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Mark Stoops and Wildcats recap win over YSU, plus postgame notes and milestones

UK has now won 18 straight non-conference games, the longest active streak in the nation.

Mark Stoops Intro Dylan Ballard - A Sea of Blue

Another day, another win for Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats following a 31-0 shutout of Youngstown State in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

With the win, Kentucky is now 3-0 for the third time since 2018, the other being 2021, and each of those seasons saw the Cats finish 10-3. It’s safe to say the optimism for this year’s Kentucky team has reached that level, if not higher.

After today’s win, head coach Mark Stoops and select players met with the media to discuss the game. Here’s a recap of what they said via UK Athletics.

Mark Stoops

MARK STOOPS: Okay. I felt like, you know, it was one of those games where we did some really good things in certain phases. And, obviously, some things that continue to creep up and get a little bit aggravating and things to work on.

Again, no panic button here. Things we truly believe we will get fixed. We’ve been through this before, even as recent as last year going through some ups and downs. And the continuity, working with guys. You know, down an offensive lineman with Tashawn. And, you know, we’ll continue to bring that unit along.

It is aggravating to give up negative yardage plays consistently. We’ve got to get that fixed and run the ball downhill. There’s a big difference between second and eight or second and seven or second six or second and twelve or thirteen.

Outstanding effort by our defense. Again, Coach White, that whole unit, defensively, played outstanding all game. Really, could just think of one play. That was a well-designed setup, the screen, and hit it for a good, explosive play. Credit to them, you know, for hitting a good play.

And then we responded with getting the interception to stop them from scoring. So, any time you shut anyone out, it’s obviously a really good effort and a big deal. And I credit our coaches and our players for playing a complete game.

Again, I think offensively that Will did some really good things. There’s a few plays here and there that he wishes he could have over. Maybe not his best. We’ve got to play better around him. And it starts with being physical, creating — you know, moving the line of scrimmage and running the ball downhill.

You saw it, again, at times today. Just too much inconsistency. And that’s the bottom line, I think offensively, just inconsistent. So we’ll continue to work on it and address it. And I’m confident we will continue to improve and get it ironed out.

Q. What’s J.J.’s status?

MARK STOOPS: Injured. You think I’m going to tell you anything else? (Laughing.) I don’t — you know, I hope it’ll be — we’ll see what happens and I’ll give you a better update Monday. I really have no idea at this point. I don’t think it’s season-ending or anything like that.

Q. Mark, can you take a moment and talk about what your emotions were like being out there with your mom and family?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, to be honest with you, you know, at that point and really kind of getting ready for the game, I really appreciate that and the administration doing that acknowledgment and having my mother there and my brother, Bob, and all my sisters, my brothers, you know, everybody. It was really nice. And my boys.

So it was fun. And I’m glad it’s all, you know, behind us now. And really concentrating to move on to the next games. But great, great weekend. Great day. So, you know, that was


Q. Mark, what about Carrington when he made those two plays in the end zone, back-to-back drives to keep that shutout going?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s kind of who he is. He’s a super competitive guy. Just really tough. He got beat on one and, you know, it was a — he and I were talking about it on the sidelines — it was a technique issue.

He tried to be really aggressive. He used his momentum against him, you know, and gave up that one shot. But a great one in response, comes right back. And he did that. He’s a very competitive young man.

Q. (No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: I don’t — you’re not going to hear me put any names on anything. But I’m really appreciative of the effort. And we’re going to continue to work and be competitive and all that. But, no, you’re not going to hear that from me.

Q. Given all the experience you guys had in that front seven, how big has it been for the secondary to develop kind of the way those guys have and come along since the start of camp to now?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, you know, I’ve been commenting on them. You’ve been following me from the beginning of camp, that I felt we were a better unit this year. I felt like we added some depth. We got some length, some guys got older.

Carrington, a year older, Keidron. And, you know, Zion is doing some good things. Jordan’s really playing at a high level. And so, I think, you know, we’re getting better.

Q. You talked about the inconsistency of the offense. But what did that do — what did you see in the two-minute drive before the half to put points on the board?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, that was good. I felt like the protection was good. Will was comfortable. He did move, I guess, a few times, if I remember, out of the pocket and created a few plays. But that was good. Good work for us.

I also think we moved the ball well at times, but then you get a turnover. You know, the turnovers. And, you know, I could live with interceptions, because we don’t want them to play tentative in thinking about that. We want him ripping it and confident and throwing.

But, you know, fumbling, there’s no — we can control that. We’ve got to get rid of putting the ball on the ground with fumbling. But it was good to get the two-minute drive, yeah.

Q. How do you get those receivers more involved? What did you see from some of those guys?

MARK STOOPS: Well, I noticed Dekel, we got him in there, got him going. He’s a guy that we, you know, still feel can really help us soon, help us this year. He’s got that — he’s got that juice that I talk about, that speed. And so it was good to get him some reps.

And, of course, Dane and Barion continue to do good. Christian, you know, is a guy we feel like could definitely help us. And, of course, Tayvion, as well. So good to get him some touches again today.

Q. (No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I felt like he did, you know, pretty good, just first look. Just because I don’t remember having to try to yell at him in between series. (Laughing.) So, it felt like he did good. You know, with J.J. being down, his role will probably increase a little bit.

Q. Jacquez was flying, especially early. He was also really involved early. What does that say to have him in that front seven and have that push early on?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, you know, Jacquez, he’s a leader. He plays fast. He’s got a lot of experience. And he’s a guy that, again, we rally around. And, you know, it’s really good to see his energy and, you know, challenge the group, even at half, to continue to play with some urgency.

We did give up the one play and the penalty on top of it, which got them really in position. But I felt like the unit played really — still hard and aggressive, you know, really, the entire game.

And if you don’t, you know, you’re not going to get the shutout. Even when we gave up some yards or some plays or got it down there, they dug in.

Q. (Question concerning special teams.)

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I thought they were solid today. Yeah, solid and, you know, our special teams, I mean, have been really good. I mean, y’all don’t bring it up unless we snap a ball high or something like that. You know what I mean? (Laughing.)

And that’s one person that’s hit thousands of good snaps. So like I told you last week, I wasn’t overly concerned about that. And even got our backup snapper today. And so, you know, the unit has been playing really good, you know, it’s a tight group.

Q. How big was it to get that punt blocked, especially early?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I feel it was really good. The field position was really good just because we were moving it but couldn’t punch it. And so, it was good.

Q. Mark, it seems like this defense is really good at anticipating. I know a lot of that is just game prep and preparation. But how much of it is just instinct and high football IQ?

MARK STOOPS: I think that’s a big piece of it, you know, with the coaches really tuning them in what to look for and the players having the wherewithal to take that coaching and the experience in the years that they’ve had. That’s why it’s so important.

And the nice thing is you get better as the year goes on. As I told you early on, they’re so used to playing the one offense, you know what I mean?

You’re playing your team all spring and all camp. Even if you try to do different things, it’s just not the same. And so, until you get in the games and start feeling different systems and all that, we’re getting better. And that awareness is improving.

You know, a week ago, I felt like we really did some really good things at times and took them out of their comfort zone in certain situations, and the same today.

Q. How can you limit turnovers on offense?

MARK STOOPS: Well, again, I think the fumbles is just — you know, personally they – we’ve got to do a better job. And we coach that up, we work on it, we do drills. And we’ve got to keep on emphasizing that.

But, you know, I can’t tolerate that too much. Interceptions are going to happen sometimes. It’s just like the interception a week ago, I mean, is that really an interception? I mean, it was pressure, it got tipped, and it fell in somebody’s arm.

That stuff’s going to happen, I guess what I’m saying, here or there. You don’t want it to, but it’s going to happen. Deflections and things of that nature, a bad pass here or there.

And, you know, Will’s playing at a really high level and I want him to continue to play that way, play aggressive, and play confident and do good. The fumbles, we’ve got to take care of.

Q. (No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: We like guys that score touchdowns. (Laughing.) I mean, yeah, he’s really good. I mean, he’s a good player. He’s getting better. We’ve had a lot of confidence in him.

I told you that all the way back from last spring. He just handles himself very well, and he’s been consistent, so he’s got to stay that way. And we can’t have the young guys taking dips, you know, we want them to continue to progress. And I have confidence that he will.

Q. Are you happy enough with the effort for a full-out celebration tonight?

MARK STOOPS: I don’t know about a full-out celebration, but I’ve got a lot of family and friends in here and we’ll enjoy the evening and spend some time with my family and have some fun.

Q. And, you know, as you mentioned, your family, whenever the record came up, the milestone came up about Bear Bryant, did it exceed expectations?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, it — really appreciative that my whole family got here and was here to share in that. And, you know, it’s been a fun weekend.

#6, Dane Key, WR

On how exciting it was to see some of the other wide receivers get their numbers called...

“I love seeing everybody in the room get involved. We’re just so close in the receiver room. It’s just great when somebody else gets to make the play.”

On his physical transformation since last season...

“You know, that’s a big thanks to our strength staff here. All those guys in the weight room, getting my body right to be able to go out there and perform and play to the best of my ability.”

On what goes through his mind looking back at his preparation...

“I really wanted to, you know, just play a role and play a role on the team and just come out and, you know, just make plays when my number is called. It’s just doing what I can do to help the team to win.”

#7, Will Levis, QB

On the offense …

“We know where we can get better and we’re showing flashes again. This just was not good enough, especially how the defense played. They’re getting the ball back for us repeatedly and we are just not finishing drives. Again, just the good things we did, we should have been doing a lot more. Mostly disappointed just because of the guys that got in there for that last drive. I mean, you don’t want to think or assume guys should be able to get it every game, but we need to work harder to make sure we get the ball when opportunities arise like that.”

On what he saw on interceptions …

“I think after the first few days. I went all camp last year without throwing a pick and I threw two today. But they’ve got some really good players. Coach White does an excellent job seeing things and putting a lot on the offense to think about a lot of different things that they could possibly throw at them. I thought they handled it really well. We have some great young guys and some great vets, a good balance.

On the change in the pocket …

“Yeah we’re definitely growing, but there is a lot more to clean up. I think we found a good group of guys that we’re able to trust and do good things for us. But still in targeting areas, miscommunications are things we know we can get better with. We just have to keep leaning on and trusting each other. The run game has to get better, we know that. It starts with them, but it’s everybody not just them. We have to make sure that if we want to be a good offense that we can make that more of our identity. We did a little bit better in the second half this week.”

#20, Keaton Wade, LB

On the offense struggling early and what the defense has to do...

“We were just saying on the sidelines we don’t need to worry about the offense we just need to worry about ourselves. They’re working out their kinks and things like that so we just have to focus on ourselves, on our ball.”

On does he play better when mad...

“Yeah, I just got to really flip a switch when on the field. I feel like that’s what I try to do because I am nice and polite off the field but when you are on the field you’ve got to focus on what you’ve got to focus on.”

On his nose for the ball...

“Yeah, I feel like I just try to make a play so I can put my name out there, so I was trying to follow the ball wherever I go on the field. I know when I’m making plays it boosts my confidence and just the overall team’s confidence.”

Here are the postgame notes and milestones via UK.

Team Records and Series Information

  • Kentucky is 3-0 overall, while Youngstown State is 2-1 overall.
  • This was the first meeting between the teams.
  • Next for UK: on Saturday, Sept. 24, Kentucky wraps up a two-game homestand by playing host to Northern Illinois. The game time is 7 p.m. ET and it will be televised on ESPN2.
  • The Wildcats will be seeking to extend its streak of 18 consecutive non-conference wins, the longest active streak in the nation.

What the Win Means for Kentucky and Head Coach Mark Stoops

  • Kentucky is 3-0 for the fourth time in the last six seasons under head coach Mark Stoops, joining the 2017, 2018 and 2021 seasons.
  • UK has won 18 consecutive non-conference games, the longest active streak in the nation.
  • Coach Stoops extended his school records of 62 total wins and 43 home wins.
  • After beginning 12-26 at UK (two games into the 2016 season), Stoops has since gone 50-27 (.649).

Team Notes

  • Kentucky held Youngstown State to no points, marking its first shutout since limiting Miami (Ohio) to no points at a neutral-site game in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Sept. 5, 2009 (42-0).
  • It marked Kentucky’s first shutout at home since holding Vanderbilt to no points on Nov. 16, 1996 (25-0) and first shutout since the facility was named Kroger Field in 2015.
  • It was UK’s largest margin of victory in a home shutout since a 35-0 win over Kent State in 1993.
  • UK has limited its last seven opponents to 21 or fewer points, its longest streak since doing so eight straight games to open the 2018 season.
  • UK has allowed 30 or fewer points in 49 of the last 55 games.
  • UK has allowed 29 points so far this season, fewest in the first three games since 2008 (19 in the first three games).
  • The Wildcats held the Penguins scoreless in the first half, marking the first time Kentucky has garnered a first-half shutout since LSU on Oct. 9, 2021.
  • In fact, the UK defense kept YSU without a first down until 5:31 remaining in the second quarter.
  • UK has held its opponents scoreless for six straight quarters for the first time since 2019 – last three quarters at Vanderbilt and first three quarters vs. UT Martin.
  • Kentucky held its opponent to under 200 yards of total offense (192 yards) for the first time since doing so in the season opener against ULM on Sept. 4, 2021.
  • It is the second time in the defensive coordinator Brad White era (2019-present) and the fourth time in the Coach Stoops era (2013-present).
  • This is the first time UK has held its first three opponents under 300 yards since the first three games of 1989.
  • UK has held its first three opponents to 761 this season, fewest in the first three games since 2008 (752 in first three games).
  • UK limited YSU to nine first downs, fewest since Vanderbilt had eight in 2014.
  • YSU was 0-of-10 on third-down conversions, the first time UK had accomplished that feat since holding Georgia to 0-of-10 in 2005.
  • UK has limited each of the last two opponents under 50 percent completions, first time in back-to-back games since 2018 (Florida and Murray State).
  • UK completed passes to 10 different receivers, most since 10 Wildcats caught passes vs. Vanderbilt in 2020.

Player Notes

  • Senior quarterback Will Levis completed 27-of-35 passes for a season-high 377 yards, which is the second-most in his career, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
  • He also rushed for seven yards on nine carries and a touchdown.
  • Levis recorded his highest completion percentage in a game when attempting at least 20 passes (.771).
  • It is the highest single-game completion percentage for a Wildcat (min. 35 pass attempts) since Dusty Bonner hit 34 of 40 (85 percent) in 1999.
  • It marked Levis’ fifth 300+ yard passing game in his career and his second this season.
  • He is the third QB in school history with at least four games of 365+ passing yards, also Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen.
  • Freshman wide receiver Dane Key had season highs with six catches for 90 yards, including a three-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
  • He has recorded a TD catch in each of the first three games of his collegiate career.
  • The last Wildcat with a TD catch in the first three games of a season was La’Rod King in 2011.
  • His three TD catches already ties the UK freshman single-season record, equaling the mark of three by Derek Abney in 2000 and Tommy Cook in 2001.
  • Senior wide receiver Tayvion Robinson has recorded a reception in 29 consecutive games, as he grabbed a team-high tying six passes for 66 yards this afternoon.
  • Senior running back Kavosiey Smoke rushed for 66 yards on a career-high 18 carries, recording one touchdown.
  • He has now reached 1,484 career rushing yards, which ties Mike Fanuzzi (1971-74) for the 24th-most career rushing yards in program history.
  • True freshman Barion Brown had season highs with five catches for 56 yards.
  • Redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Lewis had the first pass reception of his collegiate career go for a touchdown.
  • He caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Levis, helping Kentucky go up 21-0 before halftime.
  • Redshirt freshman wide receiver Dekel Crowdus got his first collegiate catch and totaled two receptions for 17 yards this afternoon.
  • Junior receiver DeMarcus Harris had a career-long 58-yard reception.
  • Freshman defensive back Alex Afari Jr. led Kentucky with five total tackles, which included one solo tackle and a tackle for loss (-2 yards).
  • Linebackers Jordan Wright and Jacquez Jones tied for the second-most total tackles with four apiece, while Wright and freshman safety Jordan Lovett rallied a team-high three solo tackles apiece.
  • Wright also led with two tackles for loss (-3 yards).
  • With YSU first-and-goal at the UK two-yard line in the third quarter, junior cornerback Carrington Valentine recorded his first career interception to help keep the Penguins off the scoreboard.
  • He also had two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He has five PBUs over the last two games.
  • Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo made four extra point attempts and a field goal.
  • He now has 200 points, becoming the eighth player in school history to reach 200 career points.
  • First collegiate starts: true freshman DL Deone Walker and redshirt freshman DB Jordan Lovett.
  • Game captains for Kentucky: Will Levis, DeAndre Square, Jacquez Jones and J.J. Weaver.