By Guest writer Tyler Hicks
Coming off the win vs. Toledo last week, the Eastern Michigan Eagles returned to Kroger Field for a 2017 rematch that resulted in a 24-20 UK win. A game in which safety Mike Edwards clinched the win with a late interception for the Wildcats.
Prior to yesterday’s game against the Eagles, Kentucky football offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was interviewed about the last meeting with EMU. “We got our tail kicked,” Gran said. UK was outgained 312-228, gave up five sacks, yet “found ways to win when we did not play our very best,” according to Coach Mark Stoops.
For this first night game in Lexington – Kentucky opened up as a 14.5-point favorite vs. EMU. With the recent success & progression of UK Football, Big Blue Nation hoped to see a different, better outcome than 2017.
Early in the first quarter, the Wildcats’ energy was in full effect as they charged into a 14-0 lead with touchdowns from running backs AJ Rose & Kavosiey Smoke. Despite numerous departures, the UK defense looked solid with a couple tackles for loss by Josh Paschal, & a pair of interceptions by Jordan Griffin & Kash Daniel. With several questions about the Kentucky secondary, it was nice to see a few guys step up to the plate for the Cats. On the offensive side of the ball, Terry Wilson & the receiving core did not fail to impress once again. Seven different players caught a pass – even Wilson got in the action with a 32-yard reception from Lynn Bowden. Lastly, my favorite play – the Ahmad Wagner, “pass interference play.” At this point, I’m sure Eddie Gran has this one written in the playbook.
There isn’t much to complain about when Kentucky wins comfortably to go 2-0, but there are a few things UK will need clean up moving forward. Last season, one thing Kentucky did well was execute. We rarely ever saw the Citrus Bowl champions make mistakes like self-inflicted penalties or giving up big plays. The Wildcats had seven penalties for a total of 84 yards vs. Eastern Michigan, all of which were timely. Going into SEC play, we are going to need to be more efficient & capitalize on every play.
Kentucky had a 24-3 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter when quarterback Terry Wilson got tackled & went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. His status is unknown – after the game Mark Stoops said, “We’ll take a look at it tomorrow with an MRI.” When Wilson was taken to the ground from behind, UK looked to the Junior transfer from Troy, Sawyer Smith. In 2018, Smith was named Most Valuable Player of the Dollar General Bowl after leading the Trojans to a 42-32 win over Buffalo. His first pass attempt, Smith threw a 54-yard pass to Ahmad Wagner for a touchdown. He finished the game with 76 yards & two touchdowns. Although UK’s backup looked decent in Terry Wilson’s absence, this changes a lot for Kentucky’s offense. An offense constructed around Wilson will now have to be adjusted if he were to miss some time. Let’s be optimistic for Terry Wilson & hopefully we will get to see him back on the field for the Cats.
Through two games, we’ve seen a couple solid performances from Kentucky. It hasn’t been perfect, but I’m trusting in Stoops & the Cats to overcome adversity for a great season. UK has excelled at proving the doubters wrong, so Big Blue Nation should get behind this team as the Florida Gators come to Lexington next week. SEC Nation will also be traveling to Lexington for their live pregame show on SEC Network, which airs at 10:00 a.m. Florida & Kentucky will kick off at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN as UK will try to go for back-to-back wins against the Gators.