The Wildcats’ Boom Williams raced 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the season, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy just 16 seconds into the game and helping UK build a 23-point lead over Louisiana-Lafayette late into the third quarter.
And then came a plot twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan film.
The Ragin’ Cajuns scored 23 unanswered points to stun the Big Blue faithful and tie the game with 7:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. It took a clutch drive that included a 4th-and-1 conversion and a plowing, 12-yard touchdown run by Mikel Horton with 57 seconds left to lift UK to a 40-33 victory.
Kentucky (1-0) survived the inspired effort by UL Lafayette (0-1) despite being outgained 479-435 by the Sun Belt Conference foe.
"Exactly how we drew it up," UK head coach Mark Stoops said with a smile and a huge sigh of relief. "It was a great night. I could not be more proud of this football team, the way they hung in there and played a hard-fought game. We knew it wasn't going to be easy.
"We are an improved football team. I know it didn't always show out there tonight, but it's an opener, it's a start, and there's going to be so many opportunities for us to learn from this... I'm not going to let the fact that it got a little sloppy in the second half take away from that."
The Cats took advantage of an offense that generated several big plays, compensating for its lack of consistency over four quarters. In addition to Williams' opening touchdown run -- the fourth of the sophomore's young college career from 50 yards or longer -- UK got a 35-yard TD pass from Patrick Towles to Garrett Johnson, a 37-yard TD pass from Towles to Jeff Badet, a 36-yard completion to Ryan Timmons, a 32-yard run by Jojo Kemp and a 60-yard kickoff return from J.D. Harmon.
Harmon, one of the defensive stars for Kentucky, also forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, accounting for two of ULL's four turnovers on the day. The Cats, meanwhile, had just one turnover on a Towles interception.
Towles, a junior, finished 16 of 34 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Williams carried the ball 10 times for 135 yards to pace the UK ground game. Johnson led the Cats' receiving corps with five receptions for 85 yards.
UL Lafayette star running back Elijah McGuire was limited to a modest 86 yards on 27 carries, but the Cajuns got surprising production from backup Torrey Pierce (10 carries, 110 yard, 56-yard TD).
In this AllWildcats Rapid Recap feature, we touch on the highlights of the UK victory...
WHAT WE LIKED:
As advertised, new Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson came out attacking with downfield passing strikes, and for at least a half, it showed promising returns. UK’s deep receiving corps made several big plays, and would have had even more had Towles remained sharp throughout the game. The Cats left at least 17-20 points on the field thanks to some errant passes, a missed field goal and a missed extra point, but still found a away to win. Although the UK defense did not have a very good night statistically, it did produce four turnovers and come up with a huge 3-and-out prior to the Cats’ game-winning drive. Those things matter more than yards.
Walk-on wideout Charles Walker made a huge play -- his only catch of the day -- snagging a Towles pass across the middle, bouncing off a defender, and fighting to get he ball within inches of a first down on a 12-yard reception during the game-winning drive. The play allowed UK to go for it on 4th-and-inches, and Towles converted with a quarterback sneak.
Junior cornerback J.D. Harmon had six tackles, forced a fumble, intercepted a pass and reeled off a 60-yard kickoff return just when ULL was mounting its comeback.
STAT OF THE DAY:
Kentucky had two 90-plus scoring drives in the first quarter, one of them a 99-yard drive.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 3 - Kentucky started three “true” freshmen (CB Chris Westry, TE C.J. Conrad, OT George Asafo-Adjei) for the first time since the 2000 season.
- 9 - New career-high in tackles for senior nose tackle Melvin Lewis.
- 11 - Sophomore kicker Austin MacGinnis set a new school record for consecutive field goals made before missing one in the second half.
- 15 - Tackles for senior linebacker Josh Forrest, who also had a sack and a game-clinching interception on ULL’s final Hail Mary pass.
- 37:05 - ULL dominated time of possession, including 10:22 in the fourth quarter.
- 2007 - The last time UK scored on the opening play from scrimmage, a 51-yard pass from Andre Woodson to Dicky Lyons Jr. versus Eastern Kentucky.
“There was no way that guy was bringing me down.” -- UK running back Mikel Horton on running over the final ULL defender near the 5-yard line en route to his game-winning touchdown.
The Cats travel to Columbia, S.C., to face Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks (1-0) next Saturday. South Carolina won its opener, 17-13, over North Carolina on Thursday night.