On Saturday night, the Kentucky Wildcats kicked off the season against the Miami (OH) RedHawks.
On the first drive, the Wildcats fell victim to an efficient 5-minute, 75-yard drive from the RedHawks. However, Will Levis and the offense quickly answered with a two-minute, 79-yard touchdown drive of their own, which started with a 45-yard connection to Tayvion Robinson.
Despite the two quick scores to start the game, neither team could put together any real rhythm to follow that. Kentucky did make it to the red zone three more times, but it resulted in an interception and two field goals as they entered halftime with a 13-10 lead.
Coming out of the half, Barion Brown returned the kickoff for a touchdown, which was immediately followed by a Miami turnover that Kentucky was able to capitalize on. Just 1 minute and 2 seconds into the third quarter, Kentucky pushed the lead to 27-10.
Kentucky retained that lead and extended it over the remainder of the game, winning 37-13.
While it wasn’t the flashy and perfect win the fans were looking for, the Wildcats played much better in the second half and walked out with a 24-point win.
With the win, Mark Stoops is now tied with Bear Bryant on Kentucky’s all-time wins list.
Let’s see what Stoops and the team had to say via UK Athletics.
MARK STOOPS: Okay. It’s good to get the victory. You know, it’s easy even for myself, the coaches, our team to be aggravated by things at times, but you have to be appreciative of getting the win.
We know in week one there are a lot of things that need to get cleaned up. We’ve been playing and competing against ourselves for a long time through this camp, through spring.
It’s really nice to play somebody else, and a very good team that’s going to win a bunch of games that has a tough nonconference schedule, but they’re a well-coached team, and we knew that.
Coming out of it, I feel that way even more. Our team, you know, I felt like we did some good things at times, and obviously we’ve been inconsistent. In the protection, we’ve got to get cleaned up. And, you know, just different movements, different twists, communicating, screening, passing some things off and cleaning up some protection will help us greatly.
I felt like early, you know, we had some drives and didn’t capitalize and get it in the end zone. We got stopped on fourth down, so, you know, just a lot of things to improve on.
But (we) appreciate being 1-0 and our team going about our business. As I told them, we need to be more excited about who we are and play with that, you know, chip on our shoulder and the attitude. And I just felt like, you know, the preparation’s been solid.
I’ve told you that as I’ve talked to you, but it’s kind of like – and I mentioned this Thursday, you know, you never know whether it’s business-like or, you know, kind of going through the motions.
At times today, even with a good victory, you know, I just didn’t feel like the edge and the attitude and the chip on our shoulder was there all the time. So, we need to learn from that. We need to improve.
And I think the good news is you saw some guys that we mentioned, some older guys play very well, and then some youngsters step up and really flash and show you how athletic they are.
So, the future bodes bright for years, but in particular for this year to get better, and we have a lot to do between week one and week two. Going on the road next week, we better play better.
Q. How much — the attitude — the first time you’re not disrespected so much around the league because there’s a lot of mixed expectations.
MARK STOOPS: I really don’t know. You know, I think people talk about that. You know, we need to — we just need to get it corrected. We need to be who we are and play with some energy. Play with some enthusiasm. And it shouldn’t be up to others to dictate how we play.
Q. On defense …
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, the first drive was aggravating. I felt like, you know, one play in particular sticks out to me, the third and long that they converted, we need to get off the field there and play tighter coverage. And, you know, it kind of set the tone for that drive.
But, again, we settled in, executed, played. They were going to move the ball. We talked all week about their quarterback and his ability to make plays. And he certainly did. And he sees the field well. He’s played a lot of football and distributes the ball and does a good job.
Q. Movement-wise, anything you saw that you weren’t expecting?
MARK STOOPS: No, nothing that we weren’t expecting. You know, we need to do a better job of handling movement and being more physical and tougher, both in the run game and pass protection.
Q. Mark, both Ramon (Jefferson) and JuTahn (McClain) got injured. Obviously, the Chris (Rodriguez) situation, how much at depth are you concerned —
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s a good thing we have some depth at that position. But, you know, running backs, they do have a tendency to get, you know, beat up. And we’ll see what the extent of these injuries are and we’ll see.
Q. On Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert…
MARK STOOPS: No. I mean, he — we’ve seen him do that, you know, play well. I told you that. I wouldn’t — I know you think sometimes I just hit repeat. But I wouldn’t say and have the respect for him if I didn’t believe it. And he’s a good football player. I said that coming in and I say that going out. And I hope he’s okay.
Q. What was going through your mind on the replay of the kickoff return?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I was a little nervous. I mean, obviously, I was concerned. Because we needed that big play. And you hate to see that happen and get wiped away.
And a couple things, he veered instead of running straight in. And, obviously, we told him to hand the ball to the official, not to drop it. Because we’ve seen that.
You know, we’ve all seen it on TV with professionals and in college. And he is a great, young man. The first thing he said is, I’m sorry. You know, you’ll be okay.
He’s very respectful. He wants to be great and do good for his team. And he’ll learn. He’s a great, young man. And the good news was is he turned it, he did — you know, it’s different from a fumble because it would be out of — because if you jar it loose, he had control. He chose to do it like that. And a little too close for comfort.
Q. Were you aware that you had — were you aware that you had not had a guy return a kick for a touchdown here?
MARK STOOPS: No. I think we got it to the three or four. Come on, give me a little credit. (Laughing).
Q. On Monday, you were excited about special teams. In general, you had the new kickoff return, a couple nice punt returns.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah.
Q. Was it nice —
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it was a really solid effort in the special teams. Really, a big piece of the game. Had a blocked punt, as well, after the — I think that was after the fourth down stop, right?
And so, we kept them down there and got the ball right back. I’m not sure, maybe we converted that into a field goal. I’m not sure if we got a touchdown after that.
Yeah, we had the blocked punt. We had the nice punt return. Obviously, the kickoff return and kicked all the kickoffs out of the end zone. So overall, pretty solid performance.
Q. Is there anything obvious with the pass protection with the four sacks allowed or something you have to look at film to figure out exactly what was going on?
MARK STOOPS: Well, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got a good idea of some of it and, you know, what was going on. You know, we have a pretty good idea immediately and who it is.
So, we will work hard to get it fixed. They will. It’s a good unit. And they have a lot of pride. And we’ll get better.
Q. Did Tayvion Robinson surprise you at all tonight or is that just what he’s done since he’s been on campus?
MARK STOOPS: Tayvion did not surprise me, because I’ve seen it. In particular, I’ve seen his game elevate in scrimmages. Not that he doesn’t practice hard or perform well in practice, there’s just so many guys and so many moving pieces.
You know, when we — in scrimmages, he’s really shown out. And, you know, I was talking to Wan’dale before the game, and I told him I felt like Tayvion was going to have a really good day, as well.
And so, you know, sure enough, he made a big play right on the first play of the game. Kind of gets him going. But the nice thing about him is he’s experienced. He’s a good football player. He has a good feel for it. He’s talented. He works hard. You know, so he’s a really good addition.
Q. That was my question.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, two birds.
Q. Coach, the run game, is this — usually reaching 250, 300 yards. Is this a temporary setback or do you have to adjust who you are and become a pass-heavy team?
MARK STOOPS: I mean, a little of both is fair. We made a conscious effort to throw the football today. I think you saw that even at the end. You know, what I mean?
So really wanted to work on things and get better. Once we felt like we had it in control where normally it’s, yes, get in the four-minute offense and grind it out.
You know, there’s things to work on — a lot of things to work on. And it’s fair to say the run game and the pass game we need to work on. Run game and pass protection.
But, you know, really, all of it. You know, we got to continue to evolve. We got some young wideouts that we talked about. You saw them show up today. And we’ll continue to get better.
Q. (On young defensive players) Is it a lot to ask guys to do that much right away on defense?
MARK STOOPS: It is. It is. And, you know, so they can handle it. And they will and they’ll get better. You can see the talent in them. You know, really good players.
Once again, they’ll continue to work. They’ll get coached. And getting this kind of action is invaluable for them to get out on the field and play somebody different. You get in the comfort zone when you play the same offense every day because you get used to it.
Q. Mark, you see the crowd today. Compared to when you first started here and how it sold out tonight, how’s that compare to where you started?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s really great to see it in the first day, in the opener, holiday weekend, the threat of rain all day and everybody being there and showing up and making a difference. Really appreciate it.
And, you know, I wish we would have played a little more explosive and had some more fun plays to open the second half early.
But listen, I think we’ve all seen and watched football this week, and I think I mentioned that to the people that were there Thursday. I said that we will see some strange things, right?
On Thursday, Friday, Saturday, you’re going to see some strange things. In the opener, it’s very different. You always — our team, I felt like they were a little down. Hey, we’re 1-0 and we’ll get better. That’s what it’s all about.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK STOOPS: What I’ve seen. You know, it’s what I’ve seen. Competitive, tough catches with people draped on him. And that’s just what we’ve seen him do.
Q. It’s not about this for you, but it’s not every day you tie Bear Bryant’s record. Do you have a place you’ll put the ball?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t have any thoughts. I’ve said it — once again, I’m not sure what all groups are there, but I don’t want to be redundant.
I want to make it very clear. I absolutely respect that and am very appreciative to be here a long time and have the opportunity to win this many games. And I don’t think it’s right to — you know, I don’t — I mean, Bear Bryant coached here and, you know, I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but it’s, like, you don’t want — you can’t put my name in the same as Bear Bryant’s. You know what I mean?
In the long run if I was competing for six national championships, let’s talk about that. But I am grateful to win that many games, to be here this long. And we have a long way to go.
You know, and I’m excited to keep building this program. I’m really — the focus is on next week. You know, really, normally we talk about enjoying it. But, you know, it seems like everybody in there is ready to get to work and get on next week and try to get better. And that’s not just coach-speak, it’s just kind of how we feel.
#0, Deone Walker, DT
On if you thought you surprised people with your athletic plays…
“Yeah, I feel like people knew I was here and athletic, but I don’t think they knew I was like this. I feel like I came out and showed myself.”
On if you had a favorite play…
“My favorite play wasn’t even when I got a tackle or anything. We were just in a break stunt and made the QB scramble.”
On if you felt the energy from the crowd tonight…
“Yeah, I definitely feel that. Especially with myself because coming from high school I used to play almost all the time. Now it’s just, I got to get into the groove of college football, and I feel like once I let it, the game will slow down for me.”
#7, Will Levis, QB
On his message to his offensive line when they’re struggling on the sideline…
“Just telling them I have full confidence in them, making sure that their minds are thinking positively, and they know what they are supposed to be doing, and as long as they trust in their coaching and in their keys then everything is going to work out. And obviously we had some instances where some things could’ve worked out a little better, but we are going to keep working. I have all the trust in the world in those guys and they know that.”
On what it’s like seeing Tayvion and Dane and a lot of the wide receivers step up tonight…
“It was good. A lot of those guys are getting their first reps here, most of them, actually. So, for them to show out and we got a lot of guys facilitating the ball around, got a lot of guys catches, especially Tayvion, it was good for him to get a good introduction to the offense and to get him the ball a lot of different ways. I think I feel confident across the board in the targets I have.”
On how he would evaluate his night overall…
“I’ve never felt so disappointed in a 300-yard touchdown performance in my life. I feel like from a decision-making standpoint it was really good but there were some accuracy issues here and there. Coach brought me over at halftime and kind of just told me to make plays and to trust your weapons and let it go and once he said it to me, it helped me settle down a little bit, but the interception was completely on me. He was wide open, and I just missed him.”
#2, Barion Brown, WR
On what the coaches’ messages were like on the sideline when reviewing the fumble…
“Honestly we just knew it was going to be a lesson learned and make sure you always get the ball over, and I know that’s my fault.”
On how it felt to have a turnaround play to extend the team’s lead…
“Man, it felt great knowing that I made a big play for the offense, and for the defense to pick it up and do what they do, so yeah, it just felt great.”
On what he saw during his 38-yard catch…
“Honestly man, I just got the ball, I just saw the endzone and somebody came behind me, if it wasn’t for that I would’ve been in the endzone again.”
#75, Eli Cox, C
On how it feels to win but still know there is work to do …
“A win is a win. We are not going to apologize for that. It was a great team win. A lot of guys got to play in some new spots, but, I mean, obviously that is not the standard with our big blue wall. We’ve got to earn that title back and we have to have good preparation and have more snaps under our belts so the group can gel and start to be a cohesive unit.”
On what Miami (Ohio) was doing that confused the offensive line in pass protection at times…
“It wasn’t anything they were doing special. I mean, they do what they do well. That was one thing we knew going in, that they’re not trying to do anything crazy, but what they do, their fundamentals, they’re very gap sound. The Miami defensive line wasn’t going to beat themselves. They’re going to say, you’re right, we know where our gaps are going to be. You’re going to have to be there and meet us.”
On if issues can be cleaned up in a few days…
“Yeah, it’s all fixable. We have a young group that doesn’t have as much experience as we’re used to seeing in the past. I mean, we had to replace three guys lost to the NFL so you can’t rebuild the wall overnight. It’s going to take some time. We had a lot of guys that never even started a game here before that are very talented players who I’m very confident in, but now, having that experience under their belts, I think it’s only going to be smoother sailing from here for them.”