UK football survives rocky first half to win season opener


Kentucky senior wide receiver David Bouvier runs towards the end zone during the game against Central Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, at Kroger Field. Kentucky won 35-20. Jordan Prather | Staff

The UK football team opened its season Saturday afternoon in a rollercoaster fashion that saw four turnovers, a quarterback switch and two 50-yard runs, all before halftime. The Cats came out with a win against Central Michigan, 35-20.

Before all of the mayhem, the game started slowly enough. Consecutive three-and-outs for both teams gave the appearance of a plodding, low-scoring affair until the first UK turnover.

At midfield, new UK quarterback Terry “Touchdown” Wilson fumbled the ball and a couple of Central Michigan defenders secured their first of four turnovers that half. The Chippewas then took their advantageous field position and marched into UK territory, where the Cats held them to just a field goal.

Enter A.J. Rose.

On the very next drive, while it looked like the game would still be slow, Rose took his first touch of the game 55 yards all the way to the end zone from his own 45, rushing for his first career touchdown.

After Rose’s long score, disaster struck for the Cats.

After forcing another short CMU drive, Wilson decided to take a shot downfield after breaking an attempted sack. His intended receiver, Tavin Richardson, fell on the route and the Chippewas took an interception for their second turnover of the day.

After the pick, CMU drove all the way down the field on a seven-minute drive, ending in a touchdown that put the Chippewas ahead, 10-7.

UK’s next drive didn’t go much better, as Lynn Bowden fumbled on the first play of the drive. The drop was once again recovered by CMU and quickly taken into the end zone by the defense. The score then stood at a disappointing 17-7 for UK’s home opener.

To recover some momentum, All-SEC running back Benny Snell decided he would also like to run in open space, and broke a two-person tackle en route to a 52-yard touchdown rush. The Cats drew back within three as UK nailed the extra point and forced another three-and-out.

Unfortunately for the Cats, they turned the ball over a fourth time, this time an interception on a way-short throw by Wilson. CMU ran the ball back to the UK 10, but was held to just a field goal by UK’s defense. With time running down in the first half, CMU led 20-14.

On UK’s ensuing drive, the coaching staff elected to make a quarterback change, replacing Wilson with Gunnar Hoak. That drive, Hoak completed nearly all of his passes, capping off the drive with a 24-yard pass to new-scholarship receiver David Bouvier for a touchdown, putting the Cats ahead 21-20 as the final seconds of the half ticked down.

The second half was a much different story.

On the other side of halftime, the Cats didn’t turn the ball over once, allowed only four first downs and scored touchdowns in bunches.

Rose and Snell each finished with two touchdowns and 100 yards, becoming the first pair of Cats with 100+ rushing yards since Snell and Boom Williams did so against Missouri in 2016.

As the Cats got stop after stop, extending their lead, they found some breathing room for Wilson to return to the game. He committed no more turnovers and finished the day completing 61 percent of his passes, while Hoak completed 44 percent of his during his short stint.

After the UK cleanup in the second half, stabilized by the Cats’ defense and running backs, UK prevented CMU from scoring another point and seized the season-opening win. Along with their stifling defense, the Cats also ran the ball extremely well, as every rusher that carried the ball averaged at least four yards per carry on the day.

The Cats will travel to Gainesville next weekend to face Florida, a team they’ve lost to for 31 consecutive years.