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Mark Story

‘I have to do a better job.’ Terry Wilson laments game-changing turnovers.

 
 
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Game day: Kentucky at Auburn

Click below for more of the Herald-Leader’s and Kentucky.com’s coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky-Auburn football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

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The Kentucky Wildcats lost to the Auburn Tigers in the college football opener for both teams. SEC officials made first-game mistakes. UK’s turnovers costly.

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Terry Wilson’s return to live game action after missing the final 11 games of 2019 because of a major knee injury was foiled when the threw a crucial interception and lost a costly fumble as No. 23 UK fell at No. 8 Auburn 29-13.

What does Kentucky losing to Auburn in its 2020 season opener mean for the Wildcats in terms of the rest of the season going forward?

The Kentucky Wildcats lost to the Auburn Tigers 29-13 in an SEC football game. UK committed three turnovers and officials missed an apparent touchdown.

The University of Kentucky football team lost at Auburn, 29-13, on Saturday. Mark Stoops and Terry Wilson offered commentary about the performance.

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The University of Kentucky took on Auburn in an NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama, on Sept. 26, 2020. Statistics from the game.

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Two crucial turnovers combined to foil what could have been a feel-good comeback for Terry Wilson as the Kentucky Wildcats’ quarterback.

Wilson, who missed the final 11 games of last year after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, made his return Saturday for UK in its delayed 2020 season opener at Auburn.

“It felt great to be back out there,” Wilson said via Zoom. “It’s just tough to win a game when you have turnovers.”

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No. 8 Auburn defeated No. 23 Kentucky 29-13 Saturday before a coronavirus-limited crowd of 17,490 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

In his first game action since Sept. 7, 2019 — when Wilson was injured after being pulled down from behind via a horse-collar tackle by Eastern Michigan’s Turan Rush at the end of a 19-yard run — the senior Kentucky QB finished 24-of-37 passing for 239 yards and a touchdown.

He also ran for 42 yards.

Yet in a game in which Kentucky outgained Auburn (384-324) and dominated the time of possession (36:29 to 23:31) UK lost, in significant part, because of two costly turnovers committed by its veteran QB.

In the final seconds of the first half, with UK trailing 8-7 but on the verge of taking the lead just before halftime, Wilson threw an interception from the Auburn 1-yard line.

Rolling to his right, Wilson thought he had running back Chris Rodriguez open. When he threw the ball, however, Auburn’s Roger McCreary jumped the route and picked the pass.

“I had an edge-pressure (rusher), he was coming off the edge so I really didn’t have as much time as I needed to make the throw,” Wilson said. “I thought I had Chris open. (McCreary) came off his guy, came back and intercepted it.”

Had Kentucky scored either a TD or field goal there, it would have given the Cats the halftime lead with the knowledge UK would be getting the ball first to begin the second half, too.

Wilson acknowledged afterward that an experienced quarterback “can’t turn the ball over, especially on the 1-yard line.”

The failure to score on the drive was especially grating for Kentucky because Wilson’s pick came two plays after Rodriguez appeared to have bulled into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

However, neither the officials on the field nor in the replay booth ruled the carry a touchdown.

“We definitely thought (Rodriguez) was in,” Wilson said. “I thought it was going to be a touchdown when they watched it again.”

Of the non-touchdown ruling, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said, “I don’t understand it, either. (Rodriguez) was clearly in (the end zone). I really couldn’t get a good explanation.”

Early in the fourth quarter, after Wilson had driven Kentucky to a touchdown that brought the Cats within 15-13, the Cats had the ball back and were facing third-and-4 from their own 32.

Wilson tried to run around right end for the first down, only to lose the ball. Auburn defensive back Jamien Sherwood recovered.

Given the ball at the Wildcats 23, Auburn took advantage to put up a short-field touchdown that also put UK beyond the point of recovery.

Afterward, Wilson said his long injury absence — and the fact a quarterback does not take hits in practice — could have contributed to his fumble.

“Myself, I have to do a better job of holding on to the football when I am running,” Wilson said. “Being out (of game action) for a year, I haven’t been hit at all. But, no excuses, you just have to be able to hold onto the football.”

After losing Wilson to injury in 2019, Kentucky, of course, ultimately ended up with wide receiver Lynn Bowden serving as a read-option quarterback while all but eschewing a passing game.

With Wilson back, Kentucky’s offense was far more diversified, throwing for 239 yards while running for 145.

Nevertheless, a game in which Kentucky drove the ball into Auburn territory six times but scored only twice was a missed opportunity to start the year with what would have been an attention-grabbing victory.

“There was a lot to build on there,” Stoops said of Wilson’s performance. “I think the turnovers were a big piece of (the game) for him. That’s hard to simulate in practice. I think that’s the critical area where he needs to improve. But I think he did a lot of positive things to build on.”

Now, UK has back-to-back home games with Mississippi and Mississippi State. In this season of an all-SEC schedule, those are must-wins if Kentucky realistically aspires to a winning record.

The Wildcats’ chances of beating Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach in consecutive weeks will be enhanced if their QB — still 12-4 as Kentucky’s starter, don’t forget — “worked the rust off” from his long layoff at Auburn.

“It’s hard to win a game with this many turnovers,” Wilson said. “But we just have to shake that one off and move on.”

Next game

Ole Miss at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kroger Field (limited spectators)

TV: SEC Network

Records: Ole Miss 0-1, Kentucky 0-1

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Series: Ole Miss leads 28-14-1

Last meeting: Ole Miss won 37-34 on Nov. 4, 2017, in Lexington.

 
 

 
 
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