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‘It starts with preparation’

Codrington's punt return seals win for NC Central

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Sep. 20—LEXINGTON — Will Levis called it a “wake-up call.”

Following Saturday’s 28-23 victory over FCS Chattanooga at Kroger Field, the Kentucky junior quarterback was grateful for the win — but it wasn’t the performance he or the rest of the Wildcats were hoping for.

According to Levis, who threw for 246 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble, the team’s poor performance stemmed from a lackadaisical effort at practice the day before.

“It starts with preparation,” he said. “Yesterday, we did not have a very good day in practice, and we didn’t want to let that leak into today, but obviously, it did. We just got to focus on every single day, no matter the opponent.”

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First-year UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen agreed.

“We didn’t practice great,” Coen admitted. “Today, in my opinion, was a very similar reflection of how we practiced. I don’t think we had a great plan with some of the things we did, especially in the run game. I just didn’t call a great game and got us off balance in some ways.”

Coen entered with the idea to feature a more pass-centric offensive attack, but he later conceded that it was more of a detriment than anything else. As a result, the Cats finished with just 102 yards on the ground — their lowest rushing output since putting up 59 yards against Alabama on Nov. 21, 2020. Chris Rodriguez Jr., who was one of the top rushers in the nation at 161.5 yards per contest, finished with just 46 yards on 13 carries.

With Chattanooga keying in on stopping UK at the line of scrimmage, along with Levis unable to connect on his usual pass attempts, it left Coen in a difficult situation.

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“I was trying to balance how to keep Will confident because he missed some throws early that he has hit,” he said. “They were doing a nice job in the run game, defending us with a lot of people in the box, and [us] trying to play-action, we just missed a few.

“I think that we were pretty efficient throwing the football, we just didn’t hit some of those big ones that really helped us last week, and our balance was off. Any time the balance is off and the quarterback has to throw it more times than we ran it, I just don’t love that. It’s typically not a recipe in this offense for success.”

For Levis, who admitted he made bad plays and wrong reads throughout Saturday’s game, having a potent backfield behind him only alleviates pressure.

“I think that we definitely should have been able to run the ball a little better against them,” Levis said. “If we would have got that run game going a little bit, it would have helped us a lot.

“Obviously, everyone had to get things cleared up from a playing standpoint. (Coen) said he had to make better calls on offense, but at the end of the day we were the players, we make it happen. We got to make the plays.”

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UK coach Mark Stoops accepted the blame for his team’s shortcomings, but also noted it takes a talented team to play poorly and still win. The undefeated Cats are now 3-0.

“Plain and simple, it’s nobody but me,” he said. “You got to be good enough to win when you’re not at your best. You have to respect the game, and I talk about it daily, respecting the game, this game we love, is about preparation.

“The game is whatever happens, happens. You could live with it if you do your absolute best in preparation. I’m not happy with myself on that and I got to find a better way to motivate them.”

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