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Unhappy Camper

(MANCHESTER, Ky.) — Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops wasn’t a happy camper after his team sleepwalked through much of the game against an inferior opponent, but sometimes you just have to scratch your head, utter an expletive, be grateful that you won, and move on to the next game.  Eighth-ranked Kentucky defeated Northern Illinois 31-23 on Saturday, and even though it wasn’t a thing of beauty, the ‘Cats improved to 4-0 for just the third time under Stoops.

“You know, obviously not the finish that we were looking for,” Stoops pointed out afterward.  “I think that kind of puts a bad taste in everybody’s mouth who was sitting there.”  No one expected Stoops to be jumping for joy after the ‘Cats held on for dear life, but of particular concern, leading by 17 with just over eight minutes remaining, Kentucky didn’t finish the game like you’d expect the No. 8 team in the country to close.  That’s unsettling with conference play on the horizon.        

Taking it a step further, Stoops caught everyone off guard when he referenced Kentucky’s season-long struggles running the ball during his postgame press conference.  “See, everyone appreciates the run game now,” Stoops jokingly said.  “Five years ago, y’all didn’t appreciate shi*.”  Noticeably frustrated by his team’s inconsistent performance on the offensive side of the ball, especially their hit-or-miss run game, Stoops has to be chomping at the bit for Chris Rodriguez’s return.          

Leaving no stone unturned, Stoops expressed his discontent with the overall effort his team showed.  “I thought the beginning of the game was sluggish for us, letting them drive down and score,” Stoops complained.  “Offensively, came out—again, just didn’t do much early in the first half.”  Many fans wholeheartedly agree with Stoops’ summary of the ‘Cats’ lackluster showing.  On a roll, Stoops grumbled afterward “And, just overall, just a sluggish game.  Good to get it behind us.”   

Despite Stoops’ overall disappointment from a coaching perspective, senior quarterback Will Levis showcased his arm strength and leadership abilities on the field.  Blitzed the entire game, Levis overcame 5 sacks and became the first UK QB with back-to-back 300-yard passing games since Patrick Towles accomplished the feat against EKU and Auburn in 2015.  Levis completed 18-of-26 passing attempts for 303 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Not a bad night at the office.

You have to give credit where credit is due.  Stoops has maintained from day one that he planned to recruit explosive athletes on the offensive side of the ball.  Look no further than the playmaking capabilities of freshmen wide receivers Barion Brown, Dane Key, and La’Vell Wright for proof that he’s accomplished that goal.  Add former Virginia Tech WR Tayvion Robinson to that mix, and quarterback Will Levis has a number of weapons at his disposal every time he takes the field.

Stoops made no bones about his assessment of the team.  “You’ve got to be who you are,” Stoops insisted.  “And right now we have a very talented quarterback and some explosive wide receivers so we’re creating some big plays.”  Explosive might be an understatement.  Tayvion Robinson established new career highs with 7 receptions for 147 yards and 2 TD’s, including a 69-yard catch-and-run.  Barrion Brown had 4 catches for 102 yards and 2 TD’s, highlighted by a 70-yard strike.            

Currently, Will Levis has 34 touchdown passes at Kentucky, fourth-most in school history.  A potential top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft, Levis surpassed 4,000 passing yards with his effort versus Northern Illinois.  He became just the 11th player in UK history to reach that plateau.  It’s the third time in his stint with the ‘Cats that he’s thrown for 4 touchdowns.  His 34 touchdown passes ranks fourth-most in Kentucky history. 

At the end of the day, wins aren’t always pretty.  Other than a couple of quick strikes to the receiving corps, there wasn’t anything remotely attractive on either side of the ball.  As long as you add another W on the scoreboard, however, does anything else really matter?  Star running back Chris Rodriguez, Jr. regained eligibility and has been activated for the upcoming game in Oxford versus Ole Miss.  If that doesn’t put a smile on coach Mark Stoops’ face, nothing will. 

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Bill Crockett
Bill Crockett is an avid fan of Kentucky basketball and football. Currently completing his 27th year as an English teacher in the Clay County School System, he spends his spare time as a member of the media at UK sporting events. Covering the Wildcats for the past three years not only fulfilled a lifelong dream, but provided a candid behind the scenes look at UK sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JakeSpoon33 or contact him @bill.crockett3@outlook.com.

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