By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — After going six quarters with no offense, Kentucky found just what it needed — quarterback Stephen Johnson, tight end C.J. Conrad and a consistent running game against a porous New Mexico State defense.
Kentucky’s 692 yards of total offense was its most since getting 801 against Louisville in 1998. And the Wildcats scored 62 points after getting just one touchdown in the last six quarters.
Johnson came on when starter Drew Barker hurt his leg in the first quarter and went 17-for-22 passing for 310 yards and three scores. Conrad came into game with 16 catches for 154 yards and one TD but had five catches for 133 yards and three touchdowns Saturday.
Freshman running back Benny Snell had 17 carries for 137 yards and four scores in his first extensive action. Boom Williams had 181 yards on 18 carries for a score. Overall, UK rushed for 381 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per play on offense.
“That was great,” Snell said after tying a single-game record for most touchdowns. “I just tried to do what I could do to help us.”
Now the bad news. Yes, Kentucky won. But New Mexico State scored 42 points and led for the first 29 minutes before UK took control. New Mexico State had not scored 42 points against a Power 5 conference team since a 42-29 win over Kansas in 1988.
The Aggies did not score in the fourth period thanks to an end zone interception by Derrick Baity when New Mexico State could have cut the lead to 55-49. But New Mexico State still had 500 total yards in a game where Kentucky coach Mark Stoops took over the defense after it had been shredded the last six quarters.
“It wasn’t good,” Stoops said about the defense. “It was combination of things. I talked all week about having a higher football IQ. We didn’t do that.”
It started with a 35-yard scoring pass from New Mexico State on its first possession when UK again blew a coverage. It included a three-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the final minute of the first half to tie the game 35-35.
Stoops said UK “flat blew it” on the first TD pass.
“That can’t happen,” he said. “They got some aggravating yards. They were doing some things that we got fixed at halftime. We have a lot to get fixed, but we will. We have some things to get ironed out. It’s getting confusing to them (UK players) even though we are trying to make it simple.”
That’s not good when coaches think they have made something simpler yet it has only confused players more.
At least on offense that was not a problem this game even when Barker and receiver Dorian Baker both went out after the first series with injuries, starting left tackle Cole Mosier did not play because of an injury and backup running back JoJo Kemp was out with an injury. Stoops said Barker hurt his back on the first or second play and was taken to the hospital for tests but the coach did not have any results back.
Johnson said he was not “expecting to play but was preparing to play” when he got the call to take over.
“I just had to calm down and do what I was coached to do,” he said.
“Stephen calmed down and made good decisions,” Stoops said. “Early is was rough. But he has lot of poise that we need right now. He really made good decisions on when to pull the ball down and run.”
Stoops and his players were just happy to win after blowing a 35-10 lead against Southern Mississippi and losing and then being shellacked at Florida.
“A victory is a victory,” Stoops said. “There is nothing fun about it when you are losing like that. It was tough. We always get back to work win or lose. It is hard. There is no doubt about it (when you lose).”
Williams agreed and said the team needed a win and the offense needed to show it could score points.
“This will help our confidence to have gone out and put up 62 points. This is what we needed,” Williams said.