Four days until kickoff, we revisit the most improbable victory in Kentucky football history.
Kentucky was a team that was going through a slump on offense, so when they needed it most, the best defense in school history stepped up. It wasn’t pretty, but Kentucky somehow got it done with stakes at an all-time high.
No. 4: No. 12 Kentucky 15, Missouri 14 – October 27, 2018
For the first time since 2007, Kentucky football was sitting at 6-1 and ranked as the 12th best team in the country. The Wildcats were in the thick of a three-way race for the SEC East crown with Florida and Georgia. After it went final midway through Kentucky’s game that the Bulldogs had toppled the Gators, a victory in Columbia assured a match up for the SEC East crown in Lexington the next week.
The problem, however, was Eddie Gran’s offense had grown one-dimensional. After beating Vanderbilt the week before 14-7 on only three completed pass attempts for 18 yards, it wasn’t guaranteed that Kentucky would walk out of the show-me state with a victory.
To ignite a spark, there were rumors that backups Gunnar Hoak and Danny Clark would get looks against the Tigers, along with starter Terry Wilson. As the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks – or in this case, three – you have no quarterback.
How were the Cats going to pull out a victory without scoring a touchdown on offense the entire 60 minutes?
The answer was a reliable defense and an electrifying playmaker who stepped up in the biggest way possible.
That Terrible, No good, Very Bad Offensive Performance
For 90% of the game, Kentucky’s offensive performance was one to forget. Benny Snell couldn’t get anything going, the offense was sputtering and Kentucky played all three quarterbacks.
After failing to convert on a 4th-and-2 in Missouri territory on the second drive of the game, things took a nose-dive. Drives stalled out and Kentucky turned to Gunnar Hoak in the second half. It wasn’t pretty. Hoak went 0-3 on his first drive before completing two passes the rest of the game for a mere 29 yards.
Kentucky finally turned back to Terry Wilson midway through the fourth quarter, but his first drive back went for a turnover on downs. It didn’t look good, but there was one shining glimmer of hope that kept Kentucky in it.
That nasty Kentucky defense.
No First Downs for Mizzou
The defense put on one of the greatest defensive performances in Kentucky history. Josh Allen and company didn’t allow a single first down in the entire 2nd half – forcing eight straight three-and-outs for Mizzou.
Even on the special teams, huge plays were made. Darius West’s blocked field goal on the Tigers first drive of the game turned out to be vitally crucial later on.
The defensive performance allowed Kentucky to hang around just long enough for Lynn Bowden to make the biggest play of his career.
This is where it gets good, folks.
Lynn Bowden Checks Himself in
Missouri’s win probability sat at 96.5% with Kentucky trailing 14-3 with five minutes and some change left.
Needing a spark, Lynn Bowden decided to tell Coach Stoops and Dean Hood that he wanted to return the punt.
Mark Stoops said the conversation when about like this, “He was like, ‘Coach,’ and I’m like, ‘Go, go do it, man.’ What do we got to lose at that point? ‘Go, go do your thing.’”
Lynn Bodwen did his thing.
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) October 27, 2018
This put Kentucky right back in the game with an energized defense that had forced six straight three-and-outs on the other sid., There was now a glimpse of hope.
Not only did Bowden give Kentucky life, but he gave them the best offensive performance of the night with 13 catches for 166 yards.
The Final Drive
The final drive Eddie Gran and company pieced together to beat Missouri last season was one of the craziest things in football I’ve ever seen, and I’m still not certain how they pulled it off.
Kentucky had one timeout and 1:24 to take the ball 81 yards. In order to pull out a victory, the Cats would need the perfect drive to escape, but it was far from perfect.
On the first play of the drive, Terry Wilson took a sack that killed 24 precious seconds off the game clock before the Cats could get reset. On 2nd-and-17, Wilson hit Bowden for 12 yards, but the issue was Lynn Bowden was in the middle of the field and short of a first down: the clock kept ticking. This time, the clock winds all the way down the 44 seconds before Kentucky could get their third-down play off.
Fortunately, Wilson found the unlikely hero and former walk-on David Bouvier in the middle of the field for a first down to momentarily stop the clock. Somehow, Mark Stoops kept his one timeout, but Kentucky still had to go 64-yards in 39 seconds.
On the very next play, Lexington-native Bouvier came through again when Wilson hit him on a seam route deep into Missouri territory.
33 yards to go, 27 seconds left to play.
After scrambling around for 12 seconds, Wilson hit Josh Ali who toed the sideline into the red zone before stepping out with 15 seconds left. Optimism crept back into the minds of the BBN, but it was quickly taken away when Wilson took another sack with nine seconds to go, forcing Kentucky to call their final timeout.
Twenty-seven yards to go with nine seconds left and no timeouts; It felt like Kentucky had one, maybe two shots at the endzone.
Instead, they played it smart. Terry Wilson dumped the ball off to Lynn Bowden who stepped out at the Missouri 10 with four seconds to go.
One More Shot
Ten yards to go in four seconds. A little too far for a Benny Snell punch in and a little too squeezed to run some elaborate route pattern. Kentucky just had to throw it up to the tall guys and hope for the best, so they called on the tallest guy they had; former Iowa basketball player Ahmad Wagner who hadn’t played a snap all season.
Kentucky ran a fade to the back corner of the endzone and Wagner makes a spectacular catch over the Tiger defender, but it was out of bounds. Gutpunch.
Then, out of nowhere a flag flies in for pass interference on Missouri.
One more shot for Kentucky, this time the ball was on the two. It was almost a certainty for Benny Snell to get it and fight for those two-yards. In fact, that was almost the play call, but CJ Conrad wanted the ball.
With Missouri in an all-out blitz, CJ Conrad ran an out-route that will live forever in Kentucky history.
Terry Wilson ?? CJ Conrad FOR THE WIN! pic.twitter.com/hyJZ2TtFow
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 27, 2018
Conrad caught the ball as time expired and Kentucky walked out of Columbia with the heist of the year, beating the Tigers 15-14.
Once CJ Conrad caught that pass from Terry Wilson it was pure jubilation from the BBN. We will always remember exactly where we were when Kentucky was FINALLY on the other end of an improbable victory. Not just any improbable victory, but a victory to set up a game with Georgia the following week for the SEC East – something Kentucky fans never thought they’d see.
For the people who sat through the Joker years, the cold Vandy games, the 31-straight-years of blowing it against Florida, two-win seasons, getting beat by Western, and dropping the final game against Louisville to miss out on a bowl, it was finally for us.
This is the game that made me feel like the phrase “that’s so Kentucky football” was finally dead. Kentucky had pulled off the most improbable victory, with the ugliest win we’ll ever see, and that’s what made this win so important. For the first time, Kentucky got the call, and they were the ones who finally found a way to win.
Now, cue the crowd surf.
Taking off from Columbia like… ? pic.twitter.com/WZd1OERRnM
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 28, 2018
Check out our other games in the countdown to kickoff series:
No. 5: We’re Just Getting Started Bro (Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38 – October 4, 2014)
No. 6: Kentucky is For Real (Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7 – September 22, 2018)
No. 7: The Kick Heard ‘Round the Commonwealth (Kentucky 40, Mississippi State 38 – October 16, 2016)
No. 8: Stephen Soars over Rocky Top (Kentucky 29, Tennesee 26 – October 28, 2017)
No. 9: Tongues Out in the Sandstorm (Kentucky 23, South Carolina 13 – September 16, 2017)
No. 10: The First Road Victory (Kentucky 26, South Carolina 22 – September 12, 2015)