It was a pretty, postcard-perfect kind of day at Kroger Field.
The sun shined brightly as puffy white clouds drifted overhead while Kentucky and Murray State played below.
There wasn’t much of anything to write home about on that postcard until UK added a bit of punctuation in the third quarter.
The unusual came in the form of a nifty play out of the wildcat formation that included a 49-yard touchdown for sophomore wide receiver Zy’Aire Hughes after Benny Snell connected on a shovel pass to quarterback Terry Wilson.
On his first-ever offensive touch, Hughes took it all the way for the score. It was one of many fun plays by players who don’t necessarily get their names written often in the 48-10 win on Saturday.
“I just knew it was money,” Snell said of Hughes’ big play, for which Snell got credit for a touchdown pass. “He’s so fast. … We knew it was money and I knew I was going to get that block, too.”
Hughes’ big play helped put the game fully out of reach and was the start of big plays by UK players not often discussed.
There was a 23-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Gunnar Hoak to true freshman Allen Dailey. The backup to the backup quarterback, Danny Clark, led a 55-yard drive for the offense late in the fourth quarter and scored on a 2-yard run.
“I just thought with our strength and experience and depth, it wore them down,” Stoops said.
On the other side of the ball, there was one point late in the game where UK had senior Tymere Dubose in the game with 10 newcomers.
“I took the headset off on the last drive,” Coach Mark Stoops laughed when asked what goes through his mind when he sees so many inexperienced guys on the field at the same time.
“I said I’m going to enjoy it,” he continued of the UK defense, which held Murray State to 302 yards, some 75 of them (and the touchdown) coming on that final drive with the newcomers on the field. “I’m just going to get try to get a little stress-free few minutes here.”
It was mostly stress free for all as UK took an early 17-0 lead behind a 42-yard touchdown run for Wilson and then a 7-yard touchdown run for Benny Snell that sandwiched a field goal for Miles Butler.
Wilson and Snell had big days for the Cats, who amassed 528 yards of offense, including 283 passing and 245 on the ground. They held Murray State to 302 yards, with 75 of those coming on the final drive of the game mostly against UK backups.
Preston Rice’s 21-yard touchdown run with three minutes to go was the only score for the Racers, who fell to 0-3.
One game after he helped Kentucky topple Florida at The Swamp and end The Streak, Wilson was efficient, connecting on 19 of 25 pass attempts for 163 yards while running 13 times for 80 yards, including the opening score.
“He’s fast and he’s a threat on the ground and in the air,” wide receiver Lynn Bowden said of Wilson. Bowden was his favorite target, getting a career-best 89 yards on eight catches. “He looked good.”
Kentucky’s defense got three straight three-and-outs to open the third quarter and the offense went to work, including a 3-yard touchdown run for A.J. Rose and then the Hughes play.
“We didn’t want to be out there as much,” senior linebacker Josh Allen joked. “It was hot. My feet were getting hot. I didn’t want to be out there for that long, so I told them, ‘We’ve got to step this up.’ And we made a lot of big plays.”
That was a turning point in the game, Stoops said.
“I thought that was big,” the head coach said. “I don’t think they had but a few yards in the third quarter. I thought it was good for our defense to come out and set the tone in the second half.”
Mike Edwards led Kentucky with five tackles, including one for a loss and a QB hurry. Allen and defensive backs Derrick Baity and Darius West added four tackles apiece in limited action.
For the second straight season, Kentucky moves to 3-0, and the next game on the schedule doesn’t promise those postcard images. It will be a night game under the lights at Kroger Field against a ranked, No. 16 Mississippi State team.
“We’re pleased with where we’re at and, you know, we’re excited to get back to work here for this week,” Stoops said of being 3-0. “We really are. It’s going to be a great opportunity, and we’ll be excited and ready.”
No. 16 Mississippi State at Kentucky
7 p.m. Saturday (TV TBD)