LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky recorded a victory Saturday, its first of the season, by defeating New Mexico State.
Junior backup quarterback Stephen Johnson led the Wildcats to 62 points after sophomore Drew Barker was injured during the first possession. However, UK’s defensive woes only intensified.
“A victory’s a victory,” coach Mark Stoops said after the game.
Here’s how we graded the performance.
Yes, it was against New Mexico State, but UK did whatever it wanted all afternoon led by a cast of surprising stars: Johnson, RB Benny Snell and TE C.J. Conrad.
Things looked bleak for UK after a Barker injury and a three-and-out to start the game, but Johnson composed the offense and it was off and running from there. He passed for 310 yards and 3 scores. Junior Boom Williams rushed for 181 yards and averaged more than a first down per carry. Snell, making his backfield debut, scored four times and had 136 yards.
The offense finished with 692 yards and, while they were weren’t willing to say it yet, the Cats might’ve found a new quarterback even if Barker is healthy.
Kentucky allowed just seven points after halftime. There. That’s the one positive for UK’s defense.
Everything else was, as Stoops said, “horrific.” UTEP and New Mexico held New Mexico State to fewer points in a game than UK did for one half. The Aggies had 500 yards of offense and averaged 5 yards per carry — all without the help of all-conference running back Larry Rose.
The Cats can’t stop anybody, not even New Mexico State. In three games, UK has surrendered 44, 45 and 42 points.
Special teams: A-
UK’s special teams have been good this year and it was more of the same Saturday. Junior WR Charles Walker’s punt return for a touchdown was the highlight, but the coverage teams were solid and freshman Grant McKinniss averaged 47.5 yards per punt. Austin MacGinnis’ missed extra point was the lone miscue.
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 17, 2016
Stoops picked a bad week to say he’d be “much more involved” on defense. Giving up a bunch of points to Florida can be chalked up as a personnel mismatch, but that excuse doesn’t work against New Mexico State. There are problems on defense and D.J. Eliot’s role as defensive coordinator surely will be reconsidered during the offseason.
On the flip side, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw had a good night. They lost their starting quarterback but Johnson was prepared to take over. Gran and Hinshaw had him ready and the playbook opened up with the quarterback run game in the mix.
New Mexico State is the weakest opponent UK will face outside of Austin Peay. It’s hard to gauge anything against a program that hasn’t been to a bowl since 1960, but Johnson’s emergence as a more-than-viable option at quarterback is the biggest takeaway from this one.
But then there’s still the defense.