A look back at the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats season that resulted in an 8-5 record and Belk Bowl championship.

The 2019 Kentucky Wildcats Football season is officially in the books.

For the second straight season, the Wildcats brought a bowl trophy back to Lexington as they took down the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 31st to complete an 8-5 season.

Getting to eight victories was far from easy for the Wildcats as the team lost starting quarterback Terry Wilson after just two games to a torn patellar tendon and saw backup Sawyer Smith go down with multiple injuries.

In addition to injuries, the Wildcats had to replace the programs all-time leading rusher Benny Snell and all-time sack leader in Josh Allen and both of their entire starting secondary from 2018.

Despite all the odds being stacked against them, Kentucky still found their way to a fourth straight bowl game and an eight-win season with a wide receiver at quarterback and a young defense that performed among the nations best.

To best relive the season, here’s a recap of some of the seasons most memorable and players that stood out most in Kentucky’s 10 win season.

Biggest Heartbreak: Loss to Florida (Sep. 14th)

While Kentucky’s 31-year losing streak to Florida came to an end in 2018, the bad memories of the infamous streak came back to life in the 2019 contest.

Kentucky entered the fourth quarter with a 21-10 lead as quarterback Sawyer Smith threw a pair of touchdowns and ran one in to guide the Cats to a big lead. Then came another Gators comeback in Kentucky’s expensive.

In front of a capacity Kroger Field crowd, the Gators began to chip away with a Lamical Perine touchdown with 12:41 to play to cut the lead to 21-16. Then with 6:06 to play, Smith made a key mistake as he threw an interception to Florida’s Shawn Davis.

The Gators would make Smith and Kentucky pay as backup quarterback Kyle Trask who entered the game to replace the injured Felipe Franks ran in a four-yard touchdown with 4:11 to play to put the Gators on top 22-21.

Kentucky’s offense gave the team a chance to survive as they drove down to the Florida 17 yard-line with 1:02 to go in the game.

The drive would stall as Kavoisey Smoke was stopped short on a third and one forcing the Cats to try a 35 yard Chance Poore field goal. Poore’s kick missed wide, and Florida would score in the games final minute to hand the Wildcats another devastating loss.

Runner Up: Tennessee Loss (Nov. 9th)

Best Game: Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech

The 2019 Belk Bowl between Kentucky and Virginia Tech did not dissapoint as the two teams played in a nail-biting, back in forth affair in Charlotte.

Each team matched each other seemingly blow for blow the entire game as there were four lead changes and four different points in which the game was tied.

Down 30-24 with 8:26 to play, Kentucky put together one of the most historic drives in program history. The drive lasted an incredible 8:10 minutes and featured 18 plays that went for a combined 85 yards. On the drive, Lynn Bowden ran 12 times for 53 yards, but it was a pair of passing plays that will go down in UK football lure.

On a fourth and seven from Kentucky’s 43 yard-line, Bowden threw to Josh Ali in the middle of the field. Though the pass was low, Ali was able to make the grab thanks to a diving effort picking up nine-yards and a first down. Then on first down from the Virginia Tech 13 yard line. Bowden again found Ali but this time in the end zone. The wide receiver turned quarterback threw a perfect lob up to Ali, who scored on a simple fly route tying the game with 15 seconds to play. Matt Ruffolo would knock down the extra-point to give UK a lead they’d never surrender as they went onto win the 2019 Belk Bowl.

In the win, Bowden ran for an incredible 233 yards to break the quarterback record for rushing yards in a bowl game.

Runner Up: 45-13 victory over Louisville (Nov. 30th)

Offensive Play of the year: Ahmad Wagner’s juggling touchdown catch  (Sep. 14th)

While Lynn Bowden made a highlight play after highlight play in 2019, it’s 6-7 wide receiver Ahmad Wagner who made Kentucky’s offensive play of the year.

Down seven against Florida, Smith threw to Wagner in one on one coverage in the end zone looking to tie the game. Despite being interfered with and the throw being seemingly out of his reach Wagner was able to keep his concentration and making a juggling touchdown grab to tie the game and send Kroger Field into a frenzy.

Runner Up: Lynn Bowden’s 61-yard touchdown run vs. Virginia Tech 

Defensive play of the year: Boogie Watson’s one arm tackle (Oct. 19th)

Kentucky’s defense made several remarkable plays throughout the season, but perhaps the most impressive one was made by Jamar “Boogie” Watson.

In the pouring rain on the road against Georgia, Watson made a sensational one-armed tackle to bring down Bulldogs running back James Cook.

The play by the junior was both perfectly diagnosed and incredibly athletic.  Watch Watson’s outstanding play broken down by KSR’s Adam Luckett here

Runner Up: Jordan Wright’s strip sack and recovery (Oct. 26th) 

Moment of the year: Lynn Bowden to Josh Ali  (Dec. 31st)

While the Wagner catch and Watson tackle earn play of the year honors, the moment of the year is easily Lynn Bowden’s touchdown pass to Josh Ali to win the Belk Bowl.

What made the play so special is that it perfectly summed up the type of player Bowden was for Kentucky in 2019. As a wide receiver turned quarterback, Bowden had to do a little bit of everything to help his team win games this season, including throwing the ball when needed.

When the Wildcats needed a big pass most, Bowden delivered and threw a beauty that will never be forgotten by the Big Blue Nation.

Runner Up: Jordan Wright’s touchdown to end Belk Bowl 

Best single game performance: Lynn Bowden vs. Louisville (Nov. 30th)

As outstanding as Bowden’s performance in the Belk Bowl was his game to lead Kentucky to 45-13 victory over rival Louisville was even better.

Bowden ran for a remarkable 284 yards with four touchdowns, including 60, 45, and 32-yard touchdown runs. His 284 yards helped Kentucky finish the day with 517 rushing yards to break the programs single-game rushing record that was set just a week earlier in a 50-7 victory over U-T Martin.

Runner Up: Lynn Bowden’s record breaking Belk Bowl

Assistant coach of the year: Eddie Gran (Offensive Coordinator)

Moving onto the individual honorees, we take a look at one of Mark Stoops assistants that did one of the most incredible coaching jobs in college football this season.

Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran helped completely reinvent Kentucky’s offense after losing both Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith.

Not only did he reinvest the offense, but he helped turn it into one of the nation’s most effective ones.

Kentucky finished the season with the SEC’s top rushing offense and the nation’s fourth-best as they averaged 278.8 rushing yards per game.

In each of Kentucky’s final four games of the season, the team scored at least 37 points and went a perfect 4-0. As talented as Bowden is, the offense doesn’t put up these numbers without the play calling and designs made by coach Gran.

Runner Up: Steve Clinkscale (Defensive Backs) 

Newcomer of the year: J.J. Weaver 

With Mark Stoops redshirting his 2019 recruiting class will give a shout out to both a newcomer (true freshman) and freshman (redshirt freshman).

The newcomer of the year honor goes to outside linebacker J.J. Weaver. In three games, the Louisville native made six total tackles and defended two passes.

His breakout moment came in Kentucky’s 38-17 victory over Vanderbilt when he recorded five tackles (four solo).

Runner Up: Travis Tisdale 

Freshman of the year: Chris Rodriguez 

Several redshirt freshmen played key roles for the Wildcats in 2019, but Chris Rodriguez stands out the most.

After fumbling twice in Kentucky’s week one game against Toledo, Rodriguez was benched for three weeks. Rodriguez did not allow this set back prevent him from having an outstanding season.

In his return to the lineup, the redshirt freshman ran for 66 yards with a touchdown on just six attempts.

He earned a permanent spot in the rotation after a strong effort against Tennessee when he ran for 81 yards on 11 carries.

The next week, Rodriguez ran for 129 yards with two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. This would start a streak of four straight games with a touchdown as he scored in each of the Wildcats final four games, including a 66-yard score against Louisville and a touchdown in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech.

Rodriguez finished the season with 533 yards and six touchdowns with an average of 7.5 yards per carry.

Runner Up: Kavosiey Smoke

Offensive player of the year (non quarterback): A.J. Rose

A.J. Rose had an outstanding year in his first season as the Wildcats starting running back.

The junior from Cleveland ran for 826 yards with six touchdowns and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. He also added 67 receiving yards on 11 catches.

Rose ran for 100 yards twice in 2019 (Mississippi State & UT Martin) and added a 90-yard game against Arkansas. His longest run of the season came against U-T Martin when he exploded for a 63-yard score.

Despite a fumble, Rose played a key role in helping Kentucky win the 2019 Belk Bowl. Rose ran for 69 yards on just 10 carries and had a 78-yard touchdown that was called back due to a questionable holding call on Logan Stenberg.

Outside of Bowden at quarterback, no offensive player had a bigger impact on Kentucky’s success this season than Rose earning him this shout out.

Runner Up: Drake Jackson 

Defensive player of the year: Calvin Taylor

6-9, 310-pound defensive end Calvin Taylor put an exclamation point on his college carer with a stellar senior season.

Taylor finished tied for second in the SEC in the SEC in both sacks (nine) and forced fumbles (three). The senior defended four passes and finished the season with 36 total tackles to help Kentucky recover from the loss of program all-time sack leader Josh Allen.

This improbable senior season came after Taylor never recorded more than one sack in a single season and was not even a ranked recruit when he signed with Kentucky back in 2016.

Taylor will now head to the NFL, leaving a hard hole to fill on the Kentucky defense.

Runner Up: Yusuf Corker 

Team MVP: Lynn Bowden

It’s hard to put into words the impact Lynn Bowden had on the Kentucky Wildcats in 2019.

Bowden started the season at his natural wide receiver position where he recorded a team-high 30 catches for 348 yards and one touchdown.

With Kentucky 2-3 and needing a spark after injuries to both Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith, Stoops and company moved Bowden from receiver to quarterback.

Bowden went from not having played quarterback since high school to starting in the SEC. Instead of having trouble, Bowden made the position look easy. He led the Wildcats to a 6-2 record, ran for an SEC-leading 1,468 yards, scored 13 touchdowns on the ground, and added 403 passing yards with three touchdown passes.

Of his eight games as Kentucky’s quarterback, Bowden ran for 100 yards in all but one when he was held to 99 yards by Georgia. Bowden ran for at least 200 yards three times, including running for 284 and four touchdowns against Louisville and 233 yards in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech to set the bowl game quarterback rushing record.

After all he did with his legs, Bowden proved why he won the Paul Hornung most versatile player award when he threw a 13-yard touchdown to Josh Ali to clinch Kentucky’s Belk Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

Bowden’s terrific season earned him consensus All-American and All-SEC honors. He declared for the NFL Draft in December as he’ll leave Kentucky as one of the best players ever to put on the Blue and White.

Runner Up: Max Duffy 

Now here’s a look at the final results from the 2019 Wildcats and some of their stat leaders.

Season Results:

Week 1: W vs. Toledo 38-14

Week 2: W vs. Eastern Michigan 38-17

Week 3: L vs. Florida 29-21

Week 4: L at. Mississippi State 28-13

Week 5: L at. South Carolina 24-7

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: W vs. Arkansas 24-20

Week 8: L at. Georgia 21-0

Week 9: W vs. Missouri 29-7

Week 10: Bye

Week 11: L vs. Tennessee 17-13

Week 12: W vs. Vanderbilt 38-14

Week 13: W vs. U-T Martin 50-7

Week 14: W vs. Louisville 45-13 

Belk Bowl: W vs. Virginia Tech 37-30

Stat Leaders:

Passing Yards:

  1. Sawyer Smith: 690
  2. Lynn Bowden: 403
  3. Terry Wilson: 360
  4. Walker Wood: 15
  5. A.J. Rose: 10

Passing Touchdowns:

  1. Sawyer Smith: 4
  2. Lynn Bowden: 3
  3. Terry Wilson: 2

Rushing Yards:

  1. Lynn Bowden: 1,468
  2. A.J. Rose: 826
  3. Kavosiey Smoke: 616
  4. Chris Rodriguez: 533
  5. Travis Tisdale: 57

Rushing Touchdowns:

  1. Lynn Bowden: 13
  2. A.J. Rose, Chris Rodriguez & Kavosiey Smoke: 6
  3. Terry Wilson, Tyler Markray, Travis Tisdale & Sawyer Smith: 1

Receiving Yards:

  1. Lynn Bowden: 348
  2. Ahmad Wagner: 254
  3. Josh Ali: 233
  4. Justin Rigg: 128
  5. Bryce Oliver: 111

Receptions:

  1. Lynn Bowden: 30
  2. Josh Ali: 23
  3. Ahmad Wagner: 15
  4. Justin Rigg, A.J. Rose & Clevan Thomas: 11
  5. Allen Daily Jr & Keaton Upshaw: 7

Receiving Touchdowns:

  1. Josh Ali: 3
  2. Ahmad Wagner: 2
  3. Bryce Oliver, Clevan Thomas, Keaton Upshaw & Lynn Bowden: 1

Tackles:

  1. Yusuf Corker: 74
  2. DeAndre Square: 69
  3. Kash Daniel: 58
  4. Brandin Echols: 54
  5. Chris Oates: 46

Sacks:

  1. Calvin Taylor: 9
  2. Boogie Watson: 6.5
  3. Josh Paschal: 3.5
  4. Jordan Wright: 3
  5. T.J. Carter: 2

Interceptions

  1. Jordan Griffin: 2
  2. DeAndre Square, Jamin Davis, Kash Daniel, Quandre Mosely, Tyrell Ajian & Yusuf Corker: 1

Kick Returns Yards:

  1. Lynn Bowden: 220
  2. Zach Johnson: 164
  3. Chris Rodriguez: 37
  4. Kavosiey Smoke: 17
  5. Drew Schlegel: 9

Punt Return Yards

  1. Josh Ali: 88
  2. Lynn Bowden: 53
  3. Josh Paschal: 2

 

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