A Decisive Win: More than anything Saturday, Kentucky needed the type of lopsided win it achieved against UT-Martin, an opening game that didn’t exactly inspire a wealth of excitement from the UK fan base. This was one of those matchups where, in the eyes of some, you can’t really win. You probably heard some of them at the stadium or on your sofa Saturday. “Oh, it’s just UT-Martin. It’s not like they were playing Alabama.” So you can’t win that game 27-13. If you do, it almost feels like a loss. The Cats didn’t let that happen. They did what you’d expect the Alabamas of the world to do to smaller programs and delivered an early knockout punch.
Strong Start By Patty Ice: Many were surprised when sophomore Patrick Towles emerged as the winner of UK’s competitive four-man quarterback battle that spanned spring practice and fall camp, but he wasted no time in showing why he was the man for the job. Towles completed 20 of 29 passes for 377 yards and one touchdown in an almost flawless debut as the starter. He also showed off his wheels by running 23 yards for another score. The former “Mr. Football” from Ft. Thomas Highlands underthrew a couple of balls, but did not commit a turnover and rarely forced anything. He looked like a guy who had started a dozen games. Poised. Total command.
Great Debut By Stamps: Kentucky fans can sometimes be skeptical when they hear reports of a a player doing well in practice. They want to see it in games. That’s what the Big Blue Nation got in its first glimpse of A.J. Stamps at safety. The junior college transfer was all over the field Saturday, matching linebacker Khalid Henderson for a team-high eight tackles, delivering a couple of huge hits and making a one-handed interception that got national attention on the SEC Network and SportsCenter as one of college football’s top plays on its opening weekend.
Thundering Heard: Another transfer, former Nebraska tailback Braylon Heard, exploded for touchdown runs of 73 and 43 yards on his only two carries of the game. Unfortunately, the second score saw Heard roll an ankle as he hurdled past the final UT-Martin defender, so we didn’t get a chance to see him go for the hat trick. Provided his injury isn’t serious – and it didn’t appear to be the case – he’s going to be fun to watch in the weeks to come.
By The Numbers:
2 – Interceptions by the UK defense. In addition to Stamps’ highlight reel play, cornerback Fred Tiller also picked off a pass. Why is that significant? The secondary had ONE interception as a unit last season. Kentucky had just three as a team last season. The Cats could surpass that before summer officially comes to a close.
5 – Turnovers forced by the UK defense. Again, that’s one-third of the Cats’ 2013 season total. Kentucky scored 21 points off turnovers, including seven directly from an 89-yard return of a fumble forced by freshman Kendall Randolph.
6 – Plays of 40 or more yards by the UK offense. In addition to Heard’s two runs, the Cats also got a 79-yard reception by Demarco Robinson, a 56-yard reception from Ryan Timmons, a 44-yard reception from Javess Blue and a 42-yard reception from T.V. Williams. Kentucky had only 12 such plays last season.
45 – UK's largest margin of victory since a 77-17 romp over UTEP in 2002.
656 – The Cats’ fourth-highest total offense figure in the history of the program.
Nitpicking: Hard to dwell on much “bad” from a 59-14 win, but I think Mark Stoops and the defensive staff in general will be a bit concerned about some of things they saw from the UK reserves on Saturday. The first-team defense looked pretty solid for most of the day, but when the Cats went to the bench, it showed they have little margin for error or injury. The Skyhawks finished with 398 yards on the day (way too many) and averaged almost 4 yards per rushing attempt. There will be some things to review and learn from in the film room.
50,398: Way too many empty seats at Commonwealth Stadium for a season opener. Granted, it was not a marquee opponent, and the ongoing renovation project is a bit of a nuisance at this time, but I don’t think anyone expected more than 10K no-shows for the first game. There seems to be a genuine excitement for football and the direction Mark Stoops is taking the program across Big Blue Nation, but it wasn’t reflected on this day when the players walked out of the tunnel to the sight of so many empty seats. Perhaps the blowout will help some of those become occupied next weekend.