The most hotly anticipated season opener in the Mark Stoops era (shoot, one of the most ever, let’s face it) began the way most believed it would – with a Kentucky victory.  But it also included a surprising amount of head-scratching.

How, fans might rightly be wondering, did the Wildcats rush for only 50 yards?  Hasn’t Stoops’ UK program become Tailback Tech? Doesn’t his team specialize in the Ground and Pound?

And why did Will Levis spend so much time running for his life when he wasn’t picking himself up off the Kroger Field turf, following a sack?

And wasn’t Kentucky, favored by more than two touchdowns and picked to challenge Georgia in the SEC East, better than a 37-13 win over a MAC team?

Fair questions all, and pertinent, given that next up on the schedule is a trip to Gainesville to play the Florida Gators.

The win over Miami tied Stoops with Bear Bryant for all-time coaching wins at UK (photo courtesy Chet White/UK Athletics)

Now, here’s Mark Stoops with some answers.

This is the same coach who, at the beginning of the week, warned that Miami would be a formidable opponent, that there was a reason the Redhawks were picked to win the Mid-America Conference and behind Brett Gabbert, they showed it Saturday night.

Gabbert led Miami to a touchdown drive on the first possession of the game. The Redhawks could manage only three field goals after that but they challenged the UK defense all night.

“They were a well-coached team and we knew that coming in,” Stoops said.

Good enough to blunt Kentucky’s run game? The Redhawks did manage to slow the Wildcats’ ground attack (minus, of course, Chris Rodriguez and later Ramon Jefferson and JuTahn McClain thanks to injuries) but according to Stoops, some of that was by design.

With so many question marks surrounding the receivers’ room, the Wildcats worked to set up the run with the pass, as opposed to their normal mode of operation.

Freshman Dane Key had his first TD catch in the win over Miami (Photo courtesy Chet White/UK Athletics)

“We made a conscious effort to throw the football today,” Stoops said. “We really wanted to work on things and get better.”

Which they did, Levis throwing for 301 yards and three scores, Tayvion Robinson (six grabs) exploding for a 45-yard catch/run on UK’s first play from scrimmage and freshmen Dane Key and Barion Brown combining for seven catches. Brown added an electrifying, 100-yard kickoff return for a TD that opened the second half, reminiscent of the return just after halftime by Kentucky’s David Jones in the 2009 Liberty Bowl. 

But the Redhawks sacked Levis three times with a defense that also thwarted Kentucky’s run game. The UK offensive line, at times, struggled.

“There’s a lot to work to do,” Stoops said. “We need to do a better job of handling movement and being more physical and tougher, both in the run game and pass protection.”

It’s an offensive front that returned only two experienced starters and at time, looked it. Miami’s D-line presented a mixture of stunts and twists that seemed to confuse the Wildcats at times.

“We have a good idea on some of it, what was going on,” Stoops said. “We will work hard to get it fixed. They will. It’s a good unit. They have a lot of pride. We’ll get better.”

Tayvion Robinson’s 45-yard catch/run sparked UK’s offense on its 1st play (UK Athletics/Chet White)

They have no choice and little time. The Gators await, comeback winners over Utah Saturday night. And not only will Stoops be looking for better execution, he’ll be hoping to see more fire, something that didn’t seem to be there in full abundance Saturday night in Lexington.

Perhaps the relentless pre-season hype left his team not quite as enthusiastic as it should have been.

“You never know whether it’s business-like or going through the motions,” he said. “We need to be more excited, play with that chip on our shoulder attitude.”

That will be vital, with a trip to The Swamp dead ahead.

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