"We've Got To Be A Much Better Team"

“A good bye-week for us last week. We were able to get some guys rested, able to work on some things that need work. Obviously there’s a lot of things we can improve on as a team and really some fundamental stuff that gets lost every once in a while. Really that training camp mentality, when you’re working fundamentals and a lot of techniques.”

“You rush through some individual drills during a game week to get, just with your amount of time on the field. So I think we were able to get a bunch of that stuff done. Today is a very, very important day. I always think coming back off a bye week that Monday practice we’ve got to count on our leadership. It’s unique when you have two in one year, the last bye week though I thought we had a great Monday practice coming out of it. Guys came in and we weren’t sluggish, which sometimes when guys haven’t been out on the field since Thursday morning and here we come Monday afternoon.”

“We’ve got hit the field 100 miles an hour and get ready to go and have a great week of practice and be a much better team than we were before the bye week or when we got off the field against Auburn.”

“We’re going to need to do that. Kentucky is going to be a very, very challenging game. Our game against them last year, a lot of similarities with the teams. It came right down to the final play. They’ve got a lot of their star players back, we have a lot of guys back this year. So I know they’re going to have a lot of confidence. Obviously any time you’re on the road in the SEC it’s a huge challenge.”

”They’re a team that, I don’t know if you always can judge Saturday night in Death Valley as defining your season in any way, shape, good or bad. They had a tough game last week with some things that kind of went wrong for them. But you watch their overall body of work on the season. They’ve got very, very talented players.”

“Towles their quarterback to me really throws the ball well. He has the size to be able to stand in the pocket and really throw it, but is very deceptive athletically. I think he’s a much better runner than he gets credit for. They rotate those running backs through and they all bring a little something different to the table but are very, very productive players. They’ll get in the wildcat a bunch and try to even out the numbers for you so those guys can get some runs in there. They’ve got some explosive receivers. Bud Dupree I think leads the nation or SEC in career sacks. So they certainly have a lot of big-time play makers on their team. And obviously being at home is going to be a huge challenge for our guys.”

“Our whole focus is on our chance to get a fourth SEC win this week and that’s really what it’s all about.”

After a bye week how do you ramp the guys up? “To me, if we’re going to be successful I don’t need to be the one doing that. That comes from within, the leadership within the team. I think our guys understand how much we have to improve and how much we have to get better, and the only way to do that is through hard work. So to me, that has to come from within the team. If I have to be a cheerleader out at practice we’re going to have some problems.”

“So our guys within the team need to make sure we take the field with that right tempo. And I think with our guys, you get to look last week at some things. I think we’re last in the SEC in total defense, in passing defense, we’re last in our red zone offense. So there’s a lot of little things we have to improve on as a football team as we move forward. Especially the older guys, for them to see that and look statistically where we’re at. You know, some of its deceiving. Statistically we might not be as good in some categories as statistics say we are. And maybe not as bad in other categories where statistics say we are. But I think our guys look at that and really can see the areas we have to improve. So they know that we’ve got to do that on the practice field. And if you go through the motions and are casual about anything you’re certainly not going to improve.”

There’s a lot of talk how improved Kentucky is, what is your estimate? “I think Mark (Stoops) has done a great job. To me the first thing you start with is are guys playing hard? It all starts with how they’re playing. You can get the talent or not talent but are your guys playing hard. And they obviously are playing hard. They play with a lot of energy on the field. Their guys are stepping up making big plays when they need them. All of that is a sign that they really have bought into what Mark is trying to build there and what they’re trying to do. I think you’re seeing the steps and those rewards show on the field for them this year with their great start that they’ve had. I mean they’re 5-2 and both losses are SEC road games, and one of them was a triple-overtime game. So when you look in terms of that and the improvement, they’re up there competing with anybody. And they can compete and beat anybody out there.”

What do you look for when looking for letdowns? “One, it is the focus after the bye week. I think for our guys, as we’ve always said a win in the SEC get you an even bigger game the next week. This is the biggest game we’ve played of the season so far. And I know the last game, the Auburn game was the biggest ever played in Mississippi. I think this one is bigger now. Now we’re a team that has a target on our back. For the first time we’re going into a game with a target on our back, having to go on the road and play in a hostile environment against one of the hottest teams in college football this year, one of the most improved teams in college football this year. So our guys better learn how to handle that and make sure we have that unbelievable focus on how a big a game this really is.”

Was this bye a little different in the sense of letting guys recoup physically and mentally after three weeks of top-ten opponents? “I do. I think those three-straight games, as we always say in the SEC to me it’s not about the one game. It’s the cumulative effect of this conference. Four of the top five teams in the country are in the SEC West right now according to rankings, I don’t know if that’s real or not but that’s what people voted on. So as you say, can the champion of any conference beat any one of those four teams? Know what, there’s probably a couple of teams in every conference that in one game could beat any one of those four teams.”

”But what our league is about and what our guys have to understand is it’s not one week, it is every single week. So I think our guys took advantage of that with the bye week and knowing now it’s six-straight to end the season, and what that grind is going to be like on you, to make sure you’re physically and mentally rested for the next six weeks that are about to come on you. Because in this league you have to bring you’re a-game every single week.”

Can you talk about the similarities between Benardrick McKinney and Dupree? “I think they play very different games. Physically they have similar characteristics. They’re both great play-makers out there. I think BMac is more of an inside, middle linebacker force and controlling the inside, where Bud Dupree is really an edge guy and is explosive off the edge and is a dynamic player that way. But to me they’re both future NFL players that personally can make an impact on a game. They’re going to have the ability to make plays in this game that will change the outcome of the game.”

How much did the rest help Jameon Lewis? “It’s good. We’ll find out today, but we expect to have him back 100% for this game with the plan. We’ll see how he does today, we’ll probably ease him in today, building tomorrow, more Wednesday, more Thursday. A guy with the experience that has played a lot, it’s going to be great to have him back and get him out there playing for us.”

”With Dez Harris who had ACL surgery at the end of last week, which is really fast, we expect a speedy recovery, I guess as good as it can be in that scenario. But everybody else should be healthy and rested coming into this game.”

Do you like more being the hunted or the hunter? “I don’t know, I just love the hunt itself. I like being out there, I like being in the game and going to play. Bye week is great but you can start to feel the antsiness. I’m ready to get back out there and get going. I enjoyed some backyard football with the kids and quality time with my wife, but watching everybody else you want to get out there and go play. But I’m good either way, I just want our team to be out there playing as hard as they can.”

You had two freshmen receivers in Gabe Myles and Jamoral Graham replacing your best receiver? “I think that’s huge. It just shows everybody within the program you have to be ready when your number is called. Those are all signs, you look at it over the last couple of weeks. Whether it’s been the two guys at the receiver spot; Justin Senior at right tackle that got thrown into the starting spot at the beginning of the year; Devon Desper had to come in. Guys on the defensive side of the ball. When someone goes down someone else has stepped up and been ready to go make plays.”

“I think that gets contagious throughout the team. I think guys see when you’re out there on the field going to practice. Guys see this guy got an opportunity, seized that opportunity, helped the team and was very successful at it because he was prepared when the moment was called; I think that helps everybody out on the practice field. Because you can get into a season and say I haven’t really gotten many reps at this point and I’m just going to go though the motions at practice today because I don’t know when I’m going to play. I think guys go out there and watch, as soon as you say you’re in and they go perform at a very high level it motivates everybody at practice to be ready when their number is called.”

If Lewis is 100% what does that add to the offense, what have you missed? “You know what? With how those guys have played I’ve been pleased. I don’t know that we’ve really skipped a beat. But I do know now you’re talking about really our most explosive player with the ball in his hand coming back out there on the field. And just another weapon. I think the defense has to be concerned about it. When he’s not in there they look at the young guys and kind of with a show-me attitude, go ahead you guys show me what you can do. And they’ve really stepped up and performed well. Now with Jameon in there there’s a lot of film of what he can do. So I think it’s going to cause a lot more concern for the defense to make sure they know exactly where he’s at. Because they know what he can do with the ball in his hands.”

How has the offensive line meshed and performed above expectations? “I think they’ve done a very good job. I know everybody wonders why mix-and-match guys throughout, who is going to be the starters or who is going to get reps where? We try to get as many of them developed for the different scenarios we have. Knock on wood we stay healthy the rest of the season at that position. Because that’s a position where you don’t want to have to deal with many injuries. Not really at any position, I don’t know any team that want to deal with that.”

“You look, there’s a lot of guys developing within the program. The reason they’re more in development stage, even though everybody is developing but there are some guys that are more in a developmental stage. Because you want to give them the opportunity to develop before they get thrown into the fire. Last we weren’t able to do that. I think part of it that helps (now) that all the injuries we suffered last year, so many guys got thrown into situations. Now they have some experience so when they’re getting their opportunities on the field their maybe not overwhelmed with the situation. They’re comfortable with the situation and what they have to do.”

For a month there’s been intense attention to the team, are they more accustomed to it? “Yeah. It’s actually calmed down. I think the Texas A&M week was the busiest one we had and it’s actually, gradually calmed down every week since then. I think our guys really adjusted to it well that week and since then have handled some of the attention.”

”We tell them it’s pretty easy: if you don’t like the attention go out there and play really poorly and nobody will ever talk about us again. If you like the attention continue to work hard and get better and play well and people will keep talking about you. I think our guys like the attention. They seem to. In that theory they continue to get better and work hard so they seem to like the attention they get. Probably more so from around campus and sorority row or lunch time on campus and all of those things. That’s more the attention they like, right? They’re 20-year old kids.”

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