In these recap posts the day after games, I decided that I wanted them to be stat driven. Here at KSR, the goal was to take a step back and give an analytical view of what happened for 60 minutes for the UK football squad. But yesterday was about more than just statistics.
Football is a sport that can be numbers driven, but what makes it unique from others is its small sample size. Unlike every other major sport, in football you only play one game a week and only have 12 opportunities to make things happen in the regular season. It can be somewhat maddening at the end of games because you know you lost to an inferior team because of one bad performance or the ball just didn’t bounce your way in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
Yesterday in CoMo it just didn’t feel like a regular football game. The Kentucky Wildcats found themselves in the middle of an offensive funk and could not find a way to get points despite having success moving the football all afternoon. However, the team never quit and everyone on the sideline continued to pull in the same direction. They just kept playing hard and their effort gave them a chance to win the game. This group found a way to get it done and next week at The Kroge will be the experience of a lifetime for the Big Blue Nation.
Ugly wins can be beautiful.
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 27, 2018
Kentucky rolled up 385 yards (91 rushing, 294 passing) on 74 plays on Saturday at Faurot Field. The Cats put up 5.2 yards per play and consistently moved the ball against Mizzou. The Tigers entered the game ranked fourth in the country in run defense efficiency and the Wildcats really struggled to establish their ground game.
The Wildcats only averaged 2.6 yards per carry and it was a very long day for superstar tailback Benny Snell. The junior put up 67 yards on 19 carries and had a season tying low 3.5 yards per carry average. On two fourth and short situations, the Mizzou front stuffed Snell twice. The offensive line was not creating a push and it became clear early that the Wildcats were going to need to move the ball through the air to win the football game.
After a very efficient start from Terry Wilson, the team was struggling to put points on the board. To find a spark, the staff decided to give Gunnar Hoak a look. In his first serious playing time since the season opening win over Central Michigan, the redshirt sophomore completed just 3-of-8 passes and averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt. After three series it was time to go back to QB1.
In his first drive back, Kentucky went 77 yards in nine plays with Kentucky finding itself in the red zone. On the possession, Terry Wilson completed three passes for 47 yards in addition to 14 rushing yards. The Cats were stuffed on fourth down at the goalline but Wilson looked like the quarterback of the future.
On his next possession, he threw an interception on a deep ball intended for Tavin Richardson but the defense would give him one more opportunity. On the final drive, Kentucky went 81 yards in eight plays which ended with a walk-off touchdown.
On the drive, Wilson took two sacks but completed all six of his pass attempts and recorded the first fourth quarter comeback victory of his career. After a week filled with quarterback questions, there is no doubt that Terry Wilson is now the guy behind center.
The Oklahoma City native completed 71% of his attempts for a career-high 267 yards. Terry Wilson averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and chipped in some productive runs when you take out the sack yardage. It was a solid day that could’ve been even better if he didn’t sit out a few possessions in the third quarter.
The beneficiary of this passing game was Lynn Bowden and the Youngstown native had the best day of his college career. We’ll get to the big punt return later but for the day the former blue-chip recruit reeled in 13 receptions on 13 targets for 166 yards. On Kentucky’s field goal drive in the first quarter, he produced an explosive play on the swing pass to get Kentucky in scoring range.
Bowden caught a deep shot in the fourth quarter and was UK’s go-to weapon all day. He’s emerged as one of the best receivers in the SEC this fall.
There’s no doubt that its been a rough run for Eddie Gran’s offense. In the last three and a half games, this group has only scored four touchdowns. But in the fourth quarter, the offense looked like the team from earlier in the season. Terry Wilson is back playing with confidence and that gives the passing game a pulse. Getting Benny Snell back rolling and this unit could do some really good things to close the season.
Kentucky allowed 249 total yards (62 rushing, 165 passing) on 62 plays with Derek Dooley’s group putting up just four yards per play. After a bit of a slow start, it was another dominant performance for Matt House’s unit.
For the first time all season, this defense was going against an offense that loved to go fast and it was going to take some time to get adjusted to the tempo. In their first two drives, Mizzou picked up 123 yards with Kentucky needing to make some adjustments. Once they did, the game was over for Drew Lock.
The future NFL draft pick completed just 55.6% of his attempts and tossed for 165 yards. The senior averaged just 6.1 yards per pass attempt and was totally shut down in the second half. Mizzou had eight consecutive three-and-outs in the second half with Drew Lock struggling to make things happen. He wan’t helped out by the ground game, either.
The Tigers recorded 35 carries for just 84 yards against Kentucky’s front. Mizzou averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and had a rough time finding any running room. The UK defensive front played a dominant football game against a very good offensive line and an impressive trio running backs. Once again, Josh Allen was the star of the day.
The senior continues to make a serious case as the best defensive player in college football after another outstanding effort. The outside linebacker recorded 11 tackles with two strip sacks to lead a dominant second half effort. For the season, Josh Allen ranks second nationally in sacks (10), fourth in tackles for loss (14.5), and first in forced fumbles (5). He’s been a dominant force and is one of the best players in college football.
This group ranks first nationally in scoring defense (13.0) and 13th in yards per play allowed (4.6). They currently have a case to be made that they are the best defense in college football. They give Kentucky a chance to win every week and are getting great efforts from everyone on the defense. And to think that defensive end Joshua Paschal could returning to the rotation soon.
Kentucky came up with the two biggest special teams plays of the season on Saturday and they were desperately needed. The Wildcats produced a blocked field goal in the first quarter and a punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter to win the all important third phase on Saturday afternoon.
On Mizzou’s first drive they quickly found themselves in field goal range and would lineup for a 43-yard attempt. With Tucker McCann’s big leg, this was a very makeable attempt. Last year, Lonnie Johnson came screaming off the edge to block a Mizzou field goal. On this attempt, it looked like the line was well aware. The end man doesn’t block down and this opens up a lane for Darius West to make a terrific block.
In the fourth quarter with the team desperately needing a big play, the Wildcats turned to Lynn Bowden to make something happen. The result was a touchdown on his first career punt return.
Due to the field goal inefficiencies and the lack of explosive plays in the return department, it hasn’t been a great season for the special teams. But on Saturday they hit on both in addition to getting another excellent effort from punter Max Duffy. These performances played a vital role in the victory.
For the fourth year in a row, Kentucky defeated Mizzou and this time it helped setup something historic. Now on the first Saturday in November the Wildcats will be hosting the Georgia Bulldogs for the SEC East title. A moment supporters of this football program have been waiting a very long time for, but now it’s time to realize what this team has accomplished.
For the first time since 1977, Kentucky has posted a winning record in conference play. The Cats are 5-1 in the league and have collected seven regular season wins for the third consecutive season. It took longer than a lot of people wanted but Mark Stoops has built something special in Lexington. The Wildcats have an old school SEC football team that is winning with a top notch defense and a ball control offense.
There is a lot of stuff to work on moving forward. The offense needs to improve on finishing drives and must get better on third down. Defensively, the Wildcats need to continue their stellar play but producing turnovers could be the key to pull off an upset win over Georgia. With only one month left in the season, the Wildcats are just one win away from Atlanta and have a very good chance to land in a New Year’s Six Bowl. What a time to be alive.
On to Georgia.