UK Football

UK-Georgia: Five big bullet points as Cats prepare for SEC East challenge

Kentucky’s win over Arkansas was critical to turning back the negative momentum that consumed the program during the last month.

Whether it can travel to Georgia and maintain that reversal remains to be seen. The Wildcats opened as a 26-point underdog, according to Bet Online. As Mark Stoops put it Monday, it’ll be “a very difficult time” in Athens this week — especially with the Bulldogs coming off a double-overtime loss to underdog South Carolina.

If you could have picked a week to play Georgia, you would not have picked this one. Alas, that’s where it falls on the Cats’ schedule, and the team will prepare accordingly.

Quarterback update

Lynn Bowden and Sawyer Smith are listed with an “OR” at the No. 1 quarterback slot on Kentucky’s depth chart this week.

That’s not surprising: Bowden earned co-Offensive Player of the Week recognition from the Southeastern Conference after leading UK in its 24-20 victory Saturday, and regardless of Smith’s health he made a compelling case for why he should be under center this weekend. UK’s offense hummed for the first time since the early stages of the Florida game.

Smith was feeling “significantly better,” trainers told Stoops on Monday morning. He stressed the importance of the rest Smith got by not being called upon Saturday (he stayed loose on the sidelines and was available but never entered the game).

“I think he’s much further along,” Stoops said.

In other words, prepare for another week of uncertainty about the Cats’ starting quarterback, though this time with much better knowledge of what its second option looks like.

Receiver engagement

Kentucky threw the ball 12 times — 11 from Bowden, one from A.J. Rose — against Arkansas, by far its lowest total of the season (previously that distinction went to the Toledo game, in which Terry Wilson threw all 26 passes).

Stoops said he has confidence in Bowden to do more as a passer if he ends up starting at Georgia. Bowden was able to extend plays frequently with his feet and ended up rushing 24 times while completing seven passes — two to tight end Justin Rigg, two to Clevan Thomas, and one each to Josh Ali, Allen Dailey and Bryce Oliver (Ali also caught the lone pass from Rose).

“After watching the game, you could see there were more opportunities to throw,” Stoops said.

He was proud of how unselfish the receivers were as a group, knowing they weren’t likely to get many receptions on Saturday. Their sacrifice against Arkansas could pay dividends against a Georgia team against whom the Cats will have to generate some big plays in order to score an upset.

“Certainly we want to give them the football,” Stoops said. “We feel like we have some playmakers out there.”

Run, run, run

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is a projected top-15 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In his career against the Wildcats he’s 23 of 34 with two touchdowns, an interception and a sack.

Those numbers aren’t outstanding — he threw (51) and completed (28) more passes in last week’s loss to South Carolina than in two games against Kentucky — but the Bulldogs haven’t needed him to do much when they line up against the boys in blue; the run game (386 yards in 2017 and 340 yards in 2018) has done its job and then some.

This season Georgia’s averaging 237.2 rushing yards per game, tops in the SEC (Kentucky’s sixth at 192.8). D’Andre Swift, another future NFL draftee, leads the way and is one of three Bulldogs who to this point average more than 6 yards per carry.

Their running backs, I mean, they’re as good as anybody I’ve seen,” Stoops said. “They go four deep with some guys that can play. They’re typical Georgia.”

Dance floor

Stoops commented on the team’s postgame celebration, video of which was released online soon after the Wildcats’ victory Saturday. He said backup nose guard Marquan McCall is “the ringleader” when it comes to the players getting him to dance alongside them.

“For a big man, he can break it down pretty good,” Stoops said. “I need him to help me with that stuff. It’s just to have fun. Those guys, they’ve invested a lot. They need to have a little fun, enjoy it. That’s really meant for us in that locker room just to have some fun. It’s fine to share that once in a while. You certainly open yourself to a lot of criticism with my dance moves, that’s for sure.”

Etc.

Bowden was listed as the starter in three other spots on the depth chart in addition to quarterback: wide receiver (F), punt returner and kickoff returner. Ali started at punt returner and Zach Johnson started at kick returner on Saturday.

Offensive tackle Landon Young exited in the second half Saturday after Bowden landed on his leg after a tackle. He suffered an ankle injury but is still listed as the starting left tackle.

“I hope it’s nothing major. We’ll see,” Stoops said. “Sometimes with a big man like that, unsure how he responds till he gets out there, how it goes, how much he can deal with it.”

Defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna left the game in the fourth quarter but his injury status was not updated. He’s still listed as the team’s starting nose guard.

Next game

Kentucky at No. 10 Georgia

6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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