Rapid Reaction: Kentucky avoids disaster, edges FCS foe Eastern Kentucky at home
Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game between Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky, not many people gave the FCS Colonels much of a chance to upset the Wildcats in Lexington.
However, though the Wildcats eventually prevailed, they more than had their hands full with their in-state neighbors.
There are a lot of questions coach Mark Stoops and his staff will have to address moving forward, but the important thing is that the Wildcats are now 2-0 after a 27-16 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Here are a some things I liked and didn’t like from Kentucky’s narrow win over the visiting Colonels:
Penalties killed the Cats early
The Wildcats were hurt by a couple of early penalties as Eastern Kentucky jumped out to a 7-3 lead.
First, LB Eli Brown was called for a 15-yard penalty for leaping over blockers on an EKU punt, giving the Colonels a first down on a series they’d score a touchdown on.
Then, on the ensuing Kentucky possession, freshman WR Lynn Bowden — who complained about a lack of playing time last week — was ejected for targeting on the first offensive play of his collegiate career.
Not a great debut for Drew Barker
Kentucky backup QB Drew Barker made his first appearance in a game since Week 3 of last season and his first series did not go well, to say the least.
A throw into double coverage and a third-down sack stalled out his first drive before it could really get started, forcing the Wildcats to punt.
Considering starter Stephen Johnson was 7-for-9 passing at the time of Barker’s debut, it’s fair to question why a switch was made at all.
… But it gave Stephen Johnson the spark he needed
After losing his job for two series, Johnson came back in and helped right the ship for the Wildcats.
He led them on a touchdown drive immediately after re-entering the game, making a beautiful throw to TE C.J. Conrad. He also led the team into field goal position just before halftime, but the long attempt was missed.
It’s safe to say there’s no longer a quarterback controversy in Lexington.
Third down woes
While the Kentucky defense couldn’t stop the Colonels on third down, the Wildcats’ offense couldn’t convert a third down, either.
Barker took sacks on third downs in his first two possessions to force Kentucky punts, while the Colonels used a slew of third-down conversions to power their two early touchdown drives.
To make matters worse, Johnson was sacked on third down on the next possession after returning to the game. Fortunately for the Wildcats, the play was negated thanks to a facemask penalty.
Benny Snell is one tough Cat
After leaving the game early in the first quarter to get an X-ray on his ribs, Snell had a huge second half and was a big reason the Wildcats managed to avoid disaster against the Colonels.
He was clearly in pain, but managed to put up a total of 103 yards on 19 carries and adding the go-ahead touchdown, to boot.
It was a gutsy effort from the sophomore running back, who will now need to get healthy in a hurry, as the Wildcats will only go as far as his strong legs will take them.
… But Kentucky’s offensive line is a mess
Already affected by injuries heading into the Week 2 matchup, the Kentucky offensive line was beaten up again vs. the Colonels.
Even with the starters out there, the effort was uninspiring, as the Wildcats failed to get much of anything going offensively.
That’s going to be a big problem going forward as the Wildcats try to reach a bowl game for the second-straight season.
Sealing the win with a turnover
Though it was rough at times for the Kentucky defense, DB Mike Edwards made a huge play with just over four minutes left in the game, snagging an interception.
The Wildcats’ secondary has a lot of talent, and will likely continue making big plays like that.
There are a lot of holes on this Kentucky team, as Saturday’s game made clear, but there are some talented athletes who could make the Wildcats a dangerous squad heading into SEC play.