A terrible day in Lexington is an understatement. Kentucky Wildcats fans witnessed an all systems failure as the Cats lost 24-21 to Vanderbilt.
The Cats looked rough from start to finish as Vandy snapped their 26 game conference losing streak.
The Cats trailed most of the game until two late touchdowns by Chris Rodriguez Jr. to take a 21-17 lead. And then the Cats gave up a touchdown for the Dores to pull out the 24-21 win after giving up two 4th-and-long conversions on the drive.
Despite Kentucky’s offense coming alive in the final quarter, they were still outgained 448 yards to 322. That included a 72 yard rush from Rodriguez.
Needless to say, things have to change, especially on offense.
After the game, head coach Mark Stoops met with media to discuss the game. Here is a recap of what he said via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Tough loss there. You know, bottom line is we didn’t do the things that we talked about all week. Really just the intensity that we played with a week ago, just thought it was average at best.
The execution in playing clean, once again, just didn’t happen. We’re leaving points on the field. You know, missed-kicks, two-point conversions and driving the ball and not converting in the red zone. Defensively inconsistent.
Had some really good moments at times, and then had an opportunity to ice the game or have a great opportunity to put it away, and once again, the word “clean” didn’t come up with the penalty.
Take that away and then you have a chance again on fourth down, and gave up one that was just thrown up in the air and gave up the fourth down conversion to have an opportunity to ice the game right there again and didn’t make the play.
So, give them credit. I said that early in the week and I meant it. Told Coach Lea before the game that his team was playing really well in a very difficult schedule. You could tell by the way they were playing that he was really building a really good program and team, how hard they were playing even with losses.
No matter what the score was, they continue to play hard all the time. You know, so credit them. Our team has to — we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and address the situation and address the things that are going on and respond one way or the other.
I anticipate our team will. It’s been a hard year and challenging times. There are things that everybody can do better. I’m sure the team is very hurt and embarrassed with the way they played. We all are.
There is only one way out. There is no way to point fingers or anything like that. We know there are issues, things to be addressed. That will happen at the appropriate time. And then there is work. That’s it. You just got to go back and work and try to get better in every area.
So, I’ll open up for questions.
Q. On cleaning up the things he talked about…
MARK STOOPS: Frustrated, yeah, I think is a fair word. You know, very frustrated and disappointed that I’m not getting it done. I’m not communicating well enough to push on the things that we need to get better at.
You know, that’s frustrating and also disappointing, and something that I’ve got to figure out.
Q. Mark, we have seen other schools make coordinator changes in season. Are you to that point where you have to consider staff changes now?
MARK STOOPS: No.
Q. Is there consideration for an offensive line coach?
MARK STOOPS: I just answered that question.
Q. Mark, obviously they hurt you in run game. Was there any one particular thing that was breaking down for you in the run game?
MARK STOOPS: You know, just inconsistency, and I was just thinking about it prior to coming in here, I think we got to take a good hard look at it and just see why we’re so inconsistent.
Too much, you know, complicated, I don’t know. We got to take a good deep dive into it and see why. You know, at times later in that game we started getting some good movement and getting some good — the run game going.
But too late. We had our opportunities. With Chris breaking off that run, if we get a stop we have an opportunity to win the game. Had plenty of opportunities there. Couldn’t get it done.
Q. On the Vanderbilt offense and Kentucky’s play against it…
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, again, I think there are some issues there. A lot of that has to do with the quarterback. That was a unique play, the zone ops, the quarterback keeping it, split us with a call we had, wasn’t great on the 70-yarder, but that’s different than just mushing you all day on that. Does that make sense, with the quarterback?
And then there were times where there are passes where he pulled it down and scrambled and hurt us as well. Any time you’re playing a dual-threat guy it puts pressure on you, complicates your calls.
We did have a guy wrapping and looking for him there I think he just got blocked late. We couldn’t quite tell on one of the third down and longs that he pulled down and scrambled for 20 some.
So, he made some really nice plays. He pulled it down, scrambled, and made some plays when he had to. Also threw it. When we were trying to play zone and rush one less, he threw it into a spot or two that hurt us.
Third down was a problem for us today. Didn’t look at the numbers, but I know from watching the game there were some big time third downs that they converted. One way or another, throwing it or running it.
Q. Is there anything in particular in the red zone struggles the last two weeks? You all have been getting it to their side of field a lot.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, and it’s just killing us because it’s stopping momentum, stopping plays. We’re not converting the field goal all the time. You know, even the three there, you know, and Ruff kicked it good three of the four, but it’s got to be four of four. It’s just got to be clean.
You know, but only 54 plays offensively, again, that’s not good. That’s both sides. Defense we had the opportunity to get stops, and offensively we stopped — they stopped us in some critical moments.
Q. How bad is this loss?
MARK STOOPS: I mean, yeah, I mean, it’s not good. You know, any time you lose to anybody. I’m not going to disrespect Vanderbilt because I think he’s doing a really good job, and I’ve been where he is at, so I know very clearly what it’s like to be on that side, and I know good coaching.
So maybe everybody doesn’t pay attention because they look at records all the time, but coaches know. I’ve seen the way they have been building and what he’s doing, and it was a good win, so compliment them by the way they played.
For us, again, I touched on a lot of things.
Q. What happened exactly on the last fourth down conversion?
MARK STOOPS: The one where they threw it up and he ran by? We were in deep third — he was a deep third player, and I didn’t see how he got behind us, but he did. Just threw it up.
Q. On Kentucky’s defensive scheme…
MARK STOOPS: I think at times we were a little — got mushed a little bit at times, yes. I think we were not as firm as we need to be all the time, but some of that is, yeah, it’s quarterback run game some of it.
They have a very good running back as well that I think is a really good player. And Davis, he’s a good player.
Q. Is it confusing at times for you? I know it’s not simple math. You add more offensive pieces this season and you’re still not able to get the ball down the field like you guys wanted to. Is it confusing to you to see you guys not be able to execute that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we really tried to push it. I think you saw some of the throws even today went down the field, but also some the calls that you didn’t see the ball going down we were trying, we were trying push it down the field today.
Give them credit. They took some things away, we missed some protection, you name it. Yeah, I think Will will want to see the ball pushed down the field a little bit. Some of the strikes, some of the play-action, again, were good. Then we got down there and kind of fizzled out.
Q. Will was two for ten in the second half. How do you assess his play at this point?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, again, it’s not just Will. It’s hard for me to say that right now until I look at the film and see what we’re doing around him, what position we’re putting him in to be successful, how players are playing around him.
I’m sure he’s frustrated. He’s a great player. We’re not playing very well and not supporting him at times, and there are times when he’s not perfect as well. None of us are immune. He’s a big boy. He’ll respond. He’ll bounce back.
Q. On the first drive…
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think he made a couple tough catches early, too. It was nice to see him get some touches and get some good plays. You know, again, comes down to when you get 54 plays nobody is getting enough touches.
Just got to piece it together better.
Q. Mark, you mentioned Vanderbilt very hungry to break that conference losing streak. Your coaches say sometimes the other team just wanted it more. Was that a factor today, do you think?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. I think, again, you give them credit. Again, I’ve been there, where he is at. I know how hard they work to get to that point, so that’s a good moment for them. It’s hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is. I don’t want to say just any one thing.
Q. Go back to Will for a minute, he’s taking so much punishment, been hit so much. Do you think that started to impact him in the pocket?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. You know, I don’t know. I think there are times when you used to see him pull it down and run when he had to and the confidence in that run, in that running ability.
He’s not been as effective out of timing, and that could be for a variety of reasons.
Q. You mentioned it’s been a tough year. At the start of the year you had a team that deserved the high expectations, a lot of talent on this team. Are you surprised the season has turned out the way it has?
MARK STOOPS: Disappointed. You know, disappointed with the way things have gone. I think everybody is. Each year, each team, you have to go earn it, prove it. I know that. We talk about that all the time.
There is a fine line there. For whatever reason, I’m not getting it done with this team, getting them in a position to be successful.
Q. When you look at it, (indiscernible) the two first half turnovers and only get three points?
MARK STOOPS: I think it was very tough to get it three times inside the red zone, if I’m not mistaken, or the high red or inside the red, and I think we had six. That’s very frustrating.
Q. On if the team will respond after the loss…
MARK STOOPS: I have no reason to believe that it won’t. You know, I think the locker room in there was — a lot of guys hurting in there. Emotions run deep. Disappointing for everybody. It’s different. You know, let’s just be honest, it’s just different now with the way — with the portal and just different things. It’s different.
So you have to continue to grind and build your culture, your team, your mentality, and I’m not doing a good enough job with it right now. I told the team that. I can’t ask them to — before they blame or talk amongst groups and things like that to take a good look themselves and make sure they’re doing things, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t do that myself, and the staff.
So we all have to do that, and it starts with you individually and collectively we got to find some answers.
Q. (Regarding Rich being pretty open) He didn’t want to use a lot of the design quarterback runs this year. Why did you all take that out of the offense, because it was so effective at times?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m not — I don’t think we would have just said we’re not using it at all. I don’t think anybody ever said that, you know what I mean? Maybe not as much or wasn’t in his system, but, no, I think he would tell you that there were some times when we would sure like to have that if he was at full strength and all that.