CINCINNATI — The University of Kentucky's football opener against Miami (Ohio) had Rich Brooks on edge all week but, when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the UK head coach couldn't have drawn it up any better.
The Wildcats accomplished everything they needed to in a 42-0 rout of the RedHawks in front of a pro-UK crowd of 41,037 at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday.
Brooks talked about an improved offense all pre-season, and the Cats delivered. Junior quarterback Mike Hartline threw two touchdown passes, and receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews each made big plays.
The UK defense pitched its first shutout in 13 years and got a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown from senior All-America candidate Trevard Lindley.
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The Cats outgained Miami 488-188, had no turnovers and committed just three penalties. The offense was nearly a perfect balance, with UK rushing for 245 yards and passing for 243. UK's 488 yards were its highest total since it rolled up 501 in beating Florida State in the 2007 Music City Bowl.
In the end, the normally finicky Brooks couldn't find much to nitpick about other than a few blown individual assignments and a missed 43-yard field goal by Lones Seiber.
"There's individual plays and different situations that I wasn't totally happy with, but I'm just excited to get a win," Brooks said. "I think we got it in a good fashion. We can learn from this, and we've got a week off to try and correct some of the things we need to correct."
The offense lived up to Brooks' pre-season predictions of improvement. Hartline passed for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Cobb caught a touchdown pass and ran for another. Matthews hauled in an impressive 21-yard touchdown grab from Hartline.
But the defensive performance was just as significant. UK hadn't held an opponent scoreless since a 25-0 win over Vanderbilt in 1996.
"It was real important to the defense," said sophomore safety Winston Guy. "We wanted to let the world know that the Kentucky defense was back, and the shutout means a lot to us, and teams watching us will know what they're getting themselves into."
At the end of the first quarter, it looked as though the Cats might be in for a barn burner. They blew a scoring opportunity on their first drive when Seiber pushed his field-goal attempt to the left, and the Cats were outgained 69-38 in the opening period. Miami blew a chance to strike first when Trevor Cook misfired on a 34-yard field goal late in the quarter.
One of Brooks' primary concerns going into the game was the fact that Miami had a first-year head coach in Mike Haywood, which made it difficult to scout and draw up a game plan. Brooks said that uncertainty played a big role in UK's slow start.
"We were slow getting going," Brooks said. "Miami gave us a lot of different looks. We were in a little bit of a mystery as to what they were going to do on both sides of the ball, and it took us a while to figure it out. Once we were able to get a few passes downfield and get the ball on the perimeter, everything else started to loosen up for us."
The Cats then unleashed Derrick Locke on Miami. Locke missed the last half of the 2008 season following major knee surgery but looked like the same speedy, shifty back he was before the injury. First, he took an option pitch around the left side for an 18-yard gain. Then, with UK lined up in the Wildcat formation with Cobb at quarterback, Locke took the shotgun handoff and bolted in for a 16-yard score to make it 14-0 with 6:50 left in the half. When Locke scored, head coach for offense Joker Phillips said, Brooks shouted "welcome back" into his headset.
"I'm as pleased for him as anybody," Brooks said. "He had contact in fall camp, but there's nothing like getting out there playing a real game. You could see the speed and explosion is still there. I think he's going to have a very good year."
Kentucky scored for a third straight possession when Hartline hit Matthews on a fade route to the right side of the end zone. One-on-one against Miami corner Brandon Stephens, the 6-foot-5 Matthews jumped over the 5-foot-10 Stephens to make the grab and give Kentucky a 21-0 halftime lead.
The Cats picked up where they left off in the second half, taking the opening drive 80 yards on eight plays, capped by Cobb's 11-yard scoring run out of the Wildcat to push UK ahead 28-0. Lindley tacked on his return TD midway through the third quarter, and Moncell Allen added a score early in the fourth. Then Brooks began to clear the bench and get ready for the Sept. 19 home opener against Louisville.
Brooks said he was pleased with the running game. Five tailbacks had seven or more carries. Locke had eight and led the way with 61 yards; Allen added 57 on eight carries; redshirt freshman CoShik Williams rushed 10 times for 39 yards; starter Alfonso Smith had 36 yards on seven attempts; and true freshman Donald Russell added 30 yards on seven tries.
"We were able to keep those guys fresh by rotating them in there," Brooks said. "I thought all those guys did a good job carrying the rock today."
After falling behind by three touchdowns in the first half, Miami had to scrap its running game and go to the air, which allowed UK to come all-out after quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh. And while Kentucky got only two sacks, its pressure disrupted the Miami offense and held the RedHawks to 74 yards and two first downs in the second half.
"There really wasn't much not to like," UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said.
Brooks couldn't have drawn it up any better.