This one had hangover written all over it. It was fresh off the biggest win of the Mark Stoops era and had a sleepy noon kickoff on the SEC alternate channel versus an opponent that is going to struggle to win games in the Ohio Valley Conference.
After a slow moving and sometimes rocky first half, Kentucky came out focused and put away the Racers in the second half behind five consecutive scoring drives. The defense forced multiple three-and-outs and got a takeaway in the fourth quarter.
Good teams don’t let inferior opponents hang around and Kentucky put away Murray State when it needed to be done. They were so close to covering the six touchdowns.
UK collected 528 total yards on 75 plays. Eddie Gran’s offense averaged seven yards per play as they rushed and passed for over 200 yards. That’s going to win you some football games.
Kentucky held a 28-17 first downs advantage and had a 50% third down conversion rate. That number looks even better when you consider that the Wildcats converted all three of their fourth down conversions. Remove the victory formation at the end of the game and Kentucky scored on eight of their nine possessions. That’s getting the job done.
Terry Wilson appears to be getting better with each snap as Saturday was his most efficient day as an FBS starting quarterback. The sophomore completed 76% of his passes for 163 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per attempt. You would like to see more explosive numbers but Wilson made smart decisions and got the football out quick. He was just inches off on the few deep shots and did not put the ball on the turf. He is making progress.
On the ground, Kentucky ran for 245 yards on 6.7 yards per carry average. They were led by Wilson who had 80 yards on 13 carries highlighted by this touchdown run on UK’s first drive of the game.
Benny Snell was his usual efficient self as he had 75 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. The junior is on pace for 1,500 yards and is currently second in the SEC in rushing. He even recorded his first touchdown pass on this nice trick play Gran pulled out of his bag in the second half.
On his first career touch, Zy’aire Hughes showed some top level speed as he cruised into the endzone for the splash play touchdown. We knew a wildcat wrinkle was coming eventually and expect to see something else coming off that motion with Wilson in the very near future.
It wasn’t a great day for the receivers, but like the rest of the offense, they responded after a slow start. Drops plagued Dorian Baker early but the redshirt senior finished the day with four grabs for 25 yards. Lynn Bowden remains Wilson’s favorite target as he had eight receptions for 89 yards. Isaiah Epps and Justin Rigg recorded their first receptions of the season and the offense got C.J. Conrad involved early. Allen Dailey, Jr. made some impressive plays late and the true freshman could become a factor at outside receiver for the Wildcats.
It was a slow start for the offensive line and they struggled with an inferior front for most of the game. However, Kentucky played a lot of players including reserve guards Mason Wolfe and Luke Fortner getting a ton of snaps. It appears that John Schlarman is comfortable with a eight man rotation with true freshman Darian Kinnard perhaps breaking through at right tackle some time in the near future.
It was another overall solid outing for Matt House’s defense as Kentucky only allowed one touchdown for the third game in a row. The one on Saturday came against a unit filled mostly with freshmen getting their first action in college football.
The Wildcats held Murray State to 302 total yards on 62 plays. That’s good for 4.9 yards per play. For the season, Kentucky is limiting opponents to just 4.7 yards per play and that is good for sixth in the SEC. On Saturday, the pass defense stood out once again.
In Murray State’s offensive scheme, it is difficult for the pass rush to really impact the game because the ball is getting out so quick. When facing offenses like this it is very important that your linebackers are good in coverage and Kentucky’s answered the bell on Saturday.
Jordan Jones, from a pass coverage standpoint, had the best game of his college career as he recorded four pass break-ups and totally shut down MSU’s intermediate passing game with their running backs. For the game, Kentucky recorded 11 PBUs and Jamin Davis reeled in his first career interception in the fourth quarter.
Give credit to redshirt freshman Jordan Wright for causing the errant throw.
For the season, Kentucky has 20 passes defensed (two interceptions, 18 PBUs) and that currently ranks third in the SEC. Sooner or later those PBUs will start to become interceptions as Kentucky’s secondary has lived up to the hype through 12 quarters in 2o18. Opponents are averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt against UK with a QB rating of 96.90. Both of these rank second in the SEC.
On the ground, there was cause for concern. Murray State entered the contest averaging just over 70 yards per game on the ground as their backs were averaging under four yards per carry. That changed on Saturday as the Racers picked up 125 yards on 21 carries. That’s nearly good for a six yards per carry average. That cannot happen.
A good chunk of these yards came against backups in the fourth quarter but too many times Kentucky was not dominating the point of attack against an inferior front. They were without Quinton Bohanna but they must continue to get better at getting a push and getting run stuffs from their three-down front.
In his first legitimate game action, true freshman Marquan McCall proved why he was so sought after coming out of Detroit. The mammoth nose guard had two tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble on the day. He’s still learning the intricacies of the nose position but it’s clear that UK must start getting him in the rotation.
In all, it was another solid outing for the defense as they pretty much shutdown their opponent outside of the two scoring drives. Moving forward, this group must find a way to force more turnovers as they’re going to need that when they’re facing teams with a dominant ground game. The PBUs must start to become interceptions and when the ball gets on the turn the Wildcats must pounce on it.
After two games without an attempt, it was important to get Miles Butler a field goal attempt soon and they were able to get him two on Saturday. The senior drilled field goals from 38 and 40 yards and that was nice for Big Blue Nation to see. If he can be reliable from 40 yards and in then there is not much more you can ask for from the former walk-on.
Max Duffy was only used once but the sophomore boomed another 50-yard punt and is now averaging 45.7 yards per kick on the season. This is getting the job done. Grant McKinniss continues to be serviceable as 57.9% of his kicks are ending in touchbacks on the year.
In the return department, Kentucky is still struggling to produce explosive plays but David Bouvier continues to make good decision on punts to save the Wildcats some hidden yardage.
After the huge win there was no escaping the looming hangover game from Kentucky. The Wildcats were super sluggish in the first half but shook off the cobwebs to dominate the FCS foe in the second half. Good teams take care of business in games like this and that is exactly what UK did.
The ground game continues to be a strength for the Wildcats even with the slow start against Murray State. For the season, the Wildcats are averaging 6.7 yards per carry and 282.3 yards per game. Both of these are good for third in the SEC.
It has been nice to see Terry Wilson get better with each outing as his completion percentage and yards have increased with each start. He’s been better than most thought coming in with the intermediate game and he’s just been a hair off on most of the vertical throws. Get those fixed and this offense can make a big jump.
Defensively, there is not much to complain about yet as the Wildcats have shutdown three consecutive offenses. However, these could be the three worst offenses UK will face this season. With that said, the Wildcats are doing their jobs and they play like a unit that has seniors at nearly every position.
Moving forward it will be essential for Kentucky to start to win the turnover battle. On the year they have three double-digit wins collected on a minus-three margin. That’s a good sign moving forward if that number can begin to go in the other direction. Wilson must continue to make good decisions with the football and the defense must become more opportunistic. With an outstanding offensive club coming to Lexington in week four, this upcoming Saturday would be a good time to start tilting this margin the other way.
On to Mississippi State.