Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 35-20 win over Central Michigan on Saturday:
1. Touchdown Terry is a work in progress
Terry Wilson, the junior college transfer, showed some glimpses of why he edged out fellow sophomore Gunnar Hoak for the starting job during training camp. Overall, however, Wilson looked like a newcomer battling nerves or rust, or both.
The Oklahoma native lost a fumble and threw two interceptions. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 78 yards and carried the ball nine times for 38 yards. Playing with a bruised shoulder, Wilson settled down in the second half and showed improvement.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
But one of the storylines from camp played out to Wilson’s benefits. UK entered the season with inexperience at quarterback but experience at most every other position on offense. The hope was that the QB wouldn’t have to carry the load, and Saturday the Cats had enough surrounding Wilson to overcome his mistakes.
Both Benny Snell and A.J. Rose rushed for over 100 yards, the first time UK has had a pair accomplish that feat in the same game since Snell and Boom Williams blasted Missouri in Columbia in 2016. Saturday, playing through a virus and fever, Snell rushed for 125 yards on 20 carries. He scored on a 52-yard touchdown run. Rose, the start of the spring game, rushed for 104 yards on just eight carries. He scored on a 55-yard touchdown run.
Kentucky rushed for 299 yards, his highest rushing total since gaining 443 yards on the ground in loss to Tennessee on Nov. 12, 2016. If Rose continues to emerge, that should take some of the load off of Snell, not that Benny wants to concede any of his load. One area Rose needs continued improvement is pass protection, something Mark Stoops mentioned in his post-game press conference.
2. Kentucky’s defense starts on the right foot
Central Michigan’s 20 points all came in the first half and all followed UK turnovers. The Chippewas did not score in the second half. The visitors’ longest drive was a 14-play, 80-yard march in the second quarter that was kept alive by a targeting penalty on UK cornerback Chris Westry, who was ejected. That came on a third-and-11, something that still clearly aggravated Stoops after the game.
In the second half, Central Michigan punted on five of its six possessions. The sixth possession, the Chippewas drove 69 yards in nine plays but could not convert on a fourth-and-six from the Kentucky 28-yard line.
Overall, UK outgained CMU by 172 yards (427-255), the most since UK outgained Missouri 582-386 in the previously mentioned Benny/Boom game of 2016. Remember, this is a Kentucky team that outgained just two opponents all of last season – Eastern Kentucky by 118 and Vanderbilt by 59.
(An aside here: The Eastern Kentucky quarterback that game, Tim Boyle, made the Green Bay Packers 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent on Saturday. The Connecticut transfer will be the third quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers and DeShone Kizer.)
Stoops said he was proud of the defense, and had every reason to be given the situations they were placed in by UK’s four first-half turnovers. Josh Allen and Kash Daniel were particular standouts.
3. It’s now officially Florida Week
You know, that 31-year Kentucky losing streak to the Gators. The Cats have not beaten the Gators since 1986. They have not beaten the Gators in Gainesville, the site of Saturday’s game, since 1979. UK gave away last season’s 28-27 loss at Kroger Field. They lost a 36-30 overtime heartbreaker at Florida Field in 2014. As I said in my Sunday column, the series has plenty of ghosts.
Dan Mullen made his debut as Florida coach with a 53-6 romp over Charleston Southern on Saturday at The Swamp. Quarterback Feleipe Franks completed 16 of 24 passes for 219 yards and five touchdowns. Franks started last year’s game against Kentucky only to be bailed out by Luke Del Rio in the second half.
Dameon Pierce gained 75 yards on eight carries. Freddie Swan led the Gators with two catches for 57 yards. Florida outgained CSU 444-225. Charleston Southern gained three years passing. That’s right, three.
The Gators defensive coordinator is a familiar face. Todd Grantham was Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator at Georgia, then Bobby Petrino’s defensive coordinator at Louisville before joining up with Mullen as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. When Mullen left for the Sunshine State, he brought Grantham along, too.
Of the teams that have played so far, Florida is No. 16 in total defense. Kentucky is No. 23 in the same category.
From his time at Mississippi State, Mullen is 8-1 against Kentucky. He is 4-1 against Stoops. He’s a terrific coach, one likely to get the Gators going again. Kentucky’s hope is to catch him before that happens.
Kentucky football 2018