It was Jared Lorenzen Day at Kroger Field with the Kentucky football program desperately needing a win. UK’s top two quarterbacks were sidelined with injuries, so the Wildcats would be trying Lynn Bowden, Jr. to see if he had some of that Randall Cobb magic. Boy, did he ever.
Behind an offense that rushed for over 300 yards and a defense that played very well outside of the first series, the Wildcats got their first league win of the season and now there’s plenty of optimism entering the final half of the season.
1.) Lynn Bowden, Jr. Has The Juice
The star wide receiver spent the last two weeks getting all of the QB1 snaps in practice according to the UK radio broadcast and it was clear early on that he was going to get all of the snaps. Bowden received all the reps warming up and was throwing fades in short sleeve hoodie an hour before kickoff.
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) October 12, 2019
The former blue-chipper rushed for 196 yards on 24 carries and made the big plays in the fourth quarter. Bowden’s 24-yard run put UK in front with under seven minutes left and a 51-yard run followed by a 15-yard gash iced the game on UK’s final possession.
He did his thing on the ground, but he also provided a much needed passing spark. The former high school quarterback hit Justin Rigg on pop passes on RPO looks in the first half and threw a beautiful back shoulder fade to Clevan Thomas, Jr. for a 10-yard score in the third quarter. He provided big time playmaking on third down and made the plays when the team needed it.
2.) Defense’s Progression
Kentucky is very young in the back seven this season due to a multitude of reasons and it has showed. Slow starts have been an issue and there was another one tonight. On the second play from scrimmage, Rakeem Boyd sprinted 74 yards for six on an outside zone and that would allow Arkansas to hold the lead until late in the third quarter. However, the group settled in quick.
UK gave up just one touchdown on three red zone trips, got timely stops, played just 57 snaps, and got two big pressures from their senior defensive ends to end it. After the big run, UK held Arkansas to just 4.1 yards per play. That will win you a lot of a ballgames.
3.) Setting The Pace
It’s no secret how Kentucky wants to win football games under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats want to establish the run and shrink the game as much as possible. UK is most comfortable when they are able to play under 70 snaps and stay with that pace all night.
Arkansas only got off 57 snaps on offense and they came into tonight averaging 73.2 plays per game. The Hogs want to get to at least 80 in their hurry-up, no-huddle offense that is built to go NASCAR fast. To pull off UK’s style, however, your offense has to pull a lot of weight.
Kentucky moved the chains 21 times in 66 plays and converted 50 percent of their 14 third downs. The Wildcats were perfect in the red zone until the kneel out to finish the game. Whenever you are able to run for 300-plus yards you are going to win a lot of football games.
4.) Kentucky Might Have A Kicker
Matt Ruffolo received his second start of the season and the junior would attempt his two field goals from 40-plus yards out. Kentucky entered today with just four makes on eight attempts and most everyone in the stadium seemed skeptical.
Well, the Ohio native had plenty of left of leg on a 47-yard attempt that just went wide. After going backwards on a red zone trip in the third quarter, UK would call on Ruffolo again and this time he delivered on a 50-yarder that would cut the lead to three on UK’s first possession after half.
Kentucky might have a reliable option at kicker.
5.) Pass Rush Delivers
Arkansas entered the game having only given up seven sacks and that ranked third in the SEC and in the top-25 nationally. The pass rush has been a thorn in UK’s side with the coaches recently challenging Boogie Watson to provide some more production.
He did that by recording his third sack in two games in addition to a forced fumble. However, others chipped in in timely scenarios. Calvin Taylor, Jr. continues to play excellent football and collected a huge third down sack on the final Arkansas possession. The next play, T.J. Carter would provide a pressure that would lead to an incompletion. Quinton Bohanna would also notch a sack while Jordan Wright is giving UK some outside pass rush.
This group needs to continue to develop and they are showing some positive signs.
6.) Chunk Plays
One of the main reasons for optimism for this season was that the offense was going to have some big play factor. With more speed at running back and Lynn Bowden, Jr. getting plenty of touches, that meant some more big plays for the offense.
The last two weeks those have disappeared for the most part, but we saw the splash play return tonight. Kentucky recorded six plays of 20-plus yards in the win and all of them came on the ground. We would get four in the final quarter.
The Wildcats got all of these on the last two drives of the game with Bowden’s two runs on the last drive icing the game. When the defense was tired the big plays came and this is something you have to have with Bowden at quarterback.
7.) Run Defense Still Needs Work
Kentucky entered Saturday giving up 4.92 yards per carry and this ranked 106th in the FBS. Tonight that didn’t get much better with the Cats allowing 6.1 yards per carry on 30 attempts. You had 74 of the 183 rush yards came on one play, but this defense continues to struggle at stopping opposing ground games.
When you take out sack yardage, Arkansas put up 7.4 yards per attempt and honestly did not run the ball enough. Leaning on the pass allowed UK to pickup some much needed three-and-outs in the third quarter to ride the momentum built entering halftime. Moving forward, this has to improve if the defense wants to continue the growth they’ve shown in other areas.
8.) Max Duffy Is Still Good
The best punter in college football was only used three times in the game and two of his attempts were downed inside the 20. He booted another attempt 50-plus yards but did outkick his coverage punting from the endzone. That punt led to a big return that was the largest UK has allowed all season. That next possession would give the Hogs their only second half touchdown.
He’s still doing his job and if Jamin Davis makes a tackle we’re likely talking about UK holding an SEC foe under 20 points.
9.) Surprising Pass Game
For those that read my KSR Film Room piece on Lynn Bowden’s prowess as a high school quarterback, you likely were not surprised with the throws he made. It’s very clear that he’s comfortable with the fade and is quite capable off getting it to the tight end in the middle of the field.
Bowden tossed a beautiful ball to Wagner in the third quarter that would have been a big play if he gets a foot down inbounds. However, the big receiver helped out later in the possession when he drew a flag in the endzone. The best throw of the night came on a third down late in the third quarter when Bowden hit Clevan Thomas, Jr. for UK’s first passing touchdown since the third quarter of the Florida game.
The ground game was the story, but the pass game showed some potential.
10.) Winning Is Fun
There was a lot of talk about fans checking out from a ton of people this week and many expected a poor crowd on Saturday. However, that was not the case with Kentucky being at about a 94 percent capacity on a beautiful October night for a college football game in Lexington. The Big Blue Nation knew a win was needed and they helped will their team to the finish line.
After a slow start that saw UK get down 13-0 with just under six minutes left in the second quarter, the crowd never checked out and helped UK go on a run from that point. The team delivered and gave the program a great day in what was a memoriam for Jared Lorenzen.
The Wildcats owned the last 35 minutes of the football game as the defense settled in and the offense took off. Lynn Bowden, Jr. provided the big plays while the defense got the timely stops. In end, Kentucky lined up in the victory formation and now there will be some optimism for the final six games of the season.
There were a ton of reasons to be skeptical entering this week, but both the team and the fans brought it and there is now a chance for this to be a good season again.