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Stoops, Brown savor special moments after Miami win

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Mark Stoops won for the first time as a head coach in UK's home opener vs. Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops won for the first time as a head coach in UK's home opener vs. Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops isn't normally one to reflect. After all, he's made his way up the coaching ranks by always focusing on the next step.

That's the mode he was in following his first ever win as a head coach. Walking to the locker room, he found himself thinking about what he would tell his team, a speech that would surely end with a message about getting back to work. After that, his mind would be on spending time with family visiting for Kentucky's 41-7 win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, then watching tape Sunday morning.

But in that locker room, something stopped Stoops in his tracks.

"Then Avery gave me the game ball," Stoops said. "It hit me."

Avery Williamson, the unquestioned leader of UK's defense, walked to the middle of the room acting as if he was about to deliver a simple few words to the team. At the urging of Director of Recruiting Dan Berezowitz, Williamson was about to surprise everyone - Stoops included.

"He was pretty shocked," Williamson said. "He was shocked. He wasn't expecting it all, so it was definitely a good feeling."

It was an even better feeling for Stoops.

"That was like a 'wow' moment for me," Stoops said. "You're so busy in the moment, trying to take care of things, operate things the right way. But I hadn't been there before as a head coach to win it. When he did that, it did mean an awful lot to me. I'm very proud of it and look forward to many more."

Many more may be in store, but certainly not all like Saturday's blowout victory. The Wildcats (1-1) blistered the visiting RedHawks for 675 total yards and allowed just 122 yards. If not for a fumbled punt return that Miami ran in for a touchdown, UK would have pitched a shutout.

"I felt like the approach this morning getting up, we were focused, we were excited in the locker room, but not hyper," Stoops said. "So I thought we were in good shape. I like the way the team played early.  Obviously there's plenty to get corrected. But we're excited about the win."

It wasn't on the level of getting the game ball, but Stoops' offensive coordinator had a 'wow' moment of his own.

Neal Brown inspired excitement among fans in returning the exciting offense UK ran during his playing days, but he heard the rumblings about the Air Raid offense following a season opener during which the Cats relied heavily on the run and didn't throw effectively until the fourth quarter.

He won't be hearing them after Saturday.

UK rolled up 413 yards through the air, deftly deploying a two-quarterback attack with Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow that kept Miami off balance from UK's record 24-point first quarter onward. All told, the Cats' final yardage total ranked third in school history and most since Hal Mumme originated the Air Raid in Lexington. In a bit of an eerie connection, the record of 801 total yards was set in 1998 against Louisville.

"When I was walking in here, Tom said - Leach - I walked by him and Tom said that was the third-highest total we had and the highest being that Louisville game," Brown said. "That's actually the first game of my career. I either caught one or two passes that game that (Tim) Couch had."

Smith completed 15-of-23 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns, but when he learned where UK's yardage total ranked in the record books, he started thinking again about a few throws he missed as the offense momentarily stalled during the second and third quarters.

"I feel like if I played better, we could have maybe gotten the most in school history to be honest. But it was awesome," Smith said. "I'm sure Coach feels really good about, but he knows we can be a lot better than that."

Brown will worry about getting better next week, but for now he's thinking how much his offense improved since the last time it took the field. In response to seeing the Cats not play as hard or as physical as his previous units have, Brown took his coaching up a notch over the last week.

"I was probably worried a little bit too much about confidence going into that opener and I should have coached them more," Brown said. "That's my fault, and we got that corrected this week. I thought the guys came out and executed and played with a lot more energy. Our number one goal was to be excited to play and I thought they were from the first drive on."

Excited and ready, the Cats scored on their first five offensive drives, perhaps the most encouraging of which came toward the end of the first quarter. UK began the drive on its own 27, but quickly found itself back up to the 12 facing a third and 21 following three penalties.

After offensive lineman Jordan Swindle spoke up in the huddle and challenged his teammates, the Cats put one of Brown's philosophies into practice when Smith hit Javess Blue for an 88-yard touchdown.

"The thing is, we talked about next play, next play," Brown said. "It doesn't matter what happened the previous play. You can't go back and fix it so we had a next-play mentality. And I thought that was really one of the first times since I've been here that those guys have been able to shake things off and go to the next play. I thought that was huge."

The long touchdown strike was one of three times fans got to hear the return of the Air Raid siren on Saturday. The 54,846 fans in attendance at Commonwealth Stadium surely enjoyed it, and Brown hopes even more will be there to enjoy it next weekend.

"It's fun, there's no question about it," Brown said. "It's a good thing and I think the fans got into it. Hopefully we'll fill this place up next Saturday. We gave them a little excitement. I don't blame them for being a little frustrated last week. I was too."

For a few hours, frustration will turn into celebration as Stoops and Brown enjoy their moments. UK experienced its share of firsts on Saturday, but another one awaits next week when a new coaching staff experiences the Louisville rivalry for the first time.

"We're looking forward to it," Stoops said. "It's going to be a big challenge. They're a good team, well-coached team. We're going to be excited."

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