It seems only fitting that Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden wears the No. 1 across his chest as the junior playmaker rushed for 284 yards, the most ever by an SEC quarterback, to lead the Wildcats to a 45-13 win over rival Louisville on a cold and wet Saturday at Kroger Field.
Bowden, the favorite to win the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, also scored four touchdowns and led the Cats to several single-season school records on Saturday, including most rushing yards in a game (517), season (3,293) and rushing touchdowns (33). Bowden has now ran for 1,235 yards in seven games and moves to sixth all-time for the best single-season rushing total in school history.
Louisville got on the scoreboard first as Micale Cunningham hit Tutu Atwell for a 33-yard touchdown pass to give the Cardinals a quick 6-0 lead after a missed extra point attempt. The Cats quickly responded with a 4-yard touchdown run from AJ Rose to take a 7-6 lead at the 6:26 mark in the first quarter.
Kavosiey Smoke then broke free early in the second quarter for a 70-yard run the resulted in a 6-yard touchdown run by Bowden as the Cats pushed the lead to 14-6 with 12:43 remaining in the half. Kentucky extended the lead with a 45-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo to take a commanding 17-6 advantage with 9:06 left in the second quarter.
After UK’s failed fourth down attempt near midfield, the Cardinals took over on downs and cut the lead to 17-13 right before halftime on a 56-yard touchdown run by Jamie Hawkins to shift the momentum to Louisville at the break.
The Wildcats left little doubt in the second half as to which team would prevail, scoring 28 unanswered points that included three touchdown runs by Bowden and a 64-yard touchdown by Rodriguez who ran for 125 yards on nine carries.
Kentucky, 7-5, will now wait patiently for its 2019 bowl game site and opponent.
After the game, head coach Mark Stoops met with the media to talk about a record-breaking day in this year’s Governor’s Cup. Here is a recap of everything he said via UK Athletics.
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: Proud of our team, of everybody in the organization starting with our players with their attitude. I’ve told you over and over again how much of a joy they have been to coach. And that’s not just lip service, it’s the truth. This is a week during Thanksgiving that there’s a lot of thanks out there and a lot to be grateful for, and our team has been grateful this week. We talked about that and having really good hearts all week and being grateful for the opportunity. They did that.
We talked about elevating our game. Really proud of them the way they have competed and improved throughout the season. Again, not perfect, but really improved, and got better and elevated our game.
Then we talked about this, and I talked about it Monday with you and with the team all week, that that’s the heart and soul of our team, to be tough and to be disciplined and we were pretty good in that regard tonight.
Overall, great team effort, starting with the players. Also like to recognize the coaches. They have worked extremely hard. Late in the year it gets difficult and they spend a lot of time and invest a lot of time in these players and having them over to their house and spending time and going to dinner with them and just investing with these young people. They have to give a lot. So our coaches have done a remarkable job and I’m really proud of them for what they have done.
So it’s been good. Been a lot of fun.
You know, with the game, we felt like we were in control the entire game, outside of that last, what was it, 20 seconds, 30 seconds in the first half. You know, I went for it there, trying to be aggressive. Kind of backed fired on us. I thought our defense would get a stop. To take that kind of a gut punch when you feel like you’re completely dominating sometimes can take the wind out of your sail but it didn’t, not one bit with this group. Came right back in here. Didn’t flinch. Lynn said don’t worry about it, I got you, and he did. What can you say about Lynn. He is truly remarkable in so many ways. But you have to recognize his competitive nature, and just how tough and competitive and what a leader he is.
In our business, if you are going to be an Alpha dog, then you be an Alpha dog and that’s him. When you do that time and time again and prove it and put the team on your back, and say, let’s ride, let’s do this, you know, it’s remarkable.
I compare them, and please don’t misquote me on this, if you’re going to say it, say the whole thing, because Lamar Jackson was probably maybe the greatest player that I ever competed against, but what I admire so much about him is how competitive he is.
You know, he’s a remarkable quarterback and a remarkable talent, but you can tell, what I’ve always admired about him is after that year when we were fortunate and came back and won up there, but that next year when he came down here, it was like, come on, put that team on your back and it was over. He wasn’t going to let anything happen because he was a complete Alpha dog. He was taken over.
And Lynn, in that regard, is one of the most competitive people I’ve seen. So again, don’t say I’m comparing them to Lamar and all that. Lamar is a fantastic, remarkable player, one of the best I’ve ever seen. But both in the same regard of how competitive they are and how much they want it on their back, they want to make plays and they want to -- you know, they want to do it for their team. Really proud of Lynn and what he’s done.
Q. What would you say to all the media outside Kentucky that picked you all to have a losing season?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: Par for the course, right. I mean, really, I think we have out-kicked what they have predicted every year the last four or five years. We are really not worried about that, you know. We really don’t need that for motivation. We’re pretty motivated in what we do and how we go about our business and we feel pretty good about it. You know, a lot of teams can say ifs and buts. Everybody does, right. That’s the game and I could promise you, we’ve been through our fair share and fought our way out of it. You know, if you could go back and put that prediction, I like nine or 10.
Q. A lot of seniors making plays on Senior Day ...
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: Again, par for the course. Guys that stay in the program and develop, they generally develop themselves into players. That goes to our coaches and to our strength and conditioning team, Mark Hill and Corey Edmond and D-Mack and those guys, that’s what we pride ourselves on and those guys have really worked hard and bought in and there hasn’t been as many in numbers this year, but they have been fantastic leaders.
Q. Obviously you won by a lot over there last year but did this feel like a more complete performance?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: It did. It did because this was a much better team. We all know they just went through some tough times a year ago, and still very good players as you saw, some tonight. Coach Satterfield is going to do a remarkable job. To come in and do what he’s done, they have done a fantastic job and they will be back. But they were playing much better and so it felt more complete. Felt, you know, very satisfying to physically do that.
You know, if you don’t understand and recognize what our league is, then you’re not real intelligent, you know what I mean. What you go through and what we go through and the grind, and I know people outside of our league get tired of hearing about that, but come try to go through that gauntlet. You know, it beats you up mentally and physically, but it ultimately prepares us for this, right.
And so really proud of the group and what’s standing, the things that we have.
Q. Your guys were really confident all week although everyone else thought it was a toss-up game. Did you see this kind of margin coming?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: I felt very -- you know, I felt very calm and confident. I don’t want to act like -- it’s easy after the fact. I really take the same approach every game. I felt good about our chances, and any time you could run the ball for 521 yards, you’re going to have a good opportunity to win a game.
Q. On Louisville winning the time of possession battle but UK controlling the game...
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: You know, with us, possessing the bail, it could have been more, but we had some real explosive plays to be honest with you. We didn’t have as many of the methodical drives that we’re kind of known for. We hit some explosive play ones today or we would have had a really solid time of possession.
With the ball control, the guys have been really good. You know guys know, fortunately for us, when you have competition, some guys have put the ball on the ground and guess what they are over there watching it with us.
So that kind of motivates them not to fumble and with Lynn again, you have to admire and give him so much credit because of all the things he’s doing and how well he controls that football. You know, it’s amazing, because there were times tonight when we had some options in there, some run reads, and he made great reads.
There was a couple, when I was a little worried with backed up with putting the ball on the ground with some of the things to get on the perimeter, you know what, with him, you have to trust him and go with it.
Q. Was this the best job your offensive line did all season?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. That’s a hard question. I mean, it’s pretty hard to argue with these results. You know, I’d put it right up there. They have done some really good things and they took great pride in that and they really -- you know, they have embraced that, the opportunity to know right now that we have to be very one-dimensional, and that it’s on their shoulders, as well. I say Lynn, but it’s right on theirs, as well.
Q. What’s happened in the last few weeks -- that made you revisit the importance of the forward pass or change your recruiting philosophy? Can this work as a sustainable thing?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: There are pieces within this that are very helpful, you know, the things that we have had to grow into that can always help you going forward.
But we do want to go back to the forward pass (Laughter). I mean, I am in Kentucky. I do understand. I do understand the legacy of Jared (Lorenzen) and Tim Couch and so on.
No, we will get back to balance. There’s no question. And I really like where we’re at. I love our team. I like the guys coming back, with the quarterbacks coming back healthy and I love where we are at in recruiting, so we’ll get back to having some balance.
Q. When you mention that history, that’s been the conventional wisdom about Kentucky Football, is the only way to win is get tricky and throw the ball a hundred times a game; that Kentucky can’t just lineup and throw the football on people in the SEC. How satisfying is that?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: I believe you can, good question. There was one other gentleman that was a pretty good coach and that was kind of physical himself, right and I’m not dare going to mention his name (Laughter) I’m not saying that.
But back in ‘49 and ‘50 and ‘51, they were pretty tough and pretty physical, as well.
Q. It’s going around on Internet the conversation you had with Coach Satterfield after the game where he was motioning an L’s down, can you tell us about that conversation, what was going on there?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: No, I can’t. I don’t want to elaborate on that. He’s a good man and a good coach. You could tell I thought both teams were very -- for a rivalry game, emotions are always high. I think both teams were very disciplined. His team certainly was and they are certainly very well-coached.
You know, I’d like to believe ours is, as well. We respect them. It’s a healthy rivalry. You know why because I say it in here and I always say it to our team, you know, you have about every seven days to be humbled in this business, so don’t go around beating your chest and getting too far out and ahead of yourself. Just continue to stay with the things that gave you some success. Continue to learn and get better.
So we’ll do that. I don’t know, at the end it got weird because they called a time-out and we got a sack and there’s a fumble and ruckus and all that. But our team was very respectful all day. I don’t know if an L’s down is going to offend them. There’s going to be a lot worse in this rivalry over time.
Q. On how the defense has grown as a unit ...
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, you know, they really have done a remarkable job. Coach White, starting with him as the defensive coordinator has really done a good job. First year, calling plays and being a defensive coordinator, he’s done a remarkable job.
All the coaches, Coach Hood, Clinkscale, Coach LeBlanc, all the young coaches and GAs, they have just all worked really hard. They take great pride in what they do. Our defensive players have heard that, and you know, again, if you go back to my message in the summer, of course I embrace and love the guys that we left.
But who are the new guys? You know, that’s our deal. Like everybody can be replaced, starting with this position. You know, our guys, we’re proud of them. We’re going to develop them or whatever, but there’s going to be new guys and that’s what we do. We recruit and we develop and continue to bring guys along and there are some guys that made big strides and that’s what we continue and look forward to.
Again, I have to get right on the road. My dang staff is killing me. Got me running tomorrow. Of course they want me in-state. So got to get out on the road tomorrow and I’ll be gone all week. Get back Friday. Recruit over the weekend. Leave again Sunday. But that’s what our staff’s doing. They are pushing us.
Q. Talk about Eddie Gran, all the adversities he’s had to overcome this year with the injuries and I’m sure sleepless nights.
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: You really can’t say enough about him. Again, I understand people, they always want to -- again, OCs have the biggest target on them. They are an easy target. Offensive coordinators, everywhere, everywhere, are easy targets. You know, when a run doesn’t work, he should have passed. When he passed, he should have run, right. It’s just too easy.
But what he’s done, you know, an enormous amount of stress and pressure on him and all of us. With him I could remember, I go back to that transition, and I told you in here that we would meet in the morning and we’d go about our business and he’d probably start designing plays both ways with the forward pass and with the run. Then we would come back and we would meet again and then we would separate and we would come back and meet again.
But I’m going to say this: He really made the right decision. He did not back off with Lynn. When he made that decision, he moved forward. He really helped me because I come back Monday morning, are you sure about this, and what do you want to do.
He kept on coming back to it and was very strong on his conviction and so was Darin Hinshaw and the staff, and as you can see, Lynn gives you so many options. There’s a lot of creative things you can do. You know, it gave us the best opportunity to win.
Q. Did you put in a request for a Bowl game where there’s 100 percent chance of rain?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think so. Seattle. (Laughter).
Q. Most quarterbacks, if they ran 45 plays and 43 of them were runs, they would find themselves running into a brick wall at some point. How many guys are out there that could -- obviously great play calling but how many guys could do what Lynn has done when everybody knows he’s running?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: It is a great point because there’s a lot of stress and creative things, but a lot of it, you can’t really appreciate enough for what he’s doing, you’re right. Because on the last touchdown that he ran, I was a second away from calling time-out, because of the look we had where like, oh, no, now they are sliding -- I said, there’s like two guys outside and the play we were running and I just said, no, he’ll run them over, but he didn’t. He was patient.
We kicked him out and he hit him up inside and made him miss, made the extra defender miss and that’s kind of the confidence that you have in him. You give him a little space, you give him that ability and it worked. I mean, that’s, again, he has worked so hard and so proud of him, but some of that is between him and God.
Q. You guys at one point were 2-3, and you didn’t have a healthy quarterback. To win seven games and finish out like this, how special of a run was this?
HEAD COACH MARK STOOPS: It was a very special run. It really was. Just proud. I think the team is proud of themselves in that it’s hard. You go in there during that stretch and we play, what we’re doing, again, going on the road, those SEC teams, we weren’t healthy but we didn’t play very good and I didn’t coach them very good and it’s tough and we’re back in there Monday and back in there Tuesday.
It’s a long season and it’s just too easy to give in, you know what I mean and we will not have a defeated mentality. Those guys won’t do it. They just won’t coaching staff. We’ll look for all options to continue to grind away and improve and get better and that’s on them. It’s a fun group, and I think that’s what they are most proud of. Not perfect. But when you get scarred up and you get beat up and you pick yourself back up off the mat and go back out there and do that and compete like this, then, you know, that does make them feel good and it should.