Everyone knows that in Kentucky, we love a thoroughbred. The glimpse of a stallion as it is in full trot on a track brings about feelings of pride and awe for all Kentuckians. Names like Man O’ War, Secretariat, and American Pharoah are synonymous with the very best thoroughbreds the state has ever known.
In the case of Kentucky football, there are some new stallions in the barn, and they are being led by one named Terry “Touchdown” Wilson.
Wilson put on a clinic Saturday on how to be a dual-threat quarterback as the sophomore led the Wildcats to a 48-10 victory over in-state foe Murray State Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field.
For the day, the UK signal caller accounted for over 200 yards of total offense as the Cats ran their record to 3-0 on the season.
With these things in mind, let’s assess the Wildcat performance, shall we?
Offense (A): The Wildcat offense was clicking on all cylinders today both in the rushing and passing game. Wilson went 19-25 for 243 yards as well as 80 yards on 13 carries, highlighted by a 42-yard TD scamper. Reserve QB Gunnar Hoak was 4-7 for 77 yards and a score. Benny Snell Jr. added 75 yards rushing on 15 attempts and a score. Snell also was credited with a 43-yard TD pass on a well-executed reverse to receiver Zy'Aire Hughes. Little-used back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. ripped off 43 yards on just two carries. AJ Rose and Danny Clark also added rushing touchdowns to the Cats’ cause. For the game, UK rushed for 245 yards on 43 carries (5.7 average).
Lynn Bowden Jr. enjoyed his most productive game as a UK receiver, hauling in eight passes for 89 yards. His development is key to the offense as future opponents will begin to stack the line of scrimmage and try to force the Cats to throw. Bowden Jr. gives the Cats a big play threat from anywhere on the field to score. It was also good to see senior receiver Dorian Baker (4 receptions) and tight end CJ Conrad (3 receptions) play well and make some catches.
The Cats’ development on offense is visible. Good teams execute. Kentucky was 5-5 in the red zone. Good SEC teams run the football well behind a powerful offensive line as their bread and butter. Kentucky has that going for them. But the great SEC teams have the ability to throw the ball effectively as well. UK is developing that. As Wilson becomes more comfortable, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran can really open up the playbook and take more shots downfield where Bowden Jr., Baker, and Conrad can make plays to open up that potent run game even more.
Also visible is how the team’s depth has improved, both in quantity and quality. Since coach Mark Stoops took over the program six years ago, one of his priorities was to improve the depth of the team. With six players rushing the ball for four scores and 11 different receivers catching a pass, Kentucky’s depth is becoming a strength not a weakness.
Defense (A): The Wildcat defense had a good day for the most part. One positive was holding the Racers to a field goal and a late TD against the second stringers. Another positive is how hard the defense played all game long, especially in the red zone. The Racers had some opportunities to score, but the UK defense stymied them several times and the offense converted those opportunities into scores. Senior safety Mike Edwards led the defense with five tackles and a tackle for loss. All told, UK’s depth shined on the defensive side of the ball as well. Twenty three Wildcat defenders accounted for 52 tackles on the day and also had a sack, five tackles for loss, and 11 passes defended.
Special Teams (A): Kicker Miles Butler was perfect on extra points (6-6) and added two field goals as well from 40 and 38 yards respectively. Punter Max Duffy punted once for 54 yards. An old coach once told me that the best special teams just make plays and plays clean. The Cats are doing that very well the last two years.
Well Cat fans, I have to say it’s great to be 3-0 and ended the Florida streak in the process. But now UK faces its’ toughest test to date as nationally-ranked Mississippi State visits the Big Supermarket next Saturday night. The Bulldogs have a potent offense (averaging 578 yards per contest) and defense (allowing 234 yards per game) led by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. It stands to reason if Kentucky has designs on making noise in the SEC race then a victory over MSU would strengthen the Cats' cause. The good thing is Kentucky has some thoroughbreds in the fold now. If they come to the race next Saturday night ready to run, who’s to say the Kentucky faithful won’t enjoy another victory in the Bluegrass?
Shane Shackleford is a regional sports writer residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.