson and Jarrian Jones?

JM: "First, I think Tyler Williams has done a really nice job and [Maurice] Smitherman, outside of one or two plays and I think he played physical and fast. He did his job really well. Jarrian and Martin Emerson, and you look at a couple of other guys across the board, as either true freshmen or first year starters like JaVonta [Payton] and LaQuinston Sharp getting in there and doing some nice things. Coach (Bob) Shoop and Coach (Terrell) Buckley are remarkable. We were watching film the other day and the young guys aren't making very many first-year mistakes. They are maturing in a very fast rate and I think a lot of that goes back to their ability, but also their desire to perform well at a high level and the preparation that goes into it. Those are two guys we have been really pleased with thus far. "

Q: With Keytaon Thompson banged up, how much are you looking forward to getting him back to 100 percent?

JM: "I would not say the redshirt is the last thing on our mind because that is not accurate. There are so many moving parts right now with Tommy's health and Garrett going in there and begin the guy. Quite frankly, for a true freshman and the game he has played, I think he has performed at a very high level. You talk about the immediacy of him playing now and helping the offense. That is part of it too, as you mentioned with the pass game, you do not want to put it all on a true freshmen's back and have him throwing a ball over a yard. I think he rushed for 80 yards and had some nice completions. Going back to your question, we want to make sure that the guy who is on the field is the guy we need to perform at a high level and if that affects a redshirt, then it affects a redshirt. We have to do what is best for the team first and foremost and for the individual second. All the kids understand that and that has been communicated to them as well."

Q: If Stevens is not ready to go against Kentucky, would you be willing to have Garrett Shrader make his first start?

JM: "Yeah, we actually talked about that this morning in a staff meeting. We are going to gauge it and I won't necessarily categorize it as rushing back, I mean I won't get into the semantics game, but Tommy was very motivated to play and wanted to come back and help the team because he is a competitor. I think that he has earned that right as a fifth-year guy that if he is healthy enough to play that we give him the start. It is also kind of where is the line of demarcation where the practice reps, preparation, and the continuity matter the most on Saturday during the week. Figuring out who the starter is going to be and making sure that guy gets all the appropriate reps with the guys who are going to be in the game for the upcoming week. So that is where we are with that for the week."

Q: You mentioned Terrell Buckley helping those young cornerbacks and he is another guy that has NFL experience on your staff. How important is it to have a guy like that?

JM: "He brings instant credibility to the room and probability more so when the guy will probably be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and had a remarkable NFL career. Buckley has a great rapport with the kids and, more than anything, there are guys who can tell you how to do it, and then there you are guys who can tell you how to do it based on what they've done. When you go out and watch them during individual,[going through] fundamentals and technique, it is not just from going to clinics and learning from coaches throughout your career, it is from a guy who has done it at the highest level at college and the NFL. I think to have two young corners playing at a high level, I think that is a compliment to Buckley and to our defensive staff, as well."

Q: What is the status of Alec Murphy?

JM: "He is out for the season."

Q: How does that affect the running back rotation?

JM: "We would like to get Nick [Gibson] back as quickly as we can. Ideally, it would be like how it was the first game and a half with Kylin [Hill] going to be the starter and Nick going to be the backup. Then you utilize Lee [Witherspoon], as necessary. Malik [Dear] played tailback all throughout high school and is built that body type, and he understands, has a very smart football IQ. We kind of pressed him into doing a little bit at running back last week, got him in for a snap, and he did really well. I think he is capable of doing those things at tailback."

Q: Garrett Shrader has been on television for his play late in the game. What does that do for him in the locker room with his teammates?

JM: "First and foremost, the correction is that on fourth down you can't run the ball. You have to find a spot to throw it and give a guy a chance to catch it. Obviously, he came up a yard short, but he understands. The thing I like about him since I first started recruiting him until now was that the guy is a competitor. It means something to him. In terms of that, he doesn't need the team to rally around him because they believe in him already. When his teammates see a guy, who is willing to put his body on the line and do something like that to try to win a game, it continues to build the respect that they already had for him."

Q: Statistically you are a little off pace from last year in terms of total offense, where do you feel like you are through three games on offense?

JM: "Sometimes it's best to use statistics for support and not elimination…You look at last year's opening game, we played Stephen F. Austin in the opener and they're a quality [FCS] team but I don't think that necessarily the people you're looking at are relative to comparison. I think [University of] Louisiana won again. They only have one loss and have a much-improved defense. Southern Miss has been one of the top defenses in the country and I think we did a really nice job there. We ran for 200-plus yards against Kansas State and just struggled to pass a little bit. Statistically it may say we're a little bit behind. I think we're 30 [points] a game or little bit over. I don't think from a player, coach, or just a pure naked-eye observation standpoint that we're lightyears ahead from where we were because of the balance. The 62 points and five or six touchdowns against Stephen F. Austin may skew that a little bit, and I think it was 700 yards [of total offense]. We play our FCS at the end of the year now so you can tack that on when we get to that game."

Q: Back to the running backs, we saw Kareem Walker enrolled at the university last week, what is his status?

JM: "He is with us. There is just one more administrative hurdle that he has to get over to get on the field. He is in meetings, he is around, he is doing all of those things. He just has one more small thing before gets on the field. It has been a while, I understand. I am as impatient with it as you are."

Q: Your team was two or three plays away versus Kansas State and Kentucky lost a heartbreaker to Florida, do you feel like these are two desperate teams meeting on Saturday?

JM: "I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as desperation but it's two teams coming off of tough losses against quality components. [Kentucky] had it down to the wire with the opportunity to kick the field goal and unfortunately for - no pun intended - the poor kid [Kentucky's place kicker] the ball went wide right and it could've been the difference of the game. I'm sure Coach Stoops is a little bit disappointed but a lot a bit anger about the loss just like I am. I'm not saying that any of us are pleased that we had a close game against a Power 5 opponent that's undefeated. We're not happy about it. In terms of motivation, I don't think you'll see desperation. I think you'll see two teams who played close games that are a little upset and a little angry about the outcome that are going to come loaded for bear and get this thing back on track." 

Q: You mentioned having recruited Lynn Bowden out of high school. What kind of matchup does he present?

JM: "If I remember correctly, I think he came in second for the Mr. [Football] voting [in Ohio], but played almost primarily quarterback in high school. On his highlight film, if you go back and look at his Hudl, he did a bunch of different things but the words that comes to my mind is dynamic and versatile. He can do a ton of different things and [you have to find] ways to get the ball in his hand. I like Lynn. Lynn's an awesome kid and I had a chance to talk to him a little bit on the field last year, but hopefully we can do what we need to do to slow them down. I don't know if we can necessarily stop him, but he is one of the top play makers in the SEC."

Q: Last year you started 0-2 in SEC play, how big would it be to start this season off 1-0 in conference play?

JM: "I think it would be big just from a bounce back standpoint. The thing that I've corrected or changed from a mentality standpoint is that we're more singleness and purpose-oriented right now than we are long term goal oriented. It's important to us because it's the next one and it's because of the construct of this team, we, for a bunch of different reason, can't be focused on this game being SEC play. It's the game that we play this Saturday. I think it's important because of the outcome, obviously, to get a head start or jump start to win your first SEC game would be a good momentum builder heading into SEC play."

Q: Circumstances can be commented on and others cannot, can you clarify what Lee Autry's status is?

JM: "Availability will be given out Saturday. There are reasons but none that I care to comment on now."

Q: The third-down efficiency in the second half versus Kansas State was down, what do you attribute that to?

JM: "You look at everything. Obviously with Isaiah [Zuber], we had a little mesh route with the sit on top of it. We got him open and Garrett [Shrader] made a great read there and the one to Osirus [Mitchell] on the third-and -medium-plus in the red zone. That's the thing with trying to teach a young quarterback, we have him in the huddle on the sideline and we say, "We like our one-on-one matchups. It's going to be man-free, they're going to be a single, high look. Osirus has been playing well and we're going to throw the go-ball. Do anything but overthrow him." Then, we overthrow him. That happens. That's a freshman in a game in that first experience. It's a little bit of everything: making sure we're in the right call and then when we do, we're making sure we protect and making sure we're accurate in the read and the throw and then the catch. So, it's a little bit of everything. Against [University of] Louisiana, we were good on third down and against Southern Miss. But this one, not so much. We've got to be better on third down."

Closing Statement

"Like I said at the beginning, we are excited for our fans to come out. I know it is going to be on the SEC Network. It is a huge [SEC] home opener. I know our kids are energized and galvanized and excited for a great home field advantage that [our fans] are going to provide. We are going to battle back and are fighting tooth-and-nail. We understand that this one game isn't going to define the season, but we're excited to get back on the field. We want everyone to come out and support us in this one."

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

Twitter: @loganlowery

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