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The following is a transcript of coach Mark Hudspeth’s comments at his weekly press luncheon previewing the next week’s opponent. This week, Hudspeth assesses his inexperienced team as it prepares to open its season on the road against Kentucky.

MARK HUDSPETH

Thoughts on UK …

To me, Kentucky is a very good football team. If you look how they improved last year, how they improved as a team, then you take the players they have returning, including a quarterback that started 12 games? I think they’re an outstanding football team. They had some really talented players last year defensively, they lost one of those players, but they’ve got a lot of quality players on that side of the ball as well. Offensively, they’ve got four returning starters up front … with Boom, they’ve got a great running back who I think is a really good back, and they’ve got some big receivers.

They’re hoping to take that next step. For me, this is their season when they take that next step in the SEC. It’s going to be a tall order going in there to a newly renovated stadium. Man, you look at the money they spent on that thing, that’s unreal. So that’s going to be a challenge for our team.

All the pressure being on UK to win the game …

I don’t want our team to feel any pressure going into this game. I just want our team to go in and play hard, to execute, play the way that we play. Our football team, we know how to win football games around here. I just want our guys to play hard, execute, take care of the football and follow our plan to win. If we do that, hopefully we can play well and make it competitive, because they’re going to be fired up, now. They’re going to be on the Kool Aid. It’s going to be a challenge.

What would it mean to get a signature win …

You know, everybody talks about signature wins. To me, we’re just trying to win the next game. I know that’s coach speak, but for us, we look at every win we get as a signature win. I don’t know what win is more important. Conference wins, to be honest with you, probably are more important when it’s all said and done. But you always want to compete well when you go up against the best, and the SEC is the best. We want to compete well and have a great showing on national TV in front of an unbelievable crowd and excitement there. We want to represent and our kids are anxious, they love playing on the big stage, and we’ve played well on some big stages. I’m hoping that we go in there and play hard and play well again.

On the changes at UK …

Even though they’ve got a new offensive coordinator, I still think any team takes on the personality of their head coach a little bit, too. Obviously, coach Stoops being a defensive guy, to me, is a guy whose defenses have always been physical, been tough. I’m sure he’s going to want his offense to be a tough, physical offense too. But they’ve also got a quarterback that can spread the ball around, and this guy is a big guy that can run the football. I’ve had some big quarterbacks in the past that could really run the ball, so I know that’s a weapon when you have that. He’s a kid that can do both, so it creates challenges.

On channeling the team’s energy into something positive on the field …

Man, if you can’t get fired up to play this game, I don’t know if you can get fired up. Our guys have practiced, I thought we had good juice Sunday night. Guys flew around. These guys are ready to play. Whether we play very good or not, we’ll find out. We’ve got a bunch of guys that are on their first day at the office – our kicker, our punter, our quarterback – a whole group of guys on their first day at the office. We’ll see how their first day at the office goes. That’s sort of the joke I’ve been telling everybody, we all had our first jobs one day, but it wasn’t in front of 65,000 on national TV. But that’s the fun part of it, and that’s what college football is all about. To be honest with you, one of those guys is going to step up and play lights out, I guarantee you. Some of those guys are going to have the first-game, first-play jitters. But you know what? We’re going to move past it and hang in there. We’re excited, I’m excited for those kids to have this opportunity. That’s why they come to our place and play here, to play in these type of games and to get to play early. We’ll see how they do.

Did you accomplish the goals in camp that you wanted to?

You know, no, I really didn’t. Just for the fact that with the number of injuries that we had at the offensive line throughout camp and at the wide receiver position, we were really limited in the amount of time we could scrimmage live and tackle. We got a great 120-play scrimmage in the first scrimmage, and got a lot of good live work, a lot of good tackling in. After that, we were very limited and had to pick and choose our places to tackle live. Tackling in space and tackling live in a game is way different than doing the tackling drills against the scout guys and tackling bags. That’s my concern. How quick can we get ready for the speed of the game when you’re put in space in a one-on-one position to make an open-field tackle against a running back or receiver. But here’s the key how you can compensate for that – you get a lot of guys running to that football. You get enough guys running to the football you can cover up missed tackles. Hopefully we can play hard and get better as the game goes along and adjust to the speed of the game.

On piping in crowd noise in practice …

I think so, that’s one thing we’ve improved at. The first day we did that we were not very good. I think it can’t be any louder than the juice machine we’ve had out there. It’s been cranking. I bet I know the Kentucky fight song as well as anybody else in Kentucky, because I’ve heard it every day when we were doing our live situations. I think our guys are going to be ready. Communication is a huge part of the game, and how well we communicate and get our checks to each other will determine what we do.

On fining players for disciplinary reasons …

We have not set a fine policy yet. We’ve talked about that as head coaches and that’s an interesting thing to do, but right now, I’m not planning on doing that. Right now, this is the kid’s money. There are some other ways that I feel like I can hold them accountable, and I don’t want a kid who can’t eat, can’t pay his rent, can’t buy some clothes because you’ve fined him for missing a meeting or being late for a meeting. To be honest with you, we don’t really have too many of those issues. If you’re a program that has to fine your kids $10 for missing a meeting, you might need to make sure your guys are there a little bit earlier. We can handle that without the fine part of it. There’s lots of other discipline issues.

Our guys would much rather give me $10 any day of the week than to go protect the stadium for being late. I would do the same thing, I would say, ‘Coach, let me tell you what, just take $50.’ That’s what I would do. To me, there’s way better ways to discipline your kids than taking $10 if they’re late for a meeting. But everybody’s got a plan, and everybody’s trying to figure this out. To me, it might not be any right or wrong reason, I’m just saying that’s what we’re doing. I’m not saying that’s a total bad idea, I’m just saying that’s not going to be our approach starting off.

On Jamal Robinson …

I think right now he’s confident at practice, but just to get in that game and really go at the speed he wants to play at, see how he holds up. You remember, he finally came back last year and wasn’t quite the same guy then got injured again.

If he can stay healthy and get back to the speed he plays at? He’s a guy we can go to on Saturday. This is a guy who loves and relishes this type of opportunity to play against good people.

On Eddie Gordon …

Another one of those guys who’s on his first day at the office. I’d love to say that he is ready, and I think he is. One thing he does a nice job of is he’s going to get everybody going in the right direction. But can we do that consistently all game long on critical plays of the game? Time will tell. We’ll get better as the year goes along, no doubt about it.

On a third-down back

Right now, Elijah McGuire is our best pass protector. Man, I’m going to tell you, that guy in practice and we were watching last year’s game clips, he is one of our best pass protectors along with Effrem Reed, who’s been that third down back. I’m looking for Elijah to take most of the snaps, Torrey Pierce is going to get some snaps, Montrel Carter a little bit.

Concerns for the defensive staff with the Kentucky offense …

When you’ve got a new coordinator, all you can do is go on what he’s done before at other places. He was a little bit different at West Virginia than he was at Stephen F. Austin and some other places. You wonder was that the head coach’s flavor that he added to a little bit? Is coach Stoops going to put his stamp on some of those things … or is he going to turn it over to him and let him go 100 percent? Time will tell. We’ve got a plan, then we’ve got a secondary plan. Hopefully one of those plans will be sufficient, we’ll find out soon enough.

What’s the concern going in about adjusting to the new defensive staff …

It’s such a drastic change, I’m sure we’re still learning a little bit on the run. As far as buying in, I’ll tell you, these kids and our coaching staff, they are one heartbeat. That’s where it all starts. How much we feel like we can carry into the game, game-plan wise, is to be determined. We don’t want to carry too much to the fact that maybe we’re not quite ready for some of the packages that we have, but we want to carry enough to feel like we can make adjustments and be competitive. Time will tell that too. We’ve got a lot of new guys, a new scheme, a new staff, a lot of new players. Every year, just like we’re talking about right here with Kentucky and us, every year is different. Your team changes by 30-35 percent every year along with always a coaching change or two.

Surprises on the two deep with Lightfoot, Walker listed as second team …

To me, that’s probably we’re just getting some guys’ attention a little bit. They’re going to play, they’re going to play a lot. It might not be the first play of the game, but they’re going to play an awful lot. Those guys are critical to our success.

Mid major schools to a power five school, the depth differences in the trenches …

We played awfully well against Ole Miss’ front last year and they had one of the best fronts in the country. The thing I challenge our offensive line, I went up to one of them and let them know that they weren’t good enough to play against Kentucky – or at least Kentucky didn’t think they were good enough. We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder. Everybody wants to play against the best, they want to show that they belong. I’m hoping we use that as a way to play hard and give an unbelievable effort to show we belong on the field with an SEC team on the road. That’s the huge challenge. But we’ve got some really good guys up front, we’ve been good up front since we’ve been here. We haven’t had a whole lot of turnover, we had a little bit this year, but I really like our guys and I think they’ve worked awfully hard.

Press box/sideline dynamic with the coaches …

Coach Smith and coach Lucas will be in the box, coach Harbison and coach Harbin will both be on the sideline. Really, that’s a huge advantage for us because of coach Harbison’s defensive coordinator experience down on the sideline, and then our (defensive coordinator) in the box. So we’ve got a coordinator at both places and those guys are attached at the hip. For people in the coaching community that know those two guys, they’re attached at the hip. It’ll be an easy way for those guys to communicate and make adjustments.

James (Willis), last year, I just felt that the experience that coach Smith has is an awful lot. He brings a lot of experience here with his staff. James being in the box last year sometimes might’ve been hard to get things accomplished to the sideline. Nevertheless, we’ll see how we do.

Final verdict at quarterback …

We’ve got a plan and we’ve always got a contingency plan, then we’ve got a contingency plan for the contingency plan. We’ll see if any of those plans are successful, but you better have a plan regardless.

We’re excited about the direction we’re going and we think it’s going to be successful. I think the guys are going to rally and play hard. Our team is confident in all three of the quarterbacks. Even though Jordan has been pushed out of the race a little bit, he’s a guy that’s going to eventually play. He’s going to play one day. He’s a talented kid.

They’ll be the only two that know. They’re still going to both get reps … with the ones.

We just want the guy to … to start preparing in his head. We want the other guy to start preparing in his head, too, because he’s got to be ready also.

Two freshmen in special teams, two freshmen in offense …

Keenan Barnes is going to play, he’s going to play a lot early. Gary Haynes is going to play, he’s going to play a lot early. Both of those guys. Ja’Marcus Bradley is going to maybe play a little bit, he’s going to play a lot before the season is over.

Cole Prudhomme is listed as the second center, probably would not really be the second center in the game. It would probably be Grant Horst. But he will travel, and he’s a guy who is going to be a phenomenal center in the future. Just a freshman, we’ve got to make sure he’s ready for big-time ball.

On the center position …

That’s one area that we’ve struggled with. We’ve signed some centers, one transferred, one ended up getting injured and didn’t play anymore. Our true centers that we’ve recruited ended up not working out, so we had to convert guys to center. Generally, that’s not really what you want to do at the center position, but that’s sort of what we were forced to do.

Luckily, Eddie’s a true center. Cole now is a true center. But if we had to move Grant, he was not a center in high school, he’s been developed into that along with Donovan Williams. Both those guys would be the next two guys we would go to in a game situation right now. Not saying Cole couldn’t do that before the year’s out.

Benefits of traveling for someone who will redshirt …

We’ll travel kids each week. We want them to get used to the routine, especially quarterbacks. We want those guys getting used to … how we do things on the road, business-like, being very professional. So next year, when they do travel and Cole Prudhomme is the starting center one day, it’s not his first time to get on the plane, first time to go to the team hotel along with those freshman receivers also. It’s a learning experience and something they’ve got to be able to do.

What’s the identity of the team …

Every year we try to be a tough, physical team, and I think we displayed that last year. We want to be physical. That’s who we want to be first and foremost. We’ve got a bunch of young guys, they’re getting tougher. Some of our veterans already are tough. That’s the way we try to develop our guys and train our guys. We always want to have that sense of toughness, but also offensively, we want to play with great tempo and get the ball to our playmakers. Whomever the quarterback ends up being, he’s got Elijah McGuire beside him and Jamal Robinson out to one side and Al Riles to the other. To me, we’ve got some outstanding skill players and that quarterback doesn’t need to feel like he’s got to do it all himself. He’s got to do a good job managing the game, distributing the ball and carrying out his execution. If we can do that, I think we’ve got some guys who hopefully can make some plays.

On Otha Peters’ debut …

Whenever you have to sit out a year, you talk about being hungry to play. You think our guys are hungry, take a guy that hadn’t played in two years. So he’s really ready to play. He’s played, probably, against Kentucky. He’s been in the SEC, he knows the speed of that game and that’s what he brings to our defense. He’s one physical joker, now. When he tackles, he tackles hard. I’m excited for him being on our sideline, I can tell you that.

On Hud’s gut feeling about this team …

A little harder to put my thumb on it this year because of so many new guys. Last year, we knew what we had. Did we start off great? No, we had some injuries and didn’t play well early, a combination of all those things. But we sort of knew what we had, and then we got it going and we reeled off (six) straight. This year, there’s some question marks. I think we’ve got an outstanding team, I think we’ve got some young, talented players, but they’ve got to get an opportunity to grow, develop, get their feet wet, hope they can show their composure, do all those things you’ve got to be able to do in a big-time game. I know one thing though, they’re going to be excited to play. This freshman class we have, they’ve got more juice and passion than I’ve seen in any freshman class we’ve had. They love to play the game. It’s going to be fun.