Throughout the week leading up to Kentucky and Missouri, incredulous discussion focused on two topics: Quarterback and Offensive Coordinator. Both excelled in UK’s 21-13 victory over Missouri. Patrick Towles was nearly flawless by going 22-27 for 249 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Shannon Dawson timely called an excellent football game by mixing the run with play action passing all while winning on third down in a game in which his offense had zero turnovers. For the night, Kentucky converted 64.2% on third down by going 9/14. Given Mizzou’s recent success and defensive prowess, beating the Tigers by 8 points is a literal rout.
By rolling up 369 total yards against one of the nation’s top statistical defensive football teams, I hope that this week’s reflection is focused on one other key topic: TEAM. Captain and starting left tackle Jordan Swindle left the game due to injury. Former walk-on and team-first player Cole Mosier stepped in and up to help lead the offense to a critical conference win. Offense is an eleven-man operation; but it’s led by one: quarterback Patrick Towles. No one part is greater than the sum.
While questions remain about Boom Williams’ second-half absence and post-game exit, my contention is that a more meaningful story is just how good JoJo Kemp played in the final two quarters. Kemp finished the night with 13 carries for 68 yards. While averaging 5.1 yards per rush, JoJo also had a knock-down block on a blitz pick-up.
— The game opened with offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s intent on early completions to help his quarterback gain confidence. That worked with two consecutive completions to Boom Williams. Both passes were simple yet productive.
— Offensive player’s body posture was totally different than was displayed against Florida. It was loose, relaxed, poised, and purposed. Last week, Dawson indicated his players cared too much about the Florida game. I feel they cared as much against Missouri, but approached the game in a much more relaxed pregame bearing. Coaching.
— Towles’ early season miscues were when his passes sailed high and behind intended receivers. The only miss that somewhat fit that description came in the game’s first series. On 3rd and 9, his pass was high on the sideline route intended for Garrett Johnson. However, high and outside on the sideline is not a bad thing. High and behind target in the middle of the field can be catastrophic.
— Down 7-0, Kentucky answered on its first play with a Towles to Baker vertical route. While a spectacular pitch and catch, the play came back due to two penalties. On this particular scoring drive, Cats started with a 1st and 29 on its own 9-yard line. As for the completion that didn’t count, Patrick threw a dart to Baker that had to infuse offensive confidence.
— Answering the bell after a potentially deflating penalty, the Cats then marched 93 yards for a touchdown. At that point, I felt Patrick Towles and the offense had their mojo back.
— Boom Williams’ 11-yard run was sparked by Cole Mosier’s kick out block on Mizzou DE Charles Harris. Wasn’t a knockdown, but got enough of the defender to secure the edge. Mosier played excellent in difficult circumstance. The former walk-on was matched up against an elite defensive end, Charles Harris who will be a Sunday player. Mosier is playing as if he may eventually join Harris.
— Patrick Towles previously struggled in middle-of-the-field pass routes. Not against Missouri. Dawson rolled the pocket as Towles hit Garrett Johnson. Key component of this play was Shannon Dawson’s anticipation of a Mizzou blitz. It did, the rolled pocket was key for the completion. Coaching adjustment.
— Drive ended on a 14-yard Patrick Towles scramble run for a touchdown. This play was just Patrick being a 6’5″, 240-lbs. athlete. He broke two in-pocket tackles before crossing the goal line.
— A commonality on UK’s three touchdown drives: first down success
— Ryan Timmons played running back for one series.
— CJ Conrad’s first catch was the product of Towles’ pre-snap read of Mizzou’s cover 2 look and Conrad’s ability to read the coverage while finding a void behind the linebacker. Patrick Towles threw a strike as Conrad was matched up against a senior linebacker. In a postgame interview, Conrad mentioned reading the defense and anticipating being open. For an 18-year-old true freshman to be that cognizant of advanced coverages, he’s special folks.
— Patrick Towles displayed superb pocket awareness. When protection broke down, he remained calm and scrambled. Discussion and postgame accolades circle around his passing numbers; however, I feel his control, game management, and on-field demeanor were just as impressive.
— The boo birds chirped after Mark Stoops decided to go to the locker room tied at 7-7 instead of taking downfield shots to set up a possible field goal. Upon film review, that was absolutely the right call. The drive started on UK’s 2-yard line. Mikel Horton rushed twice before Towles scrambled for a 1st down.
— Missouri defensive end Charles Harris and inside rush from true freshman DT Terry Beckner were on the verge of presenting serious trouble for the UK offensive line. This was evident on the Towles scramble. While the Cats did gain a first down, trouble was sensed. Kentucky managed to move the chains once more, but MU’s pass rush momentum was gaining steam. Florida memory was also fresh in Stoops’ head. A miscued two-minute drive led to Gator points.
— On 3rd and 2 on Mikel Horton’s first down play, Kyle Meadows replaced George Asafo-Adjei at right tackle. Coaching.
— The second half opened with a pair of three and outs. Just as Mizzou ended the first half, its pass rush was gaining energy.
— Boom Williams missed a blitz-pickup block on the Patrick Towles sack.
— In the next series, Mizzou’s back-up defensive line was in the game. UK capitalized. On a critical 2nd and 7, center Jon Toth had a knock down block on an interior defensive lineman as Nick Haynes worked up to block a Mizzou linebacker. Result was a long JoJo Kemp run. This provided a spark to the scoring drive.
— On the same series, Dawson went to the power run set, Taco Meat Collins had a knockdown block against All-SEC LB Kentrell Brothers as JoJo Kemp again ran behind his pads before going airborne for a first down. Kyle Meadows’ kick-out block initiated the play. This play symbolized the UK offensive effort. TEAMwork, effort, grit, and that extra effort required to win home conference games.
— Following a chop block violation on Mosier, Conrad, the rookie tight end, again found the void in the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown reception. Mizzou corners lined up close to line of scrimmage with a two safety look behind. Play action froze the linebackers, Conrad streaked wide-open to the end zone. Patrick Towles’ and CJ Conrad’s pre-snap read was again noticeable by recognizing that Missouri’s coverage could not account for the TE. 14-10 UK. Coaching, player development.
— On its final scoring drive, Patrick Towles again found Garrett Johnson over the middle on a play action pass. Johnson’s ability to execute crossing or dig routes are signs of player development. By Towles selling the run, linebackers were late to coverage. Gain of 35 yards on the reception ignited the crowd.
— A pair of 3rd down plays were critical:
- Third and 5, Patrick Towles completed a back-shoulder fade to Dorian Baker on the sideline. Baker’s incredible, one-handed catch is exactly what the fans have been waiting to see. Dorian is incredibly skilled and highly competitive.
- Two plays later, JoJo Kemp had a knock-down block against a blitzing Missouri defender. Kemp struggled in this area in 2014. His second half performance was complete; running and blocking.
- On third down, again, Patrick Towles hit Garrett Johnson on a crossing rout following a QB sack preventing block by Cole Mosier. The completion moved the football to the Mizzou five yard line.
— First and goal, Dorian Baker caught a fade route for six points. Baker is a red-zone matchup nightmare. Patrick Towles threw another strike. 21-10 UK.
— Kentucky’s final drive of the night was a thing of beauty. Starting on its own 22-yard line with an eight-point lead while Missouri had two remaining timeouts, Kentucky had to close the deal with two first downs.
— On this drive, Dawson called every play from the power run formation featuring CJ Conrad and Taco Meat Collins as fullbacks. JoJo Kemp took over. During two of his game-sealing runs, initial contact was made on Kemp four yards prior to his knee touching the turf. That’s described as tough yards after contact (YAC). JoJo refused to be tackled.
— Kentucky’s offensive line took over the final series. Consisting of four redshirt sophomores (Mosier, Haynes, Meyers, and Meadows) and the junior Jon Toth. Nothing motivates an OL more than running plays that lead up to the Victory formation. The group didn’t disappoint. Game over. Final score UK 21 MU 13.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
— Shannon Dawson diversified his play calling by mixing up the pass and run from varying formations and personnel sets. For example, while backed up in its own end zone, UK went with an empty backfield. While salting the clock, the Cats played two fullbacks and powered its way to the win. TE CJ Conrad lined up in the backfield as an “H” back, and on the line of scrimmage in the traditional tight end position. Dawson motioned and aligned his offense to be in position to win the football game.
— Patrick Towles and his pass catchers made both routine and spectacular plays. Unlike against Florida, it took advantage of opportunities with touchdowns, not field goals. CJ Conrad impressed. I’m not only referring to his 3 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. In Mark Stoops’ Monday press conference, he mentioned the word “team” several times. CJ Conrad fits the mold as a team player. He blocks, catches, and motivates his elder teammates on a consistent basis.
— The big guys up front did not dominate Missouri’s front seven, but it was effective enough to generate 369 total yards. Given its opponent’s defensive line prowess, I’d give the offensive line an A for the game. Noticeable was OL mobility. All over 300 pounds, but they consistently moved, pulled, and pass blocked in an athletic manner. Yet another sign of recruiting, player development, coaching, and enhanced depth.
- First Downs: 21
- Rushing Yards: 120
- Passing Yards: 249
- Total Plays: 65
- Total Yards: 369
- Turnovers: 0
- Red Zone Scores: 3/3
- Third Down Conversion: 9/14
- 2nd Quarter: Patrick Towles 14-yard run, MacGinnis PAT
- 3rd Quarter: CJ Conrad 24-yard pass from Patrick Towles, MacGinnis PAT
- 4th Quarter: Dorian Baker 5-yard pass from Patrick Towles, MacGinnis PAT