UK Football

Barnhart pleased with stadium upgrades

Kentucky's Mikel Horton (4) celebrated after scoring the game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 on Saturday night.
Kentucky's Mikel Horton (4) celebrated after scoring the game winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 40-33 on Saturday night. Herald-Leader

For three weeks, Mitch Barnhart had worked long days and nights at Commonwealth Stadium and for three weeks, he'd watched the game clocks and play clocks overhead.

"It's never missed a second," the Kentucky athletics director said. "And then all of the sudden it takes off running. You're going, 'Whoa, whoa, come back.' Yeah, you're going, 'OK, certainly to goodness that's going to be the worst thing that happens tonight.' It happens."

Kentucky was able to handle those small glitches among many others that occurred in the grand re-opening of Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night. For the most part, things went smoothly, but Barnhart said there's still much to do before the Cats' next home game on Sept. 19 against Florida.

Game story: Kentucky 40, La.-Lafayette 33

"We've got some things we want to fix that we couldn't get to," Barnhart said of the $126 million renovation project UK embarked on in 2013. "We'll do that between now and the Florida game and obviously some things we'll examine about how we operationally work, but at the end of the day it was a heck of a lot of fun."

It was an emotional night for the Kentucky official and many others who poured countless hours into making the opener a success, he said.

Drone crashes inside Commonwealth Stadium

He felt good about the end result, which included a massive Cat Walk of fans, a free concert by Sundy Best, a national anthem by singers from each of the commonwealth's 120 counties and many other extras.

"You want it to go well for the fans," Barnhart said. "You want it to be a very special night for them. You want it to be a special night for the guys in the locker room and the coaches. And you want it to be a special night for your staff, who's poured an awful lot into it. It got off to a pretty emotional start."

More than anything, he enjoyed looking around from the top deck of stands to the new fancy suites and seeing people enjoying themselves.

"It was fun to see everybody having fun," the athletics director said. "That's why we built the thing: was to have fun and to create an atmosphere where our kids felt like they were in a really special place that resembled big-time college football atmospheres. I thought we did that.

"There were several comments that we felt like we were in an SEC-style stadium, had an SEC-style atmosphere. That's what we tried to do."

Boom's big play

Boom Williams' 75-yard game opening touchdown run was the first one for UK since André Woodson found Dicky Lyons for a 51-yard touchdown pass in 2007 versus Eastern Kentucky.

The sophomore running back, who had his third career 100-yard game on Saturday with 10 carries for a career-best 135 yards, said they had established early in the week that the run would open the game.

"We talked about it all week, that we could score on the first play of the game," Williams said, noting that offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson had told them that would be the first play and first-time starters fullback Will Tom Collins and tight end C.J. Conrad said it was their mission to spring him.

"Those guys did a great job executing their blocks ... I saw the hole immediately. The hole was so wide, you could drive a car through it."

For his part, Dawson said he was hoping that Williams would make it a big play. "I didn't know it would be that big," Dawson said.

Other news and notes

■ Kentucky may have found its new Mr. Do It All in J.D. Harmon. The reserve cornerback had one kickoff return for 60 yards, an interception and a forced fumble near the end of the first half.

"Coach Stoops, one of the things he harps on is finish the play," said Harmon, who also had six tackles. "You know, you might get beat sometimes but it's how you finish the play. That's what was going through my mind. 'OK, he caught it, now get him down.'

■ It was hard to miss UK's issues in stopping the run again on Saturday, with the Cats allowing Louisiana-Lafayette to run for 163 of their 247 yards in the second half, managing 6.8 yards per carry in the second half.

The Ragin' Cajuns had touchdown runs of 56, 26 and 23 yards to tie the game up 33-33 late. Stoops said it was clear that the Cats missed three defensive starters in linebacker Jason Hatcher (suspension), defensive lineman C.J. Johnson (suspension) and linebacker Ryan Flannigan (injury).

"I told you all along I was anxious and excited to watch some young guys play," Stoops said. "There were some moments out there where it was difficult to watch. So we need to improve, but that's why you play.

"We have some freshmen that were put in a position that we needed them to win this game, and they did some good things, and they did some things we need to do a lot better."

■ There were some highs and lows for kicker Austin MacGinnis on Saturday, including connecting on his school-record 11th consecutive field goal (from 44 yards) before missing in the second half. The sophomore opened his career with 44 straight point after attempts makes before missing on an attempt in the third quarter.

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