Kentucky’s football season was off to an excellent start in September but has since been a bumpy road. Saturday’s game between the Wildcats and Bulldogs was anticipated by many earlier in the year to be somewhat of a competitive matchup.
However, with Georgia’s reigning dominance and Kentucky’s 2-4 record over the last seven weeks, the Wildcats were 22-point underdogs on Saturday.
Kentucky’s defense played tight in the first half, holding firm in the red zone and limiting Georgia to three field goals. But quarterback Will Levis and the offense failed to put up points on the board.
They also played well in the second half, allowing just one touchdown score to the Bulldogs. Georgia’s one score was enough to win the second half, though, by out-scoring Kentucky 7-6.
Levis hit Barion Brown on a 4th-down touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter but Kentucky wasn’t able to pull off the comeback win.
The Wildcats fall to 6-5 on the season and will host Louisville next Saturday for their regular season finale and senior day. Kickoff is set for 3 pm ET with coverage on SEC Network.
Here’s a recap of what Stoops and select players had to say after the game, courtesy of UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: You know, obviously that’s a very good football team. Once again, credit to Kirby (Smart), his staff, his team. They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They’ve worked extremely hard in all areas. They have a very complete football team. I am proud of the response of our football team. It was very difficult, as you can imagine, the season, tough games, tough losses, through some ups, through some downs. I think you can look around our league and see there is a lot of us in a very similar situation, that through the 12 games that there is going to be some highs and lows and it’s extremely challenging after a tough loss a week ago getting them motivated to compete and play at a high level and reinvest to the commitment that it takes to go compete with a team like this took a lot of digging and soul searching and the competitive nature of our players to reinvest and commit and put in that kind of effort.
You know, came up short, but the effort was there. The preparation was there. Need to execute a little better. In the first half we had an opportunity to at least get three; another missed field goal. You have a chance to be 16-13 and you have an opportunity. We know it’s a real challenge either way, whether you get them or not. It’s no sure thing.
But we put ourselves in position. I would like to see us execute a little cleaner in the red zone and get points when we can get points, and, again, try to capitalize on getting the ball in the end zone.
Pretty impressive 99-yard drive. That was a good response from our team. It was a great fourth down stop by a defense. Showed some guts and determination and some of the personality of the way we play. That piece of it I can be proud of the team, the way they compete.
We’ve got to regroup. Big game coming up here this week with a rival.
Q. You have four red zone stops and held them out of the end zone. What does that say about that group playing without so many of your veteran leaders?
MARK STOOPS: I really appreciate them digging in like that, because it’s hard. That’s a physical football team that’s creative with their dynamic tight ends and run game and the way they create explosives down there and score touchdowns down there.
I thought the guys really competed and played hard. When it comes down to it, yeah, there was good coaching and good scheme by Brad (White) and the defensive staff, but ultimately the players showed some guts and determination in some critical short yardage plays against one of the most physical teams in the country.
Q. Did you think you could have some success in the passing game going into this, or just as the game started to play out?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you do. You got to be careful, as you know, with drop back and the way these guys can rush in pressure and get your quarterback under duress. So, you got to pick your spots. We finally hit some big plays and had them set up at the right time, the right moment, got the protection and a good throw and him them.
A couple opportunities, at least one PI that I remember also, but had our shots and hit some. It gave us an opportunity, and you have to against a defense like that, because just to constantly, you know, grind it out three, four, five yards at time it’s going to be difficult. You have to try to create some explosives.
Q. (Regarding Barion Brown’s 10 catches, 145 yards.)
MARK STOOPS: I didn’t realize it was 10. Yeah, I knew — that’s impressive, and, again, I thought he really responded well. Youngsters that talented you’re going to have some moments, games where it’s like this and some games where it’s tough, and you have to respond either way.
Pretty impressive by him. I saw — you know, just some the competitive catches down the field were really good to see, and stuff to build on.
Q. Six turnovers for Will now in the red zone this year. Is there anything in particular that is showing up in those moments for him?
MARK STOOPS: I can’t put exact finger on it. I think he tried to fit one in there. You know, it’s tough the way they’re playing and they’re doubling and there are short windows in there.
You know, in hindsight that’s one I would like to try to split and hit a run, and if I do that everybody is like, you’re an idiot, you know what I mean?
Q. It was exciting to see Will running again. Was that an intentional part of the game plan?
MARK STOOPS: It was. Just reads. The one he kept was a read. But yeah, it was good just so keep him honest a little bit. When you can’t do that then you let him chase it down from behind all the time, and you had to slow him down and keep him honest a little bit.
That helped a little bit in getting Chris (Rodriguez Jr.) even on three, four yard runs sometimes against a defense like that instead of zero-yard gain or negative yardage. So, the threat of that helps you a little bit.
Q. Mark, four of the five guys who caught passes tonight are freshmen. What does it say about the future of the offense if we are all talking about what it’s going to look like?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, you know, we know that there are some really talented players there and some good players. So, we’re in this moment now, you know what I mean? So, I would like to stay right here.
I just was accused of hyping up this team in the summer. I don’t need to start hyping up — you know what I mean? I need to stay right here with this football team and getting this team ready. That’s what I told our team. Like reinvest. Get some rest tonight and be ready to go and reinvest with that kind of attitude all week, with a very important game coming up here this week on Senior Day.
So that’s what I would like to see out of our whole team.
Q. You had another bad snap on a kick. Do you have to re-evaluate?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I mean, what do I say? It’s not good. I mean, that anybody can see. You know, that doesn’t — I have no good answer. You know, we do it all the time. We have multiple people do it. Yeah, it’s not good. It’s no good.
Q. Is Tayvion Robinson hurt?
MARK STOOPS: He is. He was banged up. Not 100%.
Q. Was Kenneth Horsey hurt also?
MARK STOOPS: He was. He was. He had a situation before the game. I’ll address it Monday. Please don’t speculate on anything. All the preliminary tests we got back seem to be very positive. I’ll address it when I get more information. I’m glad the preliminary information seems to be okay.
Q. You offensive line played pretty well today.
MARK STOOPS: They did, and I thought Deondre (Buford) stepped up. I heard Eli (Cox) rounding the troops up there and they were kind of patting him on the back because of his preparation. We didn’t know that Kenneth wouldn’t play until — I didn’t know until 20, 30 minutes before the game.
But the way he prepped and the way he stepped in and filled in and did a good job, that’s something for all youngsters to build on, all guys that are in a backup role. All of a sudden you’re thrown in and starting against the No. 1 team in the country and it seemed that he played pretty solid.
Q. Obviously you wanted to win the game, but considering the way the defense played and the way the offense moved the ball, especially late in the game, is this something you feel you can build on?
MARK STOOPS: I definitely do. I think you and I know, like I don’t need to take a shot for a moral victory, but we all know the difference between putting something where you prepare and play and compete compared to not.
You know, the results are the results sometimes. We compete in a very difficult conference against some of the best, if not — I believe the best team in the country right there. So, it’s about how you prepare, how you play, how you compete, what we do to put them in position.
You know, I thought there were some good things and I thought the coaches put them in good position. You know it’s going to be difficult, but I was proud of our team’s effort, both in their preparation, in their responses to adversity all week, because it’s very easy to cave.
That’s the kind of response I would expect. That’s the kind of response when we’re competing against guys like Kirby who has competed against me for years and years, he would expect from our team.
Our team needs to understand that’s what people expect from our team, that we don’t cave. We have done some things right, we have done some things wrong, but that’s the way this team, this program plays.
We got to get back to being that all the time, competing like that all the time.
Q. Mark, with those kicking game woes they kind of builds upon themselves. The mental aspect. Have you thought about maybe getting a psychologist?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, they do. I think it’s fair. It definitely does. You know, it definitely does. You know, I’m a terrible golfer. You know, if I miss a three-footer that next one is in my head, you know, and so it’s kind of like the kicking, I’m sure it is part of it.
You know, so...
Q. You mentioned players having something to be proud about. Did you see that from them today in the locker room? They did lose their second straight game. You said there is still room for improvement. Did you see the sort of like takeaways that you’re talking about now with us? Did you see that from them?
MARK STOOPS: They know. They know when they put on the film whether that’s something to be proud of or not. I’m not going to give you a headline, you know what I mean? Nobody is interested in going to celebrate because we played close. Yes, they know the difference between a prideful effort and one that’s not.
I don’t think it takes much to figure that out, you know what I mean? Our guys know they need that kind of commitment, that kind of investment, and that kind of competitive nature all the time.
Q. On those stops on short yardage, especially late in the game, I know you’ve got to look at the tape for sure, but do you feel like your defensive line...
MARK STOOPS: I do. I think it’s a big piece of it. That’s what did came down to. We discussed, because Georgia is deadly on their boots and everything because of their tight ends and all that. I said, no, no, no, you know what I mean? They throw a boot, it’s on me, but we’re going to stay big and stay firm in there, and I wasn’t going to let them give them that.
So, we discussed it. Brad had a good defensive plan, but we talked about switching it to a defense where, you know what I mean, you could not be maybe as firm but better on boots or be better — and I had a feeling with Kirby’s mentality, you know what I mean? Get stopped on third and one. It’s fourth and one. They’re the No. 1 team in the country. I felt like they were going to try and jam it right down our throat. I was really pleased with our defensive effort there, yes, up front.
Q. And they beat Florida, SEC.
MARK STOOPS: I mean, you know, I know people don’t believe me, you know what I mean? But, again, I don’t know, but I know just with that and different things, I mean, that’s what I’ve told our team. Don’t be defeated. Don’t be down. We’re not proud of that effort, you know what I mean, couple weeks ago.
But like nine teams in the SEC, did we all cave? No. There are some teams that are elite playing at a really high level. They deserve the recognition and they’re really good. They pieced it all together.
And then there are a lot of teams fighting our tails off and it’s challenging. I can say this: The guys emptied their tank this week both in preparation and competing. That’s what we have to do all the time.
#7, Will Levis, QB
On how the offense played…
“Not bad. I think from an execution standpoint, a little bit above average. I think we had a great game plan. This is obviously a really tough defense to go up against and we made a handful of plays. Probably more downfield plays like that then we have seen all year. Which is cool, but yeah, I am proud of how the guys played. It was a weird game with the number of possessions each team had. Obviously, we would have liked to have come out with more points especially on that one interception drive. We defiantly left three points on the board for that. I am proud of how we played against such a good team.”
On how frustrating it is not finishing drives …
“Yeah, its tough, there have defiantly been instances this year of getting in the red zone under the fringe and not being able to finish drive. It’s a bunch of different things but it’s just frustrating for sure.”
On growth over the year with Barion…
“It’s been important to me for sure that I get him to keep his head up and keep his confidence up. And for him to know that he is a really special player and that we are going to target him. And his big plays are going to come. I’m just glad that he has been able to keep that right mindset throughout the last few weeks. And trust in us and trust in the calls and my throws to get him down the field like that. And it was really cool to see him make a few of those plays today.”
#0, Deone Walker, DL
On making defensive stops…
“It meant a lot to us – trying to get our offense back into their groove early in the game. It meant a lot to me knowing that no matter what, my defense and my teammates got me.”
On how they got their spirits back up after the loss against Vandy…
“You know – just having a 24-hour mindset. We get to sulk in it that Sunday, but then Monday, we coming back working.
On if this game gives them reassurance going forward…
“It gives us a lot of reassurance, you know. We knew what we could do – we just had to get back into our mode, I should say.”
#11, Zion Childress, DB
On what it was like to play against the defending National Champions at Kroger Field…
“It felt good to be out there with my team and do what we do best, play football. My whole life has been preparing for this moment, so it was just taking advantage of the opportunity.”
On his open field tackling skills…
“Before this season, it was a weakness in my game. I just took it into the off season and just tried to focus on making it into a strength.”
On what the mindset during the stops on the third and fourth downs…
“Yesterday, Buster Douglas came and talked to us. He told us about when Mike Tyson knocked him out and how he got back up and kept fighting. All game you can hear Coach White and Coach Stoops just telling us to fight back, keep swinging, keep throwing punches. We kept fighting.”
On morale after the loss last week to Vanderbilt…
“All week we were just like ‘we’ve got to get back, we’ve got to play better.’ We knew we needed to play our best against the number one team in the country.”