After taking care of business against Toledo last weekend, fellow MAC West squad Eastern Michigan rolled south to take on the Wildcats with UK collecting their 12th win in a row in a MACtion contest. Behind some long drives and a hot defensive start, Kentucky picked up the 38-17 win and is now 4-0 against the spread in their last four games. However, there was one huge letdown.
Terry Wilson was carted off the field in the third quarter after going down due to a horse collar tackle and it appears that he is in very real danger of missing the season. Graduate transfer Sawyer Smith is the next man up and now the Wildcats are going to be forced to adjust on the fly with the Florida Gators rolling into town next week.
Kentucky collected 461 yards (239 rushing, 222 passing) on 75 plays good for a 6.1 yards per play average. The Wildcats moved the chains 26 times and had a success rate (50 percent on first down, 70 percent on third down, 100 percent on third/fourth down) of 50.7 percent. UK had a 64.3 percent third down conversion rate and scored on 80 percent of their red zone trips. Once again, it was the ground work that led the way.
A.J. Rose got the party started with an eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter for his second score of the season. The redshirt put 82 yards on 17 carries collecting 4.8 yards per pop. He is still RB1, but there is a young guy that is breathing down his neck.
Kavosiey Smoke now has 215 yards on 22 career carries with three touchdowns. Through two games in 2019, the 5-foot-9, 225-pound back is averaging 9.4 yards per carry and has added a much needed lightning effect to the UK ground game. Smoke’s 32-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter was his second long touchdown run and he nearly had another that was brought back due to penalty. He is a budding star who could emerge into the next great UK back.
Now to address the injury.
It was a pretty ho hum night for Terry Wilson with only 114 passing yards on a mediocre 53.8 percent completion rate and a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt. He was plagued by some drops and a few inaccurate throws, but he did make some plays. The dual-threat quarterback collected 45 yards on eight carries and recorded his first rushing touchdown of the season on a zone read keep to cap off a 15-play, 94-yard drive in the third quarter. Then the injury came.
The early prognosis is not good and it would be a major bummer if UK lost its starting quarterback to injury for the second time since 2016. Terry Touchdown looked primed to have a big season and now UK could be leaning heavily on a grad transfer that was a late addition when he committed just four months ago.
Sawyer Smith played in 12 games for Troy last season and started the last seven contests on his way to tossing 14 touchdowns, completing 62.9 percent of his throws, and averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. He had a rep for deep ball accuracy and we saw that on display on his first pass.
Smith immediately hit Ahmad Wagner for a 54-yard touchdown on a go-route and then later connected with Lynn Bowden, Jr. on a two-yard reception. Wagner again drew his fair share of coverage penalties while recording 71 yards on three grabs and becoming the most dangerous player on UK’s offense not named Kavosiey Smoke.
Elsewhere in the passing game, Keaton Upshaw continues to show potential while Allen Dailey, Jr. picked up another big third down catch. A.J. Rose’s four grabs prove that throwing the ball to backs is a big emphasis.
On the line of scrimmage, Kentucky’s offensive line continues to do their thing. Landon Young has been playing the best football of his career through eight quarters and his presence has been felt. Logan Stenberg has been great when not being flagged and a lot of that stuff needs to be cleaned up. This group has been one of college football’s best offensive lines to this point in the season.
Kentucky allowed 386 yards on 75 plays with Eastern Michigan putting up 5.1 yards per play. On the day, UK had a defensive success rate of 49.3 percent. The Wildcats were sitting at 57.1 percent at halftime with the Eagles only putting up 3.2 yards per play. Things, however, changed in the second half. What helped Kentucky set the tone early was the run defense.
Joshua Paschal recorded two tackles for loss in the first quarter and again provided the team with a huge momentum builder. The former blue-chip prospect has a chance to become one of the best run stuffers in the SEC and he’s just starting to scratch the surface.
After allowing Toledo to put up 181 yards rushing last week, UK’s defense was set on stopping the run early and often against EMU. They did that by holding their running backs to just 14 yards on 11 carries. This forced Chris Creighton’s team to scrap the run game very early and hat meant a lot of work for dual-threat quarterback Mike Glass III.
The St. Louis native ran the ball 10 times on top of 53 pass attempts. After a rough first half highlighted by two interceptions, Glass passed for 337 yards and chipped in 35 more yards on the ground. He was excellent in EMU’s two 75-yard touchdown drives in the second half and was the main reason the Eagles were able to hang around. When Kentucky was able to have some success in the secondary, it came from the group’s only senior.
After recording six tackles last week, Griffin had two pass break-ups, an interception, and a sack this week. He is giving the group some valuable play on a day where the young guys were really tested in the second half.
When you have a quarterback throw the ball 50-plus times in one game with many more scrambles that turned into runs, you would hope that your defense could produce some sacks. That was not the case in the win.
Kentucky recorded just two sacks in the game and is having a hard time producing a legitimate pass rush. This is concerning when you consider just how young and inexperienced that UK secondary is. Yesterday you saw what can happen when a quarterback is allowed to play comfortable against them and UK must figure out some ways to create more pressure.
Get excited about the third phase right now.
After major placekicking issues last season, Chance Poore hit his second field goal from 40-plus yards to start the season. Max Duffy is one of the best punters in college football who pinned EMU inside their own 20 on all three of his punts. Grant McKinniss put six of his seven kicks in the endzone and now has touchback rate of 78.6 percent. Lynn Bowden, Jr. had a huge punt return to setup the first touchdown and a huge kickoff return negated by a holding call.
Things are trending up for Dean Hood’s unit.
For the second game in a row, Kentucky scored 38 points and got one dominant half from its defense. However, the Wildcats left a ton of plays on the field and there’s plenty of room for growth. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the program’s QB1 appeared to suffer a major injury and that could have a large impact on how Kentucky runs its offense in 2019. That’s something we are all going to be monitoring closely moving forward. It now appears that UK is going to be all in on grad transfer Sawyer Smith for the time being.
The Pensacola area native did some very good things in the fourth quarter highlighted by a very good deep ball and smart decisions made in the passing game. Smith took off on the run when he needed to and threw the ball out of bounds when EMU blew up a quick outside pass. Those are smart decisions by an experienced quarterback.
On his two touchdown throws, Smith threw the ball against tight coverage and gave his receivers a chance to make a play. Both Lynn Bowden, Jr. and Ahmad Wagner were able to cash in to produce scores. That should get you excited.
How the running game looks full-time without Terry Wilson is something only time will tell and we’ll have to see if Smith can consistently complete intermediate passes to move the sticks. Kentucky is going to need their offensive line to continue their dominant play and for a young defense to continue to grow and mature fast.
On to Florida.