Terry Wilson, Benny Snell, and Lynn Bowden may have been the biggest storylines at the start of Kentucky's 48-10 trouncing of the Murray State Racers, but the newcomers stole the show to finish the day.
Midway through the third quarter, most of the backups found their way into the action, and it only ramped up when backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak entered the game with 12:03 remaining in the fourth. On both sides of the football, the Wildcats managed to get reps out of just about every non-injured freshman or redshirt freshman. At one point, Kentucky had 10 freshmen in at one time on defense, with the eleventh player being senior tackle Tymere Dubose.
For Mark Stoops, it was a way to get his young talent’s feet wet in a live game setting, which in most situations can be used as one of four playable games to remain eligible to redshirt.
“Yeah, we thought we'd use it for a bunch of those guys just to get them some reps and get them in there,” Stoops said. “There will be a good dose of those freshmen that we will hold and use in emergency situations now. At least they got their first reps in game play, got a few snaps. Some of them played quite a few. So we'll gauge it as we move forward.”
And they didn’t just play. Several dominated in their limited time on the field.
It starts with freshman receiver Allen Dailey, who made his first two career touches, with the first going for 15 yards and the second going for 24 yards and a touchdown, fighting off what seemed to be ten defenders in the process. After the game, Stoops said he’s going to have to get the impressive newcomer some more game reps going forward.
“Allen is a good football player,” he said. “We really got to look hard at getting him some more reps, because he's a player. He just has that -- he has a toughness and work ethic, and he's got instincts, and I really like him. He's going to get in there some more.”
Sophomore receiver Lynn Bowden agrees, saying the freshman wideout is a star in the making.
“Dailey, he’s a tough freshman, tough guy. He’s actually my roommate. He’s really tough,” he said.
Another young wideout, redshirt sophomore Zy’Aire Hughes (started his career on defense), managed to take a 49-yard reverse in for a touchdown, the first of his career.
Stoops said Hughes was on the sideline begging for an opportunity, and the Kentucky coach decided to give him a shot.
“Well, he was over there hunting them down. I said, Zy'Aire, come on, we're going to give it to him, you know, so be ready to dial it up for him.
“He said, "Thanks, Coach" after that. I said, well, you knew what to do with it once you got the ball, that's for sure. He knew how to take it to the end zone. Zy'Aire has great speed. He's a great kid... It's good for guys like that, for Zy'Aire, who's been working hard, to see him get it in the end zone,” he said.
Hughes said the team actually practiced that play in practice and knew he could make an impact when given the opportunity.
“I was expecting it,” he said. “We’ve been practicing all week. It’s actually called “12 Fish” and it’s a play designed for me to get a reverse and basically score. The whole time I’m thinking that I would score, but to me the play is just a reverse to get yardage off of, but I wanted to score.
“They say get as wide as possible, but the way our receivers were blocking I saw a hole and that left me no choice but to cut it up and run for the touchdown.”
Freshman running back Christopher Rodriguez unleashed his inner Benny Snell, adding 43 yards on just two carries. Redshirt freshman quarterback Danny Clark also added a two-yard touchdown run to end the game.
On defense, De’Andre Square, Marquan McCall, Jordan Wright, and Jamin Davis made impressive plays of various degrees, each being either true or redshirt freshmen.
“Definitely, Marquan (McCall) shows up a lot. And Jordan (Wright), I think he had a good rush or two. He's talented. It's good to get his feet wet, get him in there. He's one of the guys that we'd like to get him some reps and get him moving,” Stoops said.
McCall made three tackles on the day, including his first career quarterback sack, and caused a fumble. He was Kentucky’s highest-rated recruit in the 2018 class, and by game three, he was already performing at an exceptionally high level.
Senior linebacker Josh Allen also said he was impressed with both McCall and Wright, in particular.
”He’s showing he can play at the next level,” Allen said of McCall. “He’s ready. It’s a lot of little things he has to get corrected, but when he does that, he’s going to make a big impact for us.”
As for Wright, Allen said his impressive practices translated to the game this afternoon.
“I wanted to see what he was capable of. I know in practice he does a good job, so I just wanted to see how he could play. He did pretty good, a few mental errors, but overall he did pretty good,” he said.
Freshman linebacker Jamin Davis made four tackles, claimed his first career interception, and added a pass breakup. He seemed to always find his way to the ball, including his interception that was a shoestring tackle away from being returned for a touchdown.
De’Andre Square, a freshman out of Michigan, also added two tackles, including one for loss. Redshirt freshman Tyrell Ajian also added two tackles in the victory. Yusuf Corker, Michael Nesbitt, and Chris Oats each added to the box score with one tackle, as well.
Josh Allen said it best: Kentucky has some of the best depth top-to-bottom it’s had since Mark Stoops arrived.
”We’ve got a two-deep (lineup), almost a three-deep. And all of us can play,” he said.
We knew this was going to be a big day for the backups, but I don't think anyone imagined they would put on a show like this. The third-string secondary gave up a late touchdown run to Murray State, but beyond that, the newcomers played exceptionally well.