UK escapes Week 1 with a win

Louisiana-Lafayette was a highly anticipated game for Kentucky fans for three reasons: It was the first game in a newly renovated stadium, it was the first sellout in the Mark Stoops era, and it was, to fans, a must-win game in order for UK to have a shot at a bowl game.

Fans erupted as the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage was a 75-yard touchdown run by Stanley “Boom” Williams.

I noticed/heard very few hiccups about the stadium – I thought it looked great. Energy was at an all-time high in the Stoops era at the opening kickoff. UK got out to an early 21-0 lead, QB Patrick Towles went 10-for-18 with 219 yards and a pair of TD’s, and Kentucky closed out the abnormally slow first half ahead 24-7.

To paint a picture from earlier, the parking lot and surrounding areas near the stadium Saturday were packed with tailgaters by 2 p.m. After a long half where it appeared that Kentucky was in complete control, some fans simply got tired and decided to leave at halftime. My girlfriend was one of those fans and, not wanting to sit alone for the rest of the game, I too walked to my nearby home to watch the second half.

To start the second half, both teams traded field goals and then Towles hit sophomore receiver Blake Bone for another touchdown with 3:47 remaining in the third, putting the ‘Cats up 33-10 after kicker Austin MacGinnis missed the extra point.

But five plays later, still in the third, Louisiana running back Torrey Pierce opened up a 56-yard run for a touchdown, starting a late comeback for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

UK junior J.D. Harmon then took the Louisiana kickoff 60 yards to give the Wildcats great field position to extend their lead, starting at the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 28. Kentucky went three-and-out and MacGinnis missed a 46-yard field goal and ULL regained possession.

The Ragin’ Cajun offense marched the field on a tired Kentucky defense, going 71 yards in eight plays, ending in another long touchdown run (26 yards) for Pierce. The scoreboard read Kentucky 33, Louisiana-Lafayette 25 after ULL completed a two-point conversion.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles attempting a pass against Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium (Herald-Leader photo)

On the first play of Kentucky’s next drive, Patrick Towles went deep but was picked off. After a personal foul against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Louisiana’s offense took over on their own 33.

ULL once again put together an impressive drive, managing 67 yards in eight plays, highlighted by another rushing touchdown. After another successful two-point-conversion, the game was tied at 33.

The UK offense again went three-and-out and had to punt, but luckily the Wildcat defense was able to make the Ragin’ Cajuns do the same in their next possession. Kentucky then put together a nine-play, 58-yard drive with sophomore running back Mikel Horton scoring a touchdown on a 12-yard carry.

The game ended with ULL quarterback Brooks Haack throwing an interception to  Josh Forrest to seal the deal for the Wildcats, 40-33.

Team Stats from Saturday's game (ESPN)
Team Stats from Saturday’s game (ESPN)

Towles was just 6-for-16 in the second half with 38 passing yards and his interception in the fourth quarter could not have come at a worse time. It was encouraging, especially in the first half, to see UK offensive coordinator-Shannon Dawson let Towles take shots down the field, but Towles’ accuracy will ultimately need to improve for the Wildcats to make it to a bowl game.

Towles and the UK offense were on the field for under 23 minutes in the game compared to 37-plus minutes for ULL. I understand that Dawson’s offense is not designed to be slow-moving by any means, but when you look at the lack of depth in the ‘Cats’ defense, those guys had to be tired.

There were critics already calling for red shirt freshman Drew Barker to replace Towles as the starting QB. But a lot of people forget Barker has still yet to play in a college football game, which is a little frightening.

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops on how Patrick Towles played overall:

“I’m sure ‑‑ he did some very good things, but I’m sure there’s a lot of plays we need to improve on.  I think he got a little out of sync when he maybe overthrew a couple early, and then he started under throwing it and just got off a little bit.

But it’s not all on him.  He’ll improve.  It’s a good starting point.  You know what, it’s good to be in a tough game like that and let him go through some adversity and some tough plays and then come back and do what we have to do to win.”

That doesn’t sound like a coach who is ready to give up on his junior quarterback anytime soon.

  • Kentucky at South Carolina
    Saturday, Sept. 12 – 7:30 p.m.
    Williams Brice Stadium – Columbia, SC
    TV: SEC Network

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