Kentucky returned home after a blowout win over Vanderbilt and for the third time this season found themselves playing in some very poor conditions. Despite all of the rain and wind that filled Kroger Field on Saturday, the Wildcats found a way to record a school-record for rushing yards in a single game and dropped a fiftyburger for only the third time in the Mark Stoops era. It was a team win as Kentucky clinched bowl eligibility and is set to host their heated archrival next week.
Buckle up for the Governor’s Cup, but first let’s put a final bow on UK’s sixth win of the season.
Kentucky rolled up 479 yards (462 rushing, 17 passing) on 56 snaps with a season-high 8.55 yards per play average. It was the most yards per play UK has put up in a game since last year’s road win against Louisville and that game was also the most recent time the offense dropped more than 50 points in a game. Creating chunk plays on the ground was the story of the night.
UK recorded seven rushes over 20-plus yards and they now lead the nation in that statistical category. Five of those runs went for over 40 yards and those are the types of plays you need if you are going to set a school-record for rushing yards in a game. Even seldom used true freshman Travis Tisdale and walk-on Tyler Markray got in on the action
For the game, the Wildcats rushed for 462 yards and averaged an amazing 10.3 yards per carry on 45 attemp. That is truly astounding. Lynn Bowden, Jr. led the team with 129 yards, A.J. Rose chipped in 105 and four other running backs collected at least 40 yards and combined for three touchdowns. Even Sawyer Smith made some nice runs on some zone read keepers. It was a dominant day in the ground game with “Run The Damn Ball” becoming a way of life for the Kentucky football program.
The most remarkable feat may have been that Kentucky put up those monster numbers while only completing two passes. Bowden threw his fifth interception of the season and only completed one of his six throws. He finished with a quarterback rating of -4.1. That is hard to do. Off the bench, Sawyer Smith and Walker Wood combined to just complete one of five passes for eight yards. The playing conditions had a lot to do with it, but this has been a recurring theme for the group. The Wildcats are essentially an option offense.
You don’t run for over 400 yards without some really good play on the offensive line and Kentucky’s starters continue to make their case for the Joe Moore Award.
Joe Moore Award semifinalists, signifying nation’s top offensive line
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 19, 2019
On Saturday, we saw plenty of young players get reps with Quintin Wilson, Kenneth Horsey, and Austin Dotson all getting into the lineup. John Schlarman continues to do an excellent job with this group and they do not get enough credit for the offense succeeding as it has in this new look attack.
The Wildcats converted just three 0f nine third downs, but the offense converted five scoring opportunities into 27 points and 5.4 points per trip is pretty efficient. UK had just one possession that went scoreless and were perfect in the red zone getting touchdowns on all four trips. Big plays covered up some mistakes, but Kentucky converted when the chances were there against an inferior opponent.
Kentucky limited UT Martin to 204 yards (-12 rushing, 216 passing) on 70 snaps. The Skyhawks put up just 2.91 yards per play and that was the lowest total allowed since the 2013 win over Miami (OH). On 32 carries, UTM could not find a way to get positive yards as a team and it helps when you have two bad snaps to start the game.
Kentucky scored their first defensive touchdown since last year’s senior day win against Middle Tennessee and it allowed the team get off to a fast start immediately following the opening possession safety. This set the tone for a defense that would go on to create three takeaways for the first time this season.
Once the ones were sitting in the second half, the pass rush didn’t have much of an effect but it did major damage in the first thirty minutes. The Wildcats recorded six sacks in the first half and that was their highest game total since that Middle Tennessee win where Josh Allen broke the school’s sack record. UK got contributions from five different players on the front and Calvin Taylor, Jr. is now tied for the SEC lead with 7.5 sacks.
UK now ranks fifth in the SEC in sacks and the 6-foot-9 defensive tackle with over a seven-foot wingspan is a big reason why. He has been excellent all season and should receive All-SEC honors before hearing his name called at the NFL Draft.
Kentucky limited UTM to a 35.3 percent conversion rate on third down and got one red zone stop in two trips. The 11 tackles for loss recorded were a season-high and reserve inside linebacker Jamin Davis led the team in tackles for the second game in a row. All things considered, it was a very good performance from the defense and a dominant effort from the ones during the first thirty minutes.
It was exactly what you wanted to see.
Max Duffy was called on to punt in the first quarter for the first time since the Missouri win and he dropped a beauty. His first attempt of the day traveled over 50 yards and pinned UTM at their own 6. On his next attempt, he might have saved a touchdown.
He finished the game with one tackle and a 57.7 average on three punts with a high of 66 yards. He’s a superstar and should be a first team All-American.
In the return game, Josh Ali struggled with fielding punts and lost a fumble that gave UT Martin great field position out of half. Thanks to a ton of pooch kicks, there were no opportunities for kickoff returns and a UK lost fumble on an onside kick to start the second half. Not a great game for the returners.
The goal on Saturday was to win and win comfortably to get young players reps and veterans some rest. That goal was accomplished in the 50-7 thumping of UT Martin. In the past, UK has struggled with its FCS opponents but that was not the case on Saturday as the Wildcats got off to a fast start and never looked back. They have now become cover machines posting a 7-3-1 against the spread record this season. That is easily the best run we have seen since Stoops arrived in Lexington.
Bowden Ball continues to amaze with the former wide receiver just 49 yards away from giving Kentucky its fourth consecutive season with a 1,000-yard rusher. He’s been the star, but there’s been many other players contributing to an offense that now ranks fifth nationally in average yards per carry. The growth of this attack has been fun to watch and you have to think that Eddie Gran still has a couple tricks up his sleeve that still haven’t been released.
The defense continues to play very good football under first year coordinator Brad White and the Wildcats now rank 18th nationally in scoring defense. It helps that only six teams in college football have played less snaps than Kentucky’s defense, but that is the exact model of football that Mark Stoops wants. After struggling most of the season with run defense, the Wildcats have not allowed over 4.32 yards per carry in four consecutive games. That is a very good sign.
Now Kentucky will look to finish the season on a high note next week on senior day. The Wildcats have a chance to go 12-3 at Kroger Field in the last two seasons, but to do it they must defeat a team at home they haven’t since 2009. Expect a fun rivalry week in the Bluegrass.
On to Louisville.