After Kentucky’s stunningly poor defensive debut in the season-opening loss to Louisville, they desperately needed to improve to keep fans, and themselves, believing they could make something of this season. When it came time to take the field against Kent State for the season’s first home game, the Cats didn’t show much progression on defense, but got absolutely offensive when it came to scoring drives and big gains. Kentucky was able to score a thundering 47 points and hold the Golden Flashes to a reasonable 14 of their own.
Only 48,000 fans turned out to Kentucky’s first game, but among them were John Calipari, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Nerlens Noel. The star-studded audience wasn’t treated to many highlights to begin the game, as three-and-outs dominated the opening minutes. That is until Kentucky’s typically weak defense was unable to stop a stampeding Kent State rush from Dri Archer, as the back broke the line wide open and sprinted to a 47-yard touchdown run. Kentucky was down a score to begin the game and the woes of a week ago were rearing their ugly heads.
But then the Max Smith and Aaron Boyd show began after the quarter ended, and the small crowd had something to enjoy. Pass after pass, it seemed Smith and Boyd were connected at the hands, and Kentucky tied the game on a Smith-to-Boyd touchdown pass after a quick drive. The offense continued to thrive in the second quarter, gaining a 14-7 lead on a bolt to the end zone by backup tailback Raymond Sanders, who was merely filling in for an injured CoShik Williams. Kentucky also managed to end the quarter on a successful 47-yard field goal attempt by Craig McIntosh, taking a 17-7 lead into the half.
Coming out of the half, Kent State took one last gasp before drowning under the Kentucky offense. Taking full advantage of the Cats’ lacking rush defense, a lumbering 260 Trayion Durham went practically untouched 26 yards into the end zone. It looked like it was happening in slow motion, but Kentucky’s defense was still unable to bring the beast down, showcasing how far behind they are when it comes to stopping the run. The Wildcats gave up 182 rushing yards on the game, capped off by the two enormous untouched touchdown runs. Such inconsistency won’t be acceptable against a higher level of competition.
After Kent State scored early in the third quarter, Kentucky began a fantastic 30 point run that left fans awed and kept the hope alive. Smith kept going to Boyd to advance the ball, but also completed touchdown passes to Gene McCaskill, La’Rod King, and DeMarcus Sweat before the final horn. Smith ended the game with an impressive 354 yards and 4 touchdowns on 30 of 39 passing. His final QB efficiency rating was an impressive 187.2, which is one of the highest single game values since the Tim Couch era.
But Smith didn’t do it alone. Aaron Boyd caught an astounding 11 passes for exactly 100 yards. Boyd’s numbers were higher than his entire previous career totals, including last week’s Louisville game, making it far-and-away a career night for the senior. DeMarcus Sweat caught the first pass of his career and turned it into a 56-yard touchdown after impressively breaking a couple tackles. Ten different players had receptions in the game, giving Smith a wide array of viable options and keeping the Wildcats offense fluid.
Kentucky was also able to score on the ground. The previously mentioned 67-yard Raymond Sanders run was nearly matched by Johnathon George’s 38 yard touchdown haul. Sanders ended the game with 115 yards on 13 carries, while George totalled 52 yards on 6 touches.
Even the Cats’ defense contributed to the massive scoring total, if only by accident. Martavius Neloms started the fiasco with a ground-shaking hit which forced a fumble. Kentucky recovered, moved the ball to the 1-yard line, and then Dyshawn Mobley failed to score on four straight one yard pushes, leaving Kent State with the ball on their own 1-yard line. The Golden Flash’s tailback then tripped in the end zone, giving Kentucky a bonus safety without much in the way of an accomplishment.
Despite the defense’s overall weak play, there were a few standout individual statistical performances. Neloms’ forced fumble was complemented by 7 total tackles and a tackle for a loss. Miles Simpson also tallied 7 tackles, recovered a fumble, and earned a sack. Dupree added 6 tackles of his own, 2 of which were for a loss including a quarterback sack.
Kentucky was expected to beat Kent State, but they weren’t expected to win by such an enormous margin. The Cats’ defense still lacks the necessary pieces and consistency to stop any number of powerful SEC rushers, but the offense is firing on all cylinders. Max Smith is confident and comfortable, the receiving crew is solid from top to bottom, and the backs are finding seams and making things happen. Even the young and inexperienced offensive line is proving themselves dependable.
A win is a win, and Kentucky will need to take this momentum into the rest of their schedule. Things are only going to get tougher, and they need to toughen up to match.
Filed Under: Football
About the Author: Corey Tincher is a lifelong Kentucky fan and professional writer who couldn't keep the two worlds apart. He is the lead contributor for StraitCats.com and literally wrote the book on the 2012 NCAA Tournament Championship run, Big Blue Articles: Kentucky Basketball in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Follow @Corey_Tincher on Twitter for more Kentucky news and discussion.