After virtually out-playing Auburn last week, Kentucky managed to leave Alabama with a 29-13 loss. On Saturday, the Wildcats played host to the Ole Miss Rebels with a mission to bounce back in front of a limited home crowd.
And of course it wouldn’t have been a Kentucky football game without the roller-coaster ride effect.
Ole Miss came out of the gate with a quick touchdown score, and it looked like Kentucky would answer right back after their first play from scrimmage was a 72-yard run by AJ Rose. However, two plays later, Rose would fumble the ball away near the goal line and give up any chance at a score.
The Wildcats would even the score on their next drive, but that early turnover would soon prove to be extremely costly. Late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Terry Wilson took negative yardage on third and fourth downs for a turnover. In just four quick plays, Ole Miss would then score a touchdown and take a 35-28 lead.
Playing against a prevent defense, Wilson went 5-8 passing and carried the ball a few times to lead Kentucky back down the field. Chris Rodriguez ran in his second score of the game to tie it up at 35-all and eventually send it to overtime.
Ole Miss won the toss, deferring to Kentucky only to see Wilson march in a quick touchdown run to take a six point lead. However, Matt Ruffolo botched the extra point attempt, and it was only a matter of time at that point. Kentucky’s defense had already given up 35 points to Ole Miss, and on such a short field in overtime, it didn’t take the Rebels long to score six more. Their kicker, Luke Logan, connected on his point after attempt, and just like that, the outcome was decided.
Overall, the Wildcats played fairly well when running the ball. They racked up 408 rushing yards and had Rodriguez (133), Wilson (129) and Rose (117) go over 100. However, they’ll need much more balance if they hope to beat better defensive teams moving forward. Until Wilson’s final fourth quarter drive, he only had 85 passing yards and most were dump downs.
As for Kentucky’s defense, they held Ole Miss to just 139 yards on the ground but gave up a whopping 320 passing yards and 81 penalty yards. That simply won’t cut it when trying to execute a one-dimensional offense. Next week the Wildcats will host Mississippi State in search of their first win this season.
After the game, Stoops and several players met with the media to recap the game. Here’s everything they said via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Very difficult way to lose a football game. It’s been a crazy year, and this season is going to be different. It’s going to be difficult playing a ten-game SEC schedule, and games are going to be close.
We have to make those plays in critical moments to win us football games. I was proud of the way — the game was a struggle. We knew it was going to be. We went through some patches where we overcame some adversity, got the game into overtime, and then to lose it that way is difficult.
As I mentioned, it’s just we have to find ways to execute better in critical moments. We did that for a large portion of the night. Any time you rush the ball for 400 yards, you usually feel pretty good that you’re going to have a good opportunity to win. This offense was extremely explosive, extremely fast. They get you off kilter. This week and next week’s going to be like that where it’s a different style of offense.
You have to get stops in critical moments. We did not play very good defense tonight. That’s on us. We have to get them in position and play better. Offensively, I thought we did some good things at times, certainly controlled the game and ran the ball very well.
Terry (Wilson) was efficient, 14 of 18. But we just — we’ve got to make plays in critical moments and play better as a team to get these victories.
Q. Mark, where do you go with the kicking situation from here? Obviously, PATs have been an issue the last two years. Just kind of where things are at with that.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we’ll continue to work both guys. We’ll continue to work Matt (Ruffalo). We’ll work Chance (Poore). If we feel like Chance gives us a better opportunity, then we’ll go with him.
Q. Mark, could you talk about what impact it has when A.J. (Rose) makes a mental mistake and then a physical mistake so early like that in the game, you go ahead and go back to him. What does that kind of say? Does that send a bad message when you’ve got a guy like that that does that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it definitely doesn’t help. We’ve been a very unselfish football team through the years, and that’s a mistake that you can’t have. A.J. means well. He’s a great young man. I’m not going to give up on him for one mistake. We will certainly point out and show him, and he understands that, that it’s not acceptable. That’s not how we do things. That’s not how we’re going to do it.
Fortunately, we got the ball back in great field position and went back and scored, but it definitely has an impact. It’s definitely not the right message. It’s not OK, but I’m also not going to give up on him for one mistake.
Q. Mark, especially the second half, was there anything in particular that Ole Miss was doing that was giving you the most trouble?
MARK STOOPS: They were doing what they wanted to do, to be honest with you. They really had us off balance. They spread you out. They go extremely fast. We’ve got to play better. We got it to a two touchdown lead, and then from there, we really played poor on defense, and they scored so quick that momentum can shift.
You’re going to go through stretches in these games this season, again, with the margin for error is small. You have to do things right, and you definitely knew that going into the game that a team like that could put the foot on the gas and go extremely fast. Again, it will be very similar this next week.
Q. Hey, Coach, obviously last week Terry had the high number of pass attempts. Coming into tonight, it seems like he had really great rushing. Was that something you guys wanted to bring into the game plan coming in, or was that something that just started working at the end of the game and just wanted to keep with it?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think just like you said at the second part of the question. It was working. We had to stay ahead of the chains. Certainly, every possession, as you know, in a game like this, possessing the ball, getting yards and scoring points, they’re all important. With the way we were rushing the ball and creating explosive plays in the run game, it gave us the best opportunity, and it certainly added to that when we played such poor defense.
It kind of puts pressure on myself and on the offense to where every possession was so important. Possessing the clock, but also scoring points is important. There comes a time when you get off balance like we were, you have to play as a team. I thought our offense responded several times tonight. Obviously, there’s things they could do better, but there were times they responded really well, where they had long drives and gave the defense an opportunity to kind of get over there and do some adjustments and try to get their feet up underneath them and play better.
We just didn’t play very good in the second half. We’re holding them to 14 in the first half. We felt like we were just ago at this point.
Q. Mark, you’ve already said to us that the team that wins the rushing yards is in pretty good shape, and almost all the SEC games over the years. You’ve done that two weeks in a row in a pretty dominant fashion. Do you feel like this is kind of an anomaly, or is something changing in the dynamics?
MARK STOOPS: Both. I think both. Certainly, with this style of offense and next week — next week it won’t matter as well. Time of possession won’t matter in the — obviously, you want to possess the ball, but you need to score points, and we need to be explosive.
When we were stopped tonight, if you really look at it, it’s hard for me to be exact here right now. A lot of things are running through my head. But there are times we shot ourselves in the foot, whether it be a penalty or one or two drives way backed up.
We came up a half yard short early in the first half. There’s more plays and yards out there. It’s important, but it’s not the end all, be all. We know that. When you’re playing Ole Miss who can go as fast as they can and they’re so explosive. But they’re very balanced. They’re a team that they rushed for 139 tonight. That will be low for them. They’ll rush for — they’re generally going to be a team that rushes for around 200 and throw for around 300. That’s what they’ve been averaging.
If you look at their coordinator, where he was at UCF, and what they want to do, they put pressure on you in that run game, but they also can throw it and get explosive plays outside.
I think that was still a good recipe for us. You rush for 400 yards, it’s going to give us an opportunity to win the game. However, we have to play better defense than that, or you’re not going to win. So we had our opportunities and got to make some stops.
Q. The television cameras at the end of the game showed you chipping back at officials. Was that just an accumulation of officials or something that happened in that instance?
MARK STOOPS: I just wanted to talk to one of them about a specific play, but no.
Q. Kelvin’s (Joseph) a guy that you guys have obviously had high hopes for, and you still do. It seems like in these first couple seasons he’s done a fair amount of chattering and has had some struggles when it comes to the actual plays, especially in the end zone. What have you said to him about that? I know you want corners to be confident and that swagger is part of what makes them good, but just the balance that you’re looking for with him.
MARK STOOPS: You were cutting in and out, but I think I got the gist of your question. He, like a lot of our players, we need to play better and more consistent. I thought he did good things a week ago. Tonight just watching it out there, they were so extremely fast. I know there were some plays that stand out in my mind right now that he needs to do a better job of.
I agree with you as far as that goes, really across our whole team. We don’t have time to get into it with chattering. These opponents, especially with teams that go so fast, you’ve got to focus in on your job and taking care of your business, and I’ve got to do a better job of coaching our team on that.
Q. Mark, obviously, 0-2 is not the start you wanted. How do you feel about the leadership on this team? Do you feel like you’ve got good leaders that can pick guys up and get them ready for next week?
MARK STOOPS: I do, John. I said just that in the locker room. I expect our leaders to step up. We knew it was going to be a challenge. Our players knew it was going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a challenging year. I’m going to lean on them, and we have to get back at it and get to work on Monday.
We play at home next week again. It will be good to be back home, and it will be another challenge, as it will each and every week. But that’s also what makes it exciting. Every week is a big game, and you really, truly got to look at it — and I also told the team this. If it went the other way, and we’re in there celebrating and dancing and having a good time and everything, you’ve still got to go right back to work on Monday.
It’s going to be a long, challenging year, and you’d better have your feet up underneath you and be focused and come to work each and every week. We’ll get our team back and get them ready to play again next week.
#3, Terry Wilson, Sr., QB
On finally being healthy and back …
“You know, going into this game, I knew I had to perform better than last week and that was just really my mindset. On just focusing on what I can control and focus what I do best and trying to get better, so that was just my mindset going into this game, knowing that I wanted to be a better Terry Wilson than I was before.”
On first home game back …
“There was no better feeling, it was great to be back in Kroger Field. Something I was looking forward to since being injured. It’s tough we didn’t get the win, but it really was a pleasure to be back at home and be around the fans. So, it felt great.
On how frustrating losing this game is …
“It’s definitely frustrating, it’s something you don’t want to happen. As offense, you know we worked really hard though out this week. Knowing that our mindset was to come out for 60 minutes, and I felt like we did that. I felt like we laid everything on the field, and it hurts falling short to a game like that, but we have to move on and forget about it and focus on the new week.”
On the message for the team moving forward …
“Just having that mindset that this is an older team and we can control what we can control. We can control our mindset, mentality and how we want to come out to practice and just not mop around. It sucks, but we have to get better as a team and that should be everyone’s mindset right now. Coming off this loss is tough, but I’m ready to forget about it and move on to this week coming up. So, we just have to make sure we have that mindset and be ready to be locked in on Monday and get back at it.”
On his decision making improving …
“I definitely feel more comfortable. Going through the injury, I feel like as a quarter back I progressed on the mental side of the game. Just knowing where I need to go with the ball and just trusting myself. So, I definitely feel more comfortable. But the sack on, it was a free blitzer and it happened so fast. I could’ve through the ball away, but it was just something you don’t want to happen. I think it was 4&1, but yeah, it’s just something you don’t want to happen.”
On building confidence to run the ball …
“Most definitely. Throughout camp and the rehab process, once I was able to get back on the field and run some plays and just trusting that my leg was fine, and just trusting my speed. I had the confidence, but it’s different when you get on the field and getting hit for the first time in over a year. You know that first game was getting there but now I feel like I’m getting back to how I should be running the football every time.”
#4 Josh Paschal, R-Sr., LB/DE
On how the team bounces back …
“Leadership is important right now to just get the team going and not let one turn into two. As far as the defense goes, it goes back to practice on Monday. We have to be locked in and focus on attention to detail and things like that. We have to train hard in practice and translate practice to the game. And it all starts with the work you put in during the week.”
On Ole Miss’ tempo giving them trouble …
“I wouldn’t say it was the tempo. Of course, I have not seen the film yet but I think we handled the tempo well as far as the conditioning side of that. But, I just feel like the coaches put us in good spots and we have to execute as a defense and that is something we are going to have to stress this week. We are going to have to execute the play calls that the coaches give us. The coaches put us in good positions, so we just have to hold ourselves accountable and make some plays.”
On the mindset of the team and defense going up two touchdowns …
“As a defense and a team, we were just thinking to keep our foot on their neck and not let up. Of course, that is not how things played out. They ended up executing on the offensive side, as far as Ole Miss goes. We really just need to start making an emphasis on finishing in the second half. And we need to put an emphasis as far as defense goes to be that dominate force and take over that second half.”
On the mood in overtime after the missed point after …
“The mood was to just not let everything be on Ruffalo. You know, he missed the extra point, but it is a team sport. He missed the extra point, but as a defense we have to back him up. Unfortunately, the game at the end didn’t go our way and we didn’t execute how we should have. We can’t blame it on Ruffalo because at the end of the day there are 100,000 different plays you could blame somebody on. As far as that goes, our mindset was to back Ruffalo up. He missed the extra point but we said we were going to get out there and stop them and support our brother.”
On the defense not forcing turnovers …
“We just have to execute, like I said and have an emphasis on turnover. It is hard to go a couple games without a turnover. That is a big momentum swing when defense can help offense out. The offense played great today. I saw they rushed for 400 yards. As a defense, we have to match their intensity. They were playing well and playing great but at the end of the day we let up more points than they put up. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable and learn from this and bounce back on Monday.”
On how you keep the season from snowballing …
“Once we got the SEC schedule and the announcement a couple months ago, we knew it was going to be hard. We just have to bounce back, you know. There are going to be momentum swings throughout the season and adversity and we are facing it right now. Really your judged how good of a team you are when you face adversity. We are going through adversity right now and it matters how we bounce back and prepare for this week against Mississippi State and finish the season.”