Kentucky football open practice

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. (1) at open practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Two losses in a row, SEC losses nonetheless, make for a victory-hungry UK football team. The Wildcats met with media members Tuesday evening after practice to discuss all things South Carolina and what this past weekend in Starkville taught them. 

The Cats struggled on both sides of the ball against Mississippi State, but particularly didn’t seem as sharp offensively. Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith took several hits and even banged up his shoulder in the process, but is expected to play on Saturday against the Gamecocks. Eddie Gran, UK offensive coordinator, told media Tuesday that the team’s focus heading into this weekend will be balance and consistency on offense. 

“Consistency, consistency, consistency,” Gran said. “Just execution of offense and balance. Like coach (Stoops) said on Monday, we’re better when we’re 50/50. A lot better.”

Spreading the wealth between the run game and the receivers is what Gran has emphasized since preseason. On Saturday, the Cats rushed for just 154 yards while throwing for 232 yards, almost double the yardage on the ground. Running back AJ Rose was Kentucky’s leading rusher gained 105 yards on nine carries, his first 100-yard game of the season and third of his career. Despite his solid game, he said his team has a lot to bounce back from and thinks they just didn’t play hard enough against the Bulldogs. 

“We came off flat,” Rose said. “We got it handed to us for the first quarter and the first half, and we tried to play catch-up ball in the second half and you can’t do that.”

Rose had a few big runs Saturday and credits the offensive line for making big holes for him, but Gran said the o-lineman have some improvements to make before they head to Columbia, SC this weekend. Smith was sacked three times against MSU. Gran said some of those were mistakes by the running backs missing protection, and some were on the offensive line. 

“We weren’t as crisp as we’ve been,” Gran said. “I felt like going up to that game they (offensive line) had played really solid. It was not our best effort.”

As they usually do, the team was practicing to loud cheering and the screeching sound of the Gamecock over the sound system to get them prepared for the rowdy environment they’ll face on Saturday. UK wide receiver Lynn Bowden says leadership will be key heading into a tough road game, and he’s experienced Williams-Brice Stadium himself when the Cats went there in 2017.

“I remember my freshman year, I think my first kickoff return going in they got real loud,” Bowden said. “So I got goosebumps. I know how it is, so we’re trying to get these people (the younger players) prepared for it.”