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Ground game and a dominant defense grind out an SEC win

Well, that was ugly. In front of 54,269 fans on a fall night that was absolutely dominated by blustering conditions, Kentucky had to turn to survival mode to grind out a 14-7 victory over a pesky Vanderbilt squad. Once again, Kentucky got shaky quarterback play that included two first quarter turnovers. With Vanderbilt eating up clock in the first half and the wind dominating the conditions, another great game by Benny Snell led Kentucky to a victory. Thanks to another great defensive performance, UK is still on track to play Georgia for the SEC East title on November 3rd.

Offense

For the game, Kentucky gained 298 yards on 62 plays which was good for a 4.8 yards per play average. For the second game in a row, the Wildcats put up less than five yards per play. They are getting absolutely nothing from pass game. For the night Kentucky ran for 280 yards on 58 carries and this was the biggest reason for the win.

After a sluggish performance in College Station, Benny Snell bounced back just like everyone thought he would with 169 yards on 32 carries. The junior averaged 5.3 yards per attempt and scored the final touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter. 

On that scoring drive, Snell carried the ball 10 times for 74 yards capped off by the touchdown. He was there for his team when they needed him the most. The junior now leads the SEC in rushing and is second in touchdowns. His All-American campaign continues.

Now on to the quarterback play. Let’s start with the positives. Since the win over Florida, we’ve seen SEC defenses adjust to the quarterback run game. But last night Terry Wilson was able to get loose on the ground with 91 yards on 12 carries. It was his best rushing effort since the wins over Florida and Murray State. This production allowed UK’s ground game to find its mojo. On passing plays, UK’s coaching staff got Wilson on the move and that opened up some running lanes for the UK quarterback.

It’s the passing game that continues to struggle.

For the first time all season, Wilson failed to complete at least 60% of his passes. On Saturday, he threw it a season low nine times with only three of those resulting in receptions. For the year, the junior college transfer is averaging just 5.9 yards per attempt and Kentucky currently has one of the worst passing attacks in the Power Five.

The struggles for the young quarterback began on the first two possessions and a created a scenario where Kentucky needed to go into to survival mode. On the first possession, Kentucky came out in the unbalanced formation we discussed about this week on KSR. He kept it on the zone read and after picking up 13 yards he laid the ball on the turf. Vandy takes over in Kentucky territory and turns it into points. On the next possession, UK brings Lynn Bowden in motion and throws a quick swing pass. However, the pass was off target and backwards resulting in consecutive fumbles.

It was a nightmarish start and for the second year in a row, Kentucky came out of the bye week with a serious amount of rust on offense. Due to Wilson’s shaky confidence, it was important for Kentucky to just find a way to win the game and worry about the passing game later. They did that by hammering the rock on the ground.

Up front, Kentucky was determined to get the platoon rotation involved again on the offensive line. At left tackle, Darian Kinnard alternated possessions with E.J. Price. It was the first significant playing time for the former blue-chipper. At guard, Luke Fortner and Mason Wolfe played a bunch and the duo was in for the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Kentucky is going to lose some pieces after this season but John Schlarman is doing a great job at getting the younger guys prepared for the future.

At receiver, there’s really not much to be talked about when you only throw the ball nine times. C.J. Conrad was targeted once on a bootleg but the play was well defended. UK utilized Tavin Richardson in the slot but his only target of the night was batted down at the line of scrimmage. On their only deep shot, Terry Wilson made a catchable throw but Dorian Baker was unable to pull in the reception. 

It was an ugly night for the offense, but they made the drive in fourth quarter when they had to have it. They didn’t do the same thing in College Station. That’s a sign of progress.

Defense

Kentucky allowed 284 yards on 68 plays which is good for a 5.3 yards per play. On a yards per play basis, only Florida gained more yards per snap against the Wildcats. The Commodores were very successful through the air. Kyle Shurmur completed 65% of his attempts and averaged nine yards per pass attempt. Both of these were season highs allowed by the Kentucky defense. For the second game in a row, UK’s pass defense is beginning to show a few chinks in the armor. The problem for Vanderbilt was that they tried too hard to get the ground game going.

The ‘Dores ran the ball 31 times compared to just 23 pass attempts for Kyle Shurmur. The Wildcats were able to limit their ground attack to just 68 yards on the night. This was Vandy’s lowest rushing output of the season and the only game in 2018 when Derek Mason’s offense did not score a rushing touchdown. Kentucky’s front seven answered the bell once again.

Before the game-winning touchdown drive led by numerous Benny Snell rumbles, the Wildcats had to create a big stop. Facing a third and short in the red zone, Kentucky stuffed the run. Following a Vanderbilt timeout, the ‘Dores would go for it again. 

Quinton Bohanna, for really the first time all season, looks 100% healthy and made a huge play with the game on the line. The sophomore from just outside of Memphis made a great play on fourth and one and was able to recover the fumble he created. At times, Kentucky has struggled in short distance situations this year and the interior line has not always been able to create a push. Having the man they call Big Bo back healthy and making plays should help in that regard.

On that play, it was reported after the game that Kash Daniel fractured his hand. After only playing one half last game, the junior played one of his best games as a Wildcat on Saturday. The Paintsville native recorded double-digit tackles for the third time this season and remains a key cog in the defense. His injury status will be something to keep an eye on closely this week.

We’ll get to Josh Allen in just a moment, but it is important to recognize Boogie Watson for the production he is creating. For the fourth SEC game in a row, the redshirt sophomore recorded a sack. Allen is a monster on the other side but Watson is becoming a very reliable pass rusher in his own right. In the secondary, UK got great play for Lexington native Davonte Robinson. The Henry Clay product had seven tackles and one key pass break-up on a pivotal third down in the fourth quarter.

Now on to the best defensive player in college football. Josh Allen’s run of dominance continued on Saturday night with a stat line of eight tackles, two sacks, a pass break-up, and a fumble forced. For the year, the senior now has eight sacks which ranks seventh in the FBS. He only needs one more forced fumble to be tied for the national lead. He’s been excellent all season.

The edge defender is starting to earn a reputation as a closer and it is well deserved. On Vanderbilt’s last drive, he once again produced a strip sack to put the game on ice. 

This is now the third time this season Kentucky has ended an SEC win with a Josh Allen strip sack. That’s just remarkable. The future NFL first rounder has been a force of nature and is putting together one of the best individual seasons in Kentucky football history.

After seven games, Kentucky is 6-1 and the defense is the main reason why. The Wildcats rank second nationally in scoring defense with opponents only putting up 12.6 points per game. Kentucky is allowing 4.7 yards per play which ranks 18th. After a slow start in the turnover department, UK has produced at least two takeaways in three consecutive games. What a job done by Mark Stoops and his defensive coaching staff.

Special Teams

It may be time to explore another option at kicker. Miles Butler, a former walk-on, once again missed a makeable field goal. The Paducah native just does not have a strong leg and now it is clear that his confidence is battered. He’s be excellent on extra points but the coaching staff must give true freshman Chance Poore some looks moving forward.

In the return department, David Bouvier did a great job influencing Vandy’s punt team. This allowed Kentucky to pick up hidden yardage via touchbacks. Lynn Bowden returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown but a questionable holding call negated the play. Max Duffy continues to be very reliable.

Outside of placekicking, the third phase continues to play well.

Outlook

For the second year in a row, Kentucky played poorly coming out of their bye week. The Wildcats went down to Starkville last year and got thumped by Mississippi State. This year, they got off to a horrific start on offense and were forced to grind out an ugly victory on Saturday night at Kroger Field.

Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky has been very bad as a double-digit favorite so maybe we should’ve seen the letdown performance coming. With the season now seven games deep, there is no question that the defense is the backbone of this football team.

Matt House’s unit has been superb and they are having an historic year on that side of the football. The Wildcats have been a problem for any offense they’ve come up against and that did not change on Saturday night. They are going to give UK a chance to win every week and are one of the top five defenses in the sport right now.

Offensively, things have just gotten way off the tracks for Eddie Gran’s unit in the last 10 quarters. It obviously starts at quarterback but the Wildcats need the positions around Terry Wilson to play better. The lack of passing game is the elephant in the room but Kentucky must stick to its identity. They are a run first football team and if they continue to put up 250 yards or more on the ground that is going to be good enough to beat a lot of teams.

Moving forward, I think you are going to see Kentucky to just try and manufacture a passing game in untraditional ways. Look for passes out of the wildcat formation and screens to be involved more. On Saturday, Kentucky got Terry Wilson on the move quite a bit and that opened up a fair share of running room. But with this defense it is important to remember that there is no reason for UK to get too aggressive on offense. Always play to your strengths.

On to Missouri.

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Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR

8 Comments for Ground game and a dominant defense grind out an SEC win



  1. michaelb
    3:55 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

    I wanna know why every team that executes a screen pass achieves 30+ yards but when we try it , it’s a fumble or the ball hits benny in the butthole or it’s caught for a -3 yard completion??????



    • Lhw
      4:02 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

      Because our offense is predictable. Plus we have a QB that can’t open up the attack.



    • hohum
      5:22 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

      Usually no blockers in front of receiver during screen – have to rely on someone on the line of scrimmage to make a key block to free the receiver on the screen and the block is often missed which is common because when in a stance there is far less situational awareness – result key block is missed and receiver is left on an island and then lucky to gain 3 yards. The real problem is the offensive coordinator who runs a very predictable offense. If Gran doesn’t pull his head out of his ass and develop a much better passing attack, we could easily lose the next two games and possibly the UT game.



  2. michaelb
    3:58 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

    Play action is something that will help Terry .. if the play caller can’t see the benefit of faking to benny we’re screwed . How did gran get that job?



    • Cat68
      8:55 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

      Agreed. The OC single-handedly took Benny out of the Heisman conversation. I said the ‘conversation’ because I honestly don’t think he wins it but my gosh, coach, let’s get the pub and maybe, just maybe you land another Benny who realizes how UK works their RBs. The TA&M game was stupidity at its finest from our OC. All of the sudden we’re some pass-happy offense with a Heisman candidate in our backfield. We just saw how our passing game really is…come on coach, let the players decide the game.



  3. gwhittle
    4:04 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

    Great article. I only disagree with the end. I think because our defense is so good, we can allow Terry to take some risks. If he turns it over passing, our defense can pick him up. Having a good defense means that we can take offensive risks, at least early, not that we need to play super conservative all game.



  4. maximumscott
    4:08 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

    Benny passing from the Wildcat will happen. They always being their safeties down and leave 1 on 1 press coverage. Mark my word. It will happen in 1 of the next two games



    • mashburnfan1
      10:34 pm October 21, 2018 Permalink

      Should happen, Vandy was blitzing the DB from the outside leaving 2 guys on 3 wr because they knew we were running from Wildcat. I like the wildcat on short yardage but not2nd and 7 at midfield. Gotta at least have the threat of a pass or Terry running to help open up holes.