Mark Story

Instant Analysis: Who’s up, who’s down after Kentucky’s 38-24 win over Toledo

Cat Walk: Kentucky football players and coaches ready to take on Toledo

UK players and coaches participate in the Cat Walk before the season opener against Toledo at Kroger Field in Lexington.
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UK players and coaches participate in the Cat Walk before the season opener against Toledo at Kroger Field in Lexington.

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Instant analysis from Kentucky’s 38-24 win over Toledo:

How the game was won

Terry Wilson threw for two touchdowns and a reconstructed Kentucky defense overcame a slow start to roll.

Game balls

1. Kentucky defense. After a shaky start in its fully reconstructed secondary, the UK “D” controlled Toledo for the last two-and-a-half quarters of the game.

2. DeAndre Square. The UK sophomore linebacker from Detroit was stellar — 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and an acrobatic interception that led to a Wildcats touchdown.

3. Max Duffy. Hey, Steve Spurrier, Kentucky has one heck of a punter (54-yard average on six punts).

4. Ahmad Wagner. The 6-foot-5, 237-pound former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player turned UK wide receiver caught three passes for 57 yards and continued his amazing knack for drawing pass interference penalties by getting two from Toledo defenders.

5. Mitchell Guadagni. The dual-threat Toledo quarterback (73 yards rushing with a touchdown; 122 yards passing on 7-of-12 completions) was giving Kentucky fits until he was knocked out of the game after a hit (called targeting) by UK linebacker Chris Oats at the end of a scramble.

Reasons to worry

1. UK ball security. Redshirt freshman running back Christopher Rodriguez fumbled twice and lost one, and junior slot receiver Lynn Bowden lost one. As the competition gets better, obviously, Kentucky has to tighten that up.

2. Kentucky running game. A veteran Wildcats offensive line did not blow Toledo off the line of scrimmage to the extent most expected.

Key numbers

16 and 6. Kentucky is now 16-6 at Kroger Field since the start of the 2016 season.

Fashion police

For its 2019 season opener, Kentucky wore blue helmets, blue jerseys with white letters and numbers and white pants. UK has worn blue or blue matte helmets in four of its last five season openers. The exception was 2017, when the Wildcats wore white helmets in a 24-17 season-opening victory at Southern Mississippi.

The Cat-mosphere

1. Kentucky announced an attendance of 54,610 in the 61,000-seat Kroger Field. Since the start of the 2016 season, UK has drawn crowds in excess of 60,000 to only five of 22 home games.

2. UK recognized Wildcats running back Houston Hogg on the field before the game and again at the end of the first quarter as its honorary game captain. Hogg and linebacker Wilbur Hackett were the first two black players to play their full college football careers at Kentucky.

3. The Kentucky band stood in a “22” formation to honor ex-UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who passed away this summer.

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Scouting report

An early look ahead to Kentucky’s next football game:

The opponent: Kentucky (1-0 after a 38-24 win over Toledo) will face Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m., at Kroger Field in a contest that will be telecast on either ESPNU or the SEC Network Alternate Channel. Coach Chris Creighton’s Eagles opened their 2019 season Saturday on the road at Coastal Carolina.

Most recent meeting: Kentucky’s Josh Paschal blocked a punt to set up Benny Snell for a game-winning, 12-yard touchdown run as the Wildcats — seemingly nursing an emotional hangover from a crushing 28-27 loss to Florida in their previous game — eked out a 24-20 win over EMU on Sept. 30, 2017, in Lexington.

It is the only prior meeting between the two teams.

Former UK football player Nate Northington walks beside head coach Mark Stoops on the Catwalk, greeting current players as they enter the Joe Craft Center before they face Eastern Michigan at Kroger Field.

Originally, this season’s Kentucky-Eastern Michigan contest was supposed to be played at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Mich. However, facing budget pressures, EMU agreed to move the game to Kroger Field in exchange for an $800,000 payout from UK.

Kentucky and Eastern Michigan are also contracted to play the first game of the 2020 season, Sept. 5, at Kroger Field. According to the Detroit News, UK will pay the Eagles a $350,000 guarantee for that game.

Know your foe:

1. Eastern Michigan has 10 starters (six offense, four defense) back from last season’s 7-6 team that upset Purdue, 20-19, in West Lafayette, Ind., and lost to Georgia Southern, 23-21, in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

2. Kentucky will not have to worry about EMU rush end Jeremiah Harris — who terrorized the UK offense with 3.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks in the 2017 game. Harris finished his college eligibility in 2018 and signed a free-agent pact with the New York Giants.

3. Eastern Michigan has scored a road upset of a power-five conference foe each of the past two seasons. In 2017, the Eagles won at Rutgers of the Big Ten 16-13; last season, EMU pulled off a Big Ten stunner, edging Jeff Brohm and Purdue, 20-19, in West Lafayette, Ind.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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