COLUMBIA, S.C. — Kentucky defeated South Carolina 23-13 on Saturday night, its fourth consecutive victory over the Gamecocks.
Here’s everything Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said after the win.
Opening statement: “I’d like to say our thoughts and our prayers are with our fan who was injured last night. It’s an exciting win and I just want to acknowledge her and let the BBN say prayers for her.
“As far as the victory, it was a great team victory. The strength of our team is the team. I’ve told you guys since Day 1 that they have a winning mentality and a winning work ethic, and you’re seeing that. Everybody wants to panic because it’s gotta look pretty all the time. Winning is what matters. And we have an edge and attitude about us because we like it that way. I’m just proud of the team. We take a shot right on the chin to start the game, the place is going wild and we embraced it. We took the shot and went right back to work. That doesn’t even faze us, and that’s what I love about this team. It doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of things we’ve got to get better at, it doesn’t mean we’re not deficient in certain areas. We’re gonna have to get better as the season goes on, but their work ethic is right, their attitude is right, they have a winning attitude and they can take a punch. That’s for sure. I’m very proud of them. We come in here and all we heard about was how important it was, blackout. They’ve got an edge about them. They don’t shake our hands to start. I’ve never seen that, the captains don’t shake our hands. They wanted to go at it, but we were ready, too. I love that about this team. Onto the next.”
On what was happening in the huddle after South Carolina’s big opening touchdown: “Well, that’s hard to say. It’s craziness. It’s mayhem. Organized mayhem. The guys, it’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page, exactly the formation we wanted to run and what running plays we wanted to run. I thought our team was unbelievably smart. We took shots when we had to take shots. We played it tight to the vest when we had to play tight to the vest. We used clock, we got important first downs, we got aggravating run yards, even early in the game churning out clock, churning out first downs — aggravating the heck out of them, I know, because I hate when it happens to us. And then we made critical third downs. That’s a good recipe to win games.”
On how crucial it was to hold South Carolina scoreless after the first quarter turnovers: “Key, right at the beginning. Like I said, we’re gonna take a punch and our defense battled in there and kept us in the game early on.”
On how big the fourth down stops were: “Same thing. Those are just sheer guts and determination. The guys are just playing better up front. We have guys that are making plays. Those were big stops.
On being efficient on third down: “It was a variety of things. Stephen, the one he pulled down and ran, that’s a game clincher. That was big but we were efficient. We knew they were going to pressure us a lot and even just rushing four and playing tight coverage, playing man, we had to beat them in some man routes. Our guys stepped up and Stephen really threw some good balls. I just think were efficient.”
On Eli Brown: “It seemed like he played OK. I don’t really remember a lot of things. There was one early when we had them backed up second-and-15, his depth, was trying to get his attention and they hit the tight end over us and got it to third-and-1 and converted. Just experience some things like that, but overall nothing really jumped out at me.”
On three tight ends catching passes: “It’s always important. They do a good job as well. They have some really good tight ends. Eighty-one is a heck of a player. But our guys have been good. When you can mix up personnels and you can run it like we run it and then still be efficient throwing it, it’s tough.”
On if being the underdog gave the team an edge: “There’s no doubt. Quite honestly we were tired of it. What, like we didn’t get better? Like we’re not a better football team? Whatever. We’re better.”
On if Saturday night was evidence the team is more mature: “There’s no doubt. But you’ve seen that from this team. Nothing is going to make us. I don’t want to use that word again. It’s another word for flinch. But we’re not going to take any steps back. We play good competition every week. I just told this team, ‘We’re going to keep our edge and our attitude, but you’ve gotta be humble and hungry.’ Just keep on staying focused and getting better and working. This team will do that.”
On if he feels like the defense is establishing an identity: “I think we’re better. We’re closer. We’re getting some basic things fixed and ironed out. Our position on the football was very good. Teams still put you in tough matchups. Just like the first play. Was that the first play? I wish we could’ve had that one back. Those are tough matchups that you know going into that game. Deebo (Samuel) is a heck of a football player. We’re all jacked up, ready to jump in there and play the run and they throw the RPO and our safety got out of position. A little overanxious there.”
On the kicking battle: “It was huge. We knew that going into it. Going into the game, people that know football know that both of us have won games because — even though we didn’t play great in the EKU game in kickoff — in general, we were plus-2 in the turnovers each game and played sound in the kicking game. We knew we had to come in and play well there. Coach Hood had a great game plan. We weren’t going to kick it to Deebo. That’s just crazy for what he’s done. Austin wanted to because he was really feeling good and his leg was strong. He felt like he could hit it deep and he had some good kicks, but we stuck to the game plan.”
On what the win says about ceiling for this team: “It’s next game. It’s a big win. How the team — we’re going to enjoy it very quick — quick turnaround. We’re going to get home late, late and we’ll be back at it tomorrow. Players will sleep in all day so they can enjoy it, so we’re going to stay grounded and keep on going and working and improving.”
On Benny Snell playing with bruised ribs and getting hard yards: “Doesn’t surprise me. He was out there all week and that can be very painful. He was out there Monday. Practiced Tuesday. He was in a red (jersey) but I don’t know why. Because he still went against the defense. Went good against good and he didn’t want to go out. Basically practiced full go all week. He’s a tough guy and had some tough yards tonight.”
On the defensive line figuring into stopping the run: “Big time. Just fundamentally playing the right way and playing with some passion and energy assignment sharp. That’s what gets so aggravating, the structure of things break down. That was something we were going to get fixed. People may run it; they may throw it, whatever, but our structure’s going to be right and I think we’re on the right track.”
On winning three in a row on the road: “Yeah, it means you guys can’t talk about that. Find something else, but keep on being negative, all right? (Laughter) Not you. But we want the team to keep on having an edge. We’re going to be underdogs next week; we’re going to be underdogs a lot of times. We just have to keep that mentality and stay focused.”
On the captain handshake thing and if he noticed it right away: “No, they brought it to my attention. I said, ‘Really?’ ”
On Eli Brown in place of Jordan Jones and depth: “Oh definitely, we talked about that and it’s hard to replace a guy like Jordan because he is a guy who can erase a lot of things. He’s all over the place, but Eli has been playing very, very good football. He’s been playing much more disciplined, much more …(inaudible). He’s had a good camp. He just needs opportunity because he’s also very athletic. He just needs some more experience and playing. I was excited to watch him play. Sure, I’d love to have Jordan. We miss him, but I was really anxious to give Eli — next man up. We felt good about it.”