Billy Reed: UK relies on running game in rout of rival Louisville

Billy Reed: UK relies on running game in rout of rival Louisville
Billy Reed

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - What Saturday’s Governor’s Cup game gave Kentucky football fans, besides an other-worldly performance by quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr., was a trivia question that will win a lot of bar bets over the next 20 years or so.

Question: Who was the only Wildcat to catch a pass during the 45-13 rout before a chilled and rain-soaked crowd at Kroger Field? What’s that? You’ve forgotten already? Or never noticed in the first place?

Well, the answer – and please commit this to memory – is Clevon Thomas Jr., a redshirt sophomore wide receiver from Miami. He caught a pass for four yards. The only other aerial attempt by UK was incomplete.

In all the years I’ve followed UK and UofL football, and I’m going back to the days of UK’s Vito “Babe” Parilli and UofL’s Johnny Unitas, I’ve never seen either program play without a passing game. Oh, some years their respective offenses are skewed toward passing or running. Sometimes they are balanced.

But to have no passing game whatsoever in this era when many teams let it fly 30 or 40 times a game? Unthinkable. Impossible. Yet that’s the gamble taken by UK head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.

After sprintout starter Terry Wilson sustained a season-ending injury in the second game, the quarterback job went to junior Sawyer Smith. He played well in a 29-21 loss to Florida on Sept. 14 at Kroger, but was only so-so in losses at Mississippi State and South Carolina that put UK at 2-3 for the season. A win over hapless Arkansas at home was followed by a 21-0 loss at Georgia.

It was here that Stoops and Gran decided that UK was going to live or die by the run. Besides Bowden at quarterback, the Cats had three elusive runners in Chris Rodriguez, Kavosiey Smoke, and Asim Rose. Each was a threat to go all the way anytime he got the ball.

Still, no passing game? Zero? Zilch?

Well, pretty much. The Cats completed four of eight in a win over Missouri, four of seven in a loss to Tennessee, 11 of 15 in a win over hapless Vanderbilt and two of 11 in a victory over UT-Martin.

In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s 21 in completions in 41 attempts over four games. The nation’s leading passing team, Washington State, averages almost 40 attempts PER GAME.

Now, nobody has ever accused UofL’s defense of being anything more than mediocre. Still, since everybody watching the game knew what UK was going to do, surely Coach Scott Satterfield’s defense at least would be able to hold the Cats in check.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Bowden Jr. had an incredible 284 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. That’s the second most for one game in UK history. Rodriguez added 125 yards on nine carries, Smoke 75 yards on two, and Rose 33 on seven.

The Wildcats total of 517 rushing yards is a school record, surpassing the one set the previous week against UK-Martin. And get this: They averaged – AVERAGED! – 12.9 yards per carry.

For UofL, only freshman running back Javian Hawkins, who had 142 yards on 22 carries, gave the UK defense any trouble. The Cards ran 76 plays from scrimmage to UK’s 45, but also gave up six sacks to UK’s zero and committed seven penalties to UK’s two.

Afterward, Satterfield seemed befuddled by what he just witnessed. His team was more respectable against highly ranked opponents Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia, and Wake Forest than it was against the Cats’ no-pass attack.

However long the Governor’s Cup series lasts, it’s quite likely there will never be another game like this one. Next season, for example, Bowden Jr. will be on an NFL roster and Wilson will return, bringing balance and a sense of normalcy with him.

Bowden Jr. has much to brag about, if he wishes, but we all know who was on the receiving end of the game’s most unique play. Maybe now, when he walks across campus, people will know that Clevon Thomas Jr. is the guy who caught UK’s only completion against UofL.

At least, that’s what I hope. Celebrity is fickle and fleeting, so you might as well take it any way you can get it.

Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter and regular contributor of sports columns to WAVE3.com. Contact him at billyreedcolumns@gmail.com.

Please click here to read our policy on opinion columns.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.