UK Football

Want to know why UK’s starting season so fast? Look to the line.

Kentucky center Drake Jackson (52) blocked Florida defensive end Elijah Conliffe (93) to spring running back Benny Snell in the second half of the Cats’ win on Saturday. Behind the offensive line, UK had two players run for more than 100 yards for the second straight game.
Kentucky center Drake Jackson (52) blocked Florida defensive end Elijah Conliffe (93) to spring running back Benny Snell in the second half of the Cats’ win on Saturday. Behind the offensive line, UK had two players run for more than 100 yards for the second straight game. aslitz@herald-leader.com

So much was made of the number 31 on Saturday after Kentucky ended Florida’s 31-game win streak over the Cats with a 27-16 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

But there were plenty of other interesting numbers to discuss after the victory: Kentucky’s 303 yards against the Gators on the ground were the most any team has had since 2002.

With Benny Snell’s 175 yards and quarterback Terry Wilson’s 105 yards on Saturday, UK has had two straight games of back-to-back double 100-yard rushers for the first time in 39 years.

The Cats’ 7.17 yards per rush is seventh-best in the country and their 303 rushing yards a game is No. 11 nationally.

That all starts up front with the offensive line, Coach Mark Stoops said on Monday to preview UK’s game with Murray State this weekend at Kroger Field.

“It starts with a mentality and a physicality about you,” Stoops said when asked specifically about a pancake block by right guard Bunchy Stallings on a key third-down play. “I felt like they were that way from the first snap to the last.”

That’s been the trend at least through two games this season. The Cats’ offensive line is one of just three in the Southeastern Conference that hasn’t given up a sack all season. And UK’s five tackles for loss allowed is tied for second-best in the league so far.

That has made life easier while Kentucky breaks in a brand new quarterback.

It’s a “big deal,” that Wilson feels like he has some time, Stoops said, specifically mentioning his quarterback’s ability to find Lynn Bowden on a 54-yard touchdown pass in the second half.

“You heard me talk last week about the opportunity to hit big plays should we get a bit more protection and third-and-16 conversion for a touchdown is a great example of that,” Stoops noted. “That was a clean pocket; he had time to sit in there and be patient and step up and make a great throw and that starts with the protection.”

The toughness that Kentucky’s offensive line showed in that victory was one of the reasons he gave the game ball to their position coach, John Schlarman, who is battling cancer.

It’s also the reason Stallings was one of two UK players to receive SEC player honors on Monday from the conference office. The right guard had nine knockdown blocks, no missed assignments or penalties and had 23 blocks at the point of attack, according to UK’s statistics.

“Bunchy did a heck of a job,” Stoops said of the senior and the Cats’ interior offensive linemen in general during that game. “They set the tone right up front. They got movement and that always starts everything with the movement inside.”

Stallings wasn’t the only player to earn honors from the SEC this week after the big win over Florida. UK senior linebacker Josh Allen was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week. Allen recorded five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Allen’s sack and forced fumble in the final seconds of the game helped seal the victory for UK on Saturday.

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Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen went after Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks in the third quarter of Kentucky’s 27-16 win over the Gators on Saturday. Allen was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week this week for his five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in the game. Monica Herndon TNS

A recruiting advantage?

There’s no doubt that ending a 31-game losing streak to Florida can help Kentucky while it’s recruiting in the state of Florida, Stoops said on Monday.

But he thinks it helps UK in recruiting everywhere.

“It was big opportunity for us against a ranked opponent on the road,” he said. “And it shows where this program is headed and what we are doing. Most importantly, kind of the mentality of this football team as you get to know it like I know it. It’s a special group and you want to be a part of that type of environment.”

Other news and notes

There were no changes to the Kentucky depth chart put out for the opener two weeks ago, but starting nose guard Quinton Bohanna is listed as day-to-day after injuring his ankle early in the Florida game.

The sophomore has been battling ankle pain the past few weeks, but has been able to practice after a day or two of rest, Stoops said.

They’ve just been minor but when you’re that big and he goes into a game, it’s been bothering him a little bit,” Stoops said of Bohanna, who was replaced by Tymere Dubose and true freshman Marquan McCall at The Swamp. “He wasn’t at full strength. He couldn’t play anymore.”

Kentucky’s game against No. 16 Mississippi State on Sept. 22 will be played at Kroger Field at 7 p.m., the league announced on Monday. Television for the game hasn’t been set yet, but will be on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.

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