Stoops wowed by game ball after Kentucky gives him first win, 41-7

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 6, 2013 

Avery Williamson made his way to the middle of the Kentucky locker room and his head coach stepped aside to allow the senior leader to speak.

Williamson didn't say a word about UK's huge 41-7 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The linebacker just smiled and handed the game ball to his coach.

"We started a new era," Williamson said later. "I was glad to be the guy to give it to him."

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And Mark Stoops was glad to earn his first win as a head coach.

"It meant an awful lot to me," he said. "It really hit me at that moment. That was like a 'wow' moment for me."

Stoops had been so busy trying to get his team past the Western Kentucky loss the week before. He'd been so busy trying to encourage the UK offense, which rewarded him with 675 total yards.

He'd been so busy adjusting his defensive scheme (which he did after watching the RedHawks in pre-game warm-ups) and watching as that defense pitched a shutout that the head coach didn't even think about the moment and what it meant.

"It was really special," special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said. "It was a special moment for all of us."

It followed a series of special moments for Kentucky (1-1), which won its first game over a Football Bowl Subdivision team in nearly a year. The last one came on Sept. 8, 2012, against Kent State.

"We're excited about doing some very good things offensively and defensively," Stoops said. "There's some real good things to build on."

Much of that came in the first quarter, which Kentucky dominated 24-7, including outgaining Miami 279-30.

Using both quarterbacks interchangeably and four different receivers, UK racked up 24 points in the opening quarter, the most ever for a first quarter in program history.

On a bright, sunny day in front of an announced 54,846, the Cats' 675 yards of offense was the third-most in school history. UK had 679 yards against Vanderbilt in 1998 and 801 against Louisville in that same season, when offensive coordinator Neal Brown was a walk-on wide receiver.

"You know, that's a good sign," Stoops said of the 675 yards. "There's been some very good offenses around here."

Brown's NASCAR offense, as he's apt to call it, got off to a speedy start, scoring on its first five possessions, before sputtering some in the second quarter.

But by then it was too late for Miami (0-2) to catch up. The RedHawks punted on all but two of their first 10 possessions. One of those ended on downs and the other was the lone touchdown off a Kentucky fumble on a punt return.

The UK defense shut out the RedHawks, holding them to 122 yards for the game (which the Cats had by the end of their first two possessions).

"Hats off to our defense, to the players, because they came to work this week and didn't fret," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "They didn't get down on themselves from the performance last week. They just focused on getting better."

Miami's lone score came off one of a few special teams miscues for the Cats, when Daryl Collins fumbled a punt return and Chris Wade took it in 6 yards for the score. Collins subbed for Demarco Robinson, who left after the opening kickoff with an ankle injury.

The Cats opened the game with a seven-play, 61-yard drive that took less than two minutes. It was part of a first quarter in which UK amassed 217 yards, more than it had in two full games last season against Arkansas and Missouri.

Their 410 yards at halftime were nearly as many as they had the entire season opener against Western Kentucky (419).

After pooh-poohing the potential for a quarterback controversy a week ago, Kentucky showed it might be more effective with two, with Maxwell Smith starting the game and leading UK down the field on its first drive before Jalen Whitlow came in at the Miami 18-yard line and immediately completed an 8-yard pass.

Just a few seconds later, Whitlow ran it 9 yards up the middle and scored the Cats' first touchdown of the game.

"Yes, we scripted that," Brown said. "We've practiced that really since Monday, so they had a lot of confidence in it and Max was aware of when Jalen was coming in and Jalen was aware of what he was going to do."

In his first start of the season, Smith paced the Cats with 310 yards and three touchdowns, including a pretty 88-yarder to junior-college transfer Javess Blue, who had six catches for 114 yards. That 88-yard pass late in the first quarter was the second-longest TD pass in stadium history.

The score seemed unlikely after a series of penalties backed UK up to its own 12-yard line.

"We wanted to be aggressive this week in our approach, the way we coached them," Stoops said. "We wanted to take some shots. That was good to see that."

Brown wasn't pleased that it came as a result of the penalties, but he was glad to see his offense respond.

"That was one of the first times since I've been here that those guys have been able to shake things off and go to the next play and that was huge," he said.

Blue's scoring catch came on the heels of another Smith touchdown pass, a 48-yarder to senior running back Jonathan George that gave Kentucky a 17-0 advantage with six minutes to go in the first quarter.

Late in the game, Smith found another newcomer, Jeff Badet, who went 56 yards for his first collegiate TD.

"It was a great feeling," said Badet, who had three catches for 80 yards. "It was such a great feeling. My first college touchdown. And hopefully many more to come."

Stoops certainly hopes there are many more.

He hopes to take his game ball from Saturday night and carry it on to bigger and better wins.

"It did mean an awful lot to me," he said of the win and the game ball (and probably more). I'm very proud of it and look forward to many more."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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