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Kentucky Football

Positives & Negatives From Kentucky's Dominant Win Over Mizzou

October 28, 2019
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Kentucky responded from their loss on the road in Athens tremendously. In their second-straight downpour on a slippery field, the Wildcats dominated from start to finish against Missouri at home. Lynn Bowden has been the starting quarterback for three games, and he has had a 2-1 record over those three games.  The most recent win was huge momentum for the Wildcats heading into their second bye week in five weeks.

Kentucky has a winnable and likely favorable last four after this bye week. The Wildcats have just one away game at Vanderbilt. Between Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, and Vanderbilt they have a combined zero wins on the road and 10 losses. Home field advantage has a real impact in the SEC, especially when you have a young football team, which all four of these teams do.

Kentucky’s offensive and the defensive staff have improved this inexperienced and injury-ridden team greatly throughout this season, and the Wildcats have a fantastic opportunity to build on that. This extra week of preparation is huge for the final four-game stretch. Bowden has been electric and provided a much-needed spark to an offense that continued to struggle after losing Terry Wilson in the second game of the season. After the wheels fell off from the fourth quarter against Florida through the first two road games of the season, this coaching staff fixed the holes and at this point, have saved the season.

It looks very likable that Kentucky gets to a bowl game, and they are in a great position to win seven or eight. All things considered, that is an incredible sentence to read. Kentucky has a top tier coaching staff in the SEC, and if it wasn't proven over the last three seasons, especially 2018, they are proving it this season. This is a defense that lost its entire secondary as well as the National Defensive Player of the Year. And an offense that lost their starting quarterback in the second game of the season and the backup hasn’t been healthy in weeks, on top of losing some running back named Benny Snell.

However, Bowden gives Kentucky back their identity they have built offensively, and the inexperienced defense has continued to take leaps and bounds towards improving as a unit. We have seen that growth and this bye week will help that even more. But we saw this team’s potential last weekend in their most impressive performance of 2019, as they won 29-7 against a very good Missouri football team, one that has been hyped up by the media since the preseason. 

Negatives

  • Passing Game
  • Kicking Woes

Kentucky has to improve their passing game, but future forecasts could help that matter. Mark Stoops said if it weren’t for the weather, we would have seen more attempts through the air from Bowden, and that is something that seems to be increasing confidence when it comes to the staff. After all, Bowden did complete 7-of-11 passes in the one game he played with clear skies. Bowden’s vision and ability to create big plays in the running game has been the difference in this offense, and that will help open things up through the air in the last four matchups.

What else can you complain about in this performance? The early kicking woes might be all you can. From beginning to end, this was the best performance from the Wildcats all season long. Even in this area, Chance Poore got the kicking game back on track with a 43-yarder to put the Cats up 15-0 with 44 ticks left in the first half.

The weather was a big factor in this football game, and that is something that can prevent or limit those areas of a football game. In clear skies, Kentucky will have to improve in those areas moving forward. In a 29-7 win, there are few negatives you can point out, but there are multiple positives.

Positives

  • QB1 Lynn Bowden
  • Ground Game
  • Opportunistic Play
  • Deandre Square & Chris Oats
  • Secondary
  • Improving Run D
  • Field Position Game

Bowden essentially saved Kentucky’s season by going 2-1 as QB1 over these three football games. Stoops made it very clear immediately following the win in the postgame press conference that they planned to let Bowden throw the football more, but the inclement weather limited that part of the gameplan. But this is a quarterback that has not thrown an interception and has had few dangerous throws in his time at quarterback. Now, those 33 attempts in three football games looks to be a small number, but let’s not forget he has played in two monsoons.

It sounds like the staff is continuing to grow trust in his ability to win football games as a leader and improve through the air. Listen, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, this whole experiment is working. Your one loss is to a top ten football team on the road and it was a game for three quarters. His low in rushing yards as QB1 was his 99 yards in Athens. 

Missouri started to run zero coverage in multiple situations particularly in the second half. Zero coverage means you have no one back deep, man-to-man coverage across the board in the secondary, begging the offense to throw the football. Barry Odom stacked the box to stop Bowden’s immaculate effort on the ground, and he rushed for a single-game rushing high in the conference this season with 205 yards, which is an average of just under 10 yards per carry. Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw get an extra week to add even more wrinkles to this offense, and it has been great to watch. 

Bowden has revamped this offense and it has allowed the offensive staff to get back to their identity on the offensive side of the football. This coaching staff has not beaten a team with the pass, and that could continue to be the case. Bowden has the agility and the unbelievably special talent to do this, and he is the only player in the country that could, that is why this team has gone 2-1 with him. He is tied first in the nation in terms of 10+ yard plays with 37 total, he is the most versatile player in the nation. 

Kentucky needs to continue with this project because if you can beat that Missouri team with this formula, you can beat every other team on the rest of the schedule. Now, a slip up is possible because these teams are near even, but this experiment gives them the best chance to win seven or eight-game. Bowden at quarterback is too hot right now, and it is all because of the ground game.

Bowden has found his most success on speed options and counter run plays, especially in this football game. His ability to pitch to the back or keep it himself gets him out to the edge quickly where he can be used to his full potential, dynamically. That option can freeze a defense, much like his ability to plant his foot and cut back on a dime in those counter run plays. Bowden can turn back so quickly, which makes it easy to fake the defense whenever going to the right or left, then cutting back to the opposite side. 

These are the foundational plays to this offense that allows the defense to keep guessing. Now, Kentucky can build off of these plays and use it to help open up the passing game as well. This move has also allowed other backs, specifically AJ Rose, to get going too. Rose fits this offense so much more because these play calls get him in space on the outside too, but the focus on Bowden opens that up.

The staff added some nice heavy sets for Bowden, and those formations helped open up holes in the running game. John Schlarman’s offensive line was beating the Tigers to the point of attack and getting consistent push-up front, they also played a clean game with no penalties as a position group. Two-tight end sets and fullback football allows the run game to get going and is sought-after formations with today’s offenses. That style of play still proves to be effective at all levels. 

Here are the rushing stats from Bowden and Rose in the three games with Bowden QB1.

Bowden: 62 carries, 500 yards (8 yards per attempt), 4 touchdowns
Rose: 40 carries, 180 yards (4.5 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown

Over those three games, Kentucky had their three highest rushing performances in conference play. That effort has uplifted the offense and has also helped the defense out as well, which is why you are seeing such an impressive effort from that group. Kentucky has gotten back to ground-and-pound football and it is working. This game was just a showcase of an opportunistic football team.

This team reduced mistakes with just four penalties, a season-low, and they allowed zero points off of their two fumbles. Did not allow many big plays defensively, outside of the 74-yard score, which was the Tigers only score of the night as they scored a season-low seven points. Kentucky 100% in the red zone with three scores on three trips, and they played a great field position game thanks to the best punter in the nation, Max Duffy. Kentucky played smart and took advantage of situations, a large part of that was due to their best defensive effort of the season.

Seven points were the fewest points Missouri has scored and Kentucky has allowed this season. That is a Tiger football team that averages 35 points per game. Deandre Square and Chris Oats are such a large part of that success. What makes these two guys great, is they are much better athletes than your average inside linebackers.

I said it in my weekly game preview, the Week Nine Adversary, these two would play a huge role in Kentucky’s success. You saw Kentucky limit big plays defensively because of their solid tackling and ability to cover those crossing routes over the middle I talked about in the adversary. Square and Oats have the speed to get to the edge to help stop outside run plays as well as the strength to bring down runners in the open-field. The sky is the limit for this duo, and they played tremendous roles in the seven-point performance.

That one touchdown run was not technically any single player or position groups fault, either. Kentucky was in a ‘dime’ package defensively, they had six defensive backs in a cover two man-to-man look on a 3rd ​​​and 12. Mizzou went in a doubles spread formation and dialed up a perfectly timed screenplay design to scatback Tyler Badie, Kentucky safeties Yusuf Corker and Quandre Mosely were back deep with four defensive backs occupied in man coverage on the Tigers four wideouts. Square was the only linebacker in the middle as the Cats rushed four, which allowed the screenplay to set up and blocking was superb on the outside by Mizzou’s receivers as well as the offensive line getting to the second level on Square and Mosely, Corker and Cedrick Dort took bad angles and Badie’s speed took it to the house. 

If you take away that play, Kelly Bryant is 9-for-18 and 56 yards, which is pretty tough. I wrote about this young secondary a couple of weeks ago, and they have continued to improve. After allowing back-to-back 300+ yard performances through the air to Eastern Michigan and Florida, the Wildcats have not allowed an opponent to throw for over 200 yards since. That 74-yard screen pass was the first passing touchdown allowed since the first quarter against Florida, which is 23 quarters of football. 

Kentucky is starting to improve against the run as well. The Wildcats allowed a season-low 125 yards on 34 carries, which is just below that four-yard mark per attempt, and they also managed to not allow a rushing touchdown in a game for the first time this season. This defense limited the big play on the ground, as the longest run they allowed was 16 yards. Brad White’s defense also held Missouri to a horrendous 4-of-16 on third and fourth down.

Kentucky played a great field position game and the defense showed vast improvements across the board. This team gets two weeks to prepare for Tennessee as they enter the final stretch of the season, the offense can add new wrinkles and the defense can improve on their game. The biggest virtue for this team is they get another week of rest, which is huge for this team right before a rivalry game. From the Missouri game, there was a lot to like from Kentucky and they showed that they can win-out, as this is an inexperienced team that is gaining experience and improving every week; the growth is across the board, and that has a great chance to continue over the week off. 

 

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Positives & Negatives From Kentucky's Dominant Win Over Mizzou

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