LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Mark Stoops got the start he wanted against Eastern Michigan Saturday night but it took a while for the Wildcats to put the Eagles away in a 38-17 victory.
Just two years ago Eastern Michigan fought Kentucky from start to finish, with the Wildcats escaping with a 24-20 triumph. This time it wasn’t even close, in fact, the lopsided margin could have been more if it had not been for a fumble in the red zone late in the second quarter and field goal that could have easily been a touchdown. Kentucky scored 14 points in the first quarter and never trailed in defeating a Mid-American Conference foe for the second week in a row.
“There is just a lot of things we could clean up, and we will,” Stoops said. “That's why we're out here playing. It's nice to win by 14 and win by 21 and come back and say there are some things we can do better. We'll do that, and that's why we're a team. You know, that's why when somebody makes a mistake somebody will pick them up. I think we're doing a good job that with. Our team is hungry for more. I know we can be a lot better, and that's a good thing.”
Just like last week, the Wildcats left some plays on the field that can be easily corrected going into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener against Florida. Those plays were in the form of ineligible receivers downfield and a pair of fumbles, one of which the Wildcats lost. A 37-yard kickoff return by Lynn Bowden was negated by a holding penalty late in the third quarter. In addition to missed scoring opportunities, penalties also were costly for Kentucky.
Aside from the miscues, the bigger concern is the health of Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, who was carted off the field after suffering an injury to his left knee following a horse-collar tackle late in the third quarter. Stoops said Wilson is being evaluated and an MRI is planned for Sunday.
“It doesn't look good,” the Kentucky coach said. “Anybody that gets carted off on a cart like that and they put his knee in that deal doesn't look good … It's very unfortunate that it's part of our game, but that's why it's in there. You got a runner running full speed like that and gets jerked back and the knee can't handle that. It's unfortunate, and I'm sure throughout the season there is a good chance we may get called for it one time this year, too. I hope not, but certainly, don't teach that and I know they don't either.”
Troy State transfer Sawyer Smith finished the contest and his first pass attempt was on target — a 54-yard scoring strike to Ahmad Wagner to open the fourth quarter that helped the Wildcats eclipse the 30-point scoring plateau for the second straight week. Smith completed five passes on nine attempts for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith admitted he enjoyed being in the pocket but would have preferred it under a better set of circumstances.
"We have each other's backs," he said. "I can't say enough about what kind of a person Terry is. He's one of the good guys. I came here to be a backup. I knew I was going to be a backup and was fine doing that. If I talked to you two years from now after walking across the stage with my masters in hand I would be fine with that."
Stoops was pleased with Smith's performance added Smith will learn from the experience in the future.
“There were some decision making out there today that I think he'll learn from,” Stoops said. “There were some opportunities. But he can throw the ball. He throws it down the field. We have a lot of confidence in him. If he has to go, then we have confidence in him and we'll run our offense.”
That offense finished with 461 total yards and was paced by Wilson and Smith who combined for 190 yards passing. Running back Kavosiey Smoke gained 92 yards, while A.J. Rose chipped in with 82. Both players finished with one touchdown each. Although the final number was high, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran wasn’t happy with some of the final statistics.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Gran said. “We had a chance to score 50 and (our mistakes) are inexcusable, two fumbles — I can’t even discuss it right now. We were 9-of-13 on third down and that’s really, really. good. We had a chance to be really, really great. We had a chance to convert maybe 12 (third downs). That’s one thing we said we had to get better at and that was third downs.”
Moving forward, the Wildcats are hopeful Wilson can return going into next week’s contest against the Gators.
“He’s our brother and we’re all hurt about what happened,” Wagner said. “We’re praying for him (to make) a speedy recovery.”
The Wildcats notched their 12th consecutive victory over a MAC opponent, dating back to 2006 and improved to 22-3 overall against teams from the league. Kentucky defeated Toledo 38-24 in its home opener on Aug. 31. Kentucky improved to 2-0 overall against the Eagles. Eastern Michigan is now 3-8-1 all-time against teams from the Bluegrass.
For the first time in his career, Kash Daniel collected an interception, which came in the second quarter as part of Kentucky’s solid defensive showing in the first two quarters. Daniel and teammate Jordan Griffin each picked off a pass in the opening half. Eastern Michigan was held to just 11 yards rushing in the first and collected 62 of their 100 total yards in the first half on a 10-play sequence that led to a field goal. Daniel finished with five tackles.
Gametracker: Florida at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network