UK offense still prioritizing turnover efforts heading into Saturday


Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) hands the ball off to Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) during the University of Kentucky vs. South Carolina football game on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. UK won 16-10. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

“When you have the ball in your hands, you have the program in your hands,” offensive coordinator Liam Coen said Tuesday afternoon.

Coen reiterated head coach Mark Stoops’ sentiment of when his players fumble or turn the ball over, they’re hurting the entire program and not just giving the ball back to the opposing offense. Those turnovers aren’t stopping quarterback Will Levis from trying to make those big plays, though.

“From a quarterback standpoint, it’s tough because like sure, you want to acknowledge the turnovers,” Levis said. “You want to see why it happened. It might be a bad ball, a bad decision here, but at the same time it’s like—Steph Curry doesn’t go out there and stop shooting threes, you got to push the ball downfield.”

Despite throwing five interceptions through four games, Levis still plans on shooting his shot deep Saturday against Florida. 

“You can’t be scared to throw the ball downfield,” Levis said. “We’re still gonna make game plans and I still have to make sure that I trust my eyes and trust my decision making and just know that I have the ability to make the throws and make decisions that are necessary in the game.”

Coen and Levis have emphasized the measures Kentucky has taken to prevent putting the ball on the ground. UK’s first turnover against South Carolina was on first down on a reverse play, the second came right after an earned first down and the third was on second down, where Josh Ali picked up the first before putting the ball on the ground.

Levis said that it’s hard for those things to not be mental at this point, but it all starts by cleaning up the mistakes in practice.

“That’s nine plays that we can’t get back and it’s nine plays that weren’t able to use [in] parts of our game plan that we didn’t necessarily get to that could have been big plays for us,” Levis said. “You can’t get those plays back and if we want to put up the numbers and we want to efficiently move the ball down the field the best we can, we can’t turn the ball over.”

Kentucky has practiced turnover-prevention circuits over the last two weeks but have ramped up the efforts heading into the biggest game of the season against Florida this weekend.

“I think that we try to emphasize how important it is, especially when we get to these caliber of games,” Coen said about limiting turnovers against the Gators. “We cannot give these teams extra possessions. We’re taking ourselves out of the game.”

Coen said South Carolina played their secondary pretty deep all game long, which was why his offense was attacking the flats and utilizing screen plays. Levis’ interception on their one deep shot of the night wasn’t intended for Robinson—it was actually meant for Josh Ali cutting inside on a shorter route.

“We were trying to just take a look at the shot,” Coen said. “We had Josh coming in on an in-cut there that we’re trying to get accomplished and we just forced the throw and then when you get into a game that you’re running the ball well [and start] putting the ball on the ground—any play caller, I would think, would probably be a little bit nervous about putting the ball in the air as much.”

Even though Kentucky turned the ball over four times, Coen never felt that his team was out of control and emphasized the fact that South Carolina couldn’t stop the run. The only problem was that UK kept shooting themselves in the foot, which has been the story of the season so far.

If Kentucky comes out turning the ball over the way they’ve done so far this season, their undefeated season is in major jeopardy.