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Mark Stoops and Wildcats recap fun win over Florida, plus postgame notes

Happy Days!

Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

5-0 overall and 1-0 vs. the Florida Gators in 2021. I’d say Mark Stoops is doing a bangup job with the Kentucky Wildcats.

After suffering through countless heartbreaks to Florida in Lexington for 35 years, the Cats finally found a way to finish and take down the Gators, 20-13, for one of the most memorable wins that Kroger Field/Commonwealth Stadium has ever seen.

After the historic win, Stoops and select players/coaches met with the media to recap the memorable night in Lexington. Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops

MARK STOOPS: I’d like to start by saying thank you to the BBN. That’s for you. They really showed up in a big, big way today and had an impact on the game. They affected the football game in a very positive way. I really can’t thank you enough.

I’ve been working hard for a long time to provide that type of team. But that’s what we need it like every week. We could recruit players when our stadium is like that. Our players will play hard and it affects the offense as it did tonight with some of those pre-snap penalties, really a big shout-out to you really. It definitely affected the game. Playing at Kroger Field was a home-field advantage tonight.

Really happy for our players, our fan base, our coaches. Once again, just a great, great team effort. It was beautiful in so many ways. Just shows the character of this football team and the resiliency they have, the toughness.

Things like that aren’t easy. It hasn’t happened in a while because it’s not easy. Our players just constantly put their head down, the coaches put their head down, take care of things in front of them. I’ve said it for a long time now, this team, just take care of the business in front of us, they don’t need to be anybody other than who they are.

We knew against a team like this we had to play better. We did, as far as taking care of the football to some extent. Defensively, back to back as good of a performance as we’ve had in a long time. A credit to Coach White, Jon Sumrall, Frank, Chris, the staff, the players. Played unbelievably hard. Great execution. That’s a tough team to handle. They put a lot of stress on you in a lot of different ways.

Offensively we struggled. I give Florida and Todd Grantham a lot of credit, an excellent defensive coordinator. They really had a nice plan and played very good defensively.

Offensively we will get it going. We will get it clicking. It’s hard. That’s a very good defensive team, but I’m very confident that we’ll continue to get better.

You win games any way you can. As I mentioned, that was a thing of beauty tonight. Looking forward to celebrating the win for a few hours, then punching the clock and getting back to work tomorrow morning.

Q. On not having Marquan in the game and how other players filled in for him…

MARK STOOPS: Amazing. I thought the guys that filled in for Marquan played really hard as well. Didn’t seem like they were getting picked on or anything like that. Josh, as I’ve mentioned to you many times in these press conferences, it’s amazing the way he just empties the tank every day. I mean, he just plays exceptionally hard. He’s amazing.

Q. Do you feel like you can put your guard down and celebrate this win?

MARK STOOPS: I thank the people, the crowd, the BBN. But, I mean, for me it’s back to work tomorrow morning. I’ll celebrate it for a couple hours. I got to practice what I preach to the team. You got to take care of the things in front of us. We want to play in a lot of big games. We have a long way to go. I’m very excited, I’m very proud of this group, but, man, we got to go back and punch the clock tomorrow.

Q. Seven or eight shots at the end, I imagine that’s what you imagined, the situations you’d be in, and you still came out on top.

MARK STOOPS: That was a tough hill to climb right there, to stop them seven, eight times. It’s brutally hard. If I’m not mistaken, there was another pre-snap penalty down there that helped us, one or two. Once again, thank you to the fans for affecting the play. I thought Brad and the defense played unbelievably hard. We mixed it up. We went zero a couple plays in a row when we had to. We held up in coverage. We got pressure. We played some zone. We mixed things up. It’s one heck of a stop.

Q. We talked last week about the defense making those big stops after turnovers. It happened again tonight, and returned it for a touchdown. What does that say about the mentality of that group?

MARK STOOPS: I mean, really special. What more can you say? I mean, tonight was special. That was a thing of beauty defensively. I mean, we gave up some yards. Again, that’s hard. You know what I mean? We got to pick our spots. We could do some things better, but overall, just to have that desire, the heart, the guts to stand up and getting seven, eight stops at the end is amazing, especially when we were struggling at that point. Momentum for our offense had turned a little bit. Long drive, three-and-out, that’s tough. We go right back in there and still have the capacity, still have the desire, still have the conditioning to make those stops against Florida seven, eight plays in a row on the goal line. I mean, it’s incredible. It’s a credit to our team.

Q. Question about Jones’ pass breakup on the final play …

MARK STOOPS: Well, he’s played really well. Gives us some maturity in there. He’s made some really athletic plays, tipping the ball, getting the pick, big play. That was him at the end?

Q. There were eight false start penalties on Florida. Have you ever heard this place as loud?

MARK STOOPS: That’s incredible. That’s a fantastic stat. Thanks again. Thank you. That’s pretty awesome (smiling). No, I can’t remember. I’m sure that’s frustrating on their end. But I credit our crowd, a home-field advantage. It was really nice to deliver for the fans because we’ve had things teed up before. I now how it gets, it’s hard, we play in a tough league. To have it teed up, have a sellout, to come and deliver, and play like that, I’m happy, really am.

Q. You talked a lot about knocking down doors. Does this feel any different?

MARK STOOPS: It’s just the next one. I’m sure you’ll tell me about some more (laughter).

Q. Will Levis made one of the biggest plays when he picked up the fumbled snap. What does that tell you about him?

MARK STOOPS: Again, I think he’s just going to get better and better. I think he gets so amped up. We had to boot, then the next play he throws the pick. I thought he was a little amped up, missed a couple throws there. I know he’ll put it together, I really do. He cares too much. He’s very talented. We’re going to get better. I know at times Liam and Will and the offense get frustrated, but we’re going to get there. I’m very confident. They just got to stay the course and keep their head up and stay positive and keep that belief system high because we’re doing the right things.

Q. On the freshman who got the pick six…

MARK STOOPS: That’s what we saw. He’s an unbelievable athlete. I mean, he got that ball, there was no stopping him now. He’s a freaky athlete. I mean, he was gone. It didn’t surprise me.

Kentucky Defensive Coordinator Brad White

On all of Florida’s false start penalties…

“They just told me seven times right, we got the facemask and just so proud of these guys, they just kept buckling in and I just want to start with this. I can’t thank Big Blue Nation enough, the amount of false starts that they caused, it caused all of that pre-snap communication issue for them because the crowd was so loud. So, they were really the 12th man for us and we appreciate the heck out of them and we are going to need it all season. I wanted to make sure I got that in first because they were awesome, it was an electric atmosphere, the guys fed off it, obviously it put us in some good situations, took us out of some third and shorts, third and mediums, or even back-to-back third and longs, so those were huge.”

On what makes the defense capable of stepping up and making stops after penalties…

“Confidence and trust, we’ve talked about it last night in our night meeting, about what happened at South Carolina and the calm that our guys had going out on that field and that comes with the fact that they trust, they know what they have to do, and they trust the teammate next to him that he’s going to do it. So, there’s a calm that anytime they get put in those situations, you bring them over to the sideline and send them onto the field, there’s no anxiety, there’s a high awareness that you have to step up and play. We need a little more of that earlier in drives, when they’re backed up you know, but they have played very well with their backs up against the wall.”

#7 Will Levis, QB

On the win tonight and his feelings…

“Awesome, can’t thank the fans enough for coming out, supporting and just being the people that they are, bringing the energy and changing the game. Happy for the team, really happy for our defense for pulling it out, and happy for Big Blue Nation. This is one of the bigger wins they have been able to see in a couple decades I think. I’m glad to have been a part of it, but at the end of the day there’s a lot of things we have to get better at. If we want to keep winning games like this, we have to be clean. Very excited about the outcome obviously and looking forward to celebrating.”

On going to the locker room but then coming back out after the game…

“I went in and thought everyone was going in, I saw like 10 guys in there and was like, ‘Guys it’s a lot more fun out there, let’s go back out.’ But it was fun to hang out with the fans there, I’m sure it’s going to be a pretty hefty fine, but I think it’s worth it for us and storming the field. It was a lot of fun, one of those things you dream about, seriously it’s one of those things you see on TV as a kid, like the people storming the field and you being a part of that team, it’s a dream come true, it’s a fantasy, really cool.”

On what was going through his mind when they lined up in the victory formation at the end…

“It was just kind of that final moment of relief, the whole game even when we went up 10 with seven minutes, we knew they were going to come down, assuming they were going to come down and respond, and they did with the field goal. We couldn’t get it done on that offensive series, they came down and knocked on the door, defense had an awesome first and goal from the five (yard line) and was able to hold out. It wasn’t until after the knee really that we had any sense of security, so after that we just had this big moment of relief and just, I knew how much it meant to the fans and the players, so it felt awesome.”

#1 Wan’Dale Robinson, WR

On the game atmosphere …

“That was crazy, that was defiantly one of the best atmospheres I have ever been a part of. Especially coming from Nebraska where they sell out every game, that was probably one of the best atmospheres.”

On the crowd being so loud and Florida having so many penalties …

“That was a really big help. We experienced a little bit of that at South Carolina. We couldn’t hear a lot at the beginning of the game, but our crowd kept it up and it messed them up.”

On his touchdown …

“That was a new play call that we had put in and I knew Smoke was going to come through. He was the kickout block and I had to get through. We are actually taught to get outside but I cut across the field, put my foot in the ground, and made the defender miss. I just had to get in the end zone.

#4 Josh Pascal, DE

On the team’s performance

“Coaches gave us a great game plan going in and being able to stun and penetrate that offense. I feel like that was working all night. And being quick, playing fast, and playing confident.”

On the game atmosphere …

“Ten out of 10. That’s the craziest game I’ve played in. All my life. You know, 2018, I didn’t get to experience the on-field atmosphere, but I feel like that was the craziest game I’ve experienced.”

On missing 2018 but having tonight …

“Yeah, for real, tonight that’s a dream. That’s something you dream of and last time we beat Florida, I was on the couch in my apartment watching. And to be able to make some big-time plays today and be able to help my team out. You know we are a brotherhood and we had each other’s back tonight. No matter what happened, we responded to it with positivity and giving it our all every play.”

#32 Trevin Wallace, LB

On being a running back in high school and reverting back to that during the TD return …

“Yeah, I did. When I caught the ball, my whole body went into running back mode. I knew it was time to go. My natural instinct will always be to go into running back mode.”

On the crowd being loudest during his TD return …

“Yeah it was. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. I’m just not used to that kind of environment.”

On choosing Kentucky over Florida during the recruiting process …

“It was really hard, but I decided at the end of the day, I really went with my parent’s decision. When my parents felt comfortable at Kentucky, I felt comfortable with it too.”

On the crowd causing so many Florida false starts …

“It was big time. When the crowd was loud and the quarterback was clapping his hands, everything was just so loud that you couldn’t even hear him.”

#13 J.J. Weaver, LB

On his interception ...

“To be honest, we were going to go to that area. But me and Carrington (Valentine), I was like this, ‘I need this. I need to match this.’ … I ended up saying ‘match it, match it, man to man.’ You know, we watched film all week. The tight end was going to go straight up and avert, so I was on the cutting.”

On the crowd …

“That’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. Not at South Carolina, but at UK for sure. Love the fans for that.”

On the dream that was sold to him of UK winning games like this …

“Most definitely. This was most definitely the dream. I’m still living in it now. So, most definitely. Coach White, Coach Stoops, they’ve all believed in me since day one. And redshirting, I doubted them. But, last year, I took so many losses, so they came in together as a family, so that made me open up more and made me show up a lot better. So, it made me believe in the system. That helped me deliver my game, my communication. My teammates have been working hard, we’ve been more open, trusting the coaches and it helped a lot.”

And here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK Athletics.

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky is 5-0 overall, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is 3-2, 1-2 in the SEC.
  • Florida leads the series, 53-19.
  • Kentucky defeated Florida in Lexington for the first time since 1986. UF had won the last 16 meetings in Lexington.
  • 13 points is the fewest allowed by UK vs. Florida since the 10-3 win in 1986.
  • Next for Kentucky: on Saturday, Oct. 9, UK has its Homecoming game against LSU. Game time is 7:30 p.m. and it will be televised on the SEC Network.

What the Win Means for Kentucky

  • Kentucky is 5-0 for the fourth time in the last 70 years (also 1984, 2007, 2018) and the 13th time in school history.
  • Kentucky is 3-0 in the SEC for the fifth time in school history (also 1949, 1950, 1977, 2018).
  • Dating back to last season, Kentucky has won its last seven games. It is the fifth-longest win streak in school history.
  • Longest win streaks in Kentucky history:
  • 12 in a row in 1909-10
  • 10 in a row in 1950
  • 9 in a row in 1977
  • 9 in a row in 1898-99
  • 7 in a row in 2020-21
  • It is Kentucky’s first win over an Associated Press top-10 team since a 31-28 win over South Carolina in 2010.
  • It is UK ‘s 14th all-time win vs. an AP Poll top-10 opponent, fifth time at Kroger Field/Commonwealth Stadium.
  • Second win over a top-10 ranked Florida team, also 1974 when the Gators were No. 9.
  • Since 2016, UK is 19-7 in games decided by seven points or less. UK has won its last six in a row in this category, including the last four games this season.
  • This is the first time in school history that UK has played and won four straight games by seven points or less.
  • Kentucky has won six in a row at home, longest since the 2006-07 teams won eight in a row at home.
  • UK is 12-2 in its last 14 home night games.

Coach Mark Stoops

  • This was Stoops’ 54th win as UK head coach. Paul “Bear” Bryant holds the school record with 60 victories.
  • This was Stoops’ eighth win over an opponent ranked in the Associated Press poll, one away from tying Bryant and Fran Curci for most AP poll wins.
  • Stoops becomes the first Wildcat coach since Curci to win at Tennessee and Florida.
  • Stoops is now 54-50 at Kentucky. After two games of the 2016 season, his record was 12-26 but has gone 42-24 (.636) since.
  • Stoops extended his school records for most home wins (39), total SEC wins (27) and total games coached at UK (104).
  • Coach Stoops is in his ninth season as head coach of the Wildcats, tying Fran Curci (1973-81) for most seasons as head coach at UK.

Team Notes

  • UK ran 47 offensive plays tonight, the fewest plays in a win since running only 42 plays in the 2019 victory over Louisville.
  • UK had 224 total offensive yards tonight, the fewest yards in a win since 157 vs. Mississippi State in 2020.
  • It is UK’s fewest total offensive yards in a win over an AP ranked opponent since the Wildcats had 210 yards in 1976 vs. No. 16 LSU.
  • UK had 23:42 in time of possession tonight, the least time of possession since the 2017 win over Tennessee, when the Wildcats held the ball only 21:35.
  • UK made 1 of 9 on third-down conversions tonight. The last time UK won with a worst conversion percentage was 2014 vs. ULM when the Wildcats converted only 1 of 12 on third downs.

Player Notes

· Junior quarterback Will Levis completed 7 of 17 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown.

  • He had six rushes for a net 21 yards.
  • With starting lineups available since 1993, he is the second quarterback since that time to win his first five starts – also Terry Wilson (2018).

· Junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 19 times for 99 yards and one touchdown.

  • He had a nine-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, his fourth rushing TD of the season and 21st of his career.
  • It is the most rushing yards for a Wildcat vs. Florida in Lexington since Moe Williams in 1993 (109 yards).
  • He has 1,982 career rushing yards, moving past former teammate A.J. Rose for 10th place in school history.

· Junior running back Kavosiey Smoke rushed four times for 17 yards.

  • He has 1,049 career rushing yards, moving past Dicky Lyons Sr. and Roger Gann for 36th place in school history.

· Junior wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson led the receivers with four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.

  • In the first quarter, he caught a wide receiver screen, and with the help of a springing block by Kavosiey Smoke, weaved his way through traffic for a 41-yard touchdown.

· Senior linebacker DeAndre Square had a career-high 13 tackles, the second double-figure tackle game of his career.

· Senior linebacker Jacquez Jones made nine tackles, including one for loss, a quarterback hurry, and the game-saving pass breakup on Florida’s final play.

· Senior safety Tyrell Ajian tied his career high for tackles with eight, also earlier this season vs. Missouri.

· Sophomore linebacker J.J. Weaver made his first career interception in the fourth quarter and returned it 20 yards.

  • He also had two tackles, including a shared tackle for loss, and a quarterback hurry.
  • He has had a tackle for loss in each of the first five games.

· Senior defensive end Josh Paschal blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Freshman Trevin Wallace caught the ball and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown to put UK ahead 13-10.

  • It was Kentucky’s first blocked field goal returned for a touchdown since David Jones had a 57-yard blocked field goal return against Vanderbilt in 2008.
  • It is Paschal’s third blocked kick of his career, also a blocked punt vs. Eastern Michigan in 2017 and blocked punt vs. Tennessee in 2019.
  • It is Wallace’s first collegiate score.

· Paschal also totaled seven tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss.

· Senior punter Colin Goodfellow punted six times for a 42.5-yard average, including three inside the 20-yard line.

· Game captains for today were Josh Paschal, DeAndre Square, Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Luke Fortner.