LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Comments from Kentucky coach Guy Morriss during his weekly Monday press conference, Sept. 24, in review of the Florida game and in preparation for the Ole Miss game:
On the offensive unit's struggles, and some of the players, including TE Derek Smith, suggesting they have more input in the scheme:
"We had an offensive meeting (Sunday) where we all watched the game tapes together. Derek got up and kind of gave us a word of support. We're going to stay the course. I think after the kids saw the film, they felt really good about some of the opportunities that were there for them to score points. We're just a half a step away on several things of breaking some nice plays. It was just kind of a re-affirmation that they're backing us, and they're going to continue their efforts to work hard, that kind of stuff, which is fine because we want to keep an open-door policy with our players. If they've got to get something off their chests, I want them to feel that they can come and talk to me, talk to us in the meeting like that. It was very positive."
"They were a little upset after the game. But I think they came off the field feeling that, 'Hey, we can hang with teams like Florida.' And I think even then, if we can go out and execute better and clean some things up, then we can make plays on these guys. I think once everybody's gone through the tapes now and seen the kind of mistakes that were made, the opportunities that were there that we didn't take advantage of, I think that kind of confirmed that thinking that they had when they came off the field."
"A lot of our mistakes were technical stuff. I touched on it a little bit yesterday. There's a screen early in the game that we throw to Derek Abney. He makes a nice run on the play. But if Derek will run his track like we ask him to do, and come inside the guard's block, he runs to the goal line. We throw another screen going the opposite way. If the tackle, Matt Brown, will come out flat and on his angle, he blocks the corner and we score again. But he gets his angle a little bit too far up the field and the corner beats him underneath to make the play. And it's a fourth down play, we turn the ball over. The corner route down into the end zone to Derek (Smith), Shane tries to drill it, the corner knocks it down. If he just puts some air under the ball into the corner of the end zone, touchdown. It's things like that. There were opportunities there that we created, we just didn't take advantage of."
"Some (of the mistakes) are being repeated, but I think the thing that we are seeing is we're getting better the more comfortable that the kids get with us. I think that's one of the reasons those opportunities were there Saturday. And they're having to make some adjustments to some of the things that we're doing that's a little bit different. We're asking our kids to do some things differently now, and they're coping with that. We're asking our receivers to read coverages as they come off the line of scrimmage. They've never had to do that before. We're asking our quarterbacks to understand coverages and protection schemes, where their hot reads are and those sort of things. They've never had to do that before. It's not a matter of just going out there and playing. There's a lot of mental stuff going on that I don't think too many people know about. It's a little bit different, it's a little bit more precise.
"But I think it's going to make us a sounder offense... Some of these things, the average fan doesn't know what's going on. That's what our players are dealing with now... We'd like for them to pick it up and get better, but it just takes time. And it's a long-term investment. But once we get to where we want to be, we're going to have a more productive offense. We've given them more tools to work with, more weapons to be successful with. We've got a nice variety of routes for our receivers to win on. We've got five or six runs that are new to help our offensive linemen be successful with the running game. Those kind of things. We've just got to keep reppin' and let those guys get more comfortable with those things."
"You've also got to understand you've got a freshman quarterback making his second start. You've got three receivers, they've started 10 ballgames amongst them. So you've got players in the lineup now you're asking to step up into the light and make plays, and they've never been asked to do that before. They're learning how to do those type of things."
On having more adjustments available in the new system that could lead to improvement:
"There were less things we adjust with in the old system. That's part of the reasoning behind precision route running and knowing the coverages as receivers coming off the line of scrimmage -- just pre-snap reading and knowing if they roll to a certain coverage, here's the adjustment I have to make. If you don't know what they're doing coverage-wise, how do you make those adjustments. Same way with the quarterbacks. They're studying a lot harder and a lot more so they'll know what's going on back there. The coverage usually dicatates where you go with the football."
"Plus, in the past, we had a right-formation offense. We never had a left formation in our system. That's like cutting your offensive package in half right there. And when the defense knows you're always in a right formation, they know exactly where everybody's going to be every down. You don't have to worry about anything slipping over to the other side. That's another thing the kids are having to adjust to. In a right formation, I'm 'X' or I'm 'Z' over here, I'm working against one corner. Now you've got to be able to work on two corners because you've got a left formation. Those are the things that, once we've got those things understood and mastered a little better, it will make us more productive. There's more things for defensive people to have to worry about stopping."
"I think there's too many variables (on a timetable for when things should sink in for the offense)... I don't think you can say in two weeks from now we will have arrived, because you're dealing with 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids. Some of them learn faster. Some of them have a little harder time focusing than others. But I think we're getting a lot closer."
On the third-down struggles. UK was 1-for-14 on third down against Florida:
"There was a couple of times on third down we thought we'd be able to run the ball better. There was not huge holes, but some seams we missed there a couple of times. A couple of other times, we didn't get the push we needed. A couple of other plays we didn't get the audible that we needed to put us in a better play. We had a couple of drops, a couple of poor throws. A little bit of everything sprinkled through there."
"There were some times we thought the underneath guy could get enough separation on the defender that we could catch the ball and run for the first down."
On Shane Boyd's ability to make reads compared to that of former starter Jared Lorenzen:
"I think he's getting better, but it's not really fair to compare the two of them because of the experience factor. Let's see what Shane does at the end of 12 ballgames and where he's at."
"We're trying to keep things fairly simple for him, not to try and go out and win the ballgame by himself. But he's coming along. I talked to him last night. He's a great competitor. He's the kind of kid who will never try to make an excuse, never ask for any quarter. He says 'Coach, I didn't play as well as I should have or can, but I'm going to work my tail off, I'll study film, and I'll be ready to bounce back against Ole Miss. You can't ask a kid for more than that."
On the continuing effort to find playmakers to help the offense:
"Right now, I'd say Derek Abney's been our most productive receiver. Derek Abney's started one game up until this year. He missed the last two weeks of training camp (with an injury), and I think that hurt him. But I think he's starting to show signs of picking it up.... I think Ernest (Simms) is coming on. He had a nice ballgame the other day, six catches. He's showing that he's starting to understand what we need to get done from him and his position.
Derek (Smith) kind of had a weird ballgame. Everybody seems to think that the tight ends have been forgotten around here, but the tight ends had 13 opportunities to catch the ball (against Florida, making five). I'll start with Chase (Harp). He had three opportunities, he caught three, and one of them was for a touchdown. Derek had two catches. Two times were were going to him, he was the primary receiver, and balls were batted at the line of scrimmage. Two times we're going to Derek, one's thrown in the dirt and the other's the corner route that should have been air under the ball. That's not his fault, just two poor throws by the quarterback. He got his hands on three other balls that a great tight end has to make those catches. One time he's running across the middle and runs into the umpire, weird stuff like that. There were just some funny things in that ballgame that just slowed his production. I think that's what he's so frustrated about. But our tight ends are involved in our offense, and we're trying to get them the football.
Dougie (Allen), I think he's about ready to break out. He's doing some good things. He hasn't caught as many balls as we'd like to, which is kind of a puzzlement. He's doing everything we've asked him to do. He's working very hard at it. It's probably just a matter of time before his production goes up."
On the prospects of being able to stretch the field deeper:
"We had some opportunities. We just didn't get it done."
I think Derek is beginning to get a feel for the long ball, and I think Ernest certainly has the speed to stretch a defense. At times in the ballgame Saturday there were some folks open deep. We just didn't get them the football. That's something that we're going to have to work on. Some of that is freshman growing pains at quarterback, and we're going to expect that. But I think things are going to come together, hopefully pretty quick."
"I think one thing that Shane needs to understand is that he doesn't need to press and try to make the spectacular play every time he lets the ball go. There's some things underneath that we need to do a better job of taking, that they're giving us right now. Once people start coming up, you suck them up, then you go over their head. He's got to understand that type of stuff and be a little more patient... He's quite a competitor. He reminds me a lot of Tim (Couch). He's got a great arm and a lot of confidence to drill the ball in there. Sometimes he tries to drill it when he should put some touch on the ball or drop it off to the back or to a tight end dragging across underneath."
On the defensive line's performance against Florida:
"I thought they played pretty well. They played real hard. We made some technique errors with those guys, but Dennis (Johnson) played well, (Chris) Demaree played well."
Dewayne (Robertson) had a nice game... They had some trouble with Dewayne. I think if he's on two good ankles, he's a load for anybody, Florida included. People will certainly find him and pay attention to him. He'll find a lot of doubles. It's hard to block him one-on-one. He's got great strength, he's got the perfect build for a defensive tackle, his hip strength. He's that freaky kind of guy you're always looking for... Right now, he can't spring up on that ankle like you'd like to see him do. That's what the great defensive tackles are able to do -- that explosion from the ground up. He has that ability, but that ankle is still bothering him. Even with a sore ankle, he's pretty good... He tied up two people most all day long. He freed up other people to make plays. And he understands that. That's kind of the nature of the beast with the position he plays."
"It was good to see (Jeremy) Caudill back in the lineup. He's got to continue to condition himself back into shape. He got a little tired because he hasn't done anything with his (back) injury. Ellery Moore played well. I'm happy to see him progressing along because he can become a big-time factor for us.... Otis Grigsby came in the game and gave us several nice plays."
"We had several players on the defensive side of the ball play really good. Jamal (White) played a nice game his first game back. I thought our two corners (Derrick Tatum and Leonard Burress) got better. The first touchdown, that was on Derrick, he's supposed to be lined up inside. I guess he went braindead and lined up outside, he lost leverage, and they scored. After that, he was challenging receivers. Same thing with Leonard. Those guys played pretty well... Quentus (Cumby) and Anthony (Wajda) played well. I think there's some signs back there that tell us we're improving as a defense."
"I know they got tired in the fourth quarter again, but offensively we didn't give them the help that they needed. They kept the game close enough for us to be in the ballgame late in the third quarter. That's a good sign."
On some of the controversial officiating calls in the Florida game:
"We have not heard back from the league office yet. Larry Ivy called them and sent them a tape, which is standard procedure."
"It was a bad angle." (On the offsides call which cost UK a fourth-down stop and led to a Florida score. Note: Morriss rolled his eyes and displayed a sarcastic smirk, indicating film did not show the violation clearly)
On the difference in competition level going from No. 2 Florida to unranked Ole Miss, who has struggled defensively the last two years:
"Well, my last experience with them, they didn't struggle too much. They got after us pretty good down in Oxford (a 35-17 loss in which the Rebels led 35-3 midway through the fourth quarter). I think that they'll come up here ready to play. What's it been, three weeks that they've been preparing for us? They'll probably have a few wrinkles up their sleeve that we haven't seen, so we'll have to be ready to make those adjustments. They're a good team. Coach (David) Cutcliffe will have them ready, and we've got to be ready to match their intensity."
On his thoughts about Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning:
"I've not seen any of their offense yet. We tried to take a good look at their defense this morning. Certainly, the kid's got great bloodlines and all the tools."
On changes in the Rebels' defensive scheme:
"They've got a new defensive coordinator (Don Lindsey, who's previously coached at USC, Arkansas, Georgia Tech and Alabama, among others), and they're playing a three-man line instead of a four-man line. That was the biggest difference. They're trying to get more comfortable with the new defensive coordinator, and there are times you can see that. There are some people who are a little bit out of position, some of the things we've struggled with here in a new system."
On the players being embarrassed by last year's performance at Ole Miss:
"Yeah, I don't think there's any question about that. We talked about that yesterday. I think we went into Oxford a little bit overconfident (following a 31-point effort the previous week at The Swamp) for whatever reason. They got after us pretty good, and I think our kids were embarrassed after the game. I don't think they're going to let that happen again this year."
"It was kind of letting the wind out of our sails. We couldn't answer after that. We couldn't get it going."