In this edition of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, we recap the highs and lows of Kentucky's 47-14 win over Kent State on Saturday in the home opener at Commonwealth Stadium.
A Decisive Win: This was one of those matchups I've always referred to as a "Yeah, But... Game." Win, and nobody gives you credit. ("Yeah, but it's only Kent State.") Lose, and it's the end of the world. (Ask John L. Smith at Arkansas.) Coming off a lopsided defeat to Louisville in the opener, there was some genuine concern that UK might be ripe for an upset at the hands of a MAC opponent. Vegas made matters worse by installing the Cats as only a 7-point favorite against the Golden Flashes. Needless to say, people were getting a little uneasy near the end of the first half when UK was clinging to a 14-7 lead, but the Cats took care of business in the second half and registered a decisive win that may convince the BBN to have a bit more faith in their team.
The Aaron Boyd Storyline: One of the best feel-good stories we've seen develop at UK in recent years is the emergence of Boyd as an impact player. The former four-star signee out of Lexington's Henry Clay High School has spent most of his career watching from the sidelines waiting for a chance that didn't seem like it was ever going to come. He came into the season with only six catches for 51 yards and was pretty much an afterthought in all of our preseason breakdowns of the Cats' wide receiver corps. He practically doubled his career numbers last night with a team-high 11 receptions for 100 yards and his first touchdown catch, a 14-yard strike from Maxwell Smith to give UK its first points of the night. Amazingly, Boyd now ranks among the nation's Top 25 pass-catchers this season with 14 receptions through two games.
The UK Ground Game: The Cats ran the ball well against Louisville, but didn't get to run it nearly enough after falling behind early and being forced to throw 51 times. The staff emphasized getting a longer look at the ground game this week, and it paid off to the tune of 30 attempts for 185 net yards and a hearty 6.2 average despite starting tailback Coshik Williams being sidelined by an injury. Junior Raymond Sanders picked up the bulk of the slack, rushing for a career-high 115 yards and racing for a 67-yard TD run in the second quarter. Junior Jonathan George also looked good, rushing for 52 yards on six carries, including a 38-yard TD run in the third quarter. And don't forget the guys up front who make it happen. The UK offensive line – Matt Smith, Larry Warford, Zach West, Darrian Miller and Kevin Mitchell – has been fantastic early this season.
Defensive Resolve: This one is a tough call. After all, the Cats did give up more than 400 total yards for the second time this year. But, ultimately, you're judged by how many points the opponent has on the scoreboard, and the bend-but-don't-break style we saw Saturday was a step in the right direction. I'm going to list them here in the "Good" column because they showed some nice fortitude in the red zone and dished out some really nice hits, including a bone-jarring forced fumble by cornerback Martavius Neloms. (We'll visit some other issues below in the "Bad" column.)
DeMarcus Sweat: Remember that name, UK fans. That 56-yard explosive burst in the fourth quarter was just the tip of the iceberg. I'm told this kid may be the best receiver prospect to have ever walked onto campus in Lexington. He's even got the celebration stuff down pat, high-fiving all of the Dance Cats in the West end zone after his first collegiate TD.
Student Section: Packed and vocal for the opener. A great turn-out from those kids in support of their classmates. They were rewarded with a very entertaining performance by the Cats.
Halftime Show: The UK band romped through an ode to Led Zeppelin at the intermission, melding gems like "Black Dog," "The Immigrant Song" and "Kashmir" into one great performance. I've given the band some grief on occasion in this space, so it's only fair to salute those guys this time. If you work "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" in this season, I'll be blown away.
By The Numbers:
0: Combined penalties and turnovers by the UK offense. Squeaky clean. When you consider the Cats are running the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, it's even more impressive. If they're going to have a shot at a successful season, that trend needs to continue.
9-1: The Cats' record under Joker Phillips when they win the turnover margin. Want to win games? Take more than you give.
73%: Maxwell Smith's completion rate through the first two games of the season. To put that figure in perspective, if Smith keeps going at that percentage, he would finish ahead of Tim Couch (.723, 400-553, 1998) as UK's season record holder. Long way to go, but interesting nonetheless.
Defensive Question Marks: As noted above, the Cats held Kent State to 14 points, so that was a step in the right direction when you evaluate the whole performance. But Kent State did reel off 80 offensive plays for 409 total yards and a couple of big plays that really hurt. The Golden Flashes averaged 4.9 yards per rushing attempt, a figure that has to scare the UK staff when it thinks about getting into SEC play And, remember, this is a Kent State squad that finished No. 119 out 120 offensive units in the country last season.
Keep Your Hat On: On at least two occasions, Martavius Neloms took his helmet off in celebration after big plays by the defense. With the new NCAA helmet rule in place, had either of those plays been called back by penalty or overturned by replay, UK would have automatically lost its best corner (at a position with very little depth) for at least one snap. In the red zone, where one of the situations occurred, that one snap can make all the difference in the world.
Vegas Line: You rarely see the experts go so wrong on a line. I'd be interested to see how many times a 7-point line is covered with more than 25 points to spare. That's got to be a rare occurrence.
Empty Seats: I don't think the crowd was as bad as the estimated 48,346 that UK officially announced. In fact, I was a little surprise by the turnout, given all the talk leading up to this game. Many had wondered if Commonwealth would be half full for a lackluster opponent. Still, for an SEC program to have almost a third of its seats empty for the first home game of the season is not good. Obviously, the Cats have a lot to prove to some of the naysayers. Perhaps this win will bring a few more to the stadium next weekend
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: UK vs. KSU
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