By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Kentucky’s 35-20 win over the Central Michigan Chippewa’s Football Team in Saturday’s season opener answered some questions about this UK team after one game but also created several new ones. In a contest where the 17-point favorite Wildcats turned the ball over four times in the first half and allowed Central Michigan 20 points off those turnovers they also ran for 299 yards and had touchdown runs of 55 and 52 yards in the game. It was a tale of two halves as the defense gave up the aforementioned 20 points off turnovers in the first half only to comeback and shutout the Chippewas in the second half. Here are a few questions that were answered and a couple more that hopefully will be answered positively in the weeks to come.
Saturday we found out that the UK defense is much improved from 93rd ranked defense from last season. Kentucky’s junior and senior-led defense held the Chips to 118 rushing yards on 39 carries and 255 total yards of offense for the game. The defense kept UK In the game in the first half as Central Michigan scored 20 points off of four turnovers. They pitched a shutout in the second half to help secure the Wildcats 1-0 start.
We also found out that this season the offense will go as the running game goes. The Wildcat running backs rolled up 299 yards on 43 carries with touchdown runs of 55 and 52 yards by AJ Rose and Benny Snell, respectively. The Kentucky offensive line dominated the Chips defensive line for most of the contest as the UK backs averaged over seven yards per carry.
What we don’t know is whether quarterback play will be a plus or a minus for UK going forward this season. Both quarterbacks -Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak – played in the game and both had some very good plays and not-so-good plays during the course of the sixty minutes. Wilson threw two interceptions and lost a fumble while leading the team on four scoring drives. He was 11-18 passing the ball for 78 yards with no touchdown passes.
Gunnar Hoak was equally inconsistent. He led the Wildcats on a critical touchdown drive to end the second quarter and give UK the lead at halftime 21-20. He was 4-9 throwing the ball with no interceptions and one touchdown pass. With three turnovers from the quarterback position by Wilson – and a near pick thrown by Hoak – ball security will be theme for both quarterbacks going forward.
The other thing we don’t know is whether Kentucky has an accurate field goal kicker or not. UK attempted no field goals on the day although they had a couple of situations that would have been considered field goal kicking opportunities. Both times UK lined up to go for it on fourth down – once they lost the ball to an interception that was ruled no catch on the field but overturned by the replay official – and the other time they didn’t make the first down. Both were opportunities to kick field goals and each time Coach Stoops elected to go for it on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal. That doesn’t seem to indicate that he has very much confidence in either of his field goal kickers at this point in the season.
All in all this was a game that UK could have easily lost in the past – think Southern Mississippi in the 2016 season opener – by turning the ball over four times in the first half and creating a 17-7 hole from which they had to dig out. With the bright spots of an improved defense and a stellar running game if Coach Stoops can fix the ball security issues and find an accurate field goal kicker this team should be able to work its way into a bowl game by season’s end. Anything beyond that would be a plus for a team that looks like it still has a lot of holes to fill.