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“Good afternoon. First of all, just a recap from last game (vs NC State). We knew it was going to be a blue-collar kind of game, a hard-fought game, and then when you come out and the weather was the way it was, we knew it was going to be even more of that defensive-type battle and it was. Very physical game this past weekend against a team that we knew had a really, really good defense but had some injuries on the offensive side. And you go in a game like that, points are going to be at a premium. You’re leaving the first quarter, and nobody’s scored yet; in the second quarter, we get the nice screen play with Marshon (Ford) to get us down in the redzone but couldn’t punch it in and end up getting three (points). Then we’re feeling pretty good because we got three points on the board, and then it’s kind of a back-and-forth game.
I thought special teams was really the difference in the game. The kickoff return (Jawhar Jordan’s 98-yard touchdown) kind of gave us that edge that we needed at that point in time in the game and really sustained it. I think Mark Vassett punted three times inside the 20-yard line, I thought that was huge. And then of course, (James Turner) making four field goals. He’s really had an outstanding year for us this year, really bounced back after an average year last year. Really proud of the way he’s performed and worked at his craft this offseason to be able to do that.
Defensively, another great performance by our defense. They really hit the one touchdown pass on us but other than that, making them drive the ball was big. And then we took care of the football and ended up winning the turnover margin – that was huge as well. You think about all seven of our wins this year, the defense has played really, really well. We’ve won the turnover battle in those games. And then conversely the ones we have lost, it’s been the opposite: giving up big plays and we’ve lost the turnover battle. Certainly a winning formula for us this year is continuing to stay aggressive defensively, win the turnover battle, win the explosive plays, and then you’ve got a great chance to win football games and that’s what we’ve been doing.
Proud of the way the guys continue to battle and to fight each and every week. We understand this week is a big game obviously for us. We’ve not played well in this particular game since we’ve been here. For us, it’s about going out with great focus again this week, what we’ve been able to do the last month and a half. Treat it as ‘What can we do better today to get better in this particular practice?’ and have a great week of practice. We know it’ll be a physical game and hopefully, we’ll go out and play a great game and get an opportunity for our eighth win. It’s a big, big thing for us this year, particularly with the schedule we’ve played and what kind of teams we’ve played this year. One of the toughest schedules in Louisville football history, and to go have a chance to win eight games is a really, really good season for us so we’re looking forward to this opportunity this week.”
(On the injury status of Malik Cunningham and Tiyon Evans, and on the offensive struggles)
“Malik is still going to be listed day-to-day. I think we have a much better chance to have him back this week. We’ll see where he stands as the week goes by. He’ll go out today and do some things with us. Tiyon, he played a few snaps last week but he’s still battling the ankle injury. Hopefully this week, he’ll be able to get more opportunities. Really proud of the way Maurice Turner and Jawhar Jordan played. They played outstanding and we’re certainly going to count on those two guys again this week. Tiyon should be available to be able to go play.
Offensively, we’ve done a good job of taking care of the football. We’ve hit some big plays at times, and we’ve not been as explosive as we’d have liked at times. You certainly want to get in the endzone. I think that’s been a big thing for us this year, not being able to score touchdowns. We’ve had to rely a little bit more on field goals. If you’re playing really good defense, and you’re in these games, you’re going to have an opportunity in the fourth quarter. And that’s what we’ve been able to do to finish out and win these games. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to do that but if we could score some touchdowns, that’d be great. That’d be awesome.”
(On the defensive consistency throughout the season)
“I think defensively, we’ve been really good. The negatives from some of those early losses was just the big plays. We were still playing good defense, what we call havoc defense: tackles for loss, sacks, turnovers. It’s been really, really good this year. We’re number one in the country in sacks. We’re number two in takeaways. It’s hard to get any better than that. We’ve played a lot of people; we’ve rotated some guys in and out of there. We’ve played really, really good team defense. We’ve talked about that. It’s not just one person. Yasir (Abdullah) has had an incredible season. He, to me, should be the leader for ACC Defensive Player of the Year and certainly, a first team all-conference type of player. YaYa (Diaby) has had an incredible year. I think more than anything it’s just been a great team defense and being able to put pressure on offenses, play some tighter coverage, and tackle better. I think we’ve done all those things.
It’s obviously a big challenge this week of a team that can play big ball and turn and hand the ball off to a big back that can really run and certainly has talent (Chris Rodriguez Jr.) The wide receivers are extremely talented this week. They can run. They’re fast. We’ve heard all about the quarterback (Will Levis), who’s a top-ten (NFL Draft) pick. We know what we’re facing, so it will be a big challenge for our defense. We got to continue to do the things we’ve been doing to get to this point.”
(On how motivated the team feels after not playing well against Kentucky in recent years)
“I think what we’ve done in the past is not going to affect anything this season. They’ve (Kentucky) got a new team, and we’ve got a new team. I think for us, the guys that have played in the past are certainly not going to forget that. It’s more about us in my opinion. We’ve got to go out have a great practice. We’ve got to prepare well. We’ve got to focus. All those things that we’ve done to win games, we’ve got to continue to do and then hopefully go out and play a great game. But it all starts with your preparation this week, and that’s why we got to have a great week of practice.”
(On the practice status of Malik Cunningham this week)
“Yeah, I expect him today to do some things. He won’t do everything today but he’s going to be out there in uniform and he’ll be practicing, but it’s not going to be where he’s getting normal reps. But he will be out there. We’re hoping tomorrow for a lot more, Thursday a lot more, Friday a lot more, and then by Saturday, he’ll be ready to go. That’s the plan, and we’ll see how it goes. I think that remains to be seen but I feel good about it, and I feel pretty optimistic that he will be able to go.”
(On why Louisville hasn’t played well against Kentucky in recent years)
“Great question. Last year, going back and looking at it, particularly on defense, we didn’t really slow them down much at all. Loose coverages, the quarterback runs really hurt, nothing went right. It was just one of those days nothing went right. Even early in the game, it’s 14-7, we’re driving, and we get in a little bit of a scuffle on the sideline. We kind of lost our composure, and from that point forward it was straight downhill. Then the first year down there (2019), it was one of the nastiest weather days I’ve been a part of – it rained and was cold. At halftime, I think it was maybe a four-point game at halftime, but it was close. Then in the second half, we just didn’t slow them down. We certainly got to play really good football. We have to, we have to play good in all three aspects. We’re not good enough just to go show up, we got to go play. We got to play great football, complimentary football in all three phases to have an opportunity to win this game. We recognize that, and again, we need to have a great week of prep.”
(On Yasir Abdullah’s case for ACC Defensive Player of the Year)
“Yeah, I’m pushing it right now. I want any kind of accolade our guys can get, and I think they deserve it. I read a stat this week: of our seven wins, five teams (we’ve beaten) have seven or more wins, and that’s the most in the country. What our team has been able to accomplish and winning these games against some really good teams, that should be talked about. It also should be talked about some of the plays that some of our guys have been able to have. With Yasir, how many guys in the country have done the things he has done this year? With the sacks, the tackles for loss, and covering guys 30 yards down the field and getting interceptions. He’s a tremendous player on a team that is leading the country in sacks and he’s one of the main guys for that. So, I just think he certainly deserves a lot of accolades and a guy that’s stuck it out and a guy that’s been here for a long time and deserves the recognition.”
(On if he expects the game against Kentucky to be physical)
“I do, I expect that. Their defense is really good. They’re big up front, you’re talking 330 (pounds) with two of their defensive linemen. They keep everything in front, and they swarm. Their corners are physical. Sometimes when you think about being physical, you think about offensive and defensive lines. I turn the film on, and their corners are jamming and are all up in receiver’s face. It’s going to be a physical game, everywhere, not just offensive line and defensive line, it’s going to be that way all over. You have to get your mind ready for that and we’ve played good physical football, and we have to continue to do that and we know that’s what it’s going to be.”
(On how the depth of the team has played into success this season)
“I think it’s been good on the defensive side; we’ve had some depth on that side of the ball. We’ve stayed fairly healthy on that side of the ball which has helped. Offensively, we’ve gotten beat up pretty good this year. That part has been a struggle for us, and I think you can look and say we’re not scoring as many points this year, and that’s got a lot to do with it. We’ve had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup, and have had to rotate a lot of guys, and I’m talking at every position, all of them. Maybe tight end is the only one potentially, but even Marshon (Ford) got dinged up a few games. I think that’s been the biggest challenge offensively, to find some continuity and to be able to have the guys available. I feel like every week it’s somebody else. So, to that point, (Luke) Kandra is back. He was available last week and didn’t really play, but he’ll play this week, so that’s going to be better for us. That’s a 318-pound lineman we’ll be able to put in the game, I think that’ll help us up front. The biggest thing there is hopefully we’ll have most of our guys back this week on offense to be able to play a lot of guys.”
(On how fans treat the rivalry game between Louisville and Kentucky)
“They’re fans and they’re going to be fanatics about particularly this game - it’s a rivalry game. It doesn’t matter about records, whether we’re both undefeated or we haven’t won a game, your fanbase wants to win this one for bragging rights. We hear about it throughout the whole year. No matter where we go, if there’s some fan from either side, they will a lot of the times make a comment about it. It’s obviously a huge game and one you want to try to go get so we don’t have to hear some of that stuff again all season.”
(On addressing potential scuffles and high emotions leading into the game)
“We’ll certainly address it. I think anytime you get overly emotional in a situation like this, it takes away from the play. We have to worry about us, we have to worry about our guys and play for the ones beside you. That’s who we’re playing for. Focus on your job and not anything else. Let’s let the fans and everybody else do all that stuff. Let’s focus on what we have to do, which is our job each and every play, and play focused. So, we’re talking about that this week, but I know guys are going to be emotional. We have to channel it in the right direction. I thought we got sideways on that one last year and kind of got us out of our game.”