Kentucky drops second-straight loss 24-14 to South Carolina

WYMT Mountain News Weekend Edition newscast at 11 p.m. on Saturday
Published: Oct. 8, 2022 at 10:44 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT/UK Athletics) - The Wildcats are 4-2 after a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks at Kroger Field.

South Carolina took the lead early after a recovered fumble. The game was tied at 7-7 at halftime.

Kaiya Sheron stepped up as quarterback with two touchdown passes but came up short in a 24-14 finish.

Levis suffered a lower-body injury in last week’s loss at Ole Miss and was unable to play on Saturday night. The Cats turned to redshirt freshman Kaiya Sheron behind center. The Somerset, Kentucky, native connected on 15 of 27 through the air for 178 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

Rodriguez went over 100 yards, 126 yards on 22 carries, for the 16th time in his UK career. He also moved past Mark Higgs and into fifth place on UK’s career rushing list in the game.

The Cats got a big effort from its defense, led by DeAndre Square, who had nine tackles in the game. Jordan Wright added seven tackles for the Cats and D’Eryk Jackson had five.

Kentucky will host Mississippi State on October 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Kentucky-South Carolina final stats
Kentucky-South Carolina final stats(StatBroadcast)

Coach Stoops Post-South Carolina:

MARK STOOPS: Okay. It wasn’t a good effort. You know, top to bottom. Didn’t start good. I don’t feel like we did a great job putting a first-time starter in a position to be successful.

I don’t think our team played with the normal competitive character that we generally play with. Even after the tough start, we come in at halftime and somehow manage to tie it up and commence 7-7.

And then we talked about, you know, again, the competitive nature that our team generally plays with and sustained intensity that we generally play with, and I don’t feel like we really did that.

And that’s, obviously, the job of a head coach, to get the team prepared and to put them in position to be successful. And, you know, that wasn’t done. I got to do a better job.

We didn’t do a good job, top to bottom. And that’s it. And, you know, as I told the team, you better buckle up because nobody feels sorry for you. And it’s about us responding. We generally have.

And we got to do a better job. We got to get them ready. We got to have a great week. And we got another top-25 team coming in here next week. So, we better regroup in a hurry.

On the first play from scrimmage …

MARK STOOPS: Not very good thinking, John. Probably on me. You know, I — we were running it in — late in the week and some — it wasn’t the opener. And I said that looks good, you know, that we might be able to get him in a predictable defense. And they didn’t. They changed it up and pressured.

So, I probably put that thought in Rich’s (Scangarello) head. So not good at all. You know what I mean? And I know better. So, you know, that wasn’t a good opening play.

Aside from that one, you had some more kind of self-inflicted, whether procedural, is that — it’s back-to-back weeks, what can you kind of contribute those to?

MARK STOOPS: You know, the detailed focus that we generally play with. And it goes back to, you know, the intensity that we play with, the intensity that we practice with. And, you know, the competitive nature that we generally have. And, you know, those are self-inflicted things that are — we can’t have and there’s no excuse for them.

Mark, how do you assess how Kaiya (Sheron) played?

MARK STOOPS: He did some good things when he had time, I thought, when we put him in a position to be successful. I don’t think we played very good around him.

So, it’s one thing that, you know, I put on all of us; myself, the coaches, and the team. And I told the team that. I don’t think we responded and played very well around him. I thought we played as poorly as we have all year at certain positions around a first-time starter.

And I don’t think that’s right for that young man. And there’s things that he did very well. And there’s areas where we didn’t do a good enough job around him.

(Question concerning explosive plays – No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think late in the game — you know, again, there’s no excuse for it. The competitive, you know, character that we generally play with, you know, wasn’t there. I think we missed a tackle.

Again, I said it all week, I mean, he’s a tremendous back, I think it was MarShawn (Lloyd) that broke it, if it wasn’t him. And then on the reverse, we got — you know, we got blocked. It was a good play.

And in that moment, you know, it was good at the end there and hit the explosive at the end on the reverse and cracked us on that. So, yeah, uncharacteristic of us. But, again, not good. No excuse.

Mark, do you believe this is a one game thing for Will (Levis) or is it possible that he could be back next week?

MARK STOOPS: I’m not sure. You know, I really don’t. It’s — it’s been day-to-day and it’s day-to-day. So I can’t tell you how that’s going to respond.

Mark, did you have any idea early in the week you wouldn’t have him? And did you have enough time to get Kaiya ready?

MARK STOOPS: Well, we had to get Kaiya ready most of the week because Will was trying and he was getting better. But it’s hard. You know, those — the injury that he has, it’s just hard to tell.

You know, so I’m not trying to play any games with anybody. You know, it’s just — it’s an injury that when he can play, he will play.

Mark, six more sacks allowed tonight. Even when Will comes back, how do you build an offense where it’s so unreliable protecting the quarterback?

MARK STOOPS: You know, in the first half, you know, the start was horrible. Then we got the run game going. And with the run game, that’s kind of how — who we got to be if Will’s out of there and continue to be physical and the play passes.We hit the Y pop out of the play action. But, you know, that’s who we’ve got to be. I mean, drop-back passing and predictable pass is not where we want to live.

Late in the game when you’re down — I don’t know how many of them were late. And, again, I’m not making an excuse, but we’re not good in general. But you’re certainly not going to be good in predictable pass late in the game when you’re down with a red shirt freshman quarterback. That’s not where we want to live.

We’ve got to play really good, you know, as a team. And that’s my biggest disappointment. I don’t feel like we rallied. And it — not just in a goofy cliché when I say this: But, like, for us we’ve been — you guys have watched us, we’re not great in any area. We’ve got to be good as a team.

The strength of our team is generally as a team. We weren’t good in that today. We weren’t good in a lot of different pieces. And that’s not good.

Chris (Rodriguez Jr.), obviously, ran the ball very well. Did you feel like you utilized him about as much as you wanted to?

MARK STOOPS: Well, probably not because the game — you know, just the way the game broke out with the fumble on the first play and just late playing from behind. Probably not. I mean, there’s probably some plays that, you know, we got negative yardage plays that we’d like to have over.

Yeah, you were, like, 3 for 12 on third downs. Got a lot from behind the chains. Is that the game plan or the execution?

MARK STOOPS: Well, certainly not the game plan. Because as you mentioned, when we’re taking sacks and negative yardage plays on the sweep and, you know, just getting behind the chains, I mean, that’s — you know, we can’t live in that world right now. You know, it’s hard.

We overcame one, you know, screen — (technical interruption with microphone) — guys that were buried on one of them. But in general, it was hard for us to overcome with a redshirt freshman quarterback. We can’t put him in that position.

You know, we’ve got to play like you’ve seen us play where we pound the ball, get four yards, five yards, rip off a run and, you know, keep it comfortable. And we didn’t do a very good job at times with that.

Mark, we talked about not letting one loss spiral into two. That has been an issue in previous years. Do you think that was at play tonight?

MARK STOOPS: I mean, it has to. You know, I have to face the music. I have to agree. You know what I mean? I have to look at it. I mean, I try like hell. I mean, I addressed it and I tried to tweak a couple things and really get their energy up. We didn’t respond.

(No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: No, I think we tried to get back on track. I mean, it wasn’t always a thing of beauty, that’s for sure, when we were going backwards and penalties and things of that nature. It wasn’t great. But, no, I think we got back on track. You know, we tried to get back on track pretty quick.

(No microphone.)

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I really — it’s hard to tell. I mean, I felt like, you know, the first half we were playing really good defense. You know, we gave them that — the seven. And outside of that, we were really playing pretty solid. You know, had the turnover — two turnovers in the first half and kept us in the game and played pretty solid.

As I mentioned, I just don’t think we sustained that intensity. And we got to find ways to win like we’ve found ways to win over the years. And we didn’t do that tonight.

With the missed field goal, you know, coming off of the game last week, could you tell if there was an issue with the snap or the kick on that play?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to tell. I think he — you know, he hit the upright I believe, right? Again, just fractions off. What’s it, six inches, eight inches? So just got to get back. And you know, I believe in Ruff (Matt Ruffolo) and he’ll hit them. And, you know, we didn’t play good, you know, in a lot of areas tonight.

All three of your starting receivers might have been banged up by the end of the game. Are you concerned about the long term?

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s a tough point in the season. I told the team that. You know, it is what it is. So, you know, we got to get back and — (technical interruption with microphone.)

You know, nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. So, you know, we got to get back up. I told them — challenged them. Get in the ice tub, get in the training room, get healed up and we got to get back at it. You know, we play a really good team coming in next week and we have to regroup and we got to get back to who we are.

Mark, a big part — a strength of this team has been the vertical passing game. I know you don’t have Will. Were you prepared? Did you have plays for Kaiya to go deep?

MARK STOOPS: We did. And, you know, even on a mass protection, we got pressure. Which is inexcusable. You know, we got to do a better job. I don’t — I just — again, I’m not putting it on — you know, I don’t think we played very good. You know what I mean? On the perimeter either.

I don’t think we played very good at wideout. I don’t think we protected very good. You know, we ran the ball successfully at times.

But, you know, we got to help him out. We got to give him some time and we got to make some competitive catches. And I don’t think we played our best football tonight.

Was it just — you mentioned the wide receivers. Was it just, like, the drops or were there other things you saw from them?

MARK STOOPS: Not — you know, drops — whether it’s specifically drops, assignments, whether it’s being competitive, whether it’s making tough catches. I mean, you got a guy out there that’s making his first start and we got to play to the way we can play.

I think with Will’s personality, it’s clear he wants to play whenever he can. But with as many hits as he’s taken, do you have to consider his future in protecting him at any point?

MARK STOOPS: I mean, we — that’s a silly question. You’ve been around here a long time. I respect you. That’s — I love that guy and I love every player on this team. Don’t go there.

Mark, with Will’s injury, was it an ankle, was it a toe? I mean, are you guys —

MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s a foot — it’s a lower — it’s a foot injury. Yes.