‘Air Raid’ heralds Stoops’ first UK victory



By Matt Overing

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UK football routed Miami University (Ohio), 41-7, on Saturday in the Cats’ home opener at Commonwealth Stadium. A crowd of 54,846 fans watched as head coach Mark Stoops won his first game at the helm.

The Cats went up early in the first half, with 24 of their 41 points coming on five straight possessions in the first quarter. Miami was unable to respond, as the RedHawks’ only touchdown came on a fumble recovery during a UK punt return in the first quarter.

UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s “Air Raid” offense was in full effect, with UK’s longest possession in the first half being a 10 play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown.

Against Western Kentucky University last week, UK had 419 yards of total offense. Against Miami, the Cats racked up 675 yards of total offense, the third-highest total in school history. Brown said the offensive tempo was much improved this week.

“The kids had a different aura about them,” Brown said. “We didn’t play with the tempo we wanted to play with last week. I thought the guys came out and played with a lot more energy.”

MORE PHOTOS: UK-Miami game

Sophomore quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow took turns leading the offense for UK.

While Smith received his first start of the year, it was Whitlow that punched in a nine yard touchdown run to put the Cats on top first. Whitlow said he was ready for whatever coach Brown called for the offense.

“I’m a football player,” Whitlow said. “I’m a quarterback, too, but first I’m a football player. If I have to throw a million times, I’ll throw a million times. If I have to run a million times, I’ll run a million times.”

Smith finished the game with 310 yards through the air, including three touchdowns, on 15-of-23 passing. Whitlow completed 10-of-12 passes for 103 yards, adding 48 rushing yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.

Smith said he wasn’t used to the repetitive substitutions at quarterback.

“You just always need to be ready,” Smith said. “It’s something I’ve never done before, but I’m doing it. We won the game and we played pretty well so let’s keep doing it, right?”

Brown agreed, saying the Cats would continue in the two-quarterback offense.

Junior wide receiver Javess Blue, the main benefactor in Smith’s 310-yard performance, said  he and Smith talked earlier in the week.

“He came at me and we had some one-on-one talks, so it was a great connection we had,” Blue said. “It showed out there on the field today.”

Blue finished with six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also said  there wasn’t much difference between quarterbacks.

“There wasn’t a real big difference,” Blue said. “The running and scrambling part, that’s Jalen. That’s the only difference,” Blue said.

Blue caught an 88-yard touchdown pass from Smith with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter, and after a stalled Miami drive, UK put together a seven-play, 80-yard drive with 10:10 remaining in the second quarter, making the score 31-7.

The next score didn’t come until 14:15 to play in the fourth quarter. During that span, UK had two three-and-outs, four punts and 45 total yards. No drive lasted longer than two minutes and 16 seconds.

Brown said he was unhappy with his team’s mid-game performance.

UK had 74 plays from scrimmage in the game, up from 60 last week. Brown said he wants to play even faster moving forward.

A three play, 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter put the game away for the Cats.

Freshman wide receiver Jeff Badet caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Smith to cap the drive. Coach Stoops said he wanted to run standard plays until the fourth quarter.

“We wanted to work our operations late into the fourth quarter just because we need the work,” Stoops said. “We didn’t want to take any shots at that point in time. Just wanted to run some plays.”

After the game, coach Stoops said he received the game ball from defensive captain Avery Williamson.

“(That) meant an awful lot to me,” Stoops said. “That was like a ‘wow’ moment for me. You’re so busy in the moment, trying to take care of things, but I hadn’t (won) before as a head coach. I’m very proud of it and look forward to many more.”

UK will play Louisville at Commonwealth Stadium next Saturday at noon.