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UK Football – Cats Win in Home Opener

Wildcats run on the field for home opener vs EKU – Photo by Brendon Miller

Ty Back – Lexington, KY
The Kentucky Wildcats (1-0) opened their 2017 home stand by hosting the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels (0-1).  Despite the two campuses being only 30 minutes away, this is only the fifth time the two teams have faced off.  Kentucky led the series 4-0 coming into today after a thrilling overtime come from behind win two years ago here in Lexington.  This was the inaugural game at the newly named Kroger Field. 

UK took the ball on the first possession and went 9 plays for 49 yards before being held to a 39-yard field goal.  Not exactly what Cats fans wanted in an opening drive but a score nonetheless.  Immediately after the first series, running back Benny Snell was escorted to the locker room for x-rays on his ribs.  He would eventually come back into the game for 19 total rushes for 105 yards.  X-rays were negative but Snell commented after the game that “That was the worst pain I had ever felt.”

EKU took over on offense and drove 75 yards down the field seemingly untouched.  EKU Quarterback Tim Boyle found wide receiver, Ryan Markush for a 7 yd. touchdown and with the extra point by Lucas Williams EKU had the lead 7-3.

UK took the ball and began its drive.  QB Stephen Johnson rushed for 34 yards but a targeting penalty on true freshman Lynn Bowden nullified that run and put the ball back on the 28.  The targeting penalty also eliminated the highly touted freshman Bowden for the rest of the competition, a play that Coach Stoops said that he agreed with in the post game press conference.  By this point the UK offense was frustrated and out of sync. Drew Barker led UK on it’s third offensive series of the day.  Coach Stoops said, “We had to get Drew back out there and get his confidence up and get him some snaps.”  Barker’s play still didn’t ignite the Cats and he went 1-2 for the day with only 5 yards and was sacked twice.  Eastern would hold the Cats and eventually take the ball 66 yards to score again and go up by ten, 13-3. 

After an EKU punt, Johnson returned at QB with the ball on the UK 25-yard line with 2:26 to play in the half.  Johnson hooked up with WR Charles Walker two straight plays for big gains putting the Cats at the EKU 23-yard line.  On the next play CJ Conrad made the grab in the end zone for the UK touchdown and with the extra point, the Cats trailed 10-13 with 1:28 to play in the first half.

UK stopped the Colonels on their possession and got the ball back with 51 seconds to play in the half.  Johnson hit WR Blake Bone for two huge catches and brought the team within a position to tie with 0:01 to play in the half.  Austin MacGinnis would miss the FG attempt leaving the score 10-13 with the Colonels on top at the half.  Coming into today Coach Stoops is 3-36 when trailing at the half.

UK began the second half on defense and forced an EKU fumble on the 4 yd. line.  Derrick Baity recovered and UK’s offense took over.  The offense seemingly had it together in the second half but still struggled to score.  Benny Snell came back in with 3 straight carries and no evidence of any pain in his ribs.

EKU’s quick hitter passes worked and the Colonels drove down for a 31-yard field goal with 3:43 to play in the 3rd.  EKU took the lead 16-10 but this would be the last time the Colonels would score on the day. 

UK’s offense started clicking and the Cats went 3 plays for 75 yards in 1:11 to score the TD and went on top 17-16.  In the next series, Stephen Johnson scored on a 21 yard run, a play where he was only inches of going out of bounds at about the 12-yard line. That put the cats on top 24-16 with just over ten minutes to play.  UK would tack on a field goal after that but EKU didn’t manage any offense the rest of the game. 

Stephen Jonson finished the game 15-22 with 224 passing yards, 6 rushes for 53 yards, 2 TD and only took 1 sack.  Benny Snell finished with 19 rushes for 103 yards with 1 TD.  Sihiem King rushed for 9 carries and 61 yards.  Blake Bone led the receivers today with 3 catches and 93 yards.  On defense Darius West recorded 11 tackles for the Cats. 

Up next, the Cats will travel to Columbia South Carolina next Saturday where they’ll face the South Carolina Gamecocks to open South Eastern Conference play.

FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 27, EKU 16


Team Records and Series Notes

  • This was Kentucky’s home opener. UK is now 34-10-1 all-time in home openers at Kroger Field. UK is 11-1 in its last 12 home openers and 4-1 under Mark Stoops.
    • The Wildcats are 154-129-4 at Kroger Field all-time, including an 17-13 mark under Mark Stoops.
  • Kentucky leads the series against EKU 5-0.
    • The Wildcats hold an all-time record of 11-0 against teams in the current alignment of the OVC.
  • Kentucky will return to action Sat. Sept. 16 at South Carolina. Game time is 7:30 p.m. ET and it will be televised on the SEC Network and broadcast on the UK Sports Radio Network.


Team Notes

  • This is the third time in the last four seasons that Kentucky has started the year 2-0. UK also started 2-0 in 2014 and 2015.
  • The win moved Kentucky to a 9-4 record over the last 13 games.
    • The last time UK had a 9-3 record over a span of 12 regular-season games was Nov. 4, 2006 – Oct. 20, 2007.
  • UK is now 13-6 in non-conference games under Coach Mark Stoops.
  • UK is 17-1 under Stoops when leading after three quarters.
    • Kentucky has won 34 of its past 35 games when staked to a lead at the end of the third quarter, dating back to 2008.
  • EKU’s touchdown at 6:22 in the first quarter marked the first time all season the Wildcats had trailed.
    • The Wildcats would regain the lead with 2:57 to go in the third quarter and never look back.
  • Kentucky outgained EKU offensively 436-318, including 207-62 on the ground.
    • The Colonels outgained Kentucky through the air, 256-229.
  • The Wildcats won the turnover battle against EKU, 2-0. UK forced and recovered a fumble and had one interception.
    • It was the first time in 23 games that UK did not have a turnover, dating back to the 2015 win over Missouri.
    • UK has won the turnover battle in both games this season with a +4 turnover margin.
  • Trailing 16-10 midway through the third quarter, the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points to take control of the game.
  • Two Wildcats earned their first career starts in the game in sophomore linebacker Eli Brown and redshirt freshman defensive back Davonte Robinson.
  • Kentucky has had a 100-yard rusher in six of its last eight home openers.
  • This is the seventh time under Mark Stoops that UK has won a game after trailing by at least 10 points. That is the second most wins under any coach in program history. UK had eight such wins under Rich Brooks.
  • Four of UK’s last six wins it has come from behind by at least 10 points.
  • Kentucky has at least 200 rushing yards in six of its last seven home games.
  • Kentucky has a rushing touchdown in each of its last 14 home games.
  • UK has allowed less than 100 rushing yards in consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 6 and Sept. 13 2008.
  • The Wildcats have allowed 17 points or less in consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 19, and Sept. 26, 2015.
  • Kentucky has allowed 17 points or less in the first two games of a season for the first time since 2014.


Player Notes

  • UK’s game captains were OG Nick Haynes, QB Stephen Johnson, LB Courtney Love and S Mike Edwards.
  • QB Stephen Johnson finished the game 15-for-22 with 224 yards and one touchdown through the air. He also rushed six times for 48 yards and one touchdown, including a 21-yard touchdown rush.
    • Johnson’s touchdown through the air was a 23-yard strike to C.J. Conrad.
    • Today was Johnson’s eighth win as the starting quarterback since taking over the role in the fourth game of the 2016 season.  UK is 10-4 with Johnson as primary QB, including 8-4 as the starter and 2-0 as the team’s primary QB in a relief role.
    • Johnson has thrown or rushed for a touchdown in six straight games.
    • This was Johnson’s fifth career game with a rushing touchdown.
    • Johnson is the third UK quarterback since 1993 to win seven of his first career 10 regular-season starts. The other two players were Mike Hartline and Morgan Newton.
    • He is the first UK quarterback with a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown in three consecutive games since Jared Lorenzen on Sept. 23, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7 in 2000.
    • Since 1985, Johnson is the first UK quarterback with a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown in each of the team’s first two games.
    • This was Johnson’s third career game with at least 224 passing yards and at least 48 rushing yards.
  • RB Benny Snell rushed a game-high 19 times for a game-high 103 yards.
    • Snell scored his first touchdown of the season with a 25-yard rush in the third quarter to give UK the lead.
    • Snell in the second half was incredible, rushing 16 times for 100 yards and a touchdown after just three carries for three yards in the first half.
    • Snell now has 1,261 career rushing yards which ranks him 28th all-time in program history.
    • Today was his sixth career 100-yard rushing game.
    • Snell is the second Kentucky player with 100 yards rushing against EKU. The other was Rafael Little, who had 135 rushing yards against EKU in 2007.
    • Snell has a rushing TD in six of UK’s last seven home games.
    • Snell has at least 100 rushing yards in the last four home games and in five of the last seven home games.
  • TE C.J. Conrad caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.
    • Conrad has caught a touchdown pass in each of UK’s first two games this season and has caught a touchdown pass in three of his last five games. 
    • The junior now has seven career touchdown catches.
    • Conrad is leading the Wildcats in receiving with five receptions for 125 yards this season. He is also averaging 62.5 yards per reception.
    • Conrad is the first UK player with a receiving TD in each of the first two games of the season since La’Rod King in 2012.
    • Conrad is the first UK tight end with a receiving touchdown in consecutive games since Jacob Tamme on Nov. 24 and Dec. 31, 2007.
  • WR Blake Bone had a career-high 93 yards receiving on three catches.
    • Bone’s previous high in receiving yards was 85 vs. EKU on Oct. 3, 2015.
    • Bone had a 43-yard reception in the game today, which is a new career long, passing his previous long of 40 yards against EKU two years ago.
    • Bone’s 93 yards today exceeded his season total of 82 yards last season.
  • WR Charles Walker had two catches for 38 yards in the game and now has three receptions for 59 yards on the season.
    • Walker’s 27-yard catch late in the second quarter was a new career long, surpassing his 21-yard catch last week at Southern Miss.
  • RB Sihiem King carried the ball nine times for 61 yards in the game.
    • Last year, King carried the ball 11 times for 81 yards.
    • King had one kickoff return in the game for 22 yards.
  • S Darius West led the Wildcats in tackles with a career-high 11 stops, passing his previous high of seven multiple times.
  • S Mike Edwards sealed the UK win with a late interception in the fourth quarter.
    • The pick was his fifth career interception and first of the season.
    • Edwards ended the game with two tackles.
  • LB Josh Allen continued his strong start to the season with eight tackles, adding one sack and a pass breakup.
    • On the season, Allen has 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries. 
  • CB Derrick Baity had eight tackles and one fumble recovery.
    • The fumble recovery was Baity’s first of his career.
  • LB Jordan Jones had eight tackles with 0.5 tackles for loss, one fumble forced, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry.
    • Jones is third on the team in tackles with 13.
    • The fumble forced was his second of the season.
  • CB Lonnie Johnson, Jr. had four tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass breakup in the game.
    • Johnson, Jr. also blocked an extra point, which was his first blocked kick of his UK career.
  • K Austin MacGinnis finished the game 2-for-3 in field goals, hitting from 39 yards twice and missing a try from 48 yards as time expired in the first half.
    • MacGinnis’ miss snapped a streak of nine consecutive field goals made, which tied the second longest stretch in program history.
    • MacGinnis also made a pair of potentially touchdown-saving tackles on long kickoff returns.

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