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“It was an incredible game on offense and Malik (Cunningham) had an unbelievable performance. It still starts up front. Our offensive line has played great for really most of the season. This year, when you look at the transformation over the last three years and what we’ve been able to do up front, I’m proud of those guys, how they’ve come along and we’re playing seven guys up front on a rotational basis and doing some great things and really spreading the ball out as a receiver room.
There are about four or five guys that have made some huge impact plays catching the football and scoring with the football has been great last couple of games. Malik has played with great poise the last two games and did an outstanding job running the ball against Duke the other night. I think defensively, it wasn’t our best performance but still very solid. I do think we still had too many penalties on that side of the ball that extended drives, but we we’re able to hold them to field goals. I think that was huge. In the first half, we got three field goals and we we’re able to extend the lead with our touchdowns. We’re excited about getting an opportunity to play in the postseason. That was huge for our team, to be able to play in a bowl game, it’s fun to be around these seniors a little bit longer.
This week is senior day for us and an opportunity to finish off the season was seven wins and to play a good Kentucky team. They’ve won eight games and you think about what they’ve been able to do this year, transfer at quarterback and at receiver, both very productive. Chris (Rodriguez Jr.) is good. He’s been solid for the last couple of years, and it starts up front for them, they’ve got a strong offensive line. I remember from 2019 is their O-line and D-line was very strong on both sides of the ball. They’re still that way this year. Their defense doesn’t give up many big plays and they keep everything in front of them. They rally to the ball and play hard and that keeps them in a game not giving up those big plays.
They’re a very solid football team. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to host them this year and to play here in front of our crowd and hopefully we’ll have a great crowd, it’s going to be a great atmosphere Saturday night.”
(On the transformation of the offensive line)
“It’s hard to put in words, how far they’ve come along. Just from where we were at and where we are now. It’s really night and day. I mean a lot of those guys that are playing now, were playing then and they were young and have grown a lot and they’ve become good football players. Adonis (Boone), Renato (Brown) Caleb (Chandler), I think Chandler has had an outstanding season this year. He’s an All-ACC offensive lineman this year in my opinion. Cole (Bentley) has had a solid year and he’s played a ton of football. He’s kind of the veteran of the group. Bryan (Hudson) has come in here and done a great job for us at center and at guard. Michael (Gonzalez) is a true freshman that was added to the mix with those guys up front and Trevor (Reid) who is a very athletic offensive tackle. When you put those guys together, they’ve played really solid this year. I think going from one of the worst teams in tackles for loss and sacks given up to one of the better ones, it’s been great to see, and we’ve still been able to run the football and throw the football. We’re very balanced on offense. we’ll average over 200 passing and running again for the third straight year. There’s probably only a couple of teams in the country that have done that over the last three years and that says a lot about the guys up front because that’s where it all starts so I’m really proud of them.”
(On having a greater appreciation for the UL-UK rivalry)
“I think it’s always going to be a great appreciation just playing your rival team who’s right here in our state. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to play last year with everything that went on with COVID. We’re glad we’re playing this year. I’m glad it’s here back, I guess it alternates years in terms of the location, but I’m glad we decided to bring it back here. It’s surprising to me that the rivalry has not been played for more years that it has. That was interesting to me to know that. I think it’s just a great natural rivalry between two really good conferences coming together at the end of the season, and it’s exciting. I just gotten here and didn’t get a full sense of the rivalry for me personally. I think after living here now for three years and being a part of it and going to basketball games and living with the fact that we got beat in 2019. As you walk around every day, you’re going to bump into somebody that’s a Louisville fan or a Kentucky fan every single day. I’d rather be on the winning side of that so you’ve got a little bit of bragging rights.”
(On the importance in recruiting based on the rivalry game)
“I think it’s big in recruiting when you think about an ACC and SEC matchup. When you think about just walking around every day and going out to eat, it’s big in our everyday life. You think about the state of Kentucky and recruiting in this state, there’s a lot of facets that make this huge for us and having bragging rights for a whole year. We only play them once a year in football and you’ve got to wait a whole year before you get to do it again. There’s just a lot that is on this game each year and you better have the passion; you better have that sense of urgency and focus. Everything leads up to this game this week and that’s what we’ve talked about starting on Sunday.”
(On team’s overall health)
“We got through that game last week. We had several that were out sick and or ended up playing sick. We know we had some more guys that popped up. Fortunately, it was on Sunday so hopefully those guys will be ready to go for practice tomorrow. You’ve kind of got your fingers crossed a little bit right now because we’ve had some of this sickness and I don’t think is going away. It’s a matter of keeping our guys healthy over the next four or five days before we get out there and play on Saturday. Hopefully we’re on the back end of it, we’ll obviously know more as we get to the end of the week, but we’re wearing masks around the building and washing our hands so hopefully we don’t spread it anymore.”
(On the future of the UL-UK rivalry game with more conference games being scheduled)
“That’ll be interesting to see if you’re playing a nine-game schedule in conference, that only leaves three non-conference games. I think that’s been a huge debate for everybody throughout those college landscape. How you schedule your non-conference and particularly if you’re playing nine conference games, it’s much easier when you can play eight conference games and have four of the non-conference to be able to have a little bit more maneuverability to see who you want to play. It will be interesting if that we did go to nine and you’re limited and if you’re playing such a tough schedule, week in and week out and if you want your non-conference to be tough as well. I think that’s a dilemma and a question that administrators have to find out and figure out as coaches, we just play who they tell us to play. I like playing the game and I would advocate to continue this game because I think it’s great for this region, it’s a great rivalry game and I think the fans on both sides of it love it and like it in every other sport as well.”
(On Jordan Watkins’ and Marshon Ford’s play this season)
“I think that Jordan (Watkins) just brings a confidence to Malik (Cunningham) to know that when he throws the football, he’s going to catch it. He’s got great hands. He’s got great body control. He’s got good speed. Usually, big things happen when he catches it either first downs or touchdowns. I think Marshon (Ford) is the same way, Malik just feels very comfortable throwing him the ball. If the ball is in Marshon’s vicinity, he’s going to catch it and he’s going to convert it into a first down most of the time as well. Both of those guys have made a ton of plays for us in the passing game and it’s awesome that they’re right from right here in Louisville. They got here in different ways. We recruited Jordan hard and then Marshon was a walk-on and has been a great player for us as well. They’re both integral parts of our passing game and they do it different ways. I think Jordan is more of the speed guy and Marshon works more underneath. but they’re both equally as valuable to our offense.”
(On adjusting play calling to the skill set of Malik Cunningham)
“We’re pretty progressive with Malik (Cunningham) and our play calling. We’ve tried to be anyway. I think sometimes it comes down to who we’re playing, sometimes the defense has a lot to do with that with how they’re going to try to contain him. Last week, they were trying to be a big pressure team and then once he broke the line of scrimmage, it was going to be a big play. We’ve played other teams where they don’t give you as many opportunities with it so, it dictates how you’re calling the game. For Malik (Cunningham), this is what we anticipated him playing like. He’s a, he’s a dynamic player, to me, he’s the best dual threat quarterback in the country, his ability to run the football and score touchdowns is equally as important as his ability to throw the football and, what’s awesome about it this year is that he has spread the ball around, there’s not just one guy, there’s a bunch of guys that have caught the ball, we’re pretty balanced and our top four catchers are right around the same in yards and catches which is neat. That means a defense can’t just key in on one person and it shows you that he’s not just looking at one person either, he’s looking at what the defense is giving us, and then let’s get those guys the ball. We’ve been a big play offense since we’ve been here, and that was a big question mark coming in this year. We lost a ton of playmakers, who is going to be those playmakers and we’ve spread it out. There’s been a lot of different guys, including Malik (Cunningham) and it’s been fun to see how the offense has come together this year and hopefully, this offense will continue to grow and be one of the most explosive offenses in the country.”
(On the skill players taking care of the ball)
“It’s something we’ve talked about. You guys talked about it all last year. We came into this year knowing that we had to be better in that regard and we have been, we’ve been a lot better taking care of the football. It’s going to be critical again this week. We have to take care of the football and we have to win that turnover margin, that’s going to be a big part of this game. We need to continue to do the things we’ve done so far. You emphasize it, you try to concentrate on it, but we don’t harp on it. You can’t just sit there and harp on every single day because now that becomes your only thought. Our guys are playing fast and making plays and we’re doing it in a way that we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot and that’s what we have to continue to be able to do.”
(On the defense forcing turnovers)
“We know that we want to win the turnover margin, so part of that is trying to create turnovers. We’ve had some times where we have created some good turnovers in games and other times, we haven’t created many at all, we had a big pick the other night by Marvin (Dallas). You still go out there and you have to play the game, you have to play your technique, you have to do what is within the scheme and hopefully within that, you’re going to be able to create some turnovers. A lot of that has to do with who you’re playing and what they’re doing that day. Are they loose with the ball, are they throwing into coverage, those type of things. We obviously want to win that part of the game. If we win that part of the game, we have a great opportunity to win the game.”
(On Malik Cunningham coming back next year)
“I don’t know about that. I think he has played well. I think there’s still a lot of room for growth. I think he can continue to get better and better. He has done a lot of things better this year. I think of him a little bit like, Pitt’s quarterback, Pitt’s quarterback last year had solid year, really solid year, but what he’s done this year is incredible and now he’s probably going to end up being a first round draft pick at Pitt. He’s a good example of why you come back and play another year, because you can continue to get better and better. There’s a big difference between being a fifth or sixth round draft pick and a first round draft pick, there’s a lot of money on the line there.”
(On the key to defending Will Levis and Kentucky’s offense)
“Number one, you better know where that receiver is at. He’s a dynamic player, he’s very fast, he’s one of the most explosive guys in the country this year, so you have to understand where he’s at because he will beat you. I think the big thing was with (Will) Levis is if he’s comfortable in the pocket, then he can carve you up. He’s got a big-time arm and he’s a very talented player. You have to make him uncomfortable, and that’s with most quarterbacks, you have to get him off the spot, try to get him to throw it either earlier than he wants to or he’s out of the pocket and now he has to try make something that way. I think that’s the way you try to rattle him a little bit but he’s a good player. They have a good offensive line, and they couple that with a really good running game with (Chris) Rodriguez. He’s a powerful back with great size and he runs hard. We didn’t do a great job at all in 2019 of tackling, a very, very poor tackling performance by us. We need to bring our feet, we need to do a much better job of wrapping up and getting them down because if you don’t, then they’re going to get those first downs and give (Will) Levis and the rest of the offense another opportunity to try to score.”
(On the seniors).
“We talked about that a few weeks ago, how we want at least a few more weeks with the seniors. We have been around them for a long time now, three years, and we really got to know them as people. On the outside, everyone gets to see them as football players, but we get to see them every day as human beings. It has been awesome to be around them. From where the program was when we took over to where we are right now in this building, this group has been so great to be around and interact with. I want nothing for the best for these guys when they leave here, whether it is playing football or life in general. We want these guys to come back and be a part of this program. I always tell our team to not take for granted the opportunity to be around this team, particularly when this is their last year because in five years, 10 years from now they going to remember all the stories and all the cutting up that they did and all the positive memories with this team. We are going to miss them. We want to send them out on a high note. I think they will remember this game forever, so we want it to be a very positive memory.”
(On CJ Avery)
“He is extremely important. CJ (Avery) is not only important to the defense, but to our football team. He is our leader. He’s our guy and has been since the day I walked in the building. He is extremely mature. He does everything you want as a football coach, as a human being. I would hire him in a second. I don’t care what business I have; you want to have money in your organization, he’s that guy. He is the guy if you got a daughter, you want him to marry your daughter. He is such a great human being. He does everything right. He’s a hard worker and he is a really good football player. He is what exactly what you want to have on your football team. I told him whenever you get finished playing, come on back here. We will have spot for you. I don’t know what else to say, that is about as good as you can say about a human being. I appreciate CJ (Avery).”