EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK: Stoops' Cats Whip UT Martin in Dominating Fashion
By Jamie H. Vaught
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Some leftovers from Saturday's UK-UT Martin college football game:
---Second-year coach Mark Stoops' troops are off to a great start after blasting the Skyhawks from UT Martin in a 45-point blowout. Even though UT Martin is a member of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), it's still a very pretty season-opening win for the Wildcats, who are hungry after two straight 2-10 campaigns. And the Skyhawks were coming off a 7-5 performance in 2013 with 10 returning starters. Kentucky's 59 points against UT Martin are the most it has scored since 2010 when the Cats dominated Western Kentucky in a 63-28 victory in Joker Phillips' second game as the UK head coach. In addition, UK's 45-point victory margin was its most since a 77-17 win over UTEP in 2002.
---In his first UK career start, QB Patrick Towles had a memorable debut even though he didn't sleep well Friday night because he was anxious and nervous. But the sophomore from Fort Thomas, Ky., was nearly flawless in going for 20-for-29 for 377 passing yards. He even rushed for 23 yards to get his first running TD in early third quarter, giving the Cats a very comfortable 42-0 lead. "I felt like I did well as a whole," said Towles after the contest. "There were a couple of bad decisions that were made by me but as you saw, I did what coach has been wanting me to, and that was coming out in the next series and making two good decisions that canceled out my bad ones." Stoops was happy with Towles' overall performance. "I was very pleased with Patrick," said the UK boss. "He was very poised and he made very good decisions. He has the talent to get the ball down the field." Freshman wide receiver Blake Bone, who had two catches for 65 yards (including a 29-yard TD reception), was impressed with Towles. "I think Patrick played excellent," said Bone. "You've seen his numbers. Numbers don't lie. He basically gave the football in an 'Air Raid' and it was fun to go out and catch balls from him today."
---A crowd of 50,398 attended the matchup despite the heavy construction work being done to renovate the aging Commonwealth Stadium. Said Towles, "The fans were awesome. I really loved the support they gave us today. I was happy that we were able to give them a good show. I know they have really been aching for some good football and I felt like today they got what they wanted." Interestingly, Saturday's non-conference game marked the first time since 2007 that Kentucky has kicked off its season in Lexington. UK has opened its campaign each of the last six years on the road, going 4-2 during that span while playing in Louisville (three times), Cincinnati and Nashville (twice).
---The Wildcats had a lot of new players who made significant contributions in defeating the Skyhawks. Kentucky had 201 rushing yards out of players who didn't play last fall and that would be 86 percent of its total rushing output. And 422 yards of UK's passing game came from quarterbacks Towles and Reese Phillips who did not see game action last year. On defense, six of UK's eight tackles for loss and all three forced fumbles were caused by players who didn't play in 2013.
---The Cats had 10 receivers with at least one catch with eight of them catching two or more passes.
---DE Za'Darius Smith, OT Jordan Swindle and S Ashely Lowery made their team-leading 13th consecutive starts.
---Junior RB Braylon Heard, a transfer from Nebraska, made his UK debut with 116 rushing yards in two carries. He rushed for a beautiful 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
---The 1-0 Wildcats will have a tougher test at home this Saturday when they meet the Ohio Bobcats in an ESPNU matchup at 3:30 p.m. Ohio defeated Kent State 17-14 in a Mid-American Conference matchup last Saturday on a game-winning 44-yard field goal as time expired. The Bobcats, coached by former Nebraska boss Frank Solich, have made a bowl appearance for the last five years and they are expected to do well in the league this season, finishing second in a seven-team division, according to one preseason college football yearbook.
On his team's three-point victory over Kent State, Solich said on school's official Web site, "This is a great group of guys. It's been that way through winter conditioning and spring ball. I knew that this was a special group in terms of great effort and never giving up. They showed today that they are extremely resilient. I couldn't be more proud of them." Solich, by the way, will be celebrating his 70th birthday on Sept. 8, two days after facing the Cats. My quick forecast: UK over Ohio by 10.