Mark Story: Stoops' recruits provide bright view of Kentucky's future

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013 

As far as we know, Mark Stoops does not own a time machine. Yet in his first home game as Kentucky head football coach, it was possible to look into the future.

Putting plenty of Air into its Air Raid 2.0 offense against overmatched Miami (Ohio), Kentucky whipped the visitors from the Mid-American Conference 41-7. In victory, the Cats rolled up the third-most total yards (675) in UK football history. Yet what was most encouraging from the UK perspective was who was providing much of that offensive production.

Of UK's 675 yards, a robust 434 came from players signed by Stoops and his new staff since their arrival after last season.

"That's impressive, especially for a group of young kids," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We're going to lean on them."

Kentucky's leading receiver was junior-college transfer Javess Blue (six receptions, 114 yards, including an 88-yard TD bomb). Its leading rusher was true freshman Jojo Kemp (12 carries, 78 yards). It's most lethal all-around threat was true freshman Ryan Timmons, who hurt Miami on the ground (four carries, 37 yards) and through the air (five catches, 55 yards).

Brown said UK "made a concerted effort" to get the ball to Timmons. "We're just now scratching the surface," Brown said of the former Franklin County star. "He did some really good things; I think we've got to get him in better conditioning."

The New Cats movement went even deeper. Bouncing back from an illness that hampered his play in UK's disappointing season-opening loss to Western Kentucky, true freshman wide-out Alex Montgomery caught four passes (37 yards). His classmate, Jeff Badet, caught three, including a 56-yard scoring toss.

"I think you saw today, (UK's new play-makers) can be really good," said Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith.

After Stoops came to Lexington, the atmosphere around UK football built toward near-euphoria based on the perception that the new coaching regime has been recruiting about 50 rungs above Kentucky's historic level. Following a mixed performance in the 35-26 loss to WKU, the new Cats offensive play-makers showed Saturday what the hype had been about.

Blue, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, got Kentucky started with a 21-yard scamper on an end-around on the first play from scrimmage. Later, he got behind the Miami secondary for an 88-yard TD toss from Smith on a third-and-21 play.

"I didn't even know it was 88 yards until I came back to the sideline," Blue said. "I was like, 'Wow, that's a lot of yards.'"

Badet, a slight, 6-foot, 170-pounder from Miami, Fla., scored his TD after hauling in a Smith pass over the middle, breaking a tackle and then outrunning the Miami secondary into the end zone.

"I see myself as a fast wide receiver," Badet said with a grin. "I've got to show 'Florida speed.'"

Also displaying some Sunshine State explosion was Kemp, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Deland product, who gained 55 of his 78 yards after halftime.

"Today in the first half, I only had a little bit of carries (three)," Kemp said. "I was going to wait my turn and whenever I got in I was going to make the best of it. Then they finally put me in, and I had to make every carry count."

Brown said the Kentucky newcomers bring more to the UK table than talent. He said they also bring swagger to a Kentucky program that, having gone 10-25 in its prior 35 games before Saturday, could use some.

"Some of our older guys, the last couple of years haven't gone well, and we've got to really repair confidence," Brown said. "These young guys, they've experienced success and we don't have to (build their psyches)."

Of course, torching Miami, which allowed 591 yards and seven touchdowns to Marshall a week ago, is a whole other deal than making plays against the fearsome foursome of opponents awaiting UK next — No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Florida, No. 6 South Carolina and two-time defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Alabama.

"No offense to Miami of Ohio," said Brown, "but our deal gets a little tougher after this."

Still, for one Saturday afternoon, a UK crowd of 54,846 got a glimpse through a window into UK's future.

It was a good view.

Asked how good he thought Kentucky's new wave play-makers can be, UK quarterback Jalen Whitlow smiled as big as Texas.

"Really good, really good, really good," he said. "Lot of room for improvement, too. Which is scary."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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