After two full weeks off since getting scorched at South Carolina, it was anything but a solid start for Kentucky in what was considered to be a must-win game against a 2-3 Arkansas team.
Junior running back Rakeem Boyd went untouched on a 74 yard rushing play on the Razorbacks opening drive, which immediately took the energy out of Kroger Field. From there, it was much of the same, as Kentucky struggled to stop Arkansas rushing attack, which posted over 100 yards in the first quarter, 108 of those coming from Boyd.
The Cats’ offense on the other hand sputtered early as they tried several different formations and lineups. After much discussion over the last two weeks, it was Lynn Bowden who got the start at quarterback and saw the majority of the reps throughout the game.
It was an ugly start, as UK only mustered 53 yards of total offense in the first quarter. But after some trials and tribulations, Bowden and the Kentucky offense was able to put together a solid drive near the end of the first half that ended with a three-yard touchdown plunge by Bowden. The Cats would end the first half with 179 total yards, three more than the Razorbacks, although they trailed 13-7.
An incredible pass from Lynn Bowden to Clevan Thomas gave Kentucky a 17-13 lead, their first lead since the fourth quarter of the Florida game. From there, Bowden and the Wildcats were able to find a rhythm offensively for the first time in several weeks.
A mix of RPO’s kept the chains moving for most of the second half and we even saw signs of life from the kicking game. Matt Ruffolo drilled an incredible 50-yard field goal that sent Kroger Field into a frenzy.
After an impressive drive that was capped off by an amazing 24-yard touchdown run by Bowden, the Cats took a 24-20 lead.
After the Cats’ defense got a fourth-down stop deep in their own territory, the Wildcats were able to hang on and take care of business in order to get their first SEC win of the 2019 season.
Things surely won’t get any easier as UK travels to Athens to take on a Georgia team who is sure to be locked in after being upset at home by South Carolina on Saturday. But the stellar play of Lynn Bowden really provides some much needed energy to this team.
Here is what head coach Mark Stoops had to say after Saturday night’s game via UK Athletics:
MARK STOOPS: Obviously, I am extremely proud of the team and appreciate their preparation and ability to adapt to a difficult situation with our quarterback being banged up. I am so proud of Lynn, obviously, for what he has done and how he has prepared the last couple of weeks. But also just the team for playing really good around Lynn. Offensively, guys were very unselfish, did what they had to do. Blocking, doing tough things on the perimeter, just doing whatever we had to do to move the football. Defensively, really put them in a tough situation a lot of the night. They ripped off the first run early and one guy cut out and created the long run. And after that the defense really settled in and played good. We put them in a tough situation when I went for it and didn’t get it. And then off the punt return. Both times they responded with holding them to a field goal. I thought that was huge.
So just proud of the team. Just across the board. Just overcoming and doing the things necessary to win and so it’s a big step.
Q. When did y’all know that Lynn would start?
MARK STOOPS: We felt like we were going to have to start him for a week or two. But Sawyer was getting better, he did practice this week. And so it was getting close but we invested a lot of time in that game plan with Lynn.
Q. It had been a rough couple weeks for you guys. How bad did you need tonight or this team need tonight?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you know, it’s always important. Tell me what game we play that isn’t. So we always look at it that way. But there’s no doubt, when you go on a losing skid that we hadn’t been on for awhile that that’s not a good feeling. And I was really proud of our team, because I think that, they just, something clicked, the switch went off and really gelled the past couple weeks and we worked hard at that. And it felt, we felt good tonight.
Q. How much more patient were the running backs today and I guess, is that part of the switch-flipping like you mentioned?
MARK STOOPS: I thought they obviously did some really good things, hit some good runs. We, there was one or two, I always remember the negative, because that’s what we just do. There was one late that we could have been more patient and hit it but we were backed up, so you can understand why he was thinking about just getting some yards.
But overall they did a really nice job. The backs were very unselfish, they blocked hard on the perimeter, they ran the ball hard. Really proud of our coaches, across the board. Both sides did an exceptional job, just really proud of Eddie, Coach Hinshaw and the offensive coaches really had some good things in there and some unique plays and it really stood out tonight, and it put our guys in a good situation defensively. Brad did an exceptional job. All those guys they did a nice job tonight.
Q. With having Lynn at quarterback, how do you go through keeping the defense honest but also putting him in a position to succeed, talk about that.
MARK STOOPS: Well that’s part of it. That was part of it as we’re going through the night. Getting off to that start wasn’t good for us, again. And we have got to get that fixed and try to start better. I think my decision to go for it there certainly backfired on us as well. It put us in a tough situation, gave them the three. I was proud of our defense for limiting them to the three. But I felt like I was going to have to steal a possession or two tonight and I felt like that was as good an opportunity as any, whether a fake field goal, fake punt, just whatever, going for it on fourth. It obviously backed up, in hindsight, yeah, dumb decision.
But I felt like fourth and a half yard we were going to have to steal one tonight. I felt like a possession or two, we needed to be aggressive and it didn’t work and that put us in a bad situation. So with calling the plays, it gets tough because we had to stay ahead of the chains all night. But Lynn is dynamic and there were some shots, there were some plays that we had called. But also I thought the coaches did a nice job because we talked to ourselves all week about staying patient. So I thought Eddie did a really nice job and had some really good plays. We stalled one on the missed field goal, we stalled out on second and two, and third and two, that drive was a nice drive, we came up with nothing, that kind of hurt.
Q. It seems like that offensive game plan worked better tonight. Were there any thoughts on the sideline of changing things on how to keep that in mind to do that I know or stick to the plan?
MARK STOOPS: I thought Eddie was really good in being firm on that. I talked about it. And they were confident in their game plan and we were confident in the game plan and Eddie and them were committed.
Q. What was different on the sidelines with the players getting down early this time instead of the last two weeks?
MARK STOOPS: Well, I think we learned from it, number one. We’re at home, at home helps, our guys are rested a little bit and I think mentally and physically we talked a lot about that but there’s a lot to be said about that. Look around our league and look around college football. When you play teams in the state of your team it makes a difference. Just, these guys get beat up and they get beat down and it’s a tough grind. And the more mature you are, the more you can overcome some of those things. And I just think that we learned from it. And the guys, and do I think it was the difference, as I mentioned. I don’t want to beat a dead horse but I just think the guys really responded well the past two weeks.
Q. Mark, you guys have talked about Clevan coming on and making a push in practice. He had a big play for you tonight.
MARK STOOPS: It was really big. I talked to the team about that because it’s easy to be proud of Lynn for doing what he’s done and sacrificing and stepping up and playing quarterback and doing anything necessary. But that’s, I talked a lot about that because Clevan has been working for years and doesn’t always get the opportunity. And it’s too easy in this day and age for guys just to chuck it in and throw in the towel or pout and all those type of things. And it’s really good to see guys grind their way through and when they get their opportunity make the most of it.
Q. (Question regarding the confidence of the defense to get a fourth-down stop)
MARK STOOPS: I thought that was a really big thing for us to get that stop. Because it did go back to me, unfortunately, a few years, because we busted a coverage again late there that gave up the chunk play on their sideline. And we did that once before in a very similar call and I had to get that back out of my mind real quick. But we just can’t give up that kind of chunk, a big play, by giving it to them and just didn’t execute a call and so to then come back and bow up and get the stop was real big.
Q. (Question regarding the game being in honor of Jared Lorenzen)
MARK STOOPS: Well, really proud that we got win for in Jared’s memory and for his family. And proud of our team by the way they played and hopefully they kept him in the back of their mind because that’s how Jared played. He really laid it on the line for his team each and every week and I was proud of our group tonight in his memory.
Q. When you got a young team, how much can a win like this, the way you won the game help them build?
MARK STOOPS: Well I think it can help a lot because it just, I think the guys grew up the past couple weeks and the way their approach was really good and their unity was really good and I mean I thought guys were very selfless the past couple weeks and just doing things necessary to for the benefit of the team and that showed up tonight.
Q. It looked like Sawyer was warming up most of the night on the sidelines, do you anticipate having him back at 100 percent in another week or so?
MARK STOOPS: We hope so. We wanted to keep him warm most of the night. There was some talk of using him possibly on third downs as well and so we were just trying to keep him loose.