What the Wildcats got was potentially much more.
Kentucky (1-2, 0-1 SEC) bounced back with a confidence-building 62-42 victory over New Mexico State in a performance which saw the Cats post 692 yards of total offense, the second-highest figure in program history. UK rushed for 381 yards and passed for 311, marking the first time the Cats eclipsed 300 yards in both categories since records dating back to 1985.
"That's a step in the right direction," UK head coach Mark Stoops said. "...I was happy with the way our team responded. A victory's a victory. We have a chance to get back to .500 next week, and that's the next opportunity."
"We needed this," added UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, whose unit had scored only one touchdown prior to Saturday dating back to halftime of the season opener.
The Cats did so in somewhat unconventional fashion. Starting quarterback Drew Barker left the game with a back injury after throwing an interception on the first series of the game. New Mexico State struck for an early score, leaving UK backup Stephen Johnson facing a 7-0 deficit and a grumbling crowd as he entered the game in a relief role.
The junior college transfer was unfazed, finishing with a stat line that may make him the UK starter moving forward: 17 of 22, 310 yards passing, 51 yards rushing, three touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks.
"I thought he really calmed down and made some good decisions," Stoops said of Johnson. "... He has a lot of poise. That we need right now."
"Everybody who's a 2 has to be ready to go," Gran added. "What he proved tonight was he was ready to go. It's how you get yourself prepared and what do you do with it when your number is called. I thought he had a great demeanor... He ran the offense and ran it really, really well."
Kentucky also got a big rushing effort from junior Stanley "Boom" Williams (18 carries, 181 yards, 1 TD) and freshman Benny Snell Jr. (17 carries, 136 yards, 4 TD), who tied the school record for scoring runs in a single game.
Tyler Rogers passed for 246 yards, rushed for 70 and was part of four touchdowns for New Mexico State (1-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) but he also threw two interceptions, including one late in the fourth quarter than ended the Aggies' final threat. The visitors, coached by former Wildcat Doug Martin, lost despite posting 500 yards of total offense.
In this All Wildcats Rapid Recap feature, we touch on some of the highlights from UK's victory...
WHAT WE LIKED:
The offense appeared to have rhythm and identity with Johnson at the helm. His dual-threat ability seemed to keep New Mexico State off-balance and open up some big opportunities for both the running game and C.J. Conrad on play-action passes. The sophomore tight end caught five passes for 133 yards and three touchdowns. The emergence of Snell, who was getting No. 2 reps with Jojo Kemp unavailable to play, gives UK a power running style to contrast the slashing, big-play ability of Williams. It will be interesting to see how all of those weapons fare against an SEC defense next week against South Carolina. Defensively, the Cats looked extremely shaky at times -- again -- but allowed only seven points in the second half after being locked in a 35-35 tie at the break.
Stephen Johnson -- This could have been a disastrous game for the Cats had he not been so prepared to play at a high level on Saturday. The California native described it as the best game of his career with several family members visiting Lexington to see him play. Now the big question looms: If Barker is healthy next week, who will be the starter when the Cats face the Gamecocks? It's difficult to see the staff keeping Johnson off the field after the way he played tonight.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1st - Punt return for a touchdown by UK since Randall Cobb in 2010, courtesy of Charles Walker's 65-yard dash in the fourth quarter.
2nd - Player to pass for 300 yards within the first two games of his UK career as Johnson joined Jared Lorenzen (2000).
3 - Touchdowns for C.J. Conrad marked the first time a UK player accomplished that since Dicky Lyons Jr. in 2007 against Florida.
5 - Consecutive home games with a touchdown play of 53 yards or more for the Cats.
72 - The longest yardage on a first career touchdown pass, the first-quarter strike from Johnson to Conrad.
104 - Combined points, most in Commonwealth Stadium history for a non-overtime game.
"You see him keep those legs churning and hitting guys and playing physical, and he played much more mature than a true freshman, and that was really good to see." -- UK head coach Mark Stoops on freshman running back Benny Snell Jr.
Kentucky welcomes South Carolina (2-1, 1-0 SEC) to Commonwealth Stadium next Saturday in a 7:30 ET kickoff on the SEC Network. The Cats are seeking their third consecutive win over the Gamecocks, who defeated East Carolina 20-15 today.