UK football holds off another Southern Miss comeback to open season


Kentucky linebacker Jordan Jones celebrates a tackle during the Wildcat’s game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Commonwealth Stadium on September 2, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Chase Campbell

Saturday, UK football took the win in the rematch of the 2016 season opener as they took down Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, 24-17.

In the first matchup, the Golden Eagles stormed back after a 35-10 halftime deficit to end up beating the Cats by nine, scoring 34 unanswered second-half points.

Both the Cats and Golden Eagles got off to a slow start, as no team scored in the first quarter. The Cats fumbled the ball on the Southern Miss goal line to end their second drive of the game, and it looked bleak for both teams.

However, as was the case in last season’s game, the first half belonged to UK. The initial fumble would be the Cats’ only turnover of the game. After two touchdowns coming from an eight-yard run from Stephen Johnson and a 23-yard pass to tight end CJ Conrad, the Cats led the Golden Eagles 14-3 at the half.

Unlike the first game, however, the second half didn’t entirely belong to Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles scored a touchdown less than five minutes into the second half, thanks to a 42-yard pass to Korey Robertson. Robertson would finish the game with seven receptions for 111 yards.

UK kicker Austin MacGinnis showed off his leg to answer the touchdown, giving the Cats a 17-10 lead after nailing a 42-yard field goal. To finish the third quarter, safety Darius West got into the backfield to force a fumble five yards behind the line of scrimmage. UK linebacker Denzil Ware picked up the loose ball and ran it back 20 yards to give the Cats a 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Golden Eagles would make another bid for the lead, as Robertson caught another touchdown pass from 26 yards out to give Southern Miss their final score of the game. Their last three drives after the touchdown ended in a punt, a lost fumble at the 50-yard line and a turnover on downs after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and three incomplete passes.

The Cats showcased far more balance than in the first matchup between the teams, as well as far more poise and sustainability. Johnson completed 55 percent of his 20 attempted passes, while completing passes to nine different receivers on the day. The UK defense was surprisingly effective all game, forcing three turnovers and forcing the USM offense into only rushing for 55 yards. They did give up over 200 yards through the air, however.

The Cats will head back to Lexington next week to play their first game in the newly-named Kroger Field to take on Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Sept. 9.