UK Football has a chance to take revenge in season opener


A frustrated Cats fan overlooks the field during the Wildcat’s game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Commonwealth Stadium on September 2, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Chase Campbell

The undeniably worst loss of the 2016-17 season was a late-game heartbreak at home against Southern Mississippi to start the season. A year ago, quarterback Drew Barker and wide receiver Garrett “Juice” Johnson led the Cats to a dominant 35-10 lead by halftime. After halftime, the UK defense seemed lost as Southern Miss poured in 34 unanswered points while the Cats couldn’t do anything but watch the Golden Eagles steamroll them on both sides of the ball and take a 44-35 victory.

Southern Miss would go on to finish the 2016-17 season with a 7-6 record while losing to lackluster teams such as North Texas, Old Dominion and UTSA. The season opener was the Golden Eagles’ highest quality win and was one that edged them into the New Orleans bowl, which they won.

As luck (or great scheduling) would have it, the Cats have another shot at the team that caused so much heartbreak and doubt a year ago. They’ll look to storm Hattiesburg, Mississippi and exact their revenge on the Golden Eagles to prove that UK is better than the loss they took last season.

This matchup is also a chance for the Cats to prove that they have improved as a unit over the last year, with a great number of veterans that played through UK’s wild 7-6 2016 season. By beating the same team they lost to a year ago on their home turf, the Cats would establish themselves as an improved unit and a team that shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated.

Thankfully for the Cats, the quarterback that scored four total touchdowns in last season’s matchup, Nick Mullins, is no longer a Golden Eagle. Mullins ran in two touchdowns while throwing for two more, including a 71-yard play to receiver Isaiah Jones in the second half. Mullins was a senior last season, so the Cats won’t have to match up against him a second time.

UK will, however, have to match up against Jones and explosive running backs Ito Smith and George Payne. In Lexington, Smith and Payne combined for 313 all-purpose yards, over 60 percent of the team’s total offensive production. Jones, Smith and Payne are all seniors this year, so the Cats can expect them to give their all in their final season opener in front of their home crowd.

With the injuries of Dorian Baker and Cole Mosier weighing on UK’s roster, the Golden Eagles will be a real test to see if the Cats really have improved in the offseason enough to take on a quality opponent.