The Kentucky Wildcats are off to a 1-0 start following their 45-10 victory of Louisiana Monroe on the first full Saturday of college football.
Following the win, Mark Stoops and several Wildcats recapped the win, which moved Stoops to 50-50 overall as the program’s head coach. Here is a recap of what they said via UK Athletics.
.@UKCoachStoops ULM Postgame Press Conference presented by UKHealthCare. https://t.co/nk1MdBmg7d— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 4, 2021
MARK STOOPS: All right. Very good win. It’s always good to get off the start of the season with a victory. And, you know, it came with us making some mistakes, like I talked about all through the preseason that we were going to have some highs and some lows in practices and games and throughout the season. There’s going to be some ups and some downs.
I thought our team responded. They were confident. There were a few mistakes early that we’ve got to get corrected. You know, the interception — Will has a little time there, had to be a little bit more patient. Put it on Josh a little more. Josh could catch it. We’ll get that cleaned up.
No excuse for putting the ball on the ground with fumbles and we’ve got to get cleaned up defensively - keeping that drive alive with penalties. That’s aggravating.
Is it accurate that they had 63 plays on 87 yards? It felt a lot more aggravating than that. But it’s a credit to Coach White and the staff. They really did a good job of preparing for many things. I also really credit Brad. They were well prepared for a lot of things. They knew they could see a lot of different things.
Our guys played hard. We’ve got to quit with the penalties, and the same with Liam and the offensive staff. I thought it was nice. We worked on ourselves today. And we needed to just get better, get game reps, get some confidence. I think there’s a lot of people that know we have a lot of good potential, but we’ve got to go out there and play, and it was a good start. There were way too many penalties — way too many mistakes we’ve got to get cleaned up. We have a big game next week, but it’s a good starting point.
Q. In some ways, is it demonstrative of Will, having a mistake early when you saw how you responded to adversity, instead of just going out and cruising through an entire opener?
MARK STOOPS: I think so and I think none of us want that. We work all year long and then come out and start down 7-0 and, you know, it just pisses you off, but you just regroup. Truly, I have to practice what I preach as well - go on to the next play. It is what it is. I had a lot of confidence that we would. He was hyped up and he throws the ball hard as you can see today. You could see that he’s all that he’s been advertised for with his arm strength. It was good to go through adversity. Same defensively. Well, not really. That just pisses me off (laughter). Yeah.
Q. What did you think of the downfield passing attack?
MARK STOOPS: Obviously it’s what I’ve been looking for, and I’m very happy about that. I talked a lot about it in the spring that we were getting the ball completed down the field. Will wasn’t here, but just the offense in general, the receivers gaining some confidence. We built on that this summer, and it was great to see them just complete passes, just the basics. We still have a lot of work to do with making the routine look routine. We have some pitch and catches out there that we’re fighting a little bit, but we’ll continue to get better.
Q. Obviously Will gets a lot of the attention but Josh also responded and had a huge game. How have you seen him improve?
MARK STOOPS: It was really good for both of them to get some touches and, you know, especially Josh. I think coming back for an extra year, having confidence that we were going to get some things corrected and get the ball thrown down the field, and to see him respond to that was really good. I think both he and Wan’Dale had really big days, and it could have been a lot more had we went heavy in the second half as well with those guys, but I’m happy for him.
Q. More often than not, there was somebody open every time. Not every time but there was somebody out there. Was that more you guys, personnel, or a little bit of both?
MARK STOOPS: A little bit of everything. You know, schematically we’re going to put pressure on people and it’s really good. I think our quarterbacks really know where to go with the ball for the most part. We’re not perfect yet. We’re going to strive to be. But they’re getting better and they have a good understanding of things. Liam called a really good game, and I love it. He gets as aggravated as me when they don’t go score. He gets a little upset if we have to punt so I like that.
Q. Is there anything about today that you said hmm, that went a little better than I thought?
MARK STOOPS: Well, again I think I just told the defensive coaches I was really proud of them. I thought they were really in good position for some creative people. They’re always creative offensively. I know it’s new and they’ll get better as they go, but I felt like the guys were in really good position. It frustrates me when we’re not.
And then offensively, for the most part again, with the terminology, getting the plays in, communicating, he did a lot of different personnel groups, a lot of different shifts motions there. You could see there’s a lot going on, and for the most part, very clean. We were exceptional at getting the ball down the field. There’s some basics like I said with the pitching and catching and some things that we can clean up that we’ll be much better. I don’t know, just rambled a little bit. I didn’t directly answer your question. I don’t want you to put me on the spot there and quote me on what I’m not happy with because there’s a lot to clean up but there’s also a lot of good. It’s game one. You’re happy to win by whatever we did and know that there’s so many things we could improve on.
Q. Can you talk about what J.J. Weaver has done, to tear his ACL in the second-to-last game, come back and have two sacks.
MARK STOOPS: I didn’t realize he had two sacks. Yeah, I was trying to get him out of there, and he talked me into another series and it’s good for him just to build his confidence and know because through camp we were protective. He’s fully cleared but I know from going through that, the more you play, you get more confidence, the stronger your leg gets and the more reps you get.
So that’s good for him. I didn’t realize he had the two sacks, but I know late in the game, J.J. talked himself into getting a few more snaps. I think he wants to get his legs up underneath him.
Q. Is today an indication of a change of identity for Kentucky football, the way he threw the ball?
MARK STOOPS: I think it’s fair to say how — word it however you want. I mean, you know, you know what I was trying to look like. I was talking about balance. We haven’t had balance. Any time you’re one dimensional any which way, it’s not good whether you can only throw it or run it, you’ve got to have balance. Again, I’ve been a defense coach, you all know that, but from a defensive perspective the more pressure you put on with personnel groupings and everything that he’s doing, it’s putting pressure on you. I like where we’re at. We’re getting better. We’re improving. I know we improved in the pass game today, right? That’s fair to say.
Q. From a defensive standpoint, what does it do when you stretch the field like your offense did today? How tough does that make it on a defense?
MARK STOOPS: Well, it definitely makes it difficult for them and creating the shots and hitting them. For the most part when we had our shots, if we had the protection, we hit them. And they did a nice job. They covered a few overs and some things some sails where we had called, and we’ve got to get a little better protection and hit the check down because there’s still some yards and things to get cleaned up.
But it’s always good to see the ball down the field as good and as physical as we’ve been, we’ve got to capitalize on getting the ball down the field and you certainly see the arm strength of Will and that’s for sure.
Q. With the pass rush, was there any secret behind it? How did that happen? How did you all create that?
MARK STOOPS: I thought he did a good job of mixing it up. We got him in some predictable pass situations, that always helps. When you get ahead and you get predictable pass, now you’ve got an opportunity to get some straight rushes home. Play coverage and get home. That’s an area of improvement as well that we need to improve on. Brad, our defense coach, has worked hard and challenged the guys to be better one-on-one rushers and win some one-on-one rushes and obviously we did that tonight.
Q. With Liam on the sidelines how were the communication issues, any problems?
MARK STOOPS: No. No. Nothing — not perfect but it was very good. Like you would expect. I think — I was walking down calling a timeout when our center heard something and snapped the ball on the one play that we — I don’t know exactly what happened there, whether we had the wrong personnel or whether there was a communication issue there, where I was walking down to call the timeout. Luke snapped it, he heard something, and that we’ve got to get cleaned up.
Overall l was pleased, very pleased with the operation and the confidence in him. The way he calls plays and gets the personnel groupings in there.
A little bit more efficient, whoever asked me the question earlier. I think that’s good to see. Maybe a little bit of a surprise that it was that clean for game one.
Q. What do you have to say about the defensive linemen, the young defensive linemen? Can you talk about them?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think Ox and Josaih and Justin Rogers and all those guys, Kahlil Saunders, those guys have really worked hard, and we feel like they are going to be very good players. It’s good to get them reps and we’ll need them all year. They’ve been working hard. They really have good attitudes and I like those guys.
Q. SEC Network said you were going to eat a banana if Will threw for 400. He didn’t but the team did. So...
MARK STOOPS: Well, it doesn’t seem like I have to eat the banana, right? That’s why I got him out of there (laughter).
Q. How valuable was Chris with obviously over 100 yards rushing today, and how valuable will he be going forward?
MARK STOOPS: You know that that has to be a staple. One doesn’t work without the other. You have to have the balance and the physicality. With Chris you saw some amazing individual efforts by him today and you saw the line blocking very well at times and there’s things we’ve got to get cleaned up in that area too, but you’ve got to have the physical presence.
It was good to work on the pass game today and blend it with the run game because again in this offense you’ve got to have the balance you’re looking for.
Q. What was Will’s demeanor when he threw the pick?
MARK STOOPS: I didn’t even worry about it. I didn’t notice anything. I didn’t flinch. Honestly, I thought at the time live that it was on Josh, but then you look at the replay and that’s when I noticed it definitely had some heat on it and it was a little behind. In that situation it’s just some game reps. He needs to be a little more patient. That was a clean pitcher. We don’t need to rush that and drill that so hard. That was a good play. That should have been a really good play, you know, 10, 12-yard gain or so and turned into an interception.
Q. I assume future opponents will try to make you all throw to more than just Josh and Wan’Dale but how strong is this offense at doing things to get your best playmakers the ball?
MARK STOOPS: Well, that way it’s very efficient, it’s very efficient and there’s times when everybody has to step up. You saw, it was great to see Isaiah Epps make a great individual effort today. Who else that was late in the game that I thought had a nice catch?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, Dingle that was a really nice catch by him and Beau hanging in the pocket and taking one on the chin and delivering a nice pass. It’s a team effort.
Q. Was that the vision, to spread it around to a few guys?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I definitely felt like I wanted to work on that today. As we got ahead, instead of going into the mode of four-minute offense like we used to, I just — truthfully, just really wanted to get better, so just spreading them out and working on some of that was just good reps for us today.
Q. Red zone efficiency was a bugaboo last year. You were five for five today. How do you feel about that?
MARK STOOPS: Well, always in critical situations like that, you know, red zone and third down and all that, I really got to go back and watch the film. Overall, again, I’m pleased. I thought we did a lot of good things. Got to get it cleaned up. When we stumbled, a lot of that was on us. As we move forward, it will be much more challenging.
Q. Wan’Dale can put six on the board from any spot on the field. How much pressure does that put on the opposing defense?
MARK STOOPS: It puts a lot of pressure. You can thank me for that one because we were about seven plays in, and I said, “Get Wan’Dale a touch,” and it was a touchdown. So, I’m one for one.
Q. What do you attribute some of the...
MARK STOOPS: Pardon me?
Q. What do you attribute the pass protection issues at the end of the first half to? They got through...
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Well, like all things in this game, we’ve got to go back and look at it and see where it came from. Even on some run games, there was some penetration there that cut off some runs, some big plays. Got to go look at it. I don’t know exactly who gave up the pressures. I know late in the game one of our backups who did, but I don’t need to throw him under the bus right now.
#7 Will Levis, QB
On the first play of the game …
“First pass, definitely not (what we wanted). There were a lot of things here and there throughout the game that we were capable of doing that we just didn’t. That was one thing that I just needed a more accurate ball there so Josh could catch that ball. We will just clean that up and make those plays in bigger games for sure. I just kind of chuckled about it and turned it around for the rest of the game.”
On being nervous …
“I was nervous for sure. I know that I have the experience and it’s not my first time playing a college football game. But it was the first time starting for a new program, pretty high expectations and I knew a lot of people were waiting to see how the game goes. After the first play, the nerves kind just went away but I think the nerves where a good thing. It was an indication of highs expectations and it means that I care a lot about the team and the outcome and how it goes. Things went pretty well and I’m glad the game went how it did.
On being surprised how much they were pushing the ball down the field the whole game …
“Yes. I wasn’t surprised, I knew we could do it and I knew that if we got the look and executed correctly on those looks, we could do it. Coach Coen put up some great calls for the defense that we were seeing, and we were able to find some openings in the defense that we could take advantage of. Just connecting on those deep balls with accurate balls and catches was huge. But at the same time there, were times where we didn’t push the ball down the field too well. I think we had a 3 and out and two other drives where we left points on the board for sure and we need to get it cleaned up. I’m looking forward to looking at the film and getting better at it.”
#1 Wan’dale Robinson, WR
On being surprised on today’s performance,
“No. We were ready. We wanted to make some things happened. We knew that Will was going to get the ball to us, so we just had to make plays and that’s what we went out and did.”
On him scoring in his first game …
“It was amazing. I’ve grown up coming to these games as a recruit and even as a young kid just envisioning myself scoring touchdowns here. For it to finally happen during my first game in the stadium it was great.”
On playing his first game as a Wildcat …
“Today when I came into the Cat Walk, I just looked around and was like, ‘wow I’m here.’ Everyone is just expecting whatever is going to come and so I just wanted to go out there and perform and take it all in. Once the ball was kicked off, all those nerves started to go away and at the end of the day it’s just football. Really the same thing we’ve been doing since I was 5 years old. So I just wanted to go out there and perform.”
#24 Chris Rodriquez Jr., RB
On how the offense executed against another team …
“I felt like it was good, you know, I feel like we still have some work to do on offense as a unit.”
On how the offensive line performed while also having a new position coach …
“They did great. Me and them dudes, they see something we didn’t see during film, came to the sideline, alright let’s get it correct. Got it correct with coach, and the rest is history.”
On how much confidence they have from this week one win …
“A lot, but you know next week it is back to business. But you know what I mean we are going to prepare the same we did for this week and fix up everything.”
#6 Josh Ali , WR
On how hard Will Levis throws …
“I’ve seen him throw about 70 yards and to catch it is very hard. You gotta have your eyes open. One day in practice I blinked and it didn’t work out for me too well. You can’t blink, you gotta have your eyes open at all times”
On the offense getting specific players the ball …
“We have certain plays that we have, but you know overall Isaiah Epps had three catches 83 yards today too. So everybody is getting the ball, but we have certain plays for certain guys.”
On running post catch …
“Yeah, that’s something I’ve been working on. I actually have to get better because there’s some plays that I could’ve had more yards on and I was kind of hesitant on getting up the field. So that’s something I will fix next week”