A successful play by Middle Tennessee two weeks ago was turned into a quarterback sack to open Kentucky's game against Western Kentucky Saturday night.
When UK's Jeremy Jarmon unceremoniously dropped WKU's K.J. Black for a 9-yard loss, the tone was set for the Wildcats to crush the Hillltoppers 41-3 in the Cats' last game before Southeastern Conference play begins.
Early in the Middle game, the Blue Raiders scored on a 2-yard pass and 60-yard run and fought the Wildcats until the last play before losing.
Jarmon was instructed this time to run straight at the quarterback, UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "It caught them off guard."
Kentucky's defense kept its third opponent out of the end zone.
The Hilltoppers finished the first quarter with minus yardage. Later, redshirt freshman Bobby Rainey turned in several spectacular runs, finishing with 256 all-purpose yards. But his team managed only 157 yards of rushing and passing, and one field goal.
"I thought our defense, other than three or four plays in the first half, was really, really good," Brooks said. Kentucky has given up only two touchdowns this season.
While frustrating the Hilltoppers on offense, the Wildcats offense turned in a workmanlike performance of its own, running for 216 yards and passing for 182 more.
Kentucky's quartet of running backs gained between 34 and 67 yards each and combined for five touchdowns, three on the ground.
Alfonso Smith was the leader with 67 yards on six carries. He got most of those on a 17-yard run to open the second half and a 35-yard touchdown sprint three plays later for a 24-3 UK lead.
"He was a little fresher, and we wanted to get some fresh legs in there," Brooks said.
Tony Dixon ran for 45 yards and two scores, Moncell Allen ran for 41 yards and Derrick Locke for 34.
Locke electrified the crowd of 70,731 by returning the kickoff 100 yards after Western's only score. It came in the final three minutes of the first half and gave the Cats a 17-3 lead.
"I saw a crease open, and I thought if I went full speed, I should get through," Locke said. "The guys blocked, and I focused on the run."
Locke backed 2 yards into the end zone, caught the ball, hesitated a split second, then shot upfield.
"Our kickoff-coverage team has been a big strength for us," Western Coach David Elson said. "They executed and Locke is really fast, and at that time the momentum changed. They took it to us in the second half."
UK quarterback Mike Hartline passed for 172 yards and one score, completing 19 of 30 passes.
Hartline's streak of 95 passes without an interception ended on a tipped pass early in the game.
"The great news is that we have a young quarterback learning while we win," Brooks said, pointing out that Hartline is 4-0 as a starter.
Western fell to 2-3 as it completes its transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Rainey was clearly the top Topper. He ran for 99 yards on nine carries and returned four kickoffs for 149 yards, including a 74-yarder. He had 8 yards on two punt returns.
"I've been waiting since my redshirt year to do this, and I think I've been doing a good job," he said. "I wouldn't call myself arrogant, but I need the ball in my hands and I can make plays."
Rainey stepped up, said Elson, "and that's what we need. He was the guy that stuck out and made plays."
Western was limited to 15 passing yards, stunning Brooks. "Who would have thought we'd hold anybody, particularly a spread offense, to 15 yards passing?"
Black, the Western quarterback, said, "It is difficult when you are trying to look downfield and you see a defender in your face as soon as you take a third step," he said. "This is a performance that hurts in more ways than one."
Western opened the game as if it was playing in mud. The Hilltoppers finished the first quarter with minus-5 yards of offense and no first downs. Kentucky had two sacks, and Western's longest gain was 6 yards. The Toppers failed on all four third-down calls.
UK got a 45-yard field goal by new starter Ryan Tydlacka on its first possession.
In the second quarter, the Cats took possession on the WKU 38 after a short punt and accounted for three first downs before Dixon scored from the 1.