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Mark Stoops and Wildcats recap Tennessee, plus postgame notes

The defensive-minded head coach was not pleased.

Mark Stoops Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

For the second-straight week, the Kentucky Wildcats defense was an embarrassment as they allowed 461 total yards in a 45-42 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers.

Kentucky’s offense came out strong as they put together 612 total yards of offense. Will Levis threw for 387 yards with three touchdowns, but he also made a key mistake by throwing a third quarter interception that was returned for a 56-yard touchdown by Tennessee’s Alontae Taylor.

With the loss, Kentucky has now lost three straight games, including two straight to unranked opponents. They have been outscored 106-72 in their losses to Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee. The loss also knocked the Cats out of both top 25 polls.

After the game, a not-so-happy Wildcats head coach and defensive-minded Mark Stoops met with the media along with several players. Read what they had to say below courtesy of UK Athletics.

Mark Stoops

MARK STOOPS: Okay. Absolutely incredible football game. Extremely disappointed for our players and our fans. Very difficult loss.

Not sure I’ve been a part of one quite like that where we’re so good in so many ways and absolutely not good enough in so many different ways as well. So a lot of great things to build on offensively. Haven’t had production like that for some time. And it was so good to see.

Defensively, obviously, we have some struggles. And we’ve got to get some things fixed. We are being put on an island on certain situations that we’re not winning enough. We’re not winning enough battles.

You heard me talk about that for years. And a team like that puts an awful lot of stress on you sideline to sideline and then obviously with the vertical passing game. And we didn’t keep up with them. We didn’t tackle very good in space. And we didn’t cover very good.

What I did like about our team as compared to last week when we traded jabs or shots or whatever you want to call it, when we took a punch, I loved the fact that our team responded and came right back.

And defensively did come up with some stops. That gave us a chance. And we came up a few yards short again. Probably — I don’t know, maybe 10 yards for a field goal there. And give them credit, they are playing at an extremely high level in particular on the offensive side and had some tough match ups for us. And we’ve got to play better.

Q. Mark, what happened — I mean, the secondary wasn’t giving up yards like this early in the season. I know you had injuries on defense but what exactly is — (no microphone)

MARK STOOPS: I think it’s a variety of things. I think with some of the defensive linemen going down and being thin and inexperience. Again, no excuses. I mean, we will coach better and they’ll play better.

As I told the team, we’ve been a part of so many games where we’ve played so good on one side of the ball, maybe defensively and just come up a little bit short on the other side.

We’re a team. And we’ll stick together. So they’re all big boys. And we can all handle the criticism and, you know, the things that come with it.

But there are injuries. There are some inexperience. Right now — (no microphone) — I mean, a boatload. And we’ve got to bring these guys along.

Q. End of the first half, can you just walk us through some of the decision making there?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I wish I’d have punted it. Huh? You know, that’s why I punt normally. But I didn’t.

But I thought we’d convert. And I thought it was calculated, again, the way we were not playing great defense, trying to be aggressive, trying to get some points there at the end of the first half.

At the worst case scenario, I wanted to go in 21-21 because we were getting the ball to start the second half, and we’d been moving the ball very effective. And bad decision.

Q. (No microphone) — about the missed face mask call in that last drive and then the penalty against you.

MARK STOOPS: Number one, I don’t want to say anything about the missed call or any call, whether it was a missed call or not. But for myself, that’s still no excuse. I can’t do that. I can’t put that on our team in that situation.

Thank God they bailed me out because we wouldn’t even have ran that play had we not been in that situation. That was only for desperation that type of play. So we got that back and got back to first down. Had our opportunity from there. So I appreciate the team bailing me out on that.

But I can’t do that. And as far as, you know, the call or not call, things are going to happen. We have to overcome it and deal with it. I’m not going to sit here and give any headlines.

Q. You mentioned the 10 yards there maybe for the field goal. You had the two timeouts. Didn’t hand the ball to Chris.

MARK STOOPS: Fair criticism. We thought about that afterwards. We talked about it. Once we — if we were converting, you know, if we converted that third or fourth, we were going to go to — we talked about trying to split a run there. Would have, could have, should have. Called a really good game and offensively played really well in a lot of ways.

Q. A lot of crazy stats in the box score. 99 plays, 600 yards. What was the first thing (no microphone) —

MARK STOOPS: Yeah. That. I think it was obvious, you know, during the game, time of possession was kind of meaningless because we weren’t getting stops. And then when we did get a stop or two, we just — we’ve got to be good enough to go down and score right there at the end. And we were close. We were close. We were really, really close to getting it — finishing it off. And I love the way our team fought back on those.

Q. (No microphone) — had some big catches including at fourth and long what do you think this does for his development?

MARK STOOPS: I’d hope for all — the entire offense that it continues to grow and have confidence from this and just a really good game. I mean, Will threw some exceptional passes. Guys were making competitive catches.

And we had — we had them off balance, which is what you’re looking for, that balance we’ve been talking about and being able to run, being physical in the run game, then throwing the ball. And so there’s a lot of good things, a lot to build on and keep on working at.

Q. How much of the defensive struggles were caused by Tennessee’s tempo?

MARK STOOPS: I think it’s definitely a factor. With that, the way they go so fast that there’s — it’s extremely difficult to get any type of different style, different calls in. And it goes so fast that, you know, you’ve really got to be lined up, locked in, and getting the calls, and then executing them.

But then you have to win. You have to win. Because they have good balance as well. They’re going to run it and run it effectively, but then put you in those one-on-one situations outside. And, again, I knew they were going to hit some, but we have to win some more. We have to win our fair share of one on ones.

Q. In the run game, if they made it past just the first line, there wasn’t anybody for 20 yards. Can you just describe that phenomenon?

MARK STOOPS: A lot of it is because of those splits that they have, if you see how wide they are. So I think that’s a big piece of it is they stretch out, you know, both ways. And there’s a lot of room in there.

It’s like Will did it a time or two to them today. And it’s even, I guess, more exaggerated against that style. That make sense?

You’re all cleared out and you cover the shots, got you covered. And then you split them and there is some room in there, the quarterback. And when you have a quarterback run game or just him making plays with his legs, it’s tough.

Q. This venue has treated you guys well. Obviously, this year, another great crowd here tonight. What is it about this game against Tennessee that seems to kind of deliver these big moments?

MARK STOOPS: We were trying to really deliver for them and have a great win from a great game. It really was a great game.

And won’t feel like that to me, especially defensively. But we came up short. And, again, you have to give them credit. We have to play better and do some things better.

Q. I know you like Will’s competitiveness, but do you get concerned with him going to the air so many times, jumping and kind of leaving himself vulnerable?

MARK STOOPS: I think he has a pretty good feel for that and is fairly calculated. I mean, it’s a physical game. I appreciate the way he lays it on the line for his team. And he really did some impressive things today with his legs and his arm.

Q. What took him so long to get out of halftime?

MARK STOOPS: There was a little issue he was dealing with, injury. And so he was able to come out –

Q. Mentioned how difficult it was to work against the simulated tempo. What ultimately was the difference when you got out there? Was it the one-on-one battles you just couldn’t win?

MARK STOOPS: Well, as I think I mentioned, it’s really impossible to simulate their offense. I mean, they do that all day, all the time and do it at a high level. So when you have scout guys looking at cards trying to run that tempo, it’s completely impossible to simulate that.

We did go good against good, as I mentioned, to stress the urgency of getting lined up and just getting calls and the communication part of it. But it’s a different style. We’re competing against our offense, which we’re very familiar with, compared to somebody that you just see once a year.

So, yeah, I think the tempo is definitely a challenge. And I think the one-on-one match ups were a challenge. We missed tackles.

The first play of the game was just a simple bubble screen, but it’s so wide out there, you got one guy completely free. We’ve just got to make a tackle. You know, we’ve got to — again, certain teams, certain match ups, certain things are harder. I’ve got to bring these young guys along in the secondary. We’ve got to recruit. We’ve got to bring some guys in that can help us too.

Q. You told us not to worry about Chris. He rebounded nicely.

MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Exactly. And the same with Will. There’s going to be ups and downs. So it’s tough. Look around our league and we’re competing. We’re fighting. Like a lot of people. It’s tough. And those guys are really good players. And we have a lot of confidence in them. And Chris bounced back and had a great game and had some very physical runs in there and same with Will.

#94, Abule Adabi-Fitzgerald, DL

On how the tempo affected them…

“Not very much, we prepared for it all week, so it wasn’t much of a problem for us. We just have to play better as a team, we have to come together more, play harder and better and learn from our mistakes.”

On the rivalry between Tennessee and Kentucky…

“We came into this game with the mindset that we were going to win, we didn’t obviously win it but it hurts. We are going to learn from it and we are going to keep working and keep moving on.”

On what the environment was like on the sidelines…

“No, we stayed motivated, we had faith. We just kept that same mindset. We were going to win the game and come out with a victory.”

On what he believes it means to play harder…

“As in just keep playing harder and getting better. In other words, watch more film, do everything we can to win the next game. Go in and just have faith, and the only way we are going to have faith is keeping our mindset up and keep getting better. There’s nothing else to it.”

#7, Will Levis, QB

On what his motivation was coming into this game after the Mississippi State game...

“When you have a game like I did last week it’s definitely motivation. I’m just trying to take it to the next level. I think I have a good work ethic, but regardless how good your work ethic is, you can always be better.”

On what the official said to him about his face mask being pulled...

“I thought my facemask was pulled. The ref didn’t say anything. Sometimes things don’t go your way. I was upset in the moment, but hey, you’ve got to get into the next play.”

On what his first Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry game experience was like...

“I didn’t know how big the rivalry was until I got here. It’s pretty epic. I’ve only been here since May, and I really don’t like them. It’s fun to be a part of a rivalry like that. They got us this year, but I’m looking forward to going down there next year and getting them back.”

#1, Wan’Dale Robinson, Wide Receiver

On what was going right for the offense…

“We were just able to start clicking. We able to throw the ball pretty well, much better than our recent games and things like that. We were out there clicking and executing for the most part but we just need to be better.”

On the feeling of the offense playing well often but not score enough to win

“I mean, we could have done a little bit more. That’s what it is. Just going back to watching film and to be able to see the little things we could have done here and there that could have put us over that edge so whether that be on offense for us or even on defense can say the same thing about them too.”

On the drive right before half and not being able to score

“Just got to execute. I mean, that’s really what it is. I know right before that half I had two big ones and I put those on myself. Those are routine for me but at the end of the day, I got to make those. That way if they didn’t get those three points at the end of the half, you see what the score would have ended up being.”

#5, DeAndre Square, LB

On ranking this loss...

“I don’t really rank them. They are all tough to me. I don’t like losing so when we lose, I have the same mindset. I am just ready to get back to work on Sunday and Monday.”

On miscommunication and errors...

“They run tempo. So of course, we are going to have some type of miscommunication issues. It’s tough when the help is towards the loss but we are going to get back on the same page and be better.”


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

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky is 6-3 overall, 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee is 5-4 overall, 3-3 in the SEC.
  • Tennessee leads the series 82-26-9. With 117 total games played, it is the third-most played rivalry in Southeastern Conference.
  • Kentucky had its third straight sellout crowd tonight, first time that has happened since the 2009 season. Attendance was 61,084.
  • Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats are at Vanderbilt on Saturday, Nov. 13. Game time is 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. CST in Nashville) and it will be telecast on ESPN2.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky ran 99 offensive plays tonight, a school record for a regulation-length game.
  • The old record was 95 plays vs. LSU in 1997. The overall record is 110 plays in the four-overtime game vs. Tennessee in 2007.
  • Kentucky had 35 first downs tonight, third-most in school history and second-most for a regulation game.
  • Kentucky had 612 yards total offense, most since 635 yards at Tennessee in 2016.
  • This is the first time in school history that UK had scored at least 41 points in a regulation game and lost. Prior to tonight, Kentucky was 119-0 when the Wildcats scored at least 41 points in regulation.
  • Kentucky broke a streak of six consecutive wins in games decided by seven points or less, including 4-0 this season.
  • Since the beginning of the 2016 season, Kentucky is 19-8 (.704) in games decided by seven points or less.
  • With Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushing for 109 yards tonight, it is the seventh-consecutive home game vs. Tennessee that UK has had a 100-yard rusher.
  • This is the fourth time in school history that UK has had a 350-yard passer, 150-yard receiver and 100-yard receiver in the same game and the first time since Auburn in 2015.
  • This is the first time that UK has had two players with seven catches against an SEC opponent since Randall Cobb and Raymond Sanders vs. Georgia in 2010.
  • Coach Mark Stoops is now 55-53 at Kentucky. After two games of the 2016 season, his record was 12-26 but has gone 43-27 (.614) since.
  • Stoops extended his school record for total games coached with 108. He is in his ninth season as head coach of the Wildcats, tying Fran Curci (1973-81) for most seasons as head coach at UK.

Player Notes

· Junior quarterback Will Levis accounted for 419 yards total offense and five touchdowns.

  • He completed 31 of 49 passes for a career-high 372 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Despite being sacked three times, he rushed 15 times for a net 47 yards and two TDs.
  • It is the most passing yards for a Wildcat since Patrick Towles threw for 390 yards vs. Mississippi State in 2014.
  • It is the most yards total offense since Towles had 466 (390 passing, 76 rushing) vs. Mississippi State in 2014.
  • He is the first Wildcat to have at least 15 rushing touchdowns and five rushing TDs in one season since Jared Lorenzen in 2003.
  • He now has two games this season with three passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs in the same game, the only Wildcat ever to do so.
  • He is the first UK quarterback with at least 30 completions against two SEC opponents in the same season since Mike Hartline in 2010.

· Junior running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. led the Wildcats in rushing with 22 carries for 109 yards.

  • It is his fifth 100-yard game of the season. He is tied for fifth place in school history in 100-yard rushing games with 11.
  • He has 2,279 career rushing yards, remains in ninth place in school history.

· Junior running back Kavosiey Smoke rushed 11 times for 53 yards and one touchdown.

  • He has 1,239 career rushing yards, 33rd place on the UK career rushing list.

· Junior wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson set career highs with 13 receptions for 166 yards, including a touchdown.

  • 13 catches ties for second-most in a game in UK history, most since Lynn Bowden Jr. at Missouri in 2018.
  • He is the first UK player with at least nine catches in three straight games since Anthony White in 1998.
  • It is his fourth 100-yard game of the season, sixth of his career.
  • He is UK’s first 100-yard receiver vs. Tennessee since Javess Blue in 2014.
  • 166 yards marks the second-most in school history against Tennessee, behind 170 by Dee Smith in 1987.
  • He has 71 catches this season, seventh on the UK single-season list and most since Randall Cobb in 2010.

· Senior wide receiver Josh Ali caught seven passes for 74 yards.

  • He has 1,177 receiving yards in his career, advancing to 26th place in UK history.

· Sophomore tight end Izayah Cummings set career highs with four catches for 75 yards, including the second touchdown catch of his career. He also caught a 28-yard pass on a 4th-and-24 play late in the game.

· Senior linebacker Jacquez Jones made five tackles, including one-half quarterback sack, and had a fumble recovery.

· Senior defensive end Josh Paschal had one tackle, a shared tackle for loss.

  • He has 32.5 tackles for loss in his career, tying Danny Trevathan for sixth place in UK history.

· Sophomore linebacker J.J. Weaver had four tackles, including 2.5 sacks.

· Sophomore safety Vito Tisdale led the Wildcats in tackles with six.

· Senior defensive tackle Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald got the first two sacks of his career, one of which caused a fumble.

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