No. 9 Kentucky blanks Youngstown State

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Published: Sep. 17, 2022 at 3:09 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT/AP) - Will Levis accounted for three touchdowns, Kavosiey Smoke ran for a score and No. 9 Kentucky shook off a slow start to shut out Youngstown State 31-0 on Saturday.

Boosted by its first top-10 ranking since October 2007, the Wildcats (3-0) followed up last week’s Southeastern Conference win at Florida by physically dominating the FCS Penguins (2-1) in the inaugural meeting.

Kentucky outgained YSU 480-192 on the way to its first shutout since beating Miami (Ohio) 42-0 on Sept. 5, 2009. The Wildcats gave coach Mark Stoops a victory over his hometown school.

Levis posted his second 300-yard effort in three games, completing 27 of 35 attempts for 377 with sparkling catches by his receivers. He hit Dane Key and Chris Lewis with TD passes of 3 and 2 yards, respectively, and rushed for a 1-yard TD early in the second quarter. That run jump-started the Wildcats after a scoreless opening period in which promising drives stalled and Youngstown’s Troy Jakubec intercepted Levis at the 3.

Kentucky will host Northern Illinois on Saturday, September 24 at 7 p.m. at Kroger Field.

Kentucky-Youngstown State final stats
Kentucky-Youngstown State final stats(StatBroadcast)

Coach Stoops Post-Youngstown State:

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

fun.

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.

Q. (No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: I have no idea. Not in the near future. (Laughing.)