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Stoops: Paschal’s Leadership Giving Wildcats Big Lift On Defense

Josh Paschal returned an interception 76 yards and just missed scoring a touchdown in a 24-2 win over Mississippi State Saturday at Kroger Field. (UK Athletics Photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky  coach Mark Stoops hasn’t been surprised by Josh Paschal’s leadership this season.

“He is an amazing individual,” Stoops said Monday. “… Josh has been through some tough situations and to see him come out on the other side is also inspirational.”

Nearly two years removed from a cancer scare, Paschal had an interception and just missed scoring a touchdown following a 76-yard return in a 24-2 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. Paschal didn’t play in the second half following a knee injury, but is expected to return Saturday at Tennessee.

Stoops said Paschal is day-to-day this week and it’s unclear when he will return to practice. Although he wasn’t able to play in the second half Saturday, Stoops said Paschal made sure his teammates stayed on task despite his absence on the field.

“He’s a guy that wanted to speak at halftime with me and to address the team and to lead,” Stoops said. “He is a courageous young man. He’s a leader and passionate about the way he plays and it affects other people. He is a remarkable young man.”

Paschal’s interception against the Bulldogs helped set the tone for the Kentucky defense, which picked off six passes last week, tying a school record for the most interceptions in a game. The team’s defense didn’t allow a touchdown or a field goal against an opponent for the first time since 2009.

Stoops said Paschal’s first-half performance was similar to the first two games.

“He’s done that each and every week,” Stoops said. “The first two games he was our defensive player of the week, so that tells you what we think of him and the way he’s playing. He’s done some really good things. He’s been disruptive all year.”

Stoops was pleased with his team’s defense against coach Mike Leach and his “Air Raid” offense, handing Leach the first offensive shutout of his head coaching career.

“To hold that team to zero (offensive) points, to shut them out for the first time in Mike Leach’s (head coaching) career, is a compliment to our players and our staff with the way they responded,” Stoops said.

Stoops liked the way Kentucky’s front line put pressure on the Bulldogs’ offensive unit throughout the contest.

“I thought Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins, guys you don’t see showing up on the stat sheet that just played exceptional football, played relentlessly hard. Quinton Bohanna caused two interceptions,” Stoops said. “They really did a good job and I just want to mention those guys and Josh has been playing good all year but I really thought Q and Phil took it to another level and we are going to need that. So many of our young guys played good as well.”

Stoops also praised Kentucky’s secondary, which responded following a 42-41 overtime loss to Ole Miss the previous week.

“It’s a matter of being able to overcome that, overcome mistakes that are going to happen,” Stoops said. “Nobody is going to play perfect but you also have to improve on it each and every week. I’m grateful that those guys took it personally as a defense and collectively went out there and had a great week of practice and took it to the field.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Tennessee, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

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Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has covered Kentucky athletics since 1995. He is the sports editor of Kentucky Today and his work appears in 12 daily newspapers as well as various weekly and web sites throughout the state. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor 21.

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