Football is officially back, and the Kentucky Wildcats kicked off the 2019 season with a matchup against the Toledo Rockets.
The game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the Cats, as the Rockets go 63-yards in 7 plays on the opening drive to take a quick 7-0 lead.
That was followed up by a quick 3 and out for the Cats on their first drive of the season.
The Cats would get the ball back, and Terry Wilson would lead a 14 play, 97-yard drive that was capped off with a fumble recovery TD by Justin Rigg to tie it, 7-7.
Unfortunately, the Rockets would immediately answer with a 21-yard TD run by QB Mitchell Guadagni making it 14-7.
The Cats would get the ball with 7 minutes left in the half, and they went 56-yards in 3 plays to tie it at 14 on an 11-yard TD run by AJ Rose.
That would be the end of the scoring for the first half, the Cats and the Rockets would go into halftime tied 14-14.
The second half was a much better performance from the Cats, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
A career long 46-yard field goal by Chance Poore gave the Cats their first lead 17-14.
After a defensive stop, the Cats went 67-yards in 5 plays that resulted in a 32-yard TD reception by Bryce Oliver to extend the lead, 24-14.
A rare fumble by Lynn Bowden allowed the Rockets to get into field goal range and convert to make it a 1 touchdown lead for the Cats.
After each team exchanged punts on back to back possessions, Kentucky went to the air to move down the field.
The successful air attack forced the Rockets to play back, and that allowed Kavosiey Smoke to break off a 40-yard TD run making it 31-17.
The defense immediately forced a turnover as Deandre Square came up with a big interception.
Kentucky took advantage as Wilson hit Josh Ali for a 2-yard TD pass pushing the lead to 38-17.
Toledo was able to find the endzone one final time as the game was coming to a close. But it was the Cats that start the season 1-0 with a 38-24 victory over the Rockets.
7 more takeaways from the game
The defense responded in the 2nd half
The defense got off to a horrible start in the first half as Toledo was able to score very quick and moved the ball with ease.
Early on, the Cats were having a difficult time containing the scrambling efforts of Guadagni, who was one of the best scramblers in college football a season ago.
However, the 2nd half was much improved for the Cats as they were able to get pressure on the QB and force mistakes.
Josh Paschal with his first sack of the season. pic.twitter.com/yL4cGEYsgg— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
Unlike the first half, the Cats were able to get off the field in the 2nd half in third down situations.
The secondary still needs some work, but they made a big step in the right direction in the 2nd half, making big plays in 1v1 situations and limiting big plays.
Brandin Echols with the real good pass breakup. pic.twitter.com/Nd8nU7DSbF— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
It was a big day for the running backs
Coming into the season we kept hearing that the Kentucky backfield was a three-headed monster.
Well, they went out a proved it in this one as they all made big contributions.
Smoke carried the ball 7 times for 78-yards and a 40-yard TD run.
Kavosiey Smoke takes it 40 yards to the house. pic.twitter.com/k4Ss8Wqfbd— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
AJ Rose saw the most carries as he carried the ball 16 times for 64-yards and a 11-yard TD run.
Fantastic diving touchdown run by AJ Rose. pic.twitter.com/dWD5dwYPOo— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
Christopher Rodriguez had 5 carries for 34-yards. However, he had issues in this one holding onto the football. He fumbled twice and one was recovered by Toledo.
Christopher Rodriguez breaks a tackle and discards another tackler. pic.twitter.com/3gtenvOurr— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
In a backfield that has so much talent already, you can’t afford mistakes like that or else he will start to see his role shrink as the season goes on.
Terry Wilson looked good passing the ball
Last season, passing was an issue as Wilson had some accuracy issues and had too many interceptions.
However, he is off to a good start in 2019 as he was 19/26 passing for 246 yards and 2 TDs.
Nice throw and catch from Terry Wilson to Lynn Bowden in traffic. pic.twitter.com/wa8ZBmcyof— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
Also, Wilson didn’t throw an INT and besides a couple questionable decisions, I thought he did a great job letting plays develop and finding the open receiver for easy completions.
The receivers made big plays
In the Mark Stoops era, we have had issues with receivers dropping passes.
However, that was not the case in this one and hopefully that is a sign of things to come this season.
We saw Ahmad Wagner, Lynn Bowden, Bryce Oliver, and Josh Ali all make some big and difficult catches that we haven’t seen much of in recent seasons.
Bryce Oliver's first career catch results in his first career touchdown. pic.twitter.com/iaQyMICdk5— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
The Ahmad Wagner Experience is here! pic.twitter.com/bH5lWqe1pA— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
Lynn Bowden goes up and brings it in over the defender. pic.twitter.com/eVOVxZftgk— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
Josh Ali with a fine catch for the the touchdown. pic.twitter.com/JQDLNi1Ti8— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
But still little-to-no impact from tight ends
For the last four seasons, we heard how C.J. Conrad was a star in the making who would become a big part of the passing game. While he certainly had his moments, he never had more than 318 yards receiving in a single season. He also caught more than 20 passes just once, and that was the 30 he grabbed in 2018.
Needless to say, he was never really a big part of the passing game. This offseason, we heard all about how Justin Rigg was a star in the making and was the best tight end Vince Marrow ever coached.
Well, Rigg didn’t catch a single pass in Game 1, though he did recover a Chris Rodriguez fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. The only tight end to catch a pass was Keaton Upshaw, who had two grabs for 19 yards.
Again, it’s just one game, but seeing as how Terry Wilson dropped back over 30 times while throwing 26 passes, you would think this would have been the kind of game where the tight ends were more involved.
DeAndre Square is a star in the making
It was a big day for the young linebacker, and he is going to be a star for the Kentucky defense.
He had 11 total tackles with a couple tackles for loss. He also came up with a big INT that he snatched after getting a deflection and having the focus to find it a pick it.
DeAndre Square puts a cap on a HUGE game by tipping the pass to himself for the interception. pic.twitter.com/opNjJizQ8v— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) August 31, 2019
It is going to be fun watching him continue to grow and develop into a star this season and in seasons to come.
Kentucky’s standing in the SEC looks much better
Kentucky is always getting disrespected by the media, especially when ti comes to preseason polls and predictions.
This year, the Wildcats were picked to finish 6th in the SEC behind the likes of Tennessee, Missouri and South Carolina.
Well, the Gamecocks lost to a North Carolina team that went 2-10 last year, while the Vols were upset by a Georgia State team that also went 2-10 in 2018 and just become a football program in 2010. Missouri lost on the road to a Wyoming team that went 6-6 in the Mountain West last year.
Between them and Kentucky’s opponents, you could make a good argument that Toledo was the best of them, and it was the Wildcats who came out victorious while the other three SEC East rivals fell to lesser teams.
Hahahahahahahahahahaha pic.twitter.com/OPb6aN0d32— Patrick Towles (@patty_ice_8) August 31, 2019
Kentucky may still be a few years away from challenging Georgia for the SEC East, but they have a shot to finish second in the division for a second-straight year. If that happens, it would be considered another major win for Mark Stoops and his program.
Next week, the Cats will be back at Kroger Field as they take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles. That game will kick off at 7:30pm.
Now, here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Information
- This was the season opener for both teams.
- This was the first time that the two schools have met in football.
- Kentucky is 21-3 against teams from the current alignment of the Mid-American Conference, including 11 wins in a row.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats host Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU or the SEC Network Alternate channel.
- Beginning its 129th season of football, Kentucky is now 88-36-5 in season openers and has won three in a row.
- UK is 5-2 in season home openers under Mark Stoops.
- UK is 13-1 in home openers since 2006 and 10-3 in season openers since 2007.
- This marked Kentucky’s sixth consecutive non-conference win.
- For the third straight year, Kentucky used a second-half effort to earn a win in its home opener. After being tied 14-14 at halftime, UK outscored Toledo 24-10 in the second half.
- Last season, UK led Central Michigan 21-20 at halftime before outscoring CMU 14-0 in the second half.
- In 2017, UK trailed EKU 13-10 at halftime before outscoring the Colonels 17-3 in the second half.
o UK has held its opponent to 24 points or less in each of its last three season openers. This is the first time UK has accomplished the feat since 2007-2011 (five seasons).
o This is the first time UK has won three straight season openers since 2007-2011 (five straight).
- Kentucky won the total offense battle 422-347 with 246 passing yards and 176 rushing yards.
- UK has made 116 consecutive extra points, the ninth-longest active streak in the nation.
· The UK defense allowed 174 yards on Toledo’s first three drives and then limited the Rockets to 173 yards in their last 12 drives.
· UK has allowed 24 points or less in 14 of its last 15 games. That is the best such stretch since October 14, 1978 to Sept. 6, 1980. UK allowed 24 points or less in 18 of 19 games in that stretch.
· UK posted its best completion percentage defense which was 44 percent (min. 25 attempts) since Nov. 28, 2015 vs. Louisville (38.5 percent).
· UK’s 97-yard touchdown drive was its longest scoring drive since Sept. 5, 2015 vs. Louisiana (99 yards in first quarter).
· UK had two scoring drives of at least 90 yards since Sept. 8, 2018 at Florida.
· UK has scored at least 38 points in a game in every season since 1997.
· UK has had consecutive season-opening wins by at least 14 points for the first time since 2007-2009 (three seasons).
· The pregame Catwalk presented by Chevy had a new addition this year. A partnership between Kentucky Children’s Hospital, Kentucky College of Engineering and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky created a new and specially built pushcart vehicle that will provide a Kentucky Children’s Hospital patient the chance to both accompany the Wildcats on the Cat Walk and attend a game at Kroger Field. A new patient will be chosen by the Kentucky Children’s Hospital each week to participate.
- UK’s game captains were OG Logan Stenberg, QB Terry Wilson, LB Kash Daniel and athlete Lynn Bowden Jr.
- The honorary captain was former running back Houston Hogg (1967-70), one of the pioneers of integration in the Southeastern Conference.
- Junior quarterback Terry Wilson went 19-of-26 throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson only took one sack.
- This was only the second time since 2012 that UK started the same QB in consecutive season openers, also Patrick Towles in 2014-15.
- Junior athlete Lynn Bowden Jr. caught six passes for 77 yards, including a 30-yard reception.
- Bowden returned punts and kickoffs in the game totaling 42 yards.
- Became the 30th player in school history with 1,000 receiving yards, now has 1,032 career receiving yards. He ranks 28th and needs 20 yards to tie Derek Homer for 27th.
- Redshirt freshman RB Kavosiey Smoke rushed seven times for 78 yards, including a career-long 40-yard touchdown run.
- Players making their first collegiate pass receptions today included senior WR Ahmad Wagner, redshirt freshman WR Bryce Oliver and redshirt freshman TE Keaton Upshaw.
- Oliver’s first catch was a 32-yarder for a touchdown in the third quarter.
- Junior TE Justin Rigg scored his first collegiate touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter.
- Kicker Chance Poore hit a career-long 46-yard field goal in the third quarter.
- Punter Max Duffy averaged 54 yards per punt which is the second best average yards per punt by a UK player in a single game (min. 5 punts) and it was the best mark since Bill Hawk vs. Tennessee on Nov. 23, 1991 (56.5 yards per punt).
- UK created its first turnover of the season in the third quarter when sophomore LB Josh Paschal caused a fumble that was recovered by sophomore S Yusuf Corker.
- Sophomore LB DeAndre Square had a career-best 11 tackles and had his first career interception.
- Square added a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.
- Square is the first UK player with at least 10 tackles, a half sack, 1 TFL and an interception since Josh Forrest vs. Louisiana on Sept. 5, 2015.
- Senior WR Ahmad Wagner caught three passes for 57 yards, including a 40-yard reception.
- Junior DB Brandin Echols had three PBUs, which is the most by a UK player since Derrick Baity vs. Northwestern on Dec. 29, 2017.
- Junior RB Asim AJ Rose rushed a game-high 16 times for 64 yards and a touchdown.
- Rose has a touchdown in five of the last eight home games.
- Rose is the first UK player with a rushing touchdown in consecutive season openers since Mikel Horton in 2014 and 2015.
- Players making their first collegiate starts included OG Luke Fortner, WR Josh Ali, WR Ahmad Wagner, RB A.J. Rose, CB Cedrick Dort, CB Jamari Brown and S Yusuf Corker.