It wasn’t easy, but the Kentucky Wildcats scored a 28-23 win Saturday over Chattanooga, improving to 3-0 on the young season.
Following the game, head coach Mark Stoops and select players met with the media to discuss what took place at Kroger Field. Here is a recap of what they said via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Obviously the best thing about this, sitting right here, is we’re 3-0 but not very pleased, just got to be better in all areas starting with myself. The staff, the players, I want to credit them. I knew early in the week, as I told you, that that’s a very good football team, very well coached, that wasn’t going to beat themselves and they certainly didn’t.
Give their coaches and their players credit. They stepped up and made some really great individual plays, played extremely hard and give them the credit. We will go back to work and look forward to getting on the road and trying to get a SEC win here next week.
Q. You ran the ball so well a week ago. What wasn’t working there today? It felt like maybe the offensive line wasn’t ever able to get that push.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. You saw it as well as we did. At times we were moving it okay running the ball and then we weren’t handling some movement and they were getting some penetration and creating some negative yardage plays, getting us behind the chains, and then all of a sudden you don’t convert a third and three, third and four, third down and you’re punting. It was just one of those aggravating days that way.
Q. On Will Levis making questionable decisions on the field today…
MARK STOOPS: It did. It was not — he’ll be better. He’ll be better. We felt like he missed some shots in the first half and settled in, did some good things at times, but I think he’s pressing a little bit trying to do too much and he has just got to take care of himself and be him and be confident and he’ll be all right.
Q. (Question about the run game.)
MARK STOOPS: Just their rotation. Both guys, we have a lot of confidence in both guys and it was probably just the way that the series were going.
Q. They ran 63 plays to your 62. I think you were way up at halftime. What were the halftime adjustments?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. We had 42 plays at half, so we only had 20 plays in the second half. Part of that obviously is when you let them have a long drive and then you get a pick six. So that’s a whole possession you’re going right back out there. At that point you’re up 12 and they get another long drive. So offensively it’s a double-edged sword. It’s them, us not converting third downs, not extending drives, and then the defense not getting off the field.
Q. How’s your blood pressure?
MARK STOOPS: Not good.
Q. Do you think as much work as these guys have put in in the off-season on training that they would be up every single time? Because it’s only 12 opportunities, but yet every year you see one game with every team that does it.
MARK STOOPS: Exactly what I said from Monday. I mean, I agree. I mean, that’s my job and I told the team that. I got to do a better job. Plain and simple. It’s nobody but me.
You got to be good enough to win when you’re not at your best. You have to respect the game, and I talk about it daily, respecting the game, this game we love, is about preparation.
The game is whatever happens, happens. You could live with it if you do your absolute best in preparation. I’m not happy with myself on that and I got to find a better way to motivate them.
Q. Is part of the problem that all of us in here, we get older every year but they stay 18 to 22?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you know, I don’t know. I’m getting older too, but I just got to get to them and we got to understand it, and I like this team. I liked them last week when we won. I like them this week. I believe in every one of them and we all have to worry about our own backyard and each player has to worry about himself.
It’s a new era. It’s a different time right now. All this stuff is just different, but we have an opportunity in front of us and that’s what we have to concentrate on. We got to get back at it Monday and coaches will be back at it tonight and tomorrow and just to go back to work and be ready to go.
Q. Last week the defense had a couple of stops. This week, a huge defensive play kind of turned the game. It’s got to give you some confidence that when their backs are against the wall they can make a play?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. We have confidence that the defense will make a stop. We have to get better in certain areas. We have to win some one-on-ones.
When Brad gets put in a spot where we got to play some man, we got to tighten up the coverage, we have to win. We have to win. We have to win one-on-one battles. There’s no hiding. There’s no protecting all the time. You have to win some one-on-one battles. We won some tonight, and we lost some. I’m proud of the big stop and the interception, that’s for sure. I would like to play a little tighter at times, a little better.
But again, our guys play hard and I got to look at the tape. Early on it was aggravating because you felt like they had the one drive to start the game and then for the whole first half we were relatively playing pretty good defense.
Then the second half they just did a nice job of keeping it close and then getting a drive here, a drive there, and putting that pressure on us to make plays when we had to. Again, offensively when they drove down and made the nice touchdown pass to take the lead, we responded, but there’s a lot of things we need to do better.
Q. Felt like a lot of Will’s throws were short. Is there anything to that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. He was just a little off. He really was. I don’t know. We’ll just keep on working. He’s got such a strong arm, he was just a touch off.
Q. That big run, did that give him some more confidence? Do you think some of that was mental today?
MARK STOOPS: I thought he was settling in nicely to the game after the start as well. I felt like he was getting into a good rut.
Then we didn’t really — I was telling Mitch this in the other room. I don’t think we played a very good game together today where the defense and the offense complemented each other at all. When offensively — defensively it would have been nice to get a couple three and outs and get the ball back to the offense and let them get in a routine, but then there would be a long drive, we don’t field a punt, get backed up, get a penalty. You know, you name it, just little things here and there. It was just a touch off. We didn’t complement each other. We didn’t play complementary football at all today; offense, defense or special teams.
When we needed it, we played, I don’t want to say it because it will be a headline, but we didn’t play very good, we didn’t play complementary football.
Q. How much do you need to diversify?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t think that, early on we really weren’t going to him maybe for about maybe 10 plays into the game, so I don’t know. I mean, it just depends. Josh had an opportunity for big, big numbers today as well. I mean, Isaiah got, I want to say it’s his first touchdown maybe. Isaiah got a touchdown.
A lot of guys are going to touch the ball. It gets back to, and you know, you’ve heard me talk about this before in years past, but when you’re not getting a lot of plays, when you’re not getting a lot of drives, you’re not doing what you want to do, I’m sure, believe me, you talk Liam and Will, I mean, I’m going to have get their heads up because I’m sure they’re very frustrated right now, very mad, because you’re not getting enough plays, you’re not getting to run, you’re getting stopped on third down. That hurts everything, hurts all the momentum and the confidence.
But we just got to bounce back and make those plays. It doesn’t help when we’re — we were talking about the run game — when you’re getting negative yardage plays once in a while and it’s second and 12, and then you’re getting those third downs and you don’t convert, you’re punting and it’s not what we want to do.
Q. Another 0 sack game. How much did you miss Jordan out there?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we miss Jordan, but all the guys, I thought we had really good pressure at times, obviously the pick six. Josh is playing so hard, but we got to get some other guys to step up. But predictable pass. I know Josh was back there quite a bit. They did a nice job of keeping us off balance. They kept the game close. They ran the ball effectively enough, which we know that going into it, to set up some play action, some boots, take their shots when they could. Predictable pass wasn’t somewhere where they wanted to live in either. When they were, again, we got some big plays and got some pressure.
Q. I don’t think you even have given up a run over 20 yards all year, and they ripped off a couple. Was there anything to those?
MARK STOOPS: Well, missed plays. I mean, I don’t want to get too technical, but we didn’t fit properly on some things. As you mix things up, as you do more, you got to know how to play everything.
Q. Could you tell with this team that maybe they didn’t quite have the edge?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I mean, you always, again, you worry about it, coming after off the first two games. Again, our team, the mistakes, we made mistakes in all the games, but they played extremely hard. I don’t know. I got to look at the film. I mean, it felt a little flat to me. When you start and you give up a touchdown drive early and it just starts that aggravation.
I was proud. The offense takes the ball, goes right down and scores, go up 7-0, and we let them drive, and really it was the only drive we gave up in the first half, but it goes 7-7 instead of getting a stop there, so that’s always aggravating to me.
Q. Bringing Eddie Gran back, what kind of role will he have?
MARK STOOPS: It’s an administrative role. He’ll help me personally and help me with some external things and, you know, he’s an asset. He’s experienced in a lot of ways. But it’s a non-football capacity.
Q. What do you want your guys to take away from today?
MARK STOOPS: Well, like I told them, we’re not satisfied by any stretch, but you can’t ever apologize for a win. Hold their head up high, tidy up your backyard. I mean, go take — nobody’s going to point any fingers. Nobody’s going to blame anybody. No offense. I’m not taking a shot at ya’ll, but that’s your job, you know what I mean, to put it on me. And they have to look at the areas where they need to improve. I do. Our team does. Everybody does. But hold their head up high, don’t apologize for winning the game, but go worry about getting better. Let’s go pick it back up, come in the building Monday ready to prepare to get on the road and win a SEC game, and I expect they will do that.
Q. On using this as a learning opportunity …
MARK STOOPS: I mean, again, I did tell them that. You have to always learn. In wins and in losses you learn. You learn about this team, about our situation, our current situation, where we’re at, what we’re doing. It’s always, you’re always trying to grow and learn. If they could use that as a learning opportunity then fine, but I don’t know. I can’t get in every one of their heads. I try. I promise you I work hard at motivating them and getting them ready to go and I need to try harder and find the right words and get them to respond.
Q. What was the thought process as far as some of the coverage on the soft pass?
MARK STOOPS: They were a little soft. They kept on nickel and dime-ing us into the boundary, we got to have some answers for that. We tried tightening up and playing some man and they were beating us.
Q. Was that the type of play Izayah made that you kind of talked about in camp?
MARK STOOPS: Absolutely, it’s good to have him back, it’s good for him. He’s worked hard, he’s been out a couple years and it’s good to have him back. Talking about Epps?
Q. He’s talking about Cummings, I think.
MARK STOOPS: Oh, yeah. Sorry. Yeah, it happens. Yeah, it was nice to see that. I mean, he’s athletic, I mean they, we had the right coverage there and had the right opportunity, Will did a nice job of going through his progressions and hitting him there, yeah.
Q. How valuable has Jacquez Jones been? He had a pick in the last game, he broke up what looked like was going to be a sure touchdown and I would think he’s been a pretty valuable guy to have.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he is. That was another nice play today. D-Rob had a similar play and he needs to punch out and go intercept that. Jacquez made a nice play on that and got the tip. They set this up nice with the window dressing with the motion and Yusuf had a little bit of dirty eyes there and he saved him.
Q. The turnover you got, I think it’s now 10 fumbles. I know it’s a point of emphasis, but can you do more?
MARK STOOPS: Well I’m trying to think today, I mean it was just the quarterback, right? Was there any other?
Q. That was the only a loss, but there were two of them.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I can’t remember any from the running backs or tight ends. I don’t remember, honestly. I get a lot of — I was about to say the word — I let a lot of crap in my head, you know. But, yeah, always, always, turnovers are huge. The good news is we’re minus 8 on the year maybe and we’re 3-0. I want it to even out, I hope, and we need to get some turnovers and need to protect the ball.
#1 Wan’Dale Robinson, WR
On Coach Stoops’ message postgame …
“After the game, I mean, he was proud of us. I mean, we won the game. At the end of the day, you got to be happy to win and you didn’t lose the day so we just had to keep working and we know next week is a bigger challenge than what it was this week. So we have to come out next week and play better.”
On needing a spark and getting it with the interception return …
“It was like man, we just need one. We just needed a play. That’s all it felt like we just needed one play whether that was on offense or defense, and then I felt like we were going to really go. We just couldn’t seem to find one, until that one.
On Josh Ali’s performance …
“Josh has played well. Josh has done everything for the team and he has done a lot of things that a lot of people probably don’t see that make a difference. A lot of people probably don’t realize that Josh has been just about everything that we needed.”
#7 Will Levis, QB
On the touchdown pass to Izayah Cummings and seeing it develop …
“Yeah, I thought I under threw him. I thought he was going to be able to make a play on it so, we were in that high safety in the post that took them away, and we had Izayah over the top play that we had actually struggled with all week. That was the cleanest we repped it by far in the game. It was good to get the rep when we needed it. We could have gotten that a little earlier, but I had the time, got it out, he made the catch and it was a big play for us.”
On Izayah Cummings’ development …
“He’s great, I mean, obviously making that change in this offseason from wide receiver to tight end. That’s a transition that was hard for anybody to make, any transition, position change, and he embraced it. He has taken the role on and has known that he was going to be using this offense and has just prepared his butt off and prepared himself for moments like that. I mean, it was really cool to see for him and I’m glad I was a part of that moment for him.”
On Coach Stoops’ saying everything was aggravating today and what was aggravating to him …
“I just say personally, I made some throws that usually I wouldn’t. That first interception was one of the worst interceptions I’ve ever thrown. I don’t know what I was thinking really, and it’s just frustrating looking back, well I haven’t done that all year and then all of a sudden, I get in that situation. It’s a big spot, even though it’s third and long, even just scrambling taking a few yards punting is much better than forcing the ball there, and that’s just learning moments. I think that we definitely should have been able to run the ball a little better against them. If we would have got that run game going a little bit, would have helped us a lot. Coach Coen had talked to us, I mean obviously everyone had to get things cleared up from a playing standpoint, he said he had to make better calls on offense, but at the end of the day we were the players, we make it happen. We got to make the plays. So, it starts with preparation. Yesterday we did not have a very good day in practice, and we didn’t want to let that leak into today but obviously it did. We just got to focus on every single day no matter the opponent. Going out there and practicing our butts off and preparing our butts off so it’s really it.”
#6 Josh Ali, WR
On reaching 100 career catches ...
“I didn’t even know honestly, until someone came and told me. It’s something to be proud of just knowing that I’m a receiver that has come through here (Kentucky) to get 100 catches.”
On teammate and roommate Isaiah Epps scoring his first touchdown and fighting through his foot injury to get back on the field ...
“Me and Epps have been here since the beginning, since in the dorms, I’m real happy he got his first touchdown. He went through a lot and I had to be there to tell him everything is going to be alright, and he made it happen today.”
On if the first drive of the game gave the team a sense of relaxation that this was going to be easy ...
“Yea I told the team that this team (Chattanooga), is going to be playing their hardest against us. We can’t come out here and be relaxed because they’re going to take advantage of it and that’s what they did, but we got the W.”
#23 Tyrell Ajian, DB
On the defense’s help with the pick 6 ...
“Once I caught the pick, the rest of the defense couldn’t have done any better blocking, I didn’t get touched the whole way, so shout out to the defense and the D-Line. A bunch of guys were running with the whole way blocking.”
On having a knack for being in the right place at the right time on defense ...
“Everyone kind of describes me as a ball hog, just being able to track the ball really well as it’s in the air. I just get a lot of opportunities and showcase that.”
On the emotion and frustration being down in the 4th quarter ...
“There’s some frustration because it shouldn’t be that way, we just got to buckle down, play football and do what were supposed to do, but don’t try to do too much.”
#10 Jacquez Jones, LB
On the feeling in the locker room post game ...
“It’s always great to win in a college football game but clearly you could see, even me I said in the locker room about 20 minutes after the game that I was very disappointed. I know we can play so much better and it’s hard when we go out there and put up a performance like we did, but I know we will get better.”
On if they felt slow coming into the game ...
“Not really. Coach told us on Monday to tighten up, no loose ends. I don’t know what happened. He knew that we could underestimate them because they have some great running backs. I don’t know what happened.”
On how Stoops was coaching them throughout the game ...
“We play our ball. We play our game and that’s it really, and to not let who we play dictate how we perform, and we just have to play our game.”