Mark Stoops and his Kentucky Wildcats are now 6-0 for the first time since 1950 after beating the LSU Tigers 42-21.
After winning the last four games by just one score, Kentucky made sure fans didn’t have to sweat this one out. The good guys got up as many as 28 and ultimately came away with just their second double-digit win of the season, both ironically coming against teams from Louisiana.
After the game, Stoops and select players recapped yet another historical win for the program. Here is a look at what they had to say via UK Athletics.
Greatly appreciate the support. Really appreciate our coaches and our players. We just have had a good, quiet confidence about us from the preparation that we are doing, a lot of hard work preparing hard, guys are sacrificing and doing things that are necessary. Coaches are putting out great game plans and we’ve really had good, hard disciplined practices and felt like we were getting better and better and really feel like our guys are playing exceptionally hard and we are executing better.
Offensively, looked really crisp, I thought, early and against a quality football team, but just overall, very proud of our whole group, the whole program, whole organization. Been a lot of fun. Same message as last week when I sat here: Enjoy it for a few hours and back to work tomorrow. We are excited about the opportunity that we have from us next week.
Q. You said you would like to experience one that wasn’t so close. You got it.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I didn’t like it, they started getting a little close for my comfort in the fourth quarter, but we had some guys nicked up, some guys up front, and got to get back and get healthy and look at some things. It was nice. It was nice to offensively win. LSU did have one of the scores, we responded right away and came back with a touchdown and gave us a little breathing room.
Q. What was the play, the fourth and four?
MARK STOOPS: I felt good. I felt with the turnover, starting the game with a turnover and having great field position, I just wanted to play aggressive. I wanted to score. And if we didn’t, I felt like we could keep them backed up there.
Q. What was your evaluation of Will Levis?
MARK STOOPS: I really thought he played exceptionally well. You could tell early on, just to me, his comfort level was there. You know, he looked really poised, really confident and just going through his progression, making some really nice throws. Maybe the numbers aren’t overwhelming you, but I thought he was very clean and what Liam (Coen) has been working with him, being calm in the pocket, and you could see that, carrying over and you could see his confidence stepping up. Then the way he plays it on the line, and he runs so physical, that just gives everybody a great boost, as well. He’s a tough kid and just getting better and better.
Q. How important was it being turnover-free?
MARK STOOPS: That’s a big — did we win the turnover battle tonight? What was it? Come on, you guys don’t know that?
Q. Liam (Coen) was saying you were waiting for the offense. Was Will (Levis) the reason? What was working so well?
MARK STOOPS: We rushed for 330 yards, so when you are doing that, now you get them off balance. That’s when you saw some of our play-action game showing up, and that was good to see. You know, stayed ahead of the chains for the most part and had them off balance. When you can get a defense off balance, you’ve got a good chance.
Q. Talk about the offensive play. Was that a pride thing, and on the defensive end playing so well?
MARK STOOPS: I think there’s none of that. It’s just such a team. It’s such a team. No thought of that. I think we all have a lot of confidence that the offense is just getting better and better and tonight, that’s pretty impressive to get them, like I said, the biggest thing to me is the defense has got to have them so off balance with running the ball and being able to throw.
Q. You said Monday you would put your foot on the gas. Did the team adopt that attitude this week?
MARK STOOPS: There’s no doubt. As I said in my opening statement, I thought they prepared really well and were very just confident in their preparation and worked really hard and doing the things necessary to put us in this position.
Q. You said several times, if you want to play good games, you have to take care of business. Doesn’t get bigger than undefeated Georgia and Kentucky next week. What’s the mentality?
MARK STOOPS: I just discussed it briefly, enjoy it for a few hours and get some sleep tonight and they know, punch the clock, come back Monday morning. Players, we can’t see them until Monday. So, they need to rest up, heal up, get some treatment and be ready to go to work.
Q. What happened to Darian Kinnard?
MARK STOOPS: He took a shot to his leg and — but he fought through it. It seemed like he bounced up and really fought through it and played hard.
Q. Is there anything wrong with Octavious Oxendine?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. I don’t know. He took a good lick, as well.
Q. Certainly played well beforehand.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, that hurts us. We’re getting some guys beat up in there.
Q. Not only did you run the ball well, but it seemed like up the middle — was that something you planned?
MARK STOOPS: In the run game or pass game?
Q. In the run game.
MARK STOOPS: We had some — we had some schemes where we were putting their ends in a bind, and it was good play calls. Some of the ones (Liam Coen) pulled were good pulls, and so we had them a touch off balance, like I said. That’s what we do. We are going to run the ball between the tackles and be physical, and we did that.
Q. You said before the game, this will be a test for your secondary. How do you think they did?
MARK STOOPS: They did a good job. They really competed hard. I thought we had some really good covers. I thought late, some of that was time and operation, too much time and it broke the pocket and contained and got the ball and pushed the ball down the field with some talented guys. That was a bit — when the game was out of hand, too, so when the game is in the balance, I thought the guys really stepped up and had some good covers against some talented guys. Again, it got a little messy, a little off balance late, and a lot of that is, again, the execution of game stunts contained. You can’t let a quarterback have that kind of time and break contain.
Q. Does the sixth win feel good?
MARK STOOPS: It does because my equipment manager, (Allen “Tink” Belcher), said he had some shirts — it’s a push for bowl season campaign, and he put them out today. That’s good. They got a new t-shirt. We want more.
Q. Sometimes prosperity can be as tough to handle as adversity —
MARK STOOPS: They did. I just felt good about it. I told you guys in the meeting, or in the press conference right here on Monday, that I felt confident that they would just have a great week. And I really did, when I went in there Monday afternoon with the team, they were really locked in. They just were ready to get forward or look forward for this week, and I feel the same way in the locker room right there. They are happy. They celebrated a little bit, but they are excited about a big opportunity next week.
Q. When you look out on the field —
MARK STOOPS: Well, I’m not going to lie, I was concerned and happy that it doesn’t appear to be anything major.
Q. Do you think you’ll get Josh (Ali) or any of those guys back this week?
MARK STOOPS: Northbound. I’m really not sure.
Q. Does the run game set up opportunities for big plays?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we felt like, again, with that run game, some misdirection, some of the play-actions off of that run game was good. You know, created some explosive plays. It still comes down to being able to run the ball and sets those plays up.
Q. Some of those throws — looked like (Will Levis) was moving around a lot more. Was that by design? Do you think he’s more comfortable?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I think that there was a little of both. I noticed him being very clean and poised in the pocket at times tonight, I did, but there were times I’m sure he was on the run as well. Overall, I felt like he was more comfortable.
Q. When you play so well the first half, what do you say to the team at halftime?
MARK STOOPS: I told them that I was excited to watch them in the second half because I was confident that they would continue to play well, and they did.
Q. LSU closes to 21-7 and the team takes it down the field, scores. You hear the term “imposing your will.” Do you think your team did that tonight?
MARK STOOPS: I do. I felt like we had a strong will and a strong desire to win, and a strong belief that we were going to take care of business tonight.
Liam Coen and Brad White
#24 Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB
On the win …
“Coach (Mark Stoops) preaches to us all what you got to do to win, and I feel like we all went out there and we did what we had to do.”
On facing Georgia next week …
“We know what we have planned next weekend. We like to say we have a 24-hour rule, like yeah we just had a great win, but once the 24 hours are up, it’s on to the next one.”
On the difference between this season and last season …
“I won’t say it’s a big difference, but I’d say everybody is clued into what we want to do, and everybody wants to win. It’s a player-led team, and rather than the coaches having to get us hyped or anything, I feel like we know what we’ve got to do to win.”
#7 Will Levis, QB
On what allowed him to play so great today…
“Just having a good week of preparation and really trusting my timing and footwork with everything. Pass game that we had tonight, obviously I could have had some better throws accuracy-wise, but just my decision making and my ball placement for the most part were pretty good when it needed to be. Just comes with good preparation and trust in the timing and progression of everything.”
On what offensive coordinator Liam Coen telling the team to slow down means ...
“Just slowing down my footwork. Especially last week when we were watching the film comparing practice to the game. When I got to the game and the bolts were flying a little bit, I just kind of really got antsy with my feet, and I just got to trust that the timing in practice as long as we are going full speed is going to be the same as timing in the game. Just slowing my footwork down and just trusting the progression, and I think I did a pretty good job of that tonight.”
On the team’s ability to run the ball down the field and how it makes it easier for him …
“It makes it awesome. If we go drive where I just I hand the ball off and we score, it’s the same thing as if I throw 75 yards passing. What matters is the ticks in the win column and running the ball great and passing the ball great. Pretty good mix of it tonight. The efficiency in the run game opened up a couple of those play passes that we had for big gains. So that was very cool to see. Our offensive line grinds, our tight ends grind, our receivers grind. We were able to win the ball really well and hope to continue that through the season.”
On the success of the offense …
“It was great, it was definitely our most complete offensive game all season, and we have been talking about winning close games. It feels good to have that comfort zone between the scores. Obviously, LSU did a great job scoring points at the end there, but just going up 35-7 is awesome, and we got to start winning games like that because we know we can, and we’ve seen that offensively at this level we have to keep striving to do that each week.”
On his long run …
“Yeah, I think we just had a little miscommunication with the backs on who was doing what, and both of them were doing the same thing when one of them should have been getting the ball, so I shouldn’t have even had the ball in my hands obviously. So I just pulled it, saw the edge, took it, got to the second level, tried to do a little spin move. I don’t know if I’ve ever done a spin move. It worked pretty well, I guess. Tried to stay on my feet and get as many yards as I can.”
On his thoughts on playing Georgia...
“It’s awesome, that’s why I came here. It’s why you come to the (Southeastern Conference). It’s stuff that you dream of when you make decisions like that. It’s one of the environments you think of when you think of SEC football, Sanford Stadium in Athens. Really excited to go down there and play the best team in the country. So we are going to have a good week at practice, and hopefully we are going to find some ways to get the ball moving and put some points on the board against them.”
On how he practices physicality ...
“Trusting my ability to run. I’m not necessarily the fastest dude, but I know how to use my body to get those extra yards. Knowing my body and knowing my skill set. Continuing to learn when it’s smart to slide and smart to get those extra yards. It’s a part of my game that I want to utilize to the best of my ability, and I think I can use it to help us win games.”