LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Shane Boyd highlighted his first collegiate starting assignment by throwing for 215 yards and two touchdowns Saturday as Kentucky beat Ball State 28-20 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Boyd, a redshirt freshman who played a reserve role to sophomore Jared Lorenzen in the Wildcats' opener last week against Louisville, took every snap against the MAC Cardinals. He completed 15 of 22 passes with scoring strikes to Derek Abney and Derek Smith while tossing no interceptions.
The former Lexington Henry Clay star's performance also helped the Cats (1-1) break a nine-game losing skid and delivered the first career victory for new head coach Guy Morriss.
"He was very composed for his first start," Morriss said of Boyd. "He missed two or three signals. He can do a better job there. I felt like he had a good command of the offense and what we were trying to do. He kept the guys around him going, and the whole operation was good. I like the way he handles himself and the little swagger he has."
For Boyd, who learned on Thursday he'd be getting the starting nod, it was a major confidence-builder.
"I was getting all the reps and working a lot with the first team, so I kind of thought it was coming," he said. "But until you're out in the game situation, you never really know how you're going to respond. I just went in there, tried to stay calm, the offensive line blocked for me, and we had a good game."
"It feels a lot better than last week," Morriss said. "It's good to get the monkey off our back... The kids are excited. I think they understand that they have not arrived yet, but it's good to get moving in the right direction."
Ball State (0-2) failed to take advantage of 427 yards of total offense on the day against a UK defensive unit missing several key players, including: starting defensive tackles Dewayne Robertson and Jeremy Caudill; linebackers Jamal White and Ronnie Riley; outside safety David Johnson and cornerback Jeremy Bowie. All but White were nursing various injuries. White was serving the second of a two-game suspension.
Cards coach Bill Lynch said his offense played well enough to give the team a chance to notch its first victory in 25 attempts against "major conference" opponents, but the defense did not meet the challenge.
"I think Kentucky is a team with a bunch of skilled guys and lots of speed," he said. "We knew that going in, and hoped we could deal with it, but... we were not in the right position at any time. And we were definitely not tackling when we needed to be. I could tell that from the sideline, so who knows what I will see when I watch the tape"
Boyd's direction was a bit askew in the game's early moments. He misfired on his first three attempts, leading to a quick three-and-out for the Cats, and fumbled deep inside the red zone for the second straight week on UK's second possession.
That led to deficits of 3-0 and 10-7 for Kentucky (the Cats' first score coming on a 1-yard run by Artose Pinner) before Boyd found his groove.
But unlike last week's game, in which Boyd was pulled after his first drive and played only two other series in the second half, Morriss chose to stick with him.
"He showed he is very confident in his ability to move the team. He was sharp mentally. We thought we would give him the opportunity, and he did a good job for his first start," Morriss said. "..You have to give him a chance. A series or two is not fair. It's not a true evaluation of what he can do."
"It was important," Boyd said. "When you make a mistake, the first thing on your mind is trying to get back out there and make up for it, try to get in a flow. Coach showed a lot of confidence in me. I was glad."
A 38-yard completion to Ernest Simms helped set up a 16-yard touchdown pass to Abney with 3:48 left in the first half. Seth Hanson's extra point made it 14-10, a score which would hold up going into halftime.
Ball State threatened on its opening drive of the second half, but Derrick Johnson ended the drive by blocking Thomas Pucke's 31-yard field goal attempt. Two plays later, Chad Scott raced 67 yards for a touchdown as the Cats stretched their lead to 21-10.
Lucke connected on a 46-yard field goal with 3:20 left in the third period to pull the Cardinals within 21-13.
But once again, the Boyd-led Cats had an answer. This time, it was the young quarterback connecting with junior tight end Derek Smith on a tight end inside screen for a 13-yard score. Hanson's kick made it 28-13 with 14:54 remaining.
Ball State capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Talmadge Hill to Billy Lynch with 5:26 remaining. Hill, the MAC's freshman of the year in 2000, kept the Cardinals in the game by completing 19 of 35 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 71 yards on 16 carries.
The Cardinals also got 121 yards rushing from tailback Marcus Merriweather before he left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.