College football is back and with that the Kentucky Wildcats took the field for the first time in 2014. Despite Commonwealth Stadium being less than full for the opener, there is excitement about this season. Fans are excited about what Mark Stoops is doing. And Saturday gave us our first opportunity to see a bunch of players that are behind that excitement.
Whether or not Kentucky would beat UT-Martin was never a question. Instead it was more about about how the Wildcats went about getting this win. How Patrick Towles looked in his first career start? How the hyped freshmen and transfers looked? Could this young team use the game against the Skyhawks to build confidence.
Towles looked great. A bunch of freshmen and transfers shined. And yes.
In the 59-14 rout of UT-Martin, Mark Stoops and the Wildcats got exactly what they needed. An easy win and some gained confidence to boot.
Let’s start with the quarterback, because ever since Mike Hartline’s career was ended a game early with a suspension that forced him to miss the BBVA Compass Bowl, Kentucky’s play at quarterback has been worse than the Wendy’s commercials with that annoying ass red head.
Towles was great as he completed 20 of 29 passes for 377 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and he added a rushing touchdown. He got rid of the ball quick. For the most part was accurate. I was impressed with the way he went through his progressions. And he showed he ability to hit the deep ball.
The play that stood out to me was when he hit Javess Blue on their first scoring drive for 44 yards down to the three yard line. He hit Blue in stride for a big gain. A perfect ball. Something that this UK team has completely lacked over the last three years.
The number of skill guys that UK threw out there was crazy. Towles hit nine different receivers. Ten receivers overall caught balls as Reece Phillips hit T.V. Williams twice. Four true freshman made a catch (Blake Bone 2-65, Dorian Baker 3-29, Garrett Johnson 3-25, T.V. Williams 2-45). Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson, both seniors, showed the ability to make big plays. And Ryan Timmons once again looked like he could score any time he touched it.
And then the rushing attack. Braylon Heard, the transfer out of Nebraska, only got two touches, but he made the most of them as he took them both to the house. His first touch as a Wildcat went for a 73 yard touchdown and his second for a 43 touchdown. Two carries for 116 yards. Not bad. Mikel Horton scored twice and JoJo Kemp’s touchdown gave the ‘Cats their first score of the season. And then there was Josh Clemons, who carried the ball twice for just five yards, but it was awesome to see him on the field again.
Overall, there were three things that really stood out to me about this UK offense. Their ability to make big plays, how they were able to stay out of 3rd and long situations, and zero turnovers. These three things killed Kentucky last year. They had over ten plays of 20 or more yards and because they were able to keep it 3rd and shorts converted 8-14 third downs.
I know the defense had a shutout heading into the fourth quarter, but there were things that concerned me even before the Skyhawks decided to move the ball at will for two scores in the fourth quarter. With Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, you would expect the Kentucky to be able to control the edges against a team with lesser talented. That was never the case. Time and time again Abou Toure and the rest of the UT-Martin tailbacks were able to get to the edge and make positive gains.
There were positives on defense. Most impressive was the five forced turnovers. Fred Tiller and A.J. Stamps both had interceptions, giving their secondary two picks in this one, one more than they had all year last year. Stamps, a junior college transfer, quickly showed why the coaching staff was so high on him with his crazy athletic one-handed interception.
Another negative. The return game. It makes you yearn for the days of Derek Abney and Randall Cobb. They have to get more from the return game.
I know, I know this is a lot of positive thoughts for a game against UT-Martin. But, why not be positive? Why look at this game like, “Oh, it’s just UT-Martin so who cares?”. The Wildcats are 4-20 over their previous two seasons. They haven’t started the season at 1-0 since they beat WKU to start the 2011 season. Name the last time they had a quarterback throw for 350 yards, they gained over 650 yards of total offense, and forced five turnovers. I’d look it up, but I’m not Guy Ramsey of the UK Media Relations Department and I’m really, really lazy. And you have to be really excited about all of the skill guys this team possesses and the fact that they may actually have a quarterback that can make plays.
We’ll talk about this a lot more from 10-noon tomorrow morning on ESPN 680.
How awesome is it that college football is back. Yay!