The Kentucky Wildcats came into this unique 2020 season with a lot of confidence and publicity as a darkhorse SEC East division favorite. Even more so, the Cats went to Auburn as a media darling to pull the upset on the Plains.
Alas, after a first-half with more swings of momentum than thought possible, Kentucky had a disjointed second half offensively and two costly turnovers and dropped a 29-16 to the Tigers Saturday afternoon.
In the first half, UK (0-1) did the things offensively that Cat fans had grown accustomed to in 2019. he Cats dominated the time of possession with over 20 minutes and broke a touchdown run by Kavosiey Smoke to go out on top 7-0.
After an answer by Auburn (1-0) and a “swinging gate” two-point conversion to take an 8-7 lead, the Cats would later march down the field and scored on a Christopher Rodriquez Jr. one-yard run to reclaim the lead.
But, hold the phone. Swing number one coming...now.
The touchdown call was reversed with Rodriguez being ruled down inches from the goal line. On the next play, UK quarterback Terry Wilson rolled out to pass.
Here it comes, swing number two.
Wilson threw a pick-six, 100-yard interception to give War Eagle a 14-8 lead.
But wait, there’s more. Swing number three.
The Tigers were called for targeting on the return, nullifying the score and ending the first half and leading 8-7.
In the second half, the Cats went away from what they did for success on offense. UK featured more of a passing attack that seemed very scattered in success. The Cats enjoyed a decided advantage up front behind their “Big Blue Wall” of offensive linemen all day, outmuscling the Tigers all game upfront.
However, in the second half, the Cats play-calling seemed to go away from it, creating several long yards plays the Cats weren’t able to convert. Couple that with two costly fumbles and a botched fake punt, and you have a recipe for disaster.
With the Cats either deep in their own territory offensively, the Cats defense played with their backs deep in their own territory for most of the second half, giving Auburn and star quarterback Bo Nix plenty of opportunities to find open Tiger receivers, which they did.
Buoyed by the run game, the Cats outgained the Tigers 384-324 and both in rushing (145-91) and passing (239-233.) The hidden stat there is while Kentucky found most of its success offensively between the 20-yard lines and struggled inside the red zone, the Tigers, playing on a shortened field, made the plays when they needed to.
Overall, Wilson had a good day statistically. The senior completed 24-37 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown to go along with 42 yards rushing. However, his third-quarter fumble allowed the Tigers to score a touchdown and effectively put the game away.
It’s hard to place a lot of blame on the Kentucky defense. When given the opportunity to have room to manage, the Cats played well and forced five punts on the day. However, the Cats weren’t able to get the big stop when they needed one in those short field situations.
Other than Wilson, there were individual bright spots for the Cats, including:
- Kavosiey Smoke’s 63 yards rushing and a 35-yard touchdown scamper.
- Receiver Josh Ali’s 98 yards receiving on nine catches.
- All-American punter Max Duffy’s four punts for 212 yards, including a 75-yard monster.
- Linebacker Jamin Davis’ five tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss.
With the SEC schedule version of a ten-headed hydra, there is little time for the Cats to feel sorry for themselves. Awaiting them in Lexington next Saturday is the Ole Miss Rebels, a 51-35 loser to Florida in the debut game of the Lane Kiffin era in Oxford. The Rebels can put points on the board but have difficulties on defense stopping the ball.
If the Cats can continue to find success running the football and can get some of those timely stops on defense, there could be a different result at Kroger Field. Another tough second half and the Cats could be staring at a tough to overcome 0-2.
Now, here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics:
Team Records and Series Information
- This was the season opener for both teams as Kentucky began its 130th season of football.
- UK is now 88-37-5 in season openers, including 5-3 under Mark Stoops.
- This was UK’s latest season-opening date since 1941.
- This was the first time UK opened the season against a Southeastern Conference opponent since 1960 at Georgia Tech.
- UK’s first meeting vs. Auburn since 2015, the Tigers lead the series 27-6-1 and has won three in a row.
- AU leads the series 13-2 in games played in Auburn.
- Next for Kentucky: the Wildcats have their home opener Saturday, Oct. 3, vs. Ole Miss at 4 p.m. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
- UK has allowed 34 points or less in 28 straight games, dating back to the 2017 season.
- This is the 10th consecutive game that the UK defense has allowed fewer than 400 yards.
- UK allowed 91 rushing yards, fewest against a top-10 ranked opponent since 2010 vs. South Carolina and fewest against a top-10 ranked opponent on the road since 1999 vs. Mississippi State.
- Kentucky scored a touchdown on its first offensive possession. That is the third game in a row to do so, counting the final two games of the 2019 season.
· UK’s game captain was linebacker DeAndre Square.
· Senior quarterback Terry Wilson made his first appearance since his injury on Sept. 7, 2019, vs. Eastern Michigan. Wilson completed 24 of 37 passes for 239 yards with one touchdown, the most for a UK QB in a top-10 road game since Mike Hartline in 2010 at Florida.. He added 42 net rushing yards.
· Sophomore running back Kavoisiey Smoke led the Wildcats with seven carries for 62 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown run on UK’s first possession.
· Senior running back A.J. Rose rushed 10 times for 31 yards.
- Rose now has 1,336 career rushing yards, moving up two spots for 26th place in school history.
- He also had four pass receptions for 37 yards.
· Senior WR Josh Ali led the Wildcats in receiving with nine catches for 98 yards, both career highs. It’s the most receiving yards in a top-10 opponent road game since Chris Matthews at Florida in 2010.
· Sophomore WR Akeem Hayes had two catches for 24 yards, including his first collegiate touchdown on an eight-yard reception in the third quarter.
· Junior linebacker DeAndre Square wore uniform No. 22 today in honor of teammate Chris Oats, who is dealing with a serious medical condition. Square served as the team captain at the coin toss.
- He tied for the team lead with five tackles, including a stop on 4th-and-1 at the UK 16 in the second quarter that returned the ball to the Wildcats.
· Also tying for the team lead with five tackles were LB Jamin Davis, CB Brandin Echols, and DBs Tyrell Ajian and Yusuf Corker.
· Playing his first game as a defensive end, junior Josh Paschal had four tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
· Senior punter Max Duffy picked up from last season, punting four times for a 53-yard average.
- Backed up on his own 1-yard line, his 75-yarder in the third quarter is a career long and ties for the third-longest punt in school history.