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10 Takeaways From Kentucky’s Win To Open The Season

Toledo put up a fight for the first half, but Kentucky pulled away in the second to finish the job against one of the MAC’s best teams in the season opener. Was it the blowout you wanted to see while you were listening to “Grove Street Party” at 8 a.m. this morning? No. But was it a solid win against a scary non-conference opponent in the first game of the season after losing several players from a year ago to the NFL? Of course.

No complaints — at least not too many– here in how Kentucky earned its first win. The Cats secured the victory, 38-24, and learned a few things to address moving forward.

Here are 10 key takeaways from the game…


1. The secondary was worrisome before the game and it only got worse after kickoff.

By show of hands, how many people said a bad word when Jamari Brown gave up a 39-yard pass on third down when Toledo was on its own side of the field and staring down a three-and-out on the first drive of the game? My hand is raised. Yours is too. Some of you panicked. You can admit it.

Brown made a horrible play on the ball (did he think it was short?) and allowed the huge gain to put Toledo in scoring position rather than punting it away on its first possession. The Rockets scored a touchdown to go up 7-0 four plays later, and a collective overreaction among Big Blue Nation ensued.

It was the first of a couple bad beats for Brown, one of UK’s new starting cornerbacks, and it only added to the worries surrounding the new secondary. You can get away with that against Toledo; you can’t against most of the other teams on Kentucky’s schedule. Maybe it was a learning lesson and it doesn’t happen again. (Fingers crossed.)

To Brown’s credit, he had two big pass breakups later in the game. Newcomer Brandin Echols added another three pass breakups.

2. Kentucky couldn’t get off the field on third down, or convert any of its own, in the first half.

Brown’s misstep cost Kentucky a third down stop, but he wasn’t alone in giving up yardage on third down. Toledo converted five of its first seven third down plays in the first half, while Kentucky’s offense struggled to extend drives in its own third down situations.

“I think that was the game early, that’s why it was close early,” said Stoops. “They were converting third down, we weren’t.”

At halftime, Toledo was 5-of-8 on third down; Kentucky was 1-of-5.

The third down defense improved in the second half as Toledo converted only two of its eight third downs after halftime. UK’s defense locked in and got stops, and that’s why the score changed in Kentucky’s favor through the end of the game.

3. Toledo’s offense went flat when its starting QB went down.

Mitchell Guadagni was doing what he wanted on UK’s defense until an injury sent him to the sideline early in the second half. Until that point in the game, Guadagni had 122 yards through the air and another 90 yards and a touchdown with his feet.

His backup, Carter Bradley, looked good for a brief moment once he took over, but Toledo’s offense never really got going again with Guadagni out of the game. We’d be lying to ourselves if we pretended like Toledo losing Guadagni didn’t matter.

4. Unsung Hero of the Game: Max Duffy

While Kentucky’s offense was taking a little extra time to get going, punter Max Duffy saved the day in the field position game. He pinned Toledo back several times and five of his six punts in the game were for over 50 yards through the air, including a 61-yarder and two punts downed inside the 20.


5. Lynn Bowden appears to have good company at wide receiver.

One of the biggest unknowns going into the season was the wide receiver group outside of Lynn Bowden and if anyone will step up to be a reliable target opposite of Bowden in the passing game. We can now say Ahmad Wagner, Allen Dailey, Bryce Oliver and veteran Josh Ali took a big step forward in being trusted options as all four wideouts made big plays in their first audition of the season.

Wagner was second to Bowden among receivers in both receptions and yards with three catches for 57 yards. Dailey had two grabs for 31 yards through the air, while Ali and Oliver each had one catch, but both went for touchdowns.

Oliver’s TD was a 32-yard catch in the end zone on his first career reception and the only time he was targeted in the game. He out-fought the defensive back, who was in great position, to extend UK’s lead to two possessions midway through the third quarter.

Overall, the wide receivers looked like a playmaking group, at least for a game, to ease the concerns around the position.

And for the first time in my lifetime as a UK football fan, no dropped passes???

6. Ahmad Wagner is still drawing pass interference calls and it is the best play in the playbook until someone stops it.

Saturday taught us that Ahmad Wagner can in fact catch the football when it is thrown to him, but it also confirmed that he is still good for drawing a pass interference call if he doesn’t get the catch. Wagner was targeted five times against Toledo; three were caught and he drew a flag on the other two. When he drew his second pass interference call, his career stat line read: seven targets, five pass interferences. Is there a better play in the playbook?

After the game Terry Wilson bragged on his big target, saying, “He’s a beast. He is going to show a lot of people what he is really capable of; he’s so strong and so big, it’s hard to stop him.”

7. All three running backs showed why UK’s backfield will be just fine without Benny Snell.

Replacing Benny Snell is an impossible task for one man, so it is a good thing Kentucky has three men to take on that job. UK’s stable of backs shared the load for 176 yards on the ground and two scores in Saturday’s win.

Snell’s old roommate, AJ Rose, got the most touches with 16 carries for 64 yards as the group’s starter and first option. Behind him, Kavosiey Smoke stole the spotlight with 78 yards on only seven touches, one of which went for 40 yards and his first career touchdown, in his first college action.

Chris Rodriguez didn’t get as many opportunities, but he too looked good with the rock. Rodriguez had 34 yards on five carries, highlighted by a 21-yard gain with defenders hanging onto his back.

Mark Stoops still wants more, though. He said afterward, “I thought there was some good and some bad. We’ll go watch the film. I think there are some things — I don’t want to downplay it because I thought they did some good things. There are some things we need to improve on.”

8. DeAndre Square made a strong case for SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

Josh Allen who? (Just kidding. Kind of.)

Several UK linebackers played well in their first game without Josh Allen to lean on, but none were as good as DeAndre Square. In the first game of his second season in Lexington, Square had a career-high 11 tackles, a tackle for a loss, a shared sack and his first career interception. The interception came off of a deflection… a deflection he caused and hauled in.

I know everyone wants to talk about the significance of Allen’s departure to the league, but Square’s performance, plus what we saw out of Jordan Wright, Chris Oats, Josh Paschal, Boogie Watson and of course Kash Daniel, suggest Kentucky will be just fine in the middle of that defense.

9. Terry Wilson did not make any major mistakes and that’s all anyone really wanted out of him in Week 1.

Wilson had a good game throwing the ball (19-of-26, 246 yards and two touchdowns) but the numbers that stand out most from his performance are the zero turnovers and only one sack. Sure, he missed a throw or two and almost made a crucial mistake by throwing it backwards, but for the most part, Wilson looked comfortable and poised with the ball in his hands throughout the entire game. Plus he only got better as the game went on, a sign that he was settling in to his first game action since the Citrus Bowl.

He passed his first test.

10. One win down, room to grow.

Like Mark Stoops said to open his press conference, “There is an awful lot to improve on, that’s for sure.” The important thing is they survived a rusty first game of the year and there is game tape to now show the team to get better before another MAC team comes to town next weekend.

It wasn’t perfect, but 1-0 is 1-0.

Go Cats.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

35 Comments for 10 Takeaways From Kentucky’s Win To Open The Season

  1. DelrayCat
    6:04 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    So many new faces or young players being forced to step into major roles with this team, so some wobbles were probably expected early. Other than the 2 fumbles, this was a well played game. Yet, I see so much room for improvement. In fact, the offense will be better and more balanced than last year by the end of the year. And the defense is always going to be well coached from this staff. They should be fine too. I still think the sky is the limit and they can definitely win 9 or 10 again. Go CATS!

  2. Ridge Runner
    6:11 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    I’ll take the W and reserve any critical comments about our Cats since it’s the first game.

  3. Looother
    6:32 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    Good post, Drew…

  4. runningunnin.454
    6:49 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    Could have been worse; Rocky Top is having a really, really bad day.

  5. ryan1723
    7:02 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    We’re going to end the week as one of only two teams in the east to win, and outside of Vandy probably played the best team.

    • bailey000
      8:00 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      Missouri ang GA

    • notFromhere
      11:26 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      ? Bailey ?

    • Skooms
      9:51 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

      GA and Florida…. I’d honestly say that Miami and Toledo are probably pretty close… AND…. our boys looked much better against Toledo than Florida did against Thug U.

  6. Josh
    7:38 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    Just wanted to thank the KSR gang….. First UK football game for my young daughter. We left home at 7am this morning….. breakfast at KSBar at 9am. Fun energetic atmosphere!!! Got on bus a mere 100ft from restaurant. Got to KROGER Field, watched a great opening day victory!! Got on bus, got back to KSBar and headed home. You guys helped me make some great memories with my daughter!!! Couldn’t have had a better day!!
    GO CATS!!

    • catsarerunnin
      8:37 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      Holy Toledo!!

    • MtnCat
      12:19 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink

      Great to hear young Cat fans being raised right….Bring It!

  7. makeitstop
    9:12 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    I’d agree with most of this. The fumbles have to be fixed but the kid fights for yards, and he’ll learn. The receivers were the best news of the day for me. They not only didn’t drop any, they made plays. They saved us. That last TD and Bowden’s catch were as good as we have seen. The secondary is a little scary but I like Echols, and they’ll improve. The worry remains QB. Didn’t hurt us. But came real damn close. He’s more relaxed back there and did not turn it over but was close. The difference in 7 wins and 9 in the regular season is if that kid can step up.i amend my earlier statement: he’s not the worst but he’s 11th or 12th and unless he works his way up to the middle of the pack there’s 2 – 3 losses we’ll take that we don’t have to.

    • abobicesaevior
      9:58 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

      Silly. His numbers say differently. His demeanor and leadership are excellent. He’s a top 5 QB in the SEC right now with room to move up.

  8. kjd
    10:24 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    You aren’t looking good with the rock with 2 fumbles. That’s why Rodriguez had limited touches.

    • notFromhere
      11:19 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      First was a td before the fumble happened. If SECN had brought enough cameras to the game, they could have seen that on replay.

    • EagerBeaver
      6:40 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink

      Is it my imagination, or did the line judge call the TD for Rodriguez before the fumble. You could clearly see his arms in the air signaling the touchdown in the replay.

    • satcheluk
      8:26 am September 2, 2019 Permalink

      You are correct.

  9. mashburnfan1
    10:31 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    We were up 10 and driving to put the game away when Bowden fumbled prior to their QB getting hurt. And the “dead ball” targeting call was such BS. No way any player could have stopped and Oats was diving for hit {to the shoulder by the way} when the QB started to slide. No way anyone can stop at that point so what is he to do. I don’t blame on field refs, at speed it probably looked like a foul but the review team clearly sees what happened and did not fix it.

    • notFromhere
      11:18 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      Well said

    • ClutchCargo
      11:44 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

      It was one of those unfortunate situations where the defender was just trying to make a play, but the rules are such that it had to be called the way they called it. Helmet to helmet on a sliding QB. It is what it is. It looked like a terrible call from inside the stadium and on the video board replay, but looked pretty obvious when I saw the replay on TV later.

    • JPhelps
      9:14 am September 2, 2019 Permalink

      Mashburnfan1 is wrong about something. Shocker. By the rule of the law, it was helmet to helmet (it knocked the kid out of the game). And he had started to slide when Oates came in. I didn’t like the call at first either, but on TV replay, as bad as it sucked, it was the right call. You hate to see kids hustling and get punished for it. But it’s the right call.

  10. notFromhere
    11:15 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

    There were dropped passes.

    • notFromhere
      11:15 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      Secondary got better as the game wore on.

    • notFromhere
      11:16 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      Live blog deleted more comments of a football nature and allowed a bunch of “terry wilson sux” type posts. Worst showing on the day.

    • notFromhere
      11:18 pm August 31, 2019 Permalink

      A lot to build on for next week.

      Sucks that the rules will likely be so poorly interpreted for the rest of this season. Set a bad foundation for the year

    • grammarpoliceUK
      3:20 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink

      Won’t be any helmet to helmet hits in 10 years. Helmets out, flags in,

  11. hoboat33
    12:56 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

    Can’t believe you didn’t mention the O-Line. Pass protection was incredible. Though Toledo usually didn’t send many bodies, Wilson had all day to pass. (He had time to eat some nachos and drink a beer…. oh wait… Barnhart… beer… no no…. …nevermind)

    • Bluehender
      10:31 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

      Good point about the offensive line. They were really good

  12. CPACAT
    8:17 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

    FYI; Smoke scored a TD vs UoLoL last year, so this was his 2nd career TD.

    • ClutchCargo
      11:48 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

      But it was his first TD against an actual D-1 defense, so that’s debatable. 😉

  13. dhard
    10:00 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t think the secondary played too poorly as the limited pressure in the first half hurt them. Plenty of items to clean up for next week, but a good start.

  14. BluKudzu
    10:34 am September 1, 2019 Permalink

    Two positives: We won and we covered the spread against perhaps the best MAC team.

    It should be obvious why Kentucky did not get a lot of respect in the preseason polls; Defense wins championships. Giving up 24 points to a MAC team, albeit likely they will win their conference, is still way too many.

    I hope things improve, but it certainly beats losing to a MAC team. Our depth won this game, folks.

    I think we saw the importance of having a quality back up QB waiting in wings. The game went decidedly our way after the lost their starting QB. Had be stayed, the game would have been much tighter.

    I think they played hard and they played physical, which is what you have to have.

    I am extremely concerned with the defense, and turnovers. Four fumbles, and half of them lost, which lead to points on both. That can’t happen. Not with the defense we currently have.

    We did not get one stop in the red zone against this team. Our DBs are inexperienced and seemed totally lost at times. They seemed MIA in run support and were easily blocked downfield by smaller receivers.

    There is tremendously more speed and size coming once we get into the SEC, and if we do not play better outside containment, it will be a very long SEC season for us.

    Fortunately, we have amongst the best in the business for developing young talent. We will need it this year.

    Given that we were in our first game and learing, I am thrilled with the results. I am hoping for an incredible year this season, and if that is to happen, we have a lot to get fixed.

    Go Cats.

  15. ukisdabest
    12:22 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink


  16. UKSanders
    7:11 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink

    My only point of contention is that the game totally changed direction AFTER the Toledo starting QB went down.

    However, going back into the first half when Toledo went up 14-7, these are Toledo’s offensive drives prior to Guadagni getting injured:

    end of 1st half (Toledo ran out the clock with 3 plays)

    I think in-game emotions may have skewed our views.

  17. robman181
    7:58 pm September 1, 2019 Permalink

    All in all a pretty good first effort. Front Seven were solid and even great at times. Offensive line didn’t play great but didn’t play poorly either and again flashed some great signs. Terry is improved, receivers are improved, secondary struggled but Echols looks like a stud and they will improve every game this season. All and all I would say that game went according to script if your hoping UK is positioned for a 7-8 win season.