With two red zone scoring opportunities in the final three minutes against Ole Miss, Kentucky came away with zero points. Two possessions, two fumbles by Will Levis in the Wildcats’ crushing 22-19 loss in Oxford. He also handed two free points to the Rebels on a called safety.
The senior quarterback put the weight of the loss on his shoulders after the game, as you’d expect from a trusted leader and face of the team. “I’m going to put it on me,” he said.
Through the mistakes, head coach Mark Stoops has made it abundantly clear there isn’t another quarterback in college football he’d rather have in Lexington.
“I wouldn’t trade him for anybody,” Stoops said Monday. “I just love his competitive nature, I love his ability, I love the way he is playing.”
The back-to-back fumbles were brutal and left Kentucky empty-handed in its comeback effort in Oxford. Factor in Dane Key’s game-winning touchdown catch that was called off due to an illegal formation penalty — one that could have been avoided had the ball been snapped a half-second later — and it’s understandable why Levis would be hard on himself after the loss.
Through the adversities, Stoops wanted his star quarterback to know his efforts were appreciated. After all, Levis did lead Kentucky down the field and put the team in scoring position both times while finishing the day with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 18-24 passing — a solid overall performance, for sure.
The safety was what it was, the ball has to come out quicker. But his first fumble came while fighting for a first down and the second came on a blindside hit immediately after his should-be game-winner to Key — a gorgeous throw and somehow a better catch.
“At that moment, I was just wanting to calm him down, put my arm around him and tell him I loved him and I love the way he plays,” Stoops said. “Just take a moment to breathe and relax because, obviously, emotions get high. You know, he did some amazing things to put us in position there.
“If you look at the first play of the last possession, I mean just dropped an absolute dime. We couldn’t reel it in. You can’t possibly throw a better football, so he had, what, six incompletions, and at least two, one 50/50 ball, one 50/50 and two drops.”
And he did it after taking hits all game long, one leading to a dislocated finger on his left hand.
“I think (the hits) would wear on anybody, not just Will,” Stoops said. “I mean look at our football team. What do you think? How do you think they feel? Do you know what I mean? It’s a tough game and Will is tough as nails, but it takes its toll.
“Ask any quarterback in our league. Ask (Jaxson) Dart how he feels today and he’s a really good player. They’re (Ole Miss) as hard as anybody in our league to get to, to sack them but it’s still a physical game.”
Stoops isn’t the only coach standing up for Kentucky’s star quarterback. Vince Marrow took to Twitter after the loss to express gratitude for Levis through the good and bad.
“All you dudes taking shots (at Will Levis) don’t have a clue what (the) heck y’all (are) talking (about),” Marrow tweeted after the game. ”Will is a great leader and puts his body on the line every game.
“We wouldn’t trade him for any QB in (the) country. The hype is real.”
Pretty clear consensus in Lexington: Will Levis is the guy, no matter what.