(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — After a brief hiatus, an energized University of Kentucky fan base eagerly anticipated the return of college football at Kroger Field on Saturday. Mark Stoops, a tough-minded defensive coach, expected a challenge from a quality opponent in the Wildcats’ season opener, and that’s exactly what his team received as the ‘Cats defeated a game Toledo squad 38-24. Kentucky overcame a pedestrian first-half compounded by sloppy play and a case of early jitters en route to victory. Frustration entered UK’s locker room at the half, but the onset of panic didn’t.
Reminiscent of past openers, Kentucky grinded out a win in a game much closer than the final score indicated. Baffling at times, the Wildcats continually put the ball on the ground—Toledo recovered two of the four fumbles—and regularly confronted manageable third downs on defense. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran utilized a three-pronged rushing attack which accounted for 176-yards. Freshman RB Kavosiey Smoke capped off a 7-play 92-yard drive when he exploded for a 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Smoke rushed for 78-yards on 7 carries. Junior A.J. Rose tallied 64-yards while freshman Chris Rodriguez accounted for 34-yards on 5 touches.
Even though Kentucky failed to play a clean game throughout, Stoops clarified that he didn’t intend to apologize for winning—i.e., ugly wins happen. During his opening press conference statement, Stoops noted, “It's always a good thing when you walk in and win by fourteen points and you're frustrated in a lot of ways.” Stoops further elaborated, “We're striving to be the best we can. We left a lot on that field, but we also did a lot of good things.” Stoops grew up in a blue-collar Ohio town shaped by a competitive, hardworking father. Sticking with that engrained mind-set, Stoops readily acknowledged areas for improvement and adamantly declared the need to go back to work afterward.
Junior QB Terry Wilson became more comfortable throwing the ball as the game progressed and showed a tremendous amount of growth from last season. Wilson connected with 6-foot-1 freshman WR Bryce Oliver on a 32-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter and completed a spectacular 30-yard pass to WR Lynn Bowden, Jr. who eclipsed 1,000 career receiving yards with the catch. Questioned about throwing downfield, Wilson remarked, “It took a minute for us to get things rolling, but that was definitely our game plan.” Listed at 6-foot-5 and 237 lbs, senior WR Ahmad Wagner presented a matchup nightmare. Wagner caught 3 passes totaling 57-yards. Wilson threw for 246-yards and 2 touchdowns on 19/26 passing attempts.
Hard-hitting sophomore LB DeAndre Square shouldered the load on defense. Square flew all over the field and racked up 11 tackles plus 1 interception. Stoops praised Square’s performance adding, “He came back bigger, stronger, and understands the defense better. He’s a playmaker. He’s one of those guys—just a good football player.” Expect the ‘Cats to get ‘back to work’ on Monday and exhibit marked improvement in various phases of the game as they prepare for Eastern Michigan.