It was Heroes’ Day at Kroger Field and a beautiful Saturday in the Bluegrass State with the Wildcats set to compete in some MACtion for the second week in a row. In the end, UK earned their way to a 38-17 win behind a dominant first half defensive performance and plenty of chunk plays on offense mixed in with two long scoring drives. Some are really excited about the two Fetty Wap scores.
— Sharks with rabies (@thejasonkirk) September 8, 2019
However, there was plenty of sloppy football and an ugly injury that has Terry Wilson’s immediate future in doubt. After taking it all in, here are 10 quick takeaways with Mark Stoops moving to one game under .500 at Kentucky.
1.) Terry Wilson’s Status
Through almost three quarters of play, we got some solid but shaky play from junior Terry Wilson behind center. The former junior college transfer finished with just 114 passing yards with a suboptimal 90.7 passer rating caused by averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt. He did get the quarterback run game going contributing 45 yards on eight carries and scored a touchdown on a zone read pull to give UK 24-3 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Then the injury came.
The status of UK’s QB1 is in doubt and the Oklahoma City native was a big reason why UK picked up that huge victory in The Swamp last season. This changes a lot for UK’s offense and will force the staff to make some schematic adjustments. The hope now is that it’s just a sprain at worse and UK can get him back on the field at some point this season.
2.) Defense’s Hot Start
After a slow start to the Toledo game last week, Brad White was set on having his side of the ball start fast in game two and they answered the bell. The Wildcats limited EMU to just 3.2 yards per play in the first half, forced two turnovers, and gave up just a field goal with 1:52 left in the second quarter. It’s exactly what you wanted to see.
The next thirty minutes were a different story.
Behind the creativity of dual-threat quarterback Mike Glass III, the Eagles put up 6.9 yards per play in quarters three and four while scoring two touchdowns. UK had two possessions with the twos during this run and the Eagles gained a ton of yards. At one point, EMU had consecutive scoring drives that each went 75 yards and that cannot happen.
3.) Offensive Sloppiness
It was a great day for the offense when you focus on some specific things. The Wildcats had two 90-plus yard touchdown drives, two touchdowns from big plays, and Chance Poore hit another field goal from long distance. The Wildcats finished with 6.1 yards per play, but it feels like they left a lot on the table.
A.J. Rose’s fumble inside the five took away a score and a chance to extend the lead into blowout territory. Following two second quarter interceptions that setup UK in the red zone, the offense was able to produce just three points. In all, there were seven penalties but many were timely. A hold on Logan Stenberg took away a long touchdown run while a Kavosiey Smoke unsportsmanlike penalty took UK out of the red zone. There were others sprinkled in, such as hold on Allen Dailey, Jr. to negate a long kickoff return, and these simply cannot happen in conference play.
4.) Jordan Griffin Steps Up To The Plate
When Davonte Robinson was lost for the season, there were a bunch of question marks about this Kentucky secondary. Entering the season, Jordan Griffin was the only player with any experience and so far the senior from Georgia who picked Kentucky over Auburn is answering the bell.
He recorded his second career interception in the win and collected his first career sack to get a key stop in the red zone. He had a pass break-up in the middle of the field and gave UK the play they desperately needed from their lone senior in the secondary room.
5.) Kavosiey Smoke Is A Budding Star
The redshirt freshman scored a touchdown in his third consecutive game played and has put up some gaudy numbers in a small sample size. Counting the Louisville game from last season, Smoke is averaging 9.8 yards per carry on 22 carries with three touchdowns. That’s efficient and explosive.
With A.J. Rose and Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. both struggling with ball security, more snaps could be there for the former high three-star recruit and so far he is making the most of his playing opportunities.
6.) Run Defense Shows Up
After getting sliced by Toledo thanks to the quarterback run game, stopping the run was a big challenge entering game two. The Wildcats answered the bell.
Joshua Paschal got the party started with a huge run stuff on EMU’s first possession and for the game the Wildcats would allowed 67 non-sack yards and gave up just 3.4 yards per attempt. Outside of a few scrambles, Mike Glass III was mostly held in check on the ground and UK was able to make the EMU offense one-dimensional.
This is one way to help out a young and inexperienced secondary.
7.) Long Sustained Drives
A week after recording two touchdown drives that covered over 90 yards, Kentucky bounced back and did it again twice. The Wildcats scored on a 6-play, 90-yard drive in the first quarter and a 15-play, 94-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes in the third quarter.
Those are all good to see, but UK also had a 13-play, 69-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock that ended with A.J. Rose dropping the ball on the turf. After struggling on third down last week, the Wildcats converted 64.3 percent of their chances this week. That efficiency allowed the team to put up over 200 rushing yards and win the time of possession battle. Something the head football coach puts a very big emphasis on.
8.) Pass Rush Must Improve
Last season, EMU’s Mike Glass III took a lot of sacks and it seemed like UK’s defensive line would have a major advantage on the line of scrimmage. Despite getting the Eagles in many advantageous third down situations, the Wildcats were only able to come up with two sacks with Glass getting off 53 passes. Not great.
The pass rush has been a strength of the defense the last couple seasons and it is clear that UK is really missing Josh Allen after eight quarters without him. This must change moving forward and we could see Brad White having to dial up some blitz packages to get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
9.) Offensive Line Balls Out
Through two games, UK has only given up three sacks and has rushed for over 170 yards in each outing. All of this is happening despite the loss of the program’s leading rusher and now a quarterback change. The best positional unit on the team has done their job through eight quarters.
There have been a few penalty issues, but for the most part, the Wildcats are getting great play from their seven-man rotation in the trenches. Landon Young has been a difference maker coming off that ACL injury that knocked him out of last season and that play has allowed this group to reach another level.
With Terry Wilson possibly missing extended time, UK is going to need this group to take their game up a notch. The competition level is ramping up and the Wildcats must get great play on the offensive line to have the kind of season they want to have.
10. Special Teams Makes A Difference
You all know about Max Duffy and the Aussie again did his thing by pinning Eastern Michigan inside the 20 on each of his three punts. However, UK is getting really solid play from the other phases in special teams.
For the second game in a row, Chance Poore drilled a field goal from at least 40 yards and this was a highlight despite missing one from 49 yards later on. Grant McKinniss produced six touchbacks in seven kickoffs while Lynn Bowden, Jr. remains an x-factor in the return game.
The junior took a punt back 29 yards to setup up UK’s first touchdown and later got a huge kick return called back due to a hold. The Wildcats have been excellent on special teams to start the season and that will be much needed with the schedule getting much tougher starting next week.