Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops was looking for a fast start in Saturday’s non-conference matchup with Eastern Michigan. Terry Wilson and company answered the call, as they raced out to a 14-0 first quarter lead en route to a 38-17 win at Kroger Field.
The Wildcats used a potent ground game to set the tone as A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke found the end zone on touchdown runs of 8 and 32-yards, respectively, as UK moves to 2-0 on the young season.
Unfortunately, that’s when the good vibes took a turn for the worse as the Cats squandered three different scoring opportunities in the second quarter and lost Wilson for the game at the 1:19 mark in the third quarter with a left knee injury.
The first missed opportunity came at the 9:12 mark as A.J. Rose fumbled at the 1-yard line after UK moved the ball 69 yards on 13 plays. The next scoring chance was set up by Jordan Griffin, who intercepted a Mike Glass pass and returned it to the Eastern Michigan 11-yard line.
However, an unsportsmanlike penalty moved the chains back to second and 21 from the 22-yard line and the Cats had to settle for a Chance Poore field goal. The final misstep came when Smoke broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run that was called back due to offensive holding. Poore’s field goal attempt missed to end the drive as Kentucky headed to the locker room with a 17-3 halftime advantage.
The Wildcats finished with 461 total yards and were led by Smoke, who ran for 92 yards on 11 carries. A.J. Rose also ran for 82 yards and a touchdown. Smoke has now carried the ball 22 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns in two games.
Wilson looked fearless in the first half, moving out of the pocket and taking deep shots down the field. He finished the game 14-for-26 for 114 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Graduate transfer Sawyer Smith took over for Wilson late in the third quarter and found Ahmad Wagner for a 54-yard scoring stroke on his first pass in a Wildcat uniform at the 14:20 mark in the final quarter. He threw his second touchdown pass of the night when he connected on a 2-yard strike to Lynn Bowden on the Cats final offensive play. Sawyer finished the game 5-for-9 for 76 yards.
The Kentucky defense was also dominant in the first half and was led by Brandin Echols and Yusuf Corker with seven tackles each. Kash Daniel also had an interception, while punter Max Duffey continued to impress with an average of 43.3 with a long of 56 yards.
After the game, Stoops and select players met with the media to discuss the win, Wilson’s injury, and next week’s SEC opener at home against No. 11 Florida. Here is a recap of what they said via UK Athletics:
MARK STOOPS: Good to start the season 2-0. Just like last week, there was so many good things that we did tonight. Really appreciate our team’s effort. There is just a lot of things we could clean up, and we will.
That’s why we’re out here playing. It’s nice to win by 14 and win by 21 and come back and say there are some things we can do better. We’ll do that, and that’s why we’re a team.
You know, that’s why when somebody makes a mistake somebody will picked them up. I think we’re doing a good job that with. Our team is hungry for more. I know we can be a lot better, and that’s a good thing.
They’re excited to make the corrections on this game and move on and get ready to prepare to play for a big game here again this week coming up.
Good to be 2-0, good to take a lot of lessons from this that we know we can improve from, and we’ll move forward and get going.
Q. (No microphone - Question regarding Terry Wilson’s injury status)
MARK STOOPS: Left knee. You know, we’ll take a look at it tomorrow with an MRI.
Q. (No microphone - Question regarding what he said to the EMU coach after the game)
MARK STOOPS: Maybe we got to not let TV on the field then after the game. I just was -- we were just talking about the game and having a conversation with coach, and it looks like -- you know, I’m not sure. I hate to put that out there right now until we get a look at it. I think you all know that it doesn’t look good. Anybody that gets carted off on a cart like that and they put his knee in that deal doesn’t look good, right?
Just wait until I get the MRI tomorrow.
Q. (No microphone - Question regarding the play when Terry got hurt)
MARK STOOPS: You know, that’s why it’s illegal. That’s why it’s in the rule -- it’s illegal. It can happen. It can happen to anybody. They run a good program and Terry is hard to get a hold of. I’m sure he just reached out and grabbed anything he could. It’s very unfortunate that it’s part our game, but that’s why it’s in there. You got a runner running full speed like that and gets jerked back and the knee can’t handle that.
It’s unfortunate, and I’m sure throughout the season there is a good chance we may get called for it one time this year, too. I hope not, but certainly don’t teach that and I know they don’t either.
Q. (Regarding the run game/running backs.)
MARK STOOPS: That’s exactly right. You know, we really did that last week as well. Just wanted to work on things and spread it out and throw the ball around.
With Sawyer, he needed the reps, that’s correct. We needed to get on the same page and just run our offense. You know, we felt comfortable with being able to run it out, but just wanted to run our offense one more possession for him, get him as many reps as we can.
Q. What do you see in Sawyer in practice?
MARK STOOPS: Just like you saw out there today with the reps and going with the ones. There were some decision making out there today that I think he’ll learn from. There were some opportunities. But he can throw the ball. He throws it down the field. We have a lot of confidence in him.
If he has to go, then we have confidence in him and we’ll run our offense.
Q. (No microphone - Question regarding the missed opportunities in the second quarter)
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, the fumble going in, just there is no excuse for that. Then penalty, just things of that nature. We’re able to overcome them, but as the competition gets better we got to get those cleaned up.
Q. Do you feel like you left a lot of points on the field?
MARK STOOPS: I think there is no question we feel like we left some out there. So, you know, two of them -- two in the first half was just touching on the fumble and the penalty and left points right there.
We did. Give them credit. I knew they were -- again, they played tough, they played sound. They don’t make it easy; you got to beat them. They don’t just give you things.
Q. What did you like from this week compared to last week?
MARK STOOPS: Again, felt like I liked the start. We talked about getting off to a fast start. I believe it was 17-nothing at one point and gave up the drive and we give up a third down and then we get a penalty on top of it and put them in position to get to three, we’re in pretty good control at halftime, so I like the start we had.
Again, we felt like we left a little bit out there. Could have been more. Those were some good things.
Q. I know you won’t be able to tell until the film, but how did you think the secondary played overall?
MARK STOOPS: Okay. Okay. We gave up the touchdown pass. Again, just a missed assignment. Just a missed assignment. Comes from bad eyes, bad vision.
Got to get it hammered out.
Q. Did you ask for an explanation? It appeared that the holding call was in the end zone against Eastern Michigan.
MARK STOOPS: I declined it to get the ball there. I felt like we could get seven or three, and we got the three. So just a decision I made.
Q. Does Sawyer have the kind of personality that can rally the team around him?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think the guys have a lot of confidence in Sawyer. Guys feel for Terry because he’s worked hard and he’s a leader on our team. You know, it’s part of our game, injuries. We’ve seen a lot of our players get hurt and miss a season.
Guys feel for them because they know the amount of work he put in and we have a lot of confidence in him. But the guys believe in Sawyer and we’re going to play to win no matter who is playing. Everybody better get that straight right now. We’re sad for Terry and it stinks because it’s part of our game, but believe me, we’re going back to work with the intent to win a football game next week, and that’s the way we’re going to approach it every week.
Q. (No microphone - Question regarding how Terry being injured effects the team’s offensive approach)
MARK STOOPS: Nothing, nothing. We’ll run our offense. Sawyer is very effective. Maybe not quite as dynamic a runner as Terry, but the reads will be the same. If he needs to, he’ll pull it and get the aggravating yards and move the ball on their offense.
Q. Have you talked to Terry or Terry talk to the players after the game?
MARK STOOPS: I got to go see Terry right now. I’m not sure whether we’re still in the holding tank or not. Just talked to team and came over here. I got to go see him right now.
Q. (Regarding grad transfer quarterbacks.) How much does it help Sawyer has as much experience as he got, especially last year?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think it’s a big deal that we have Sawyer and he has the experience he has. The game won’t be too big for him, that’s for sure. Just got to go out there and get some reps and execute. There are some things he does extremely well; we’ll lean on those.
Q. Kavosiey got the personal foul and you kept him in the game. Why did you decide to keep him in the game?
MARK STOOPS: I’ll make the corrections when I need to make them. Believe me, he won’t do that again. We’ll get it straightened out.
Q. You said this team has got to have more takeaways. Two more interceptions tonight. That’s got to be huge.
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, the guys play hard. I’m not disappointed. They played hard tonight. Just got to play smarter and eliminate some of the foolishness with unforced errors.
Q. (Regarding the run game.)
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, those guys, I mean, we rushed for 239. You’re going to have a good opportunity to win a game when you do that. They rushed for 49 I see here.
So rush yards are important. We certainly probably could have hammered it out a little bit more. We were working on some other things and throwing the ball and working on the pass game, so that’s good to be able to do that in a game.
Certainly felt like we probably could have rushed it a few more times, that’s for sure, but we’ll see. I’m not sure what the stats were on all that.
#14 Ahmad Wagner, WR
On the difference of play between Terry and Sawyer Smith…
“They are different quarterbacks, but they are both really good and both have their strengths and I think we can move the chains and still throw the ball. It’s not going to change, we are still going to be aggressive on offense, run the ball and throw the ball. We all have the upmost confidence in Sawyer.”
On his touchdown…
“I was excited. It was great, a great ball, great protection. I was happy to get in the end zone.”
On Sawyer being ready…
“He was ready to go, he was just ready to go. We always talk about next man up so he was ready. As soon as he saw Terry go down, he was throwing passes, getting ready, his energy was up and he was to take the lead of the team and that’s what he did.”
#3 Jordan Griffin, S
On the vibe in the locker room after the game...
“To be honest, the vibe was very different. It was very different than usual. Not everyone was satisfied. That was a great team we played against as well, but everybody is just hungry for more. That’s a good thing for us, I feel like everyone is still hungry. Everyone still wants more. Overall, it was much different from what it used to be, but I like it.”
On picking off a pass….
“I was just out there doing what I was supposed to do. It’s definitely fun of course just being out there again, being out there with my brothers and all. It’s a blessing. Thank God for it. I’m still focused on trying to improve. I had one bust and I look at that more than I look at the pick. I had one bust and I let a guy catch the ball in the third down, so those are the things I hone in on – I don’t really focus on the pick. Its good, but I know what I have to do.”
On young guys growing through the first two games…
“They’ve grown a lot, and we always knew that was going to be the case. Those are some young guys, but those guys are hungry for more. Each week I feel like they’re getting better and better, and that’s the ultimate goal. I feel like that’s the best thing you can ask for from an individual.”
#12 Sawyer Smith, QB
On substituting Terry Wilson...
“That’s not what you want as a friend or competitor. Terry was having a great game, had a really good game last week and was playing well, so to see this happen, you know, I love Terry. You have to do what you have to do. You have to go out there and play.”
On his mindset...
“I learned last year that you have to get into a different mindset quickly. It’s good that it happened last year (at Troy) because I have experience now. I have full confidence in the staff to get me ready. I have to get ready and keep it going.”
On offense change if Terry can’t go…
“I think that as a backup quarterback, especially at this level of football, you need to have two or three guys that are ready to go. I think they have confidence in me to keep it going and I think that is how it should be.”
On Ahmad Wagner…
“He’s about 6’7. He looks about 8 feet (tall) out there. It’s fun to throw it to him, we’ve got plenty of playmakers. It’s not hard for us quarterbacks to make plays like that. We just have to be good and have good technique and steps and plays will come.”
#20 Kavosiey Smoke, RB
On getting back into the game after an injury...
“It kind of made me mad, so after that happened, I started running even harder. And then, my teammates started to go even harder and we came out with a ‘W’.”
On how much confidence the team has in Sawyer Smith...
“I saw Sawyer play when he was at Troy. It’s time for him to step up.”
On his long touchdown run …
“My o-line, my tight ends, my team blocked for me. I give them all the respect. I don’t take the (credit) for that, they got that.”
#10 A.J. Rose, RB
On his view of the play that caused Terry Wilson’s injury….
“From my angle, it looked like a horse collar pulled his ear or something like that and his knee twisted up weird, but we don’t have to worry about that. I am praying for the best and hoping he is cool.”
On the positives he can take away from the game…
“We played hard all four quarters and from the time Terry was in, he managed the game. He did a good job and the offensive line came to play, and after what happened to Terry, everyone is feeling a little weird and a little sad right now. We are just praying for the best.”
On Sawyer Smith…
“Sawyer is going to be great. He went out there and threw two touchdown passes. He knows the offense very well, and like I said, next man up. We have all of the faith in him.”
#1 Lynn Bowden Jr., WR
On the penalties and drop balls...
“These first two games I really haven’t been playing like myself. I have probably been overthinking it and doing too much. I have to get back to the basics. I have to play my game”
On how the team is preparing for next week’s game….
“We have to go extra hard. We know what that team is going to bring, it’s Florida. Florida vs. Kentucky, one of the biggest games this year. I think we will be ready for them.”