Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

September 15, 2013

AARON SNYDER: A fresh way of life for Kentucky

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

LEXINGTON — Jojo Kemp bounced up like a pogo stick, immediately directed his attention to the sideline and waved his fingers toward his chest as if to say, "Give me something, give me something."

Kemp and the energetic freshman class gave Kentucky football fans something on Saturday afternoon.

Hope. Impending success. Glimpses of Governor's Cups in the future.

For the third straight year, the Governor's Cup stayed in Louisville's grip after a 27-13 Cardinals win at Commonwealth Stadium, but some of the youngest Wildcats enjoyed big performances in the Bluegrass battle.

Kemp's day was finished shortly after an 11-yard catch that crept Kentucky closer to the cusp of an improbable comeback. The clock showed 2:02, but Kemp and company seemed confident that it could pull it off.

The Cats were 29 yards from making it a one-possession game, but after an ensuing 11-yard scamper by backup quarterback Jalen Whitlow, three incomplete passes and a sack slammed the door on any rally thoughts.

Kemp, a freshman from Deland, Fla., shined on Saturday with five carries for 80 yards and a catch for 11 yards — every bit of that came in the second half.

Wildcats coach Mark Stoops, who was getting his first taste of the in-state rivalry, said Kemp might be a factor earlier (and more often) in games from now on.

"Jojo's got to get more time," Stoops stressed.

Other freshmen who didn't play like freshmen amid an ESPN-televised scene against the country's No. 7 team: Jason Hatcher (defensive end), Ryan Timmons (wide receiver), Jeff Badet (wide receiver), Alexander Montgomery (wide receiver) and Blake McClain (defensive back).

Kentucky freshmen contributed 130 of 214 total receiving yards and 93 of 189 total rushing yards.

"We've got a lot of guys who are freshmen who are getting better," said Timmons, a Franklin County High School product. "Jojo had a good run today, Jeff (Badet) had a good run … I'm confident in this team."

Freshmen played pivotal roles in each of Kentucky's three scoring drives:

‰Timmons followed a Badet five-yard reception with a 25-yard catch-and-run of his own to help set up UK's first score — a field goal by Joe Mansour tied it at 3-3 in the first quarter.

‰Kemp exploded for a 47-yard romp on Kentucky's next scoring drive, which wrapped up in the early moments of the fourth quarter with a 30-yard field goal. Louisville led 20-6.

‰The Wildcats' most impressive offensive possession of the day was its 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive during which Timmons tallied 25 yards receiving and 13 rushing, while Montgomery caught the score.

And you thought you only had to pay attention to freshmen during basketball season.

Stoops Knows Stops

In his stints as defensive coordinator at both Arizona and Florida State, the Wildcats' and Seminoles' defenses improved immensely.

In 2003, the year before Stoops arrived at Arizona, it ranked 109th in total defense. By 2009, the Wildcats were 25th.

Florida State saw a jump from No. 108 (before Stoops) to No. 2 after three seasons with Stoops.

In just its third game, Kentucky's 'D' looked much more crisp than it did in a season-opening 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky.

The Cats allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and forced four punts in the first half, limiting Louisville to 10 points and keeping Kentucky close.

"I'm proud of the stops, and I felt like we had a good game plan," Stoops said. "Guys are starting to play more aggressive."

Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater couldn't find true rhythm until the third quarter. He finished 16 of 28 passing for 250 yards and had 44 yards on the ground.

"For the most part, I felt like we contained him pretty good," said senior linebacker Avery Williamson. He had a team-best 15 tackles.

QBs See Drops

Of the 20 combined incompletions by starting quarterback Maxwell Smith and Whitlow, eight were the result of dropped balls by receivers, many of which occurred in the early going.

"Those are drive killers," Stoops said. "It has not been that bad (in previous games or practices). I believe in our players, they'll get better."

Smith exited with a shoulder injury after a hard hit midway through the third quarter.

Said Smith: "I had no velocity on the ball. It was a weird feeling … It was more my decision not to play. I could've gone back in if I had to."

Perry & Parker

Louisville senior running back Senorise Perry got one opportunity in the first half. He made the most of his 10 carries in the final 30 minutes.

Perry rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown in the second half to help distance the Cardinals.

Speaking of distance, wideout DeVante Parker showed off his incredible leaping ability when he lifted off and grabbed Louisville's first touchdown pass.

Parker, Perry and defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin might have been the top three performers for the Cardinals Saturday.

Cards & Cupcakes

Believe it or not, Louisville just beat one of the toughest opponents it will face all season. That’s thanks, in large part, to being a member of the weak American Athletic Conference until 2014.

The tallest tasks remaining on the Cardinals’ schedule come in the forms of South Florida and Cincinnati.

While it might be a march to 12-0, Louisville will likely not receive a shot at the BCS title.

It’s unfortunate, because who knows? The Cards may deserve it.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.