Kentucky’s season-opening win over Central Michigan meant more than just a 1 in the win column. After committing four turnovers and falling behind 20-14 late in the first half, the Wildcats outscored the Chippewas 21-0 to start their season on top.
While the defense and special teams were outstanding, the offense (specifically at quarterback) took some time to get clicking. However, the Cats took control in a dominant final 32 minutes to bring us Sunday report card grades.
It’s been said time and time again that this is the best defense Mark Stoops has had during his time with the Wildcats. On Saturday, his veteran unit answered the hype by holding down the fort while Kentucky’s offense took a few quarters to get rolling.
Josh Allen, Kash Daniel and a long, lanky secondary full of seniors stood firm in holding the Chippewas to just 250 yards of total offense.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for the turnovers by Kentucky’s offense, there’s a case to be made that this game could have been a major blowout due to the lack of points from CMU’s side of the offense.
As Stoops and his coaches tinker with their quarterback situation, having a rock-solid defense to lean on will be a significant factor in winning football games.
It’s unrealistic to think both AJ Rose and Benny Snell will combine for 229 rushing yards and four touchdowns each time they take the field.
While Kentucky can win several games with their defense and two-headed monster at running back, they need their quarterback (Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson) to make plays from the pocket.
Three turnovers and a QBR of just over nine from Wilson won’t get the job done. It was nice to see Hoak come in and march down the field at the end of the first half but he wasn't exactly making the most of his second half opportunities, either.
If Kentucky wants to take the next step and pull off upsets in, say, The Swamp & College Station or at home against Georgia and Mississippi State, they’ll need a quarterback who can take care of the ball and move the chains.
For now, it looks like Wilson will keep his starting job but he’ll have a much tougher contestant down in Gainesville next Saturday.
Special Teams: A-
Aside from turnovers, Central Michigan began only two of their nine drives past their own 25-yard line. Kentucky also had the Chippewas pinned inside their own 15-yard line multiple times, including inside the 1-yard line on a kickoff.
While Miles Butler’s leg doesn’t appear to be the strongest (Kentucky avoided a mid-40 yard field goal attempt), he was 5/5 on PATs.
David Bouvier was also solid as a retuner, though he did have one mistake on a fumble that was ultimately recovered by Kentucky.
Nearly everyone in the unit has top-notch speed and awareness of making the correct tackle to not give up big plays for non-favorable field position.
If Kentucky can outsmart their opponents here, their defense will have an even bigger advantage to get the offense quality field position.
Pro Football Focus Grades
The fine folks at Pro Football Focus, an advanced analytics service, have released grades for Kentucky’s top offensive and defensive players from Week 1. On offense, it was largely the offensive line that really shined in this game, which was great to see after they lost Landon Young right before the season began.
Kentucky saw some impressive offensive line play in their win over CMU yesterday pic.twitter.com/IF9OxrVWjr— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 2, 2018
Even with Young, this unit got off to a really rough start in 2017, so it’s great to see them get off to a strong start in 2018. It’s also great to see EJ Price get off to a fast start since he’s helping replace Young at left tackle.
On defense, it was senior cornerback Derrick Baity who led the way for a strong effort to hold CMU to just 20 points while the offense had four turnovers.
Kentucky's highest-graded players on defense against Central Michigan pic.twitter.com/aMwswk0ma8— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 2, 2018
It’s also nice to see Jamar ‘Boogie’ Watson stepping up with Joshua Paschal and Denzil Ware now playing at Jacksonville State.
Needless to say, this was a good starting point for the 2018 Kentucky Wildcats. Here’s to hoping they can build off of it and make some noise in the SEC this year.