On Saturday in the Bluegrass State, two teams entered Week 13 heading in two different directions. Kentucky was having one of the best regular seasons in school history while Louisville was having its worst season in over two decades. With a new era of Louisville football set to begin this week, it was a chance for UK to make a statement on their way to securing a New Year’s Day bowl bid.
On Saturday, Kentucky picked up their sixth win in 11 games at Cardinal Stadium with a 56-10 thrashing of Louisville to acquire the Governor’s Cup. The UK offense did whatever they wanted against a horrific Louisville defense and outside of a couple big runs, the UK defense smothered the UofL offense.
It was an exclamation point to the season and now all eyes are on National Signing Day and the bowl trip. But before we focus on that it’s time to take one final look back at the rivalry win and see how Kentucky got the job done.
In the win, Eddie Gran’s offense collected a season high 601 yards (340 rushing, 261 passing) with a 8.6 yards per play average. After running for 100 yards on 18 carries, Benny Snell fell short of the program record but the story of the game was the play of quarterback Terry Wilson.
For the fourth time in the last five games, the sophomore completed over 70% of his attempts and averaged a season high 11.3 yards per attempt. He extended plays by stepping up in the pocket and chipped in 79 yards on the ground on his way to winning the Howard Schnellenberger Award.
On the outside, both Lynn Bowden and C.J. Conrad led the team in receiving. The two top targets all season combined for eight grabs, 145 yards, and two touchdowns. They have been excellent in 2018 and continued that against Louisville. However, there were some surprises in the passing game.
Josh Ali recorded three grabs for 59 yards with an impressive touchdown reception on a go-route.
All season Kentucky has been looking for answers at receiver and in the last two games we’ve seen Ali, Justin Rigg, Dorian Baker, Tavin Richardson, and Isaiah Epps all get involved. UK must continue to develop this position as they move forward.
In the rushing department, Kentucky ran for a season high 340 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Benny Snell got his but, just as we thought going in, both Terry Wilson and A.J. Rose were able to provide explosive plays on the ground.
UK’s home run hitters in the backfield combined for 191 yards on 20 carries with one long touchdown run. True freshman Kavosiey Smoke got involved in the action late with another big touchdown run. UK’s ground game has a very bright future.
After a horrible stretch to end SEC play, Kentucky’s offense has bounced back strong in the last two games. Terry Wilson has continued to develop and the offensive line has started to create movement again on the line of scrimmage. Outside, UK still needs help at wideout but there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this offense moving forward.
Kentucky’s defense allowed 305 yards (226 rushing, 79 passing) on 46 plays. The Cards put up 6.6 yards per play and for the fourth game in a row an opposing offense averaged over six yards per snap. None of the first eight opponents got to that mark.
UofL was able to create a ton of big plays in the ground game, but they had a very difficult time extending drives. Kentucky held Louisville to just 10 first downs and the Cards were 2-for-11 on third down conversions. Add in two turnover on downs produced by the defense and it was a solid effort from Matt House’s group.
Up front, when not getting slashed by the run game, Kentucky was able to be very disruptive. The Wildcats collected 10 tackles for loss in the win with seven different players chipping in. Kash Daniel and Jordan Jones combined for five non-sack TFLs on the day. The two inside linebackers were able to shoot the gaps and make some plays in the backfield.
On the edge, it was a bit of a quiet night for Josh Allen but the senior still made some plays. His pressure on a third down pass in the second quarter forced a field goal. In the second half he would pick up his 14th sack of the year. With only 16 pass attempts, there were not many opportunities for the pass rush.
In the passing game, Louisville tossed for 79 yards and this was a season low allowed by Kentucky. The Cards averaged less than five yards per throw. The Wildcats came away with three pass break-ups and were consistently in the right positions for most of the night.
In the last four games we’ve seen this defense take a step back after a dominant first two months of the season. All of a sudden this front cannot stop the run and Kentucky’s secondary has been beat in isolation situations too many times. With all that said, this group has been able to produce timely stops in scoring territory all season. That’s been a big reason for their success. Reset with the bowl prep and see if you can return to form down in Florida.
For the first time since Mark Stoops took over, Kentucky did not attempt a punt in a game. Max Duffy received a well deserved rest on Saturday.
Grant McKinniss remained efficient in kickoffs after producing seven touchbacks on nine attempts. Miles Butler is still perfect on extra points, Lynn Bowden was solid on kick returns, and David Bouvier saved UK some hidden yardage on fair catches.
It was a very efficient outing for Dean Hood’s unit.
Heading into Saturday, Kentucky had a great chance to make a statement. The Wildcats were looking to end a great season on a high note and would be facing their archrival near rock bottom. With a new staff set to come in at Louisville and recruiting ready to heat up, Kentucky needed to make a claim that they were the top football program in this state. They did that on Saturday night.
The offense was balanced, efficient, and created explosive plays. Take out the two red zone interceptions and it was a near perfect effort from this unit. On defense, the Wildcats were creased on numerous run plays and that’s a cause for concern. However, they were very disruptive and were excellent in situational football. Louisville’s only touchdown came on a big play and the Wildcats were able to produced multiple stops in scoring territory.
The performance Kentucky put together against their biggest rival was exactly what this program needed. The Wildcats were able to punish a team they were clearly superior to. After weeks of offensive issues, Terry Wilson continues to grow as a quarterback and there are real reasons to be excited about him moving forward.
Now Kentucky has recorded a 9-3 season and Mark Stoops is 33-29 since his year zero in 2013. The Wildcats have slowly built a legitimate SEC football program. Now the reward is a trip to Florida for a New Year’s Day Bowl. This season should open some doors on the recruiting trail for this staff with Kentucky proving to be a consistent winner in the SEC. The Wildcats have created a winning culture in Lexington and this is something to be excited about.