Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips knew he wanted to establish the run in the season opener against Eastern Kentucky last night, but Phillips decided on the team bus on the way to the game that he wanted to send a message first.
"I've been telling the offense that we have to go for the jugular and put teams on their heels, and I started thinking, 'If I'm telling them that, why don't I show them that?' " he said. "So in the pre-game warm-up I said, 'Let's go deep on the first play. You could see the excitement in the guys' eyes."
Phillips' play-call worked like a charm, as Andre Woodson pump-faked and hit a wide-open Dicky Lyons Jr. for a 51-yard score on UK's first offensive play from scrimmage.
But as much as that play juiced up the Cats and a Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 66,512 and took some life out of the Colonels, it was the newfound Kentucky running game that was the story of the night.
Kentucky's three-man rotation at tailback -- Rafael Little, Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith -- combined for 265 rushing yards as the Wildcats methodically pounded Eastern 50-10 to give Rich Brooks his first season-opening win as UK's head coach.
The Wildcats' 288 rushing yards was their highest total since they ran for 355 yards against Indiana in 2005. That game also marked the last time UK eclipsed the 50-point barrier.
"We ran the ball well with a variety of backs," Brooks said.
Woodson threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns but was off the mark a few times, including an underthrow on what would have been an easy Steve Johnson pass.
"Andre was good; he wasn't spectacular," Brooks said. "He was efficient and did what he needed to do to get the game in hand."
Lyons finished with a game-high six receptions for 113 yards.
"He's a playmaker," Brooks said. "He's a very good football player who has a clear role on this football team. I think defensive players are surprised at just how fast Dicky is."
Little, who became the sixth UK player to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark with a 19-yard gain on his first carry, finished with 135 yards on 12 attempts. Dixon added 77 yards on nine carries while Smith chipped in 53 yards on seven rushes. The Cats averaged a paltry 98.6 yards per game last year, but last night's showing by its deep stable of backs and the athleticism of the UK offensive line on the perimeter suggests better things are ahead.
"We're going to be hard to stop this year with all the good backs we have," Little said.
Brooks praised Smith not only for his running but his two tackles on the kick coverage units.
"That's a good problem to have when your third-string back runs as well as Alfonso," Brooks said. "He's turning into a complete football player."
Eastern never could get much offense going, finishing with just 202 yards of offense. Its only touchdown was set up when Little fumbled a punt deep in Wildcats territory.
The Colonels never seemed to recover from Kentucky's quick strike on its opening play.
"That kind of got under us a little bit," EKU defensive lineman Chris Hall said. "It kind of hurt us. We should have bounced back from it, but we didn't."
It was also a nice debut for new defensive coordinator Steve Brown.
In addition to holding Eastern to the fewest total yards by an opponent since Murray State mustered just 189 yards in 2003, the Cats also allowed Eastern to convert just two of its 14 third-down opportunities, a big sore spot for the defense last season.
"We had certain goals, one of which was to stop their running game," Brown said. "We got them to where they had to pass, which is probably what they didn't want to have to do."
Kentucky led 30-0 midway through the second quarter and was able to get a majority of its second- and third-stringers in the game in the final two periods. Brooks said his team also stuck to a "fairly basic" package both offensively and defensively.
Brooks reminded his players of Division I-AA Appalachian State's shocker over Michigan earlier in the day during his pre-game speech, a game he called "one of the biggest upsets of all time or at least one of the biggest in years."
"I pointed that out to our team before the game," he said. "I thought it ought to do two things. One, that ought to wake us up and let us know that anybody can beat anybody. And it also gives Eastern hope that they can come in and do the same thing. I have to give our players credit for focusing and mostly doing the right things."
Date story ran: Sunday September 02, 2007