BOZICH | Kentucky wins (ugly) again, beating EKU, 27-16
For the second week, Kentucky did not earn any style points but the Wildcats rallied from a 13-3 deficit to defeat Eastern Kentucky, 27-16, at Kroger Field.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In November, only the losing team remembers the score. Bowl representatives count victories, not margin of victory. Doesn’t matter if you trail for 59 minutes and 59 seconds as long as you lead at the final horn.
That’s a polite way of saying that Kentucky won ugly (again) against Eastern Kentucky Saturday at Kroger Field. On a day when the Wildcats were supposed to win by three, four, five touchdowns or more, Kentucky won 27-16.
"The bottom line was getting the victory," UK coach Mark Stoops told the SEC Network. "There were some aggravating parts. But we're 2-0."
Credit quarterback Stephen Johnson, who ignored a second-quarter benching to rally the Wildcats for three touchdown drives, including a bouncing, twisting, gliding 21-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"I know I could have gone out of bounds, but I didn't want to," Johnson said on the SEC Network. "I think I did all right. I missed a couple of throws."
Johnson completed 15 of 22 passes for 224 yards while running for another 48 yards.
Credit halfback Benny Snell, who played through sore ribs and contributed a grinding 25-yard touchdown run that bumped the Wildcats ahead, 17-16, in the third quarter. Credit Snell with 103 yards on 19 attempts, despite the injury.
Credit the Kentucky defense, which stopped EKU with a fumble inside the Wildcat 5 when it appeared the Colonels were going to stretch their advantage to 10 points in the third quarter. EKU failed to score a touchdown in the second half, gaining only 32 yards in the fourth quarter.
Comforting? Probably not to the announced crowd of 54,868.
Worth celebrating? You bet, even against an FCS opponent like EKU that lost to Western Kentucky by two touchdowns last weekend. Hard to imagine the Wildcats getting to six, seven and certainly eight wins without handling the Colonels.
"A lot of silly mistakes again and bad snaps," Stoops said. "We've got a lot to get cleaned up."
The Wildcats fell behind 7-3 less than nine minutes into the first quarter. They let the Colonels stretch the lead to 13-3. They remained behind 13-10 at halftime after missing a field goal. Johnson was benched for Drew Barker in the second quarter, but Barker could not generate yardage either, completing 1 of 2 passes for five yards while taking a sack.
SEC Network analysts Gene Chizik and Chris Doering questioned the lack of intensity from coach Mark Stoops’ players during their halftime analysis.
They lost Snell for a significant chunk of the first half to an injury to his ribs that sent him to the locker room. They lost receiver Lynn Bowden to a targeting penalty. They started Stephen Johnson at quarterback, replaced him with Barker and went back to Johnson for more energy.
They let former Louisville running back L.J. Scott return the second half kickoff to the UK 47 and then watched the Colonels drill a 19-yard pass on their next snap.
Kentucky’s defense took over there. Denied one fumble recovery by a replay review, the Wildcats got the turnover they needed several plays later. Jordan Jones separated Alonzo Booth from the football at the Kentucky 4.
The touchdowns by Snell and Johnson as well as an interception by safety Mike Edwards with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter ensured the 2-0 start for coach Mark Stoops’ team. In the second half, the Wildcats played to their strength, running on 25 of 29 snaps.
Sleep-walking won’t work for Kentucky next week. The Wildcats visit South Carolina to face an improved Gamecocks’ team led by dynamic quarterback Jake Bentley. He did not play last season when UK defeated South Carolina for the third consecutive time. The game will be televised on the SEC Network at 7:30 p.m.
South Carolina had a solid opening night victory over North Carolina State, 35-28, last week. The Gamecocks will play at Missouri Saturday night.
"We have to get some things cleaned up -- and we will," Stoops said.
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