It was another game where Kentucky played to the level of its competition. After snatching a 13-0 lead, Kentucky let the Tigers hang around and cut the lead to 20-17. It was close the rest of the way; Missouri never led but had the game tied up at 27 and at 34. In the end, Austin MacGinnis’ leg and Benny Snell’s touchdown runs pushed Kentucky through and got them a 40-34 win.
Afterwards, Stoops said what you’d expect, as he was happy that the Cats found a way to pull through despite an ugly game.
Here’s what Mark Stoops had to say afterwards.
Opening statement: Luke, without getting into too in detail, as you know I can’t with what’s going on with him, but he is responsive and that's what I was just updated with. Second thing is thanks to the fans. I appreciate; we really felt their energy pulling in the stadium tonight. They stayed, we always got to make it dramatic and, again, I appreciate our team and their effort and our coaching staff and their effort. We absolutely knew coming into this game that it was going to be a tough game. The first thing I told our team last Monday is, I read off scores from a year ago and we were in a similar situation to them. I know Barry and the way he coaches, and guys on their staff and they had two weeks to prepare and get better and they played an exceptional game and I want to credit them. So that's the first thing. I want to credit our team with finding ways to win and responding to adversity, big plays happening. And we'll get those things cleaned up. They did a nice job, they put us in some situations where they put us in a bind and that created some. We know some of the issues very clearly, very easy in some regards to fix, you just know the problems, the matchup problems that they were getting. But they did a very good job and I'm proud of our team, I'm proud of our fight and our effort. This bye comes at a perfect time for us, we absolutely need it at this point. They played their hearts out for six straight weeks and it's a good opportunity for to us catch our breath there for a minute.
Q. On Luke Wright…
MARK STOOPS: Yeah that was very scary for all of us, because nobody likes to see that and our team was definitely a little bit shook, but once we kind of figured out what it was, at least it was better than some other things that could have been going on, I guess, without getting into it.
Q. Why did you opt to go for the field goal there on the fourth and two?
MARK STOOPS: Because it was a tie game and three points, for the very reason they got it down there and had to get in the end zone and it makes a big difference, with no timeouts. We know they can go fast and we obviously saw how explosive they can be. So I just felt like we had to do it. It was tempting, but not at two. If it was fourth and one you might try to make them drive the length of the field if you don't make it. I think six was big and you had to make them score the touchdown.
Q. Did you see what was happening at all before that final play, it seemed like the ball took a long time to be placed or someone may have dropped it. What was kind of going on?
MARK STOOPS: At the end there? I don't know what -- I don't know what was going on.
Q. Did you learn anything new about your kids, because at some point they were in control of this game, completely lose momentum, and then still found another gear in the fourth quarter and sometimes that doesn't always go y'all's way?
MARK STOOPS: That's right, but we have seen that from our team this year. We haven't been perfect, we lost one, but you've seen us fight back from adversity and that's the way this team's built right now. It's going to be tough, hard fought-games. And that's the way most of this league is. Y'all see it. Y'all see -- take a look around, I mean, it's tough. So I'm just proud of the way our team fights back from some tough situations and most of our games are going to be sixty minute games.
Q. Can you talk about the fake punt, whose call was that and what did you see that prompted that?
MARK STOOPS: That was Dean. Dean, luckily the gut was right again, but I was hesitant and he said, what do you think, and I said, do it. And it worked. So that was big. It was a big play in the game.
Q. Did anybody else lobby for that one?
MARK STOOPS: No, no, that was between Dean and I.
Q. Can you talk about the record Austin set tonight?
MARK STOOPS: Just proud of him. So proud of him. And what about the 53 yarder he made again in a tie game? That was a big kick and he's meant a lot to our program and been steady and I wouldn't trade him.
Q. Was there a common theme on that deep balls that they had going tonight?
MARK STOOPS: No, it was a few things. They were putting a little, they were putting some stress on us, as you could tell. When we were rolling up in the corner that was creating some of the big plays down the middle and the one that they hit through the middle there on number three vertical. And then when we were playing different coverages where we were soft cornered they ran by us a couple times. So they put that stress on you. And the one in, the long one that they hit up the chute there they were doing something that put a little stress on our back side and -- anyway I'm getting too technical -- we had to take another man out of the rush and you can't, and that wasn't good in that situation because he had too much time to throw it.
Q. It seems like you guys had a lot of guys banged up today, and I know going into this you did, does this bye come at the perfect time for you guys?
MARK STOOPS: Absolutely. Yeah, we do. The guys have really worked hard. We have been in six stressful games and they have worked hard during the week, we have had some hot weeks here lately in practice and the guys have really worked hard and they definitely needed a little time here this week, mentally as much as anything.
Q. Stephen threw 36 times tonight, what did you think of the way he played?
MARK STOOPS: Really tough, I saw him picking himself up off the field several times and I saw him have tough runs at times, just doing what he had to do and really played some very good football. He put us in a position once again to one the game.
Q. What goes through your mind with when you see your starting quarterback trying to leap over a guy?
MARK STOOPS: I was all for it at that point, so, yeah, but he's so coachable and so good because, in a game like that, we know every first down, every yard matters, and he - when he pulled it earlier and he slid and I was like, “hey, don't leave us with second and two or third and two, go get that.” And he did the next time, he went all out. And that's what you have to love about him.
Q. How nice was it to see some of those big plays on your side?
MARK STOOPS: It was beautiful to see the offense respond. And as I've said in here, and y'all heard me and you can quote me, the strength of our team is our team. That's not coach-speak BS, that's the truth. We do what we have to do to win games. One week maybe all three sides aren't hitting on all cylinders. Tonight, if we didn't have the big offensive plays, and they didn't score points, we wouldn't have won the game. So other times, other games, the defense had to step up or special teams. And we're all in this together, it's a great group, we're far from perfect, but we definitely play for each other and believe in each other and that's good to see.
Q. In your coaching career have you ever seen a quarterback dramatically improve so much in the passing game than what Stephen was last year to what he is right now?MARK STOOPS: I think there's so many pieces to it, there's so many components to it that has to be right and it starts with protection and starts with guys running the right routes, making catches for him. Sometimes you have to make competitive catches. Again, we all watch football, sometimes guys are covered and receivers have to make plays for them. You can't constantly diagram beautiful, clean plays. You got to make competitive plays, you got to get open, you got to win, you got to beat somebody. And so I think overall he's definitely improved, but I definitely think around him has improved as well.
Q. You got guys to jump offsides a five or six times with a hard count. Was that something you worked on for Missouri or to just get people to stop biting?
MARK STOOPS: We just work it when we feel like they're over aggressive and it certainly worked a few times and we were very close on a couple other ones.
Q. Have you been around a bunch of teams that have found ways to win and is that something that grows from week-to-week that they gain confidence that whatever happens we're going to find a way to win this game?
MARK STOOPS: It definitely does. I think that I've said it as well that we're not a fragile football team, they can handle adversity. And we're going to work on our mistakes, but we'll keep on finding ways to win. There's not many football teams that go through the season that don't win, somehow, some close games. We don't need to do every week like we're doing. I would like to have a one that you could breathe a little bit, but it shows a lot of character.
Q. It looked like you put Frank Jackson in the center, I think he stayed pretty much there. What is he doing that you guys like so much and is that his spot?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I didn't really -- I saw him in there but I wasn't really paying attention to the rotation, so I'll have to wait and watch the film and see how many plays everybody played. But we have said that he's been building and playing better and we told you Monday that we would have an eight-man rotation and he would play some. So not exactly sure how the numbers all worked out, but he's playing good football and that's helping us and it's helping us play some other guys at guard and move Bunchy to guard a little bit and so -- and Nick's wore down and he needs a little time here to get healthy.
Q. Is there a game where we're going to be able to relax the whole game?
MARK STOOPS: I don't know.
Q. Can you talk about a little bit, as far as what the coaching staff has done to make this team so resilient to be able to just not quit?
MARK STOOPS: Honestly, I think it comes from, as I said last week, it comes from a lot of years of doing things and building things. With the help of the leadership and the gentleman sitting quietly in the corner right there, Jason Cummins, and leadership and character is developed. Just like strength is developed and Jason does a wonderful job with myself, the staff, and the players. And our leaders. The team is now led by players. When you do that, you got a chance. Our team is fun to coach and I think Jason deserves a big part of that and does a wonderful job and our leaders have done a good job.
Q. Any updates on Westry and Pringle on the seriousness of their injuries?
MARK STOOPS: I really don't, no.
Q. With the toughness you guys and your kids are now showing is this the kind of team that if your father were watching you would say, hey, they're really, really good?
MARK STOOPS: That would be. Ironically, you ask that question, my old high school coach, legendary coach, Don Bucci, he was the head coach that my father worked for, for 30 years. He was tough as nails. He's not in here now, but he is tougher than nails. This is -- you think I'm exaggerating -- I'm going to pull a Mike Leach right now and randomly just talk.(Laughter.)But Don Bucci, he's here, and my father worked for him for 30 years as a defensive coordinator and Coach Bucci, is one of the most disciplined, hard working, tough coaches you have ever been around. The honest to God truth, we would practice for three and a half hours a night and it would be pitch dark and people would put their headlights on -- and that's no exaggeration, you ask anybody who went to my school -- that's just the way it was. And he just has a lot of respect for him and tonight was his first game here and so I just saw him walking off the field. But glad to have coach here and I wish my father was with him, but I'm sure he's got a good seat up there, but, yeah, he would be very proud.
Q. Do you remember a time in your career where you've had three games go down to the final play at home? It just happens every week?
MARK STOOPS: I know. My poor heart. Yeah, yeah, yeah.