"It's a great challenge for us. It seems weird, I guess since I've been here we play Kentucky every single year and that's your East cross-over. I think it always leads to a little bit of a rivalry, because that's the team on the other side of the league that you play every year. So I know our guys look forward to this game and treat it as a little bit of a rivalry game for us.'
"Obviously things will be a little different. A new staff for them this year, a whole new philosophy on both sides of the football. And you see a team that Mark (Stoops) took over and you see them really buying-into what he's trying to do in the results. As everybody knows in this league, the win-loss results might not total what you're accomplishing on the field. You watch their team and they're accomplishing an awful lot. Their guys are playing hard for four quarters, buying into their system. And you see a lot of growth and development on a team that looks like a very young football team. So it will be a great challenge for us."
What did you take away from last year's game in Lexington? "We won! That's always a huge thing, to me. But besides that, that's about it. Like we said, when it becomes kind of that rivalry game for your guys, you know that's a team you're playing every year. And you look, a lot with those constant cross-overs in this league it becomes that way. LSU-Florida, Tennessee-Alabama, Georgia-Auburn; can lead to become somewhat of a rivalry game, and I look at it that way. I think our guys do too, and I'm sure they do the same way. So that's kind of how we view it, but I wouldn't take much besides that we won last year, it will have zero effect on this year's game."
Update how Nick James is handling his redshirting? "He's done a great job. I'm look at his development, within the development of your program there's a lot of different things that you look for that make sure guys are developing the right way. And we as coaches try to do a lot of different things. Today we might play a little ‘Monday Night Football' with a lot of the guys that either aren't getting many reps in the games or are redshirting. That you have different timeframes, we did a little bit during the bye-week in there; during bowl prep you get a lot of the development of the future of guys. So there's a lot of guys that are kinda in that boat, that we monitor to make sure they're developing the right way."
He seems to have dropped some weight. "Yeah, he's really worked. He's working hard in school, working hard to take care of things, to do things the right way. And that's all part of the process. He has a long way to go, but he's certainly headed in the right direction."
What has David Turner meant to the defensive line? "Well, David with the great experience as a defensive line coach, experience having coached here before and a long-term coach in the Southeastern Conference, as a very veteran guy he knows how to deal with guys. You can look at our defensive line which has so many guys in different stages of a career, and how you have to deal with them. You deal with them as a whole but you also have to deal with everybody individually as well. I think he does a really good of job with dealing with all of the different issues, on and off the field, that come up with guys that are in their last year to guys in their first year playing and then everybody in-between, of how you deal with each situation differently."
What have Deontae Skinner and Benardrick McKinney done for the defense? "Well, they're huge. Because you look at Skinner who is a veteran and a senior; McKinney who is a great leader for us. Matt Wells who is kind of a play-maker for us. Those are the core of guys on the field, well they set a standard that when the next group comes in with Zach Jackson and Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown, that standard is set very, very high for the guys in front of them. They're learning how to do their jobs the right way. So what you have seen to me is tremendous improvement out of that second crew. You've seen huge steps being taken by Richie and Beniquez and Zach because of the standard that has been set by the first three in front of them. I don't want to say we have good depth at that position because every time I do that we get devastated by injuries. So I'm not going to say that, but it's good the older guys are setting the standard for the young guys; and the young guys are buying into that standard which is equally as important."
After six games have you set who is definitely redshirting? "Ahhhh, you never know, because injuries can always play a part in what happens for us down the road. But we've always said if we're going to play guys we try to play them. So we still might depending on how injuries go. I mean we've been getting devastated with injuries so far this year that we might have to play some young guys that we were planning on redshirting. But just the numbers and injuries have forced us to do that."
What have you seen from Justin Cox? "Well, he needs I think it's the understanding of the game. I think Justin was able to go out (in junior college) and just make plays, run around; you see that with guys. Because a lot of guys, you don't want to hold them up. There's a very fine line between being a playmaker and doing your job. The most important thing is to do your job, and then be a playmaker within the description of doing your job. And that's tough for some guys, because some guys are so worried about doing their job they don't make plays; other guys are so worried about being a playmaker they don't do their job. It's finding that balance of both doing my job and making plays within my job description, is huge. I mean some guys never get it figured out I guess, but it takes some experience to learn how to do that that. And the confidence in doing that, and knowing how to make a play within your job description that maybe you haven't had to do before. You could just kind of free-lance and do what you wanted to do, which a lot of junior college players, they get to freelance on the field a lot in junior college. And then they have to learn the system and it's learning how to make a play within doing your job within the system."
Do you have a timeline for juco kids? "Everybody is very, very, very different. I mean, Darius Slay was peaking walking out the door! And he still seems to be doing pretty well now for us with that one more year of full-peak-on! But I think a lot of that is just how fast guys pick certain things up."
Beginning of the season fourth downs were successful, now it is one of the last five, do you plan on continuing to go for that? "Absolutely, we're going to be aggressive. But a lot of them come in different game situations that you're in, and what your goal is within that situation, what you're trying to accomplish; a lot of the down-and-distance, and how the game is going. I think all of those are huge factors in your success.
"I mean, we look at it every week, we look at what we've done, what has been successful, what hasn't been successful, what can we do better? But our aggressive mindset is not going to change."
Is there a reason the number of fourth-down plays is up this year? "I think a lot of that stuff, when you get in special situations numbers get very, very skewed from year to year. I look at last year, I think we had three goal-line snaps in the entire season. We had three in the second game of the season against Alcorn in the first series. That equated our numbers for the entire year that we were in goal-line formations and all that stuff. So when you deal with that stuff, I think a lot of different situations that you're put into, the special situations can get skewed. I mean, we haven't been back to the wall yet this year really until last game when it was like three drives in a row we started inside our five-yard line and you have to go to your back-to-the-wall offense. But those type of situations seem to show up in bunches, so maybe it's just the fourth-down bunches, and we might not have any the rest of the year? I don't know how that stuff plays out."
You said Sunday you had a good idea of this team's identity, what is it? "Obviously a team to me that plays with great effort. I love the effort our team plays with. But, a team also that is learning how to be a team. A lot of young guys that are learning how the team concept works, you know? I think we have a lot of guys that want to win, desperately want to win, and are learning how to do it within the team setting."
"Everybody is kind of what more can I do? And that's a great thing we can have. You've got learn a lot more what everyone does, but you can do a lot by not just worrying about you, but also pushing and picking up the play of your teammates. That's the type of team I've seen us have this year, is those guys learning that process. But guys that have a great attitude, that play with great effort and are very hungry to win and be successful."
Kentucky players say they watched upsets on the road in the league and it inspired them, does your team watch the games and feel they can beat anybody? "Yeah, upsets to me are a tough deal in this league. I don't know if they win you'd call it a real upset. Now if we won, I wouldn't know if I'd call it an upset. In this league to win games you have to play your A-game. It's a pretty simple deal: you play your A-game week-in and week-out. If you come in and play sloppy, you go turn the ball over a bunch in the first half, it doesn't matter who you're playing; you're not going to win the game. If you come in and play real well you have a good chance to win the game."
"I think that holds true. So the upset part, to me I don't always see as much I guess. I guess it's a nice sign of respect that they figure coming in here would be an upset. I think with a rivalry game like this you never really know."
Do your kids feel more hyped after watching Saturday's games or do you take the under-dog mentality on the road? "Yeah, we take that under-dog mentality at home, just about everywhere I think! But no, I think with our guys and especially the young players, they look at it. Our guys are smart, we talk about that stuff, we talk about when you look at the games that are played, you go out and do you job. If we play our best game I think we can play with anybody in the league, you know? If we don't play our best game we can lose to anybody in the league. It's that focus of performing at the highest of levels."
"We talked about it early in the year of getting better from week-to-week. I think we've done that, the last home game I think we took a little step back, I don't think we played as good as we played the previous weeks. But, we finished the game. It's one thing we hadn't done is make big defensive stops in the fourth quarter to win the game. So there was something that we did better than we'd done in previous weeks. You can always take something, that we're still moving forward with. And we go in the second half of the season, I was looking at one stat I saw. That the record of our second half teams is not as good as the record of our first-half teams, believe it or not. Which it's hard to believe with who we have to play in the second half."
"But, our guys can look at that and say hey, we feel we could have been in position to win just about every game in the first half of the season; and these are some things if we had done a little bit differently we would have won the games. And, these are the games we won and if we had done something even a little bit differently how close it wold have been for us losing that game. And I think our guys look at that and that focus that if we play our best we can expect to have a great second half to the season."
What have you seen different in Jameon Lewis recently? "I think the understanding of the game obviously comes in. This is his first time being one of the go-to guys. He was kind of a role player in the past, where we'd get him the ball in special situations. Now it's get him the ball on a consistent basis. And the experience certainly plays a role in that, of understanding the different routes and how to get open, when to be open is huge. And reading coverages and where he needs to be and when he needs to be there. I think all of that certainly leads to it. And with him the pressure drops. I mean if he makes a mistake or drops a pass, we're going to come back to him. Sometimes when you're a role player and say hey, this is my chance if I make a mistake I don't know when I'm going to get my next chance. He knows as one of our go-to guys we're going to keep feeding him. So that leads to making you play a little bit more relaxed and confident."
What do you mean by when to be open? "Well, there's a lot of timing on different routes. Whether you're front-side first or third in progressions of the read for the play. A lot of guys freak-out and say man, I was open…well, yeah, you're the third read so we didn't need you open right then. But we needed you open later, and if you ran your route at the right depth at the right time you would have caught the ball. It's understanding the big picture of the offense. Like linemen going to block people; if you're going to block a second-level player and a linebacker you don't need to block where they are. You need to go block where they're going to be by the time you get there. And you'd better understand where the ball's going and the play as a whole to do that."