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Mark Stoops and Wildcats recap win over Mississippi State

Stoops’ defense gets the better of Mike Leach in his return to Lexington.

Mississippi State v Kentucky Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but the Kentucky Wildcats finally secured a win for their 2020 season on Saturday night. Over the course of a three and a half hour slugfest, Kentucky completely shut down the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a 24-2 victory at Kroger Field.

While Kentucky’s offense was almost as miserable as Mississippi State’s, the Wildcats’ defense came out and made a miraculous stand. After being ranked as the worst secondary in the country over the first two weeks, Kentucky forced Mississippi State into six turnovers with their only points coming via a safety on a botched snap intended for a punt.

The Wildcats lost time of possession by more than nine minutes, were out-gained by 138 yards and were atrocious on third down. But finally momentum-changing plays went their way and Kentucky was able to capitalize off of a couple of the Bulldogs’ turnovers.

One would have thought the Wildcats offense could have done more with their opportunities, but head coach Mark Stoops will certainly take a win.

Here’s what Stoops and his team had to say following their team’s first victory of the year via UK Athletics.

Mark Stoops

MARK STOOPS: Very pleased with our team’s effort. I had a lot of good jokes for you, but you guys aren’t here and it’s just not the same with Tony (Neely) and I in here. Tony won’t give me a big chuckle if I make comments about our explosive offense today. But really proud of our team. As I mentioned to them, what a difference a week makes. Last week I was not very proud and not very pleased with the way we played defensively. I thought we were in total control offensively. We ran it. Like I said, we could have thrown it better or more. We did what we needed to do. But we couldn’t get the stops defensively. And that was very frustrating for us for a week knowing that you’re going to prepare for another explosive high-scoring offense that can throw it around and move you, and move the ball if you’re not ready. So I felt like our team really responded all week. Obviously we gave a great defensive team effort. Pleased with the way we played.

Offensively, we’ve got to get some things corrected. It was aggravating. It was not good enough for us. So we’ll go back to work and try to put it together completely. This is a weird and odd year, just looking around and looking at some of the games that I had an opportunity to watch some of today and looking at this league. I just told our players to ice up their shoulders because it’s going to be a physical, knock-down drag-out each and every week. It’s a different year. Very appreciative to get the first victory under our belt. We’ve got to go back to work and look forward to an opportunity next week against Tennessee. So a win’s a win and really pleased with certain phases of the game today.

Q. You didn’t force a turnover in the first two weeks, then you get six interceptions today. What was the difference there? What happened to make that come to fruition?

MARK STOOPS: Well, we were obviously in good position and we had the opportunity to make plays today and we did. We tell the players that all the time. And, again, I don’t want to be beat up over clichés, but it’s like when technique and opportunity meet, you’re going to have an opportunity to make plays. We had good technique. Our coaches had them in good position. I said that a week ago, that obviously when you get frustrated and didn’t play like we wanted to defensively, part of that is on us. Part of that is on the players. Everybody’s got to own their responsibility and their part. And today we were in good position. Guys executed it very well. They used good technique and when they had the right opportunity, they made plays. We dropped two, at least two, probably as well, but maybe we got a pick on the same possession. I don’t know. But obviously some of those came a little bit late when it’s a bit of desperation for them. So, the last one or two there. But the first couple were major because you know it’s hard to just stop them completely from moving the football. They’re going to move the ball. But you’ve got to clamp down. You got to play good in the red zone. You’ve got to create some turnovers when you have the opportunity. So obviously it was a big, big piece of the game tonight were the turnovers.

Q. I know there was some talk coming into the game about just the uniqueness of that 3-3-5. How did you, I mean, just game plan for that? What was the idea there?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I give them a lot of credit. They came in and we knew it can create issues coming into the game, and normally when we come into it like that you know unfortunately we’re going to have some negative plays, which you saw that. But we usually create our explosive plays, whether it’s in the run game or in the pass game, and that didn’t happen enough tonight. We just got stalled out. We didn’t run enough plays. Obviously you’re not functioning how you want to when you only run 53 offensive plays. So you have to credit them. I thought they did an outstanding job and we have to play better.

Q. I saw Josh Paschal came up a little slow towards the end of the game. What’s the status on him?

MARK STOOPS: We’ll see. Got a little knee sprain. Hopefully it’s nothing major. So we’ll see how it goes. But obviously it was enough to where he couldn’t go back in the game.

Q. To follow up on that, before the Paschal pick, what did you see from him? I mean, before the injury, sorry. He had the pick, but he also seemed to be in the back field almost every play. What did you make from him this year?

MARK STOOPS: Well, he’s done that each and every week. The first two games he was our defensive player of the week, so that tells you what we think of him and the way he’s playing. He’s done some really good things. He’s been disruptive all year. So just happy for him and I hope this is nothing that will keep him out. I just saw him in the locker room. He felt like he’ll be back. But Josh is always optimistic, so hopefully he feels good in the morning.

Q. Chris Oats, it seems came home today to his family. Was that something you guys talked about before the game? Obviously Jamin had a really big game wearing that jersey.

MARK STOOPS: It was. It was really important for us. We just did dedicate that game ball to Chris and we’re going to bring it up to him tomorrow. So it was important for us to play well for him and try to inspire Chris to continue with history his rehab. And if I could just say, Thank you. I haven’t talked about it since the opening with the GoFundMe and all that, and just greatly appreciate the Big Blue Nation. It doesn’t surprise me that you’ve supported that so well and supported Chris and his family and I thank you and I encourage you to continue with that, so thank you.

Q. In a year like this obviously it can be tough to get young guys in there, but I think I counted seven or eight true freshmen on defense that final possession. Even though it wasn’t very long, just to be able to get some guys like that into the game, I guess, how happy were you to see that?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it was really important. And it was important to put Joey (Gatewood) in there and just get a few snaps under his belt. You never know when he’s going to be thrust into the game should an injury happen or something, so it was important to get him a few snaps. And it’s always important to get those young guys. They work extremely hard. I am really impressed with their attitudes. That year’s difficult, but these guys are working really hard and there’s some guys in there that are very talented and they just got to keep on chopping wood and doing the things necessary and that’s what I just mentioned to the whole team. If you’re not getting the outcome that you want, then you got to look at yourself and keep on working, and sooner or later you’re going to get that opportunity and what are we going to do with it. So we got to go put it all together. We have a brutal schedule and we got to get all phases playing in sync and playing together.

Q. How important was Max Duffy tonight?

MARK STOOPS: Amazing, really. He really is. That momentum could have slipped away from us there with the bad snap. Cade has been a hundred percent all year, so where that came from, I don’t know. We’ll just chalk that up to one bad snap. Hopefully we won’t see that again because he’s been really impressive for a freshman. But Max, to come back after the safety. First of all, the intelligence that he has to kick it out and to take the two and then to come back and boom that punt was really important. Really all night did he that, so he’s amazing. I’m trying to look down here real quick and see what he averaged. Does anybody have that on the tip of their tongue? 44? Yeah. And that’s net. Had we covered a little better, he outkicked it a couple times, but if we cover a little better, that net should go up because he was booming it.

Q. Could you just talk a little bit about the play of your linebackers tonight, especially their tackling?

MARK STOOPS: I was impressed. I thought our coaches did a good job all week. I thought our guys were in really good position, that I could tell from the sidelines all night, and they were coming up and we were using proper leverage. You know, you’ve heard me talk about it many times, tackling stands out when you miss tackles. Well, and it’s really difficult in this league when you’re out of position, and, you know, that’s where team defense is important. You get space out there and these guys are going to make you miss and make you look silly. And I thought our guys really did nice getting in their drops and then trapping the football very aggressively and using their help. And that was something that we wanted to emphasize was to be, once you trapped it top down, be aggressive and shoot, not just break down and let them run us over and create more yards with this style of offense. So I thought they did a really nice job.

Q. What about the sense of urgency that your guys had on that side of the ball tonight? Do you feel like that this had kind of that feel of a must-get-it-done situation?

MARK STOOPS: Well, definitely because we weren’t real impressed with the way we played a week ago. Heck, we’re going to play very good, explosive teams this year. I know for myself and any defensive coach when we give up, what was it, 35 in regulation, 42 overall, I mean that’s, that’s hard to swallow. It was a brutal week and I love these night games that last four and a half hours, I could enjoy it for about five hours and get back up and do it again. Can’t wait (laughing.) I do have a little bounce in my step though, we got a big one coming up this week, so I’ll be, we’ll be ready to go.

Q. What was the deal with Marquan tonight? We noticed he didn’t get to —

MARK STOOPS: Marquan did not dress and participate in the game he was a violation of team rules and he was suspended for the game. He’ll be back next week.

Q. The D-line I know someone asked about the young guys earlier, but that kind of opened up some spots, some time early for that group. Just like Justin and Josiah.

MARK STOOPS: Well it’s good, it’s, you’re looking for opportunities to get guys in there and see what they can do. So that’s the good thing, when you got good players and you got good depth and you feel like you have some good young guys. They have to make the most of their opportunity and we have a lot of confidence in those guys, they just need some plays under their belt.

Q. Going back to Max, does he ever show emotion or anything on the sideline that kind of stands out to you and even you, were you impressed when he on after the safety, I mean he almost punted that ball to the end zone or is that what you were thinking he was going to do?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, that was amazing. But he definitely shows emotion. I mean, he does a nice job of, he’s very mature and he’s always under control, but it means a great deal to him, it really does. He takes great pride in what he has to do. If everybody in your organization took the pride in their job like he does, you would be really good. He really cares, he cares about his teammates, he cares about bailing us out when we’re backed up and he loves that. I just saw him after the game and he made sure to come up to me and I gave him a good hug because he does, he takes pride in it, you could tell. And he gives me a wink and a nod like, you know, I did my job, coach. And I’m like, Hell yeah, you did. So I’m really — I love Max, I really do, he’s a guy that, he’s one of those players that you just, you know, you have a good relationship with, he’s so old, like I mentioned before, older, mature, and he does a heck of a job. When he boomed that one after the safety, again, yeah, I agree with you, I think it’s Larry that asked me this question, I’m going on and on, but didn’t surprise me, it just really didn’t. I mean he just, when you really need it, that’s when guys like that step up and that’s why he’s a Ray Guy winner. That’s why he will be a finalist again this year. That’s clutch. Punting it under pressure and doing his job under pressure, we appreciate him.

Q. Playing an offense like that where they put a lot of pressure on you in the passing game but a lot of them are short passes, you talked about your guys being in position, how much patience and discipline does it take against an offense like that to have in the type of defense you’re playing, can you just talk about that?

MARK STOOPS: Most definitely. It’s a good point. And it was and it is, it takes patient. As a matter of fact, Brad did a really nice job of keeping them off balance — and he rushed four, everyone’s going to think it was drop eight all night, it wasn’t. We mixed in four, four-man rushes a decent amount. And then it got to the point where I was talking to him a bit at the end of the first half like, stay patient, stay with it because it was working. And you have a good idea of what Mike likes and they like space. So you have to be patient at times and Brad really did a nice job.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

UK Student-Athletes

#22, Jamin Davis, Jr., ILB

On Chris Oats returning to his hometown following his rehab stint…

“Definitely, it was emotional for me all day just thinking about him and seeing that he just got to go home. I just wanted to do whatever I could to play really well for him and his family, my brothers beside me as well.”

On his thoughts about the large number of turnovers forced tonight…

“Honestly, we had already anticipated coming out and playing hard, we just didn’t expect that many turnovers, but that’s just what happens when everyone runs to the ball and just makes plays. It is what it is, and we just wanted to earn a lot of respect.”

On the attitude towards improving defense after loss against Ole Miss

“Definitely, we all knew within the first two games we played, you know, not up to our standards. We just wanted to come out tonight and show everyone what we’re really about and just making a name for ourselves, making a huge statement.”

#15, Jordan Wright, Jr., OLB

On if the turnovers forced by the defense was contagious…

“All week in practice, coach (Brad) White was preaching to us about reading the quarterbacks intentions, and I guess that is always what we do. We had our feet on the ground, and we were just reading his eyes the whole game.”

On their preparation going into the week and proving themselves defensively…

“We talked about it heavy, you know, everyone was feeling the same, was tired of just giving up a lot of points and not showing everyone who we really are. So, this week, we were really trying to stay focused on that and just play for each other.”

On his interception and touchdown tonight…

“It just reminded me of the bowl game, I was like, ‘Aw, I’ve got to get me another one and that would be two so far.’ So, just keep it going.”

On what was different mentally tonight than the first two weeks…

“I would say our focus - our focus from Monday to today. Our focus was much better. Everyone was locked in, and we took this like this was our last game.”