It wasn’t easy, but the Kentucky Wildcats pulled off a 14-7 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday night from a cold and windy Kroger Field.
The weather clearly made it harder for both offenses to get anything going through the air, though Kentucky was already struggling to find rhythm there. After the disaster at Texas A&M, Kentucky managed to throw for just 18 yards this week against a struggling Commodores defense.
Thankfully, Benny Snell gashed Vanderbilt for 169 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, which proved to be the difference.
Following the Wildcats’ hard-fought victory, UK coach Mark Stoops addressed the media. Here is a recap of everything he said, courtesy of UK Athletics:
MARK STOOPS: Once again, very proud of our football team. In fact, finding a way to win the game, to grind out a tough, hard-fought victory. Nasty night. Very windy. Tough conditions. Really appreciate the way we fought it out.
Love the way the defense played really all night. We gave up the one play early. Lonnie (Johnson) kind of lost his footing, got beat in a one-on-one situation. Really played a good game the rest of the game. Just appreciate their effort.
Offensively we struggled at times. You got to love that drive (late in the game). We struggled in field goal kicking. Obviously it being balanced, but once again everybody in the stadium knew we were going to run the football, were able to run it, grind out a 70-yard or 80-yard drive, get it in the end zone to score. It says a lot about our football team, their attitude, their toughness, finding a way to win.
Never going to apologize for a victory. Certainly there are things we need to do better. We always do that. Win or lose, we’re going to go back to work, look at ourselves, look at things we can do better, starting with me.
Again, you can’t apologize for being 6-1. Looking forward to another opportunity here this week.
Q. What do you say about when the game is on the line, your best players step up?
MARK STOOPS: It really does say a lot. Those guys have been steady for us for years. To put it on Benny (Snell)’s back there when, once again, everybody knew he was running the ball. Thought our offense, the coaches did a really good job of getting formations and keep on finding ways to open up some holes.
Our O-line’s mentality, their toughness, and Benny making some really good runs, really felt like we had an opportunity even at the end there to get that last run to put it away, to ice it. We just missed it by fractions.
But they did a really good job. Of course, Josh (Allen), predictable pass situations, that’s when he’s at his best. Doesn’t surprise me.
Q. Surprised you ran the ball that much?
MARK STOOPS: I think the wind and the weather. One again, we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers. They had possession of the football. We’re moving it, controlling the clock. With the wind, it was a tough first half. We didn’t get a lot of opportunities.
We got to get going. Terry (Wilson) has the nice run, we have a first down at the 45 or somewhere in there, 40, put the ball on the ground. That really changes things drastically.
Q. (Question regarding Kash Daniel’s status)
MARK STOOPS: He got a hand injury. We’ll take a look at it, do some x-rays, see what we got to do.
Q. Benny was slow getting into the locker room at halftime. Was he hurt or sick?
MARK STOOPS: He tweaked the foot a little bit. So nothing major. Obviously he was in there at the end.
Q. If you had a field goal in that last drive, would you go back to Miles (Butler) or considering Chance (Poore)?
MARK STOOPS: I was considering putting Chance in, yes.
Q. Are you going to eventually need more out of the passing game?
MARK STOOPS: Yes, for sure.
Q. What was it that kind of wasn’t clicking?
MARK STOOPS: I think, once again, the (turnover) possessions. When you finally get a drive starter, Terry makes a good decision on second down, rips off a 15-yard run, puts it on the ground, that doesn’t help.
Then we go to throw the ball, throw a little swing pass, put that behind us, fumble it. You’re behind the sticks all night. Those kind of conditions don’t help us.
We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.
Q. Conscious desire to get Benny more touches tonight?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we did. I think we all knew that. I mean, when we sat there and told you all week that we need to get back to being who we are, I think everybody knew what we were talking about. Being a physical football team.
Certainly we want to throw some pass game off of that, some play-action. Need to improve in that area, and we will. We’ll get it going.
Q. (Question regarding Davonte Robinson)
MARK STOOPS: He did. He did a nice job. He was in there in the starting nickel position tonight. Played quite a few snaps. Looked like he played very good to me, as well.
Q. How much did the kickoff return at the start of the second half, go for a touchdown then get called back, how deflating was that?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it obviously doesn’t help us when it’s a struggle. Tough conditions, tough night. Then the other penalties didn’t help us, as well. Obviously we can’t do that. We have a kickoff return for a touchdown, get it called back. That’s unacceptable.
Q. Does it say something about your progress that getting bowl eligible really isn’t a big deal any more, you have bigger goals?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think we know that, expect that. Once again, it says a lot when you’re not playing your best on a tough night, find a way to win, just get a victory. It means a lot.
What number? It does. I mean, again, I’m not going to apologize for sitting here knowing we have six wins and know we can play a lot better and are striving to play better. Nobody in that locker room is satisfied. Again, I told them, Don’t ever apologize, hold your head high, you’re a 6-1 football team on your way moving up into the top 10, and we have another great opportunity this week.
Win or lose, we always go back to work, look ourselves in the mirror, see what we can do better.
Q. With a chance to get a winning record in the SEC, has that been something that’s been talked about?
MARK STOOPS: It hasn’t been talked about. It is important. It’s an SEC game, next game. It’s very important.
Q. Being in the top 10 have special resonance?
MARK STOOPS: Obviously it shows you’re winning. That means something to us. Being consistent. Again, good football teams find ways to win when you’re not at your best. You guys watch a lot of football. We had an opportunity, all of us, to sit back and watch other people last week. You see the crazy things that go on. I’m sure it’s like that today.
Obviously, I haven’t had a chance to watch much. I’m sure when I see scores later, it will surprise me. I don’t know who or what, but I would expect it. You see it every week.
Q. Did the bye week help or hurt you?
MARK STOOPS: I’m not going to lie. I was concerned coming off of it. It felt like a long two weeks. Our team needed it in certain ways. But other ways, you know, I had to be very intentional about putting the team in a better position than I did a year ago. We didn’t play very good coming off the bye.
We played better and won. We had really good practices. High-intensity practices. Were really moving. I said that going into the game, that I knew the prep was good. Win or lose, the guys were really doing the things necessary to put themselves in a position to win.
Q. (Question regarding some non-starters in on the game-winning touchdown drive)
MARK STOOPS: I didn’t notice it till I saw the long drive. Went over to shake the O-line’s hands, saw him gassed out. But I love that. Just getting more guys involved.
Q. How much now with the defense is it they just take it personal if they give up any points?
MARK STOOPS: It means a lot. We talked about that. We said that to the defense today, going into the game, that every yard and every point was personal. It means something to us.
We’re trying to do our best to shut them out, hold them as best we can. Believe we would have a good chance if we didn’t turn the ball over.