Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 56-10 win at Louisville on Saturday:
1. This was/is an accomplished Kentucky football team
Let us count the ways:
▪ First team to beat Florida since 1986 when the Cats beat the Gators 27-16 on Sept. 8
▪ First team to beat Florida in Gainesville since 1979
▪ First team to produce a winning SEC record (5-3) since 1977
▪ First team to be one win away from winning the SEC East and playing in the conference title game since the league expanded in 1992
▪ First team to beat Louisville by more than 34 points since the series with UK’s in-state rival was re-started in 1994
▪ And now the first team to win nine regular-season games since 1977
“That is significant,” said UK coach Mark Stoops on Saturday when asked about the ninth win.
Rich Brooks did a stellar job at UK when he took over a program that was on probation and not only built a solid foundation but took the Cats to four straight bowl games for the first time in school history. But Brooks never won nine regular-season games at UK.
Hal Mumme brought the Air Raid and offensive excitement to UK football. The former Valdosta State coach took the 1998 Cats to the Outback Bowl and helped Tim Couch become the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft. But Mumme never won nine regular-season games at UK.
Jerry Claiborne took over a down program and led the Cats to back-to-back bowl games in the 1980s and his 1984 team finished 9-3 after beating Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl. But Claiborne never won nine regular-season games at UK.
Time to give Mark Stoops his due.
2. Terry Wilson gave a feel-good look at the future
The Kentucky quarterback was named the Governor’s Cup most Valuable Player after completing 17 of 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He also ran the ball 10 times for 79 yards and a score.
Wilson threw a 28-yard TD pass to a wide open Lynn Bowden in the back of the end zone. He threw a 13-yard TD pass to Bowden over the middle. And he found Josh Ali for a 32-yard score in the fourth quarter. On the night, he completed passes of 27, 32, 32, 27, 20 and 32 yards. He also had a 40-yard run.
“He got back to his self, like he was in the first couple of weeks (of the season),” said Bowden of Wilson. “That’s the Terry I like to see.”
Indeed, in the win at Florida back in September, Wilson was the difference-maker, completing 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and two scores as well as rushing for 105 yards and another TD on 10 carries. The next week, against Middle Tennessee, he completed 19 of 25 passes for 163 yards while rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown.
By mid-season, especially in UK’s 20-14 overtime loss at Texas A&M, Wilson struggled. He was indecisive with his throws. He was hesitant on his runs. He did not play with the same reckless abandon he played with early in the year.
Confidence was one factor. When Wilson hit some struggles, he appeared to a lose a little confidence in his game. Health was another factor. Stoops’ admitted and Wilson confirmed Saturday that he was not completely healthy through the middle of the year.
But starting with that final game-winning drive at Missouri, Wilson improved with each game. Over his final five games, Wilson completed 93 of 131 passes for 1,047 yards with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions. He completed 71 percent of his passes.
As tight end C.J. Conrad said of Wilson’s play Saturday, “Wow.”
3. UK and U of L are heading in different directions
After rolling up a season-high 601 yards in its regular-season finale, Kentucky is headed to a prestigious bowl game. The consensus seems to be the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando. It would be UK’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1998.
After giving up 50-or-more points for the fifth consecutive game, Louisville finished 2-10 and is headed into a state of limbo as athletic director Vince Tyra goes about the job of hiring a new coach to replace Bobby Petrino.
Former Louisville quarterback and current Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is believed to be on top of Tyra’s list. Yet after Purdue’s 28-21 win over Indiana on Saturday, Brohm said, “I’m the coach at Purdue. This is where I want to be and I like it here.”
Even if Brohm turns down his hometown team, the Cards can find a good coach. Howard Schnellenberger, John L. Smith, Charlie Strong and Petrino all won at U of L, other coaches can, too. It will take time. The talent isn’t there right now. But the job is still attractive.
Meanwhile, Mark Stoops is now 35-39 through six seasons at Kentucky. A strong senior core led by Josh Allen, Mike Edwards, C.J. Conrad, Bunchy Stallings, Derek Baity, Darius West, Jordan Jones, David Bouvier, George Asafo-Adeji and others laid the foundation that produced a nine-win season.
But there is talent on the horizon. Wilson is a sophomore. So is Bowden. A.J. Rose, who rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries, including a 75-yard TD run, is a redshirt sophomore. Offensive tackle Landon Young will return after missing 2018 with a torn ACL. On defense, linebackers Chris Oats and Deandre Square are future stars. Quinton Bohanna should anchor the defensive line. The secondary was deep enough to give young players time on the field. And, oh yeah, team leader Kash Daniel will be back for his senior season.
First, however, this Kentucky team has a chance to be a 10-win team. That’s something that has happened just twice in school history.
“We haven’t won a bowl game yet since I’ve been here,” said Conrad of UK’s two previous tries. “It’s extremely important to us.”
Kentucky football 2018