Ryan Timmons was in the midst of his best game yet as a Kentucky Wildcat. At one point, his head coach got so excited, he came out on the field to greet the former Franklin County star.
Mark Stoops, however, wasn't out there to congratulate Timmons on a career-best, 10 catches. Nor was he chest bumping the 5-foot-10, 195-pound sophomore for all but single-handedly getting UK off to a fast start in a game in which a quick break from the gates was vital.
Nope, Stoops was on the field to let Timmons have it. When you get an after-the-play, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a first-down run that moves your team back from the opponent's 31 to its 46, you are apt to be greeted by an unhappy head coach.
"(Stoops) was pretty upset," Timmons said. "He was just disappointed and frustrated. We were close to the red zone, and we struggled all day trying to punch it in the red zone."
Kentucky ran its record to 2-0 Saturday for the first time since 2011. The Wildcats beat plucky Ohio 20-3 before an announced Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 51,910. In an odd game that saw UK Air Raid quarterback Patrick Towles carry the football a whopping 22 times, the development with the most lasting significance for the Wildcats may prove to be Timmons taking a big step toward becoming a star.
Timmons' 10 receptions produced 95 yards. Both were career highs. He became the first Kentucky wide receiver to post double-digit catches in a game since 2012.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said it was no accident that the ball kept finding Timmons early in the game. Brown may work under the bright lights in the SEC now, but just six years ago he was calling plays for Troy of the Sun Belt Conference.
Brown understands that in contests in which a team from a league lower down the college football food chain — like Ohio of the Mid-American Conference — faces one from the mighty SEC, it is vital for the power-conference team to get out of the gates fast.
"The longer (the underdog) can hang around, the more opportunity you've got (for an upset)," Brown said.
UK running back Braylon Heard, the breakout playmaker of the Cats' season-opening victory over Tennessee-Martin, was sidelined by an ankle injury Saturday. Three of Kentucky's top four wide receivers from 2013 — Javess Blue, Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery — were all out with various injuries. So Brown figured the surest way to a UK fast start against Ohio (1-1) was getting the ball to Timmons.
On UK's second play from scrimmage, Towles hit Timmons for 20 yards. On the very next play, the same two connected for 22 more. By the end of quarter one, Timmons had six catches for 54 yards and had run the ball once for 2 more.
Oh, and Kentucky was up 14-0.
"I really felt we needed to get (Timmons) involved early," Brown said. "I think if he's not our best player, he's one of our top players on offense. I wanted to use him a lot early and start fast."
A year ago, as a true freshman, Timmons showed flashes of stardom. He caught his first career TD at South Carolina, then produced a second off a screen play at Mississippi State. He finished second on the team in receptions with 32.
However, after a year in Kentucky's offseason conditioning, Timmons appears capable of taking a big step forward.
Said Towles: "He's smarter. His body has changed. He's faster. You get those three things, he can be scary good. And he's getting there."
Next week, Timmons — a state championship sprinter at Franklin County — will get a chance to test himself against "Florida speed" in The Swamp. In recruiting, Timmons' final three schools were UK, Ohio State and Florida.
"I'm excited to go in there and show them what I'm capable of doing," he said. "I can't tell you the last time we beat Florida (1986, actually), so this is a big game for us."
As for Timmons' performance against Ohio, a reporter asked Stoops if the unsportsmanlike penalty "clouded" what was otherwise a career game for the young receiver.
"I don't know if it clouds it," the UK coach said. "It was a silly mistake that I don't anticipate he will make again."
Going forward, Timmons says anytime Stoops needs to come on the playing field to meet him, it will be for congratulatory reasons only.
"(The penalty) was a stupid move on may part," Timmons said. "I don't want people to see me like that. You won't see that from me again."