Last year I spent a lot of time praising Kentucky’s offense heading into the Governor’s Cup. UK hadn’t been dynamic on offense but they had a power rushing attack that mixed very well with their ability to throw the deep ball. The offense came alive in the game last year but nothing that I’ve seen this year would make me think we will see a repeat. UK hasn’t been able to replace the talent they lost last year and some of that is due to them failing to utilize some of their talent.
Stephen Johnson returns at quarterback after playing the best game of his career against Louisville last year. Johnson has had a solid season for the Cats this year but he didn’t take a big step forward like most expected. As of now, Johnson has a similar touchdown to interception ratio while only throwing for a few more yards per game. One area that he has improved is his accuracy. While he is inconsistent, he has completed 62% of his passes this year with a wide receiver group that lost some key players.
The deep ball is where Kentucky found the most success early on against Louisville last year but I’m not certain they will be able to do the same this year. They really miss Jeff Badet in their offense. He transferred to Oklahoma after he graduated and UK just hasn’t been able to replace his big play ability. That has turned Johnson into more of a “game manager” that takes shots down the field every once in a while. I think that his legs will be a bigger factor in this game than his arm. If Kentucky can get their running game going, they might try to utilize some read option plays to keep the defense off balance.
Kentucky has transformed themselves into a power running team over the last year and Benny Snell has been the main reason for that. Snell set the career rushing touchdowns record for UK in only 21 games and I’d imagine that he will hold all of their rushing records by the time he’s done. The amount of power and determination he runs with will be another test for a Louisville defense that all but gave up on trying to tackle AJ Dillon a few games back. Snell will be used again in the “Wildcat” package that UK likes to run. I personally think they will add wrinkles to utilize Lynn Bowden on jet sweeps and trick plays to get Johnson the ball to make a throw. UK knows they’re at a disadvantage this year and they will pull out some trick plays to help level the playing field.
Kentucky has recruited pretty well over the last few years but the receiver position hasn’t panned out like they expected. They’ve missed on a handful of guys and some of the others that they had high expectations for haven’t been as productive as you might expect. Garrett Johnson has been a consistent player for them but they don’t have a reliable number two receiver with one game left on the schedule. Tavin Richardson is a big receiver but he’s only caught half of the passes that have come his way. Blake Bone and Kayaune Ross are also big receivers but Bone is just as unreliable as Richardson and Ross is still too raw. That leaves true freshman Bowden as this year’s winner of the “UK Player That Doesn’t Get Enough Touches” award winner.
Over the last two years Boom Williams was the guy that didn’t touch the ball nearly enough but Bowden has easily taken on that role. Bowden is 7th on the team in targets. He’s also 3rd in catches, yards, and yards per catch. He’s literally the best weapon they have outside of Snell and Johnson and they have only thrown the ball to him 19 times this year. He’s caught those passes 84% of the time by the way. That’s a much better rate than Richardson and Bone who are both near 50% but continue to get more targets. Bowden is also the most physically gifted player on the offense so it makes little sense that he doesn’t touch the ball more.
The Kentucky offensive line is probably the biggest reason that they haven’t been as successful as one would expect this year. John Toth graduating and Cole Mosier being lost for the season killed this line. They’ve been plagued by inconsistency as well as nagging injuries that have caused some real issues in the running game. The pass protection isn’t that great either, but I would place some of that blame on Johnson being indecisive at times. Louisville has been much better at getting to the quarterback over the last two weeks so this could be an area that they can take advantage of some struggles.