Kentucky hosts FCS UT Martin, seeking bowl eligibility

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              Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. celebrates with fans after an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — All that stands between Kentucky and bowl eligibility is UT Martin.

If the Wildcats (5-5) can avoid a letdown and get a win against FCS-level UT Martin (7-4) in Saturday’s nonconference matchup they will be heading to a bowl game for a fourth consecutive season. Though the Skyhawks are just 1-27 against FBS schools Wildcats coach Mark Stoops warns against looking past them.

“We don’t take it for granted, but we absolutely want more,” Stoops said. “We want continue to win more and more games. We’re grateful for the opportunity to get to six (wins), we need to go do it.”

UT Martin has won two of three to finish third at 6-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play, including last week’s 28-17 home win over Tennessee State. The Skyhawks have claimed a share of the Sgt. York Trophy awarded for Tennessee supremacy among its four OVC members.

Their next mission is upsetting their first Power Five school.

“You are playing a team that is coming in here with nothing to lose,” Stoops added, “it is their last game and they are going to throw caution to the wind and take some gambles and some shots.”

The Wildcats (5-5) capped a 3-5 finish in Southeastern Conference play on a high note by rolling past Vanderbilt 38-14 last week in Nashville.

Kentucky’s defense held the Commodores to 198 yards. Offensively, they churned out 401 of a season-best 528 yards on the ground, with all three quarterbacks taking snaps.

How many plays versatile junior Lynn Bowden gets behind center is unknown. With a bowl berth at stake, UT Martin coach Jason Simpson expects Kentucky to use him and other strengths to grab it in the second meeting between the schools.

“I know what the math is,” the 14th-year coach said. “They have an opportunity mathematically (for) two more wins to get to seven. And coming off a lot of injuries that they’ve had at the quarterback position, everybody’s trying to get to the best bowl game that you can get to. You know that, but it doesn’t affect anything for us.”

Some other things to watch as Kentucky hosts UT Martin:

MARTIN’S MULTIPLE OPTIONS

UT Martin features the OVC’s No. 2 rusher in junior Peyton Logan (109 carries, 784 yards, six touchdowns) and its fifth-best passer in redshirt freshman QB Josh Bachus III (2,392 yards, 18 TDs). Bachus’ favorite targets have been Colton Dowell (35 catches, 724 yards, four TDs) and Terry Williams (50, 507, three).

“They’ve got good players at skill positions that can stress you,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said. “If we don’t play technique sound, if we don’t play our brand of football, we’re going to be in for a dogfight.”

STIFF RESISTENCE

Kentucky has held its past five opponents to 305 yards or fewer per game. Last week’s effort marked a season low for the Wildcats and featured free safety Yusuf Corker’s interception that led to a score. That turnover was big for a young, rebuilt secondary, and has sparked their rise to second in SEC pass defense at 174.7 yards allowed per game.

IRON MAN BOWDEN

Bowden leads the SEC in all-purpose yardage (142.3 yards per game) and now ranks eighth in conference rushing at 82.2. The junior needs 178 yards to become Kentucky’s ninth 1,000-yard rusher and remains its receiving yardage leader (348) despite starting the past five games at QB. Bowden is a finalist for Paul Hornung Award for the nation’s most versatile athlete.

BALL HAWKER

UTM senior linebacker TJ Jefferson has a team-best 91 tackles (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks. He leads a Skyhawks defense nicknamed “Darkside” which leads the OVC in sacks (24) and scoring defense (19.5 points per game).

FAMILIAR SEC FOE

While Saturday marks just the second series meeting, the Skyhawks are very familiar with the SEC. Florida and Kentucky are on this year’s schedule, and they’ve faced five other members six times this decade. Alabama is on the 2020 docket.