Kentucky hopeful big plays of season opener will continue

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 4, 2014 

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Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Blake Bone (6) went up high over Tennessee Martin Skyhawks defensive back Aaron Simms (29) for a gain in the second quarter as Kentucky played U.T. Martin on Saturday August 30, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • SATURDAY

    Ohio at Kentucky

    When: 3:30 p.m.

    TV: ESPNU

Patrick Towles was being modest when he said it, but his message was clear.

After Kentucky's confidence-building 45-point win over FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin last week, the quarterback theorized that he probably didn't throw a pass longer than 5 yards all day, but he was going to get credited with throws of 79 yards, 56 yards, 44 yards and 42 yards and more because of the guys who caught those passes.

"We've got great players," Towles said after he threw for 377 yards and ran for 30 more Saturday. "I just have to put it in their hands and make plays. We had a bunch of guys make plays today."

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Towles wasn't giving himself enough credit with his no-more-than-5-yard-throws talk, but Brown understood what his sophomore quarterback was saying.

"We threw the ball and caught the ball; that didn't happen one time last year," Brown said. "We threw the ball, we caught it, we were able to get it to them in a position so that they could run after the catch."

And it wasn't just the guy throwing the passes or the guys making the catches. It was all around them.

There was running back Braylon Heard, who touched the ball only twice but ran for two touchdowns and 116 yards. Plays were being made.

Mark Stoops couldn't help but notice it from the Cats' sideline. It was a bit of a comfort for the head coach, who had been saying it all preseason but knows it's never a sure thing until the games kick off.

"Part of me was like relieved that I know there are some playmakers coming up," he said.

And it wasn't just the newcomers like Heard and freshman wide receivers like Blake Bone (two catches, 65 yards and a touchdown).

There was senior Demarco Robinson with the longest catch of the day, a 79-yarder from Towles.

"He played his tail off," Stoops said of Robinson, who had never caught a pass for more than 35 yards during his UK career. "He had great energy, he blocked, he was physical as he can be for that little guy. But he really played hard and played with good energy."

There was sophomore Ryan Timmons making plays, and many others. All of those weapons can put stress on a defense and make room for more playmakers.

"It was great today, great to kind of put the stamp on things," said Towles, who made a couple plays of his own, including a 23-yard scamper for a touchdown. "I'm excited about what we've got. I'm excited about where we're at."

Again, it was against an FCS opponent — and there's an upgrade in talent coming to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday in Ohio University, which returns eight defensive starters on a team that is coming off its fifth straight postseason trip — but it was a start.

"Both sides of the ball, seeing some explosive plays, some playmakers on the field, that was very important," Stoops said this week. "It was something I was looking forward to for the first game. ... The young guys definitely didn't disappoint me."

Kentucky's "explosive plays" (runs of more than 10 yards and passes of more than 15 yards as Stoops defined them) were more prevalent, with 14 total in the opener.

Against UT-Martin, the Cats had two plays of more than 70 yards, the same number they had all of last season. In 2013, UK had 12 plays go for 40 yards or more. On Saturday, the Cats had six such plays.

The Cats' seven 30-yard plays were tied with South Florida for the most in the nation during Week 1. Their six plays for 40 or more yards were tops in the country.

"Our talent's getting better," Brown said. "We haven't arrived by any means, but our talent is getting better."

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

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