Kentucky football: Grading the Wildcats' Week 2 win over Eastern Michigan
On a night when Kentucky scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions and never led by fewer than 14 points thereafter, Kroger Field was a relatively subdued place on Saturday.
Kentucky moved to 2-0 with a 38-17 victory over Eastern Michigan, but much of the sense of achievement was drained from the game by the apparent loss of UK quarterback Terry Wilson to a late third-quarter left leg injury.
Wilson’s injury aside, Kentucky played well, if fairly unevenly. The Wildcats seemed to threaten to break the game open on several occasions, but even if that effort was unsuccessful, the final outcome was never in doubt after the first quarter. Here’s the good and bad of UK’s Week 2 win.
What I Liked
The running back tandem
Freshman Kavosiey Smoke and junior A.J. Rose combined to carry the ball 28 times for 174 yards and two touchdowns. For the second week in a row, Smoke showed the big-play ability on the edge (11 carries for 92 yards, including a 32-yard TD and a 30-yard scoring run negated by a penalty) and Rose tended to run inside (17 carries for 82 yards). Other than Rose’s second-quarter fumble inside the EMU 5-yard line, both featured backs played very well.
The continuing emergence of Ahmad Wagner
Former Iowa basketball player Ahmad Wagner had a second consecutive big game at wide receiver. Wagner caught three passes for 71 yards, including a 54-yard deep ball on which he drew a pass interference penalty against his defender, but broke free for a score anyway. Wagner will be pivotal, particularly if UK needs to pass more.
Several looks for Lynn Bowden
UK found Lynn Bowden several ways — seven catches for 54 yards, two carries for 17 more, a Wildcat formation pass from Bowden to Terry Wilson for 32 yards, a kick return for 37 yards and a punt return for 29 more. Considering how explosive Bowden is, Kentucky will continue to lean on him and feature him in several ways.
Kentucky’s largely untried secondary didn’t have a bad game against EMU, despite allowing 337 passing yards. The Eagles hit a bevy of short passes, and Kentucky employed a bend-but-don’t-break gameplan that held EMU to two touchdowns. Defenders Jordan Griffin and Kash Daniel each added an interception that gave UK the ball on the EMU side of the field. While not as flashy, safety Yusuf Corker and JUCO transfer cornerback Brandin Echols both were solid.
The debut of Sawyer Smith
Nobody wanted to see UK’s new backup quarterback enter the game because of Wilson’s injury. But once Smith, a Troy transfer, took the field he looked pretty good. The junior completed 5-of-9 passes for 76 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith completed a nice deep ball to Wagner and found Bowden on a nice throw for a second scoring pass.
What I Didn’t Like
Kentucky had seven penalties for 84 yards, and several came in crucial situations. Holding brought back one touchdown, and a personal foul moved UK out of a second-and-goal situation and into a field goal. Kentucky has to avoid shooting itself in the foot in SEC play.
The Terry Wilson injury
Wilson has been an underrated component of Kentucky’s offense over the past 15 games. He is 12-3 as Kentucky’s starter and if he hasn’t always won in aesthetically pleasing ways, well, he generally has won. To see him unable to leave the field on his own power with an injury that seems all but certain to be season ending (witness Mark Stoops’ comments to EMU coach Chris Creighton after the game, as picked up by TV mics) was a difficult moment to watch.
Yes, Kentucky’s secondary is inexperienced, and yes, Kentucky played with a lead all night. But EMU passed for 337 yards largely because UK’s defensive backs consistently gave away 6-8 yards on short passes. It’s a gamble that largely works (the Eagles only scored two touchdowns) but it’s frustrating to watch, particularly when an opponent can control the clock, as Eastern Michigan did in the fourth quarter.