Two days before Kentucky's first road test of the season at Florida, the Wildcats had a light Thursday with a walkthrough and positional meetings.
"Players are focused and we're excited to get on that plane tomorrow," Stoops said. "We got one more run-through tomorrow. We'll have about a 45-minute to an hour practice tomorrow and then we'll get on that bus and load up and head to Gainesville. So putting the finishing touches on a good week."
Returning to practice were running back Braylon Heard and wide receiver Javess Blue. Though they were limited, the two playmakers will be on the flight down to Florida Friday afternoon.
"They were out there a little bit, so we'll see," Stoops said. "Yeah, they're going to make the trip. We'll get something out of them."
Zach West, on the other hand, has been ruled out for Saturday. With the starter at left guard out with a neck injury, Cole Mosier will step in. A week after the Wildcats allowed five sacks to Ohio, Stoops knows they will need to be better against an athletic Gator defensive front.
"We've got to play well," Stoops said. "We've got to do what we do and that's get rid of the football quick when we can, make good decisions. We've got to protect and have all 11 guys on the same page, so. We've worked hard and we'll go down there and they'll play well. They'll improve."
Bud Dupree and UK will take on Florida on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Quick starts, two games in, have become habit for Kentucky.
The Wildcats outscored UT Martin and Ohio by a combined tally of 52-0 in the first half, shutting out back-to-back opponents before halftime for the first time in 26 years.
Repeating the feat against an opponent UK hasn't beaten in even longer is a tall order. That doesn't mean the Cats won't give it a shot against Florida.
"I think it will be very challenging to jump out in front of them like we did the first two (games)," Mark Stoops said. "But that's what we're going to try to do."
The reality is that such a start is unlikely as a young UK team ventures into Southeastern Conference play for the first time at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Making things even tougher is that the Cats will do it in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as the Swamp, against a Florida team always among the nation's most talented.
All that makes for a different kind of test for Kentucky this weekend in Gainesville, Fla.
"We all know we're in for a higher level of competition, and we're excited about that," Stoops said. "The players and coaches will be excited. We'll see where we're at this week."
The Cats have indeed been excited in practice all week, sustaining and even building on the energy that has carried them to a 2-0 start entering a trip to face the Gators (1-0).
"It's our first big test," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "It's our first real test this year and this is why you sign up to come to Kentucky to play these kinds of teams in these kinds of atmospheres, so you can tell everybody's got a little extra this week going down there."
Adding fuel to the fire, at least in theory, are the 16 players on UK's roster from the Sunshine State. Even though sophomore running back Jojo Kemp has friends on the Florida team and a big contingent of family members planning to come on Saturday, he says the extra juice isn't about going home.
"It's not because we're from Florida," Kemp said. "It's really because it's an SEC team and just because it's Florida and the streak. A lot of guys just want to really focus on changing the program and like they're next up, so why not Florida to do it? They're next. We're going to out there and play our best game and hopefully we come out with a win."
The streak Kemp refers to, of course, is the 28 years UK has gone without a win over the Gators. There isn't a current Wildcat who was even alive when Kentucky beat Florida 10-3 in 1986, but Towles is aware of the drought and admits he thinks about what it would be like to put an end to it. At the same time, he knows history won't matter much after the opening kickoff.
"I saw somewhere, it's the 2014 Wildcats versus the 2014 Gators, we're not playing Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and those guys," Towles said. "They've got a really good team. We're excited about going down there and giving them all we've got."
In making his first road start, Towles will look to find holes in a Florida defense with a well-established reputation under head coach Will Muschamp.
"Florida is Florida," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "The strength of their defense is speed."
Running a new scheme under former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the same can be said of the Gators on offense.
Florida has moved to a fast-paced spread attack and it worked to the tune of 65 points and 655 yards in a season-opening win over Eastern Michigan. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, a year removed from a broken leg that ended his 2013 season early, is leading the way.
"I think they're much different offensively this year," Stoops said. "They got some weapons and they got some real speed outside, a great scheme. You know, I think they're much improved offensively."
Florida ran 86 plays against Eastern Michigan, playing with the kind of pace Brown looks for in his own Air Raid offense. Coping with it won't be easy, but UK's defense has racked up some applicable experience in practice.
"Going against our offense, being a tempo offense, has helped us a lot conditioning wise and getting us ready for all the offenses in the SEC that will go no huddle," Bud Dupree said. "The way you stop that, you just have to cut out the big plays first and then they'll slow down."
That might be easier said than done, but the attitude reflects confidence the Cats are carrying with them to Florida.
They get that they aren't a finished product. They understand how intimidating the Swamp is. They know how athletic the Gators are. They also believe all of that can be overcome if they do what they're supposed to.
"We have to play well on all sides to have a chance to win," Stoops said. "We're not dominant enough on offense or dominant enough on defense. When we put it all together, we're good enough to play with anybody. We just have to play well."
UK is facing its first Southeastern Conference test this weekend and dealing the natural boost that follows.
That doesn't mean the Wildcats are shifting their practice habits with Florida looming on Saturday.
"We had a good practice," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys seemed to be energetic, flying around, excited. It's just a typical Wednesday, so things went well."
For UK, that means a combination of team and scout work, the second of which being of particular importance given the Gators' change in offensive style this season.
Under former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Florida has moved to a spread attack that plays at a pace similar to what the UK defense has dealt with in practice all fall camp and through the first two weeks of the season.
"They're a spread offense now," Eliot said. "Last year they were mainly a pro-style offense with some spread looks. And now they are a spread offense with a few pro looks."
Their opener declared a no contest due to inclement weather, the Gators have only played one game this season, a 65-0 thrashing of Eastern Michigan last Saturday. Florida racked up 655 yards on 86 plays in the win, throwing 47 times.
That means it will be all hands on deck for a UK defense playing a different style as well, though due to changes in personnel more than system. With Avery Williamson and his 102 tackles now in the NFL and UK rotating much more freely at linebacker, 16 Wildcats have four or more tackles, led by A.J. Stamps' 14.
That's just fine with Eliot.
"We're not concerned about who makes the play," Eliot said. "It's just that they're made. I would like to see a defense that all those plays are spread out amongst a lot of players."
Patrick Towles will lead UK into a matchup at Florida on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Eight times in 12 drives on Saturday, Kentucky's offense reached Ohio territory. All the Wildcats had to show for it, however, was 20 points after a pair of touchdowns to start the game.
The output was enough to send UK to a second straight win to open 2014, but it left Mark Stoops with a clear mandate for an area needing improvement in practice this week.
"Obviously we need to finish better," Stoops said. "We need to finish the games, finish the drives. We can't be leaving points out there as we step up the competition here in the SEC."
The step up is happening right away. A week after UK passed a tougher test against Ohio, the Wildcats travel to Florida for a matchup with the Gators on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
"We all know we're in for a higher level of competition, and we're excited about that," Stoops said. "The players and coaches will be excited. We'll see where we're at this week."
Stoops is accustomed to being in road games against talented opponents -- including multiple games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during his time with Florida State -- but many of his players are not. Relying on so many first-time starters makes going to The Swamp a tall task.
"Well, we have some inexperience, but it is what it is," Stoops said. "It will be a real challenge. I think it's a great venue, obviously one of the best venues in college football. You'll probably hear me say that every road game in the SEC. But it's a great place, a great atmosphere. Very passionate fan base. It will be a real challenge. It's certainly not easy."
It will be a lot harder if the Cats don't capitalize on every available opportunity, which is exactly what happened against Ohio.
One particular stretch of four drives to close the first half and open the second is the perfect illustration. On each of those possessions, UK held the ball for at least eight plays. The Cats gained a total of 179 yards, but mustered only a pair of made field goals and two more misses, one of which came after they had a first and goal at the Ohio two-yard line.
The good news is UK continues to create opportunities. Now it's about making sure they yield points.
"We've got to get it cleaned up," Stoops said. "There's no mystery, you can't get first and goal on the two and get nothing. That we've got to get fixed and we will. We'll work on that. We got to come away with some kind of points there."
Towles' running-game role a balancing act
Patrick Towles' big arm and quicker release might have gotten the attention when he was named UK's starting quarterback, but Stoops has always been quick to point out the sophomore's fleet feet should not be overlooked.
No one at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday needed any such reminder. Towles piled up 59 rushing yards against Ohio on a combination of called keepers and scrambles.
"I thought he made some good decisions," Stoops said. "That helped us at times."
Take out the 34 yards he lost on five sacks and Towles carried 17 times for 93 yards. Impressive as that may be, Stoops knows it's not sustainable given the physical nature of UK's next opponent.
"I don't think we really want to be in the business of going into The Swamp and running him 22 times," Stoops said. "I'm not sure that will be a good idea."
When there are opportunities, Stoops wants Towles to take them. However, Towles can't abandon the pocket too soon when he's under pressure as he was against the Bobcats.
"Then maybe he's got to learn to go through his progressions more as well," Stoops said. "He did come off his progressions a few times a little early, which he had not done." Injury updates
Late last week, Zach West sustained a "strange" neck injury that forced him to miss the Ohio game.
As of Monday, there's not much more clarity on his condition
"He's bothered by that," Stoops said. "There's some fluid around it. He will not be cleared to play until he gets full range and strength. They have no idea when that will be."
In West's absence, redshirt freshman Cole Mosier stepped in and started at left guard. With the timetable on West's return very much up in the air, Mosier is listed as the starter on this week's depth chart as well.
Also working to return from injury are running back Braylon Heard and wide receiver Javess Blue. Stoops said both are day-to-day, adding "I don't feel great about Blue." Also, wide receiver Jeff Badet (eye/leg) will not play at Florida.
Phillips penciled in as backup QB
UK's plans at the quarterback position, after an offseason of heated competition, have crystallized.
Towles, of course, is the starter, while Reese Phillips is the backup. Drew Barker will redshirt, if circumstances permit.
"If something happened to where Patrick was going to be out for a long period of time, then we would address the situation," Stoops said. "If we can redshirt Drew, that's what we're going to do."
Though the plan is for Barker not to play this season, the true freshman remains very much involved in the meeting room and in practice, where he spends occasional time as the scout-team quarterback.
"Drew has been good," Stoops said. "He's still right in there with all the game planning. He's been involved, engaged. He still gets some reps. It's been good."
The weather threw a curveball at Kentucky football on Thursday, with a storm pushing practice back and eventually forcing it to move inside to the Nutter Field House.
The Wildcats managed to adjust and turn in a good practice.
"Guys seem to be locked in," Mark Stoops said. "We had a little weather delay and got a little chance to watch some more film and get prepared before we went out to practice. But everything went well. Getting ready to gear up here and have a good game."
If this week is any indication, that's likely to happen on Saturday.
There were of course areas for improvement in UK's season-opening win over UT Martin, but the energy Stoops was looking for was there. He sees no reason to think the Wildcats won't duplicate that effort.
"I hope we have the same eagerness to go out there and play and the same enthusiasm," Stoops said. "I expect that we will. They've had a great week of practice. I just don't want any letdown mentally."
Speaking for the final time before UK takes on Ohio, Stoops gave an update on wide receiver Javess Blue and running back Braylon Heard, both of whom sustained ankle injuries against UT Martin. Blue has not practiced this week, while Heard remains questionable.
"More than likely will not play," Stoops said about Heard's status. "He tried to get out there and run around a little bit, so we'll see. I mean, maybe he'll heal up. I'm not trying to hold anything. It's just the way I feel right now and the way he looks. It's questionable."
UK will look to move to 2-0 this season against Ohio on Saturday. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Neal Brown knows Kentucky football.
He grew up a UK fan and followed the program even as he moved up the collegiate coaching ranks as a bright young offensive mind at stops across the country.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Brown is well aware of the Wildcats' history with their opponent this weekend.
"I very much know what happened the last time they rolled in here to town, so we'll be ready to roll," Brown said.
That last time was in 2004, when the Bobcats came into Commonwealth Stadium and posted a 28-16 victory. UK (1-0) is in a very different place now than it was 10 years ago during Rich Brooks' second season, but the lesson learned on that day still holds true.
Accordingly, UK is intently focused on Ohio heading into a matchup at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, not that Mark Stoops needed a past game as a reminder.
"My team, myself, we definitely can't take anybody for granted," Stoops said. "We're at that stage where we need to play well no matter who we're playing."
If they don't, the Bobcats are likely to take advantage.
Ohio (1-0) opened the season with a 17-14 victory over Kent State, needing a last-second field goal to overcome the Golden Flashes. The Bobcats, however, had a 437-295 edge in total yardage and held Kent State to a paltry 31 rushing yards on 22 carries.
"It's obviously going to be a much bigger challenge for us with Ohio," Stoops said. "Looking forward to playing Ohio. Coach (Frank) Solich has been around for a long time and been extremely successful. He's building a very consistent program there at Ohio. ... They're a team that's not going to beat themselves. They're just good and sound."
On defense, the Bobcats return eight starters from last year's team, a group that carried Ohio to a fifth straight bowl berth.
"They're not going to do a whole lot (unusual)," Brown said. "They will blitz their linebackers, but they play base defense, mix up their coverages. They tackle really well; their guys aren't out of position very often at all. I thought they played really, really well last Saturday night."
The same was true of UK's offense in its opener.
The Wildcats piled up 656 total yards - fourth most in school history - behind first-time starting quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles completed passes to nine different receivers in spite of throwing just 29 times and exiting before the start of the fourth quarter.
"It's just a testament to Coach Brown and his offense," Towles said. "There could be a play where five guys are open and the stat only shows the one guy who I threw it to."
The offensive improvement Stoops and Brown talked about all offseason was on display against UT Martin, but it's not clear exactly how much better UK has gotten just yet. Ohio's athletic defense will be another measuring stick.
"I think a lot more of the story will be told this week," Brown said. "See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe. But there were some moments -- we threw the ball and caught the ball. That didn't happen one time last year."
The UK defense was good too, pitching a shutout deep into the third quarter behind a strong starting group. In practice this week, the Cats have gone to work building depth. The second team, however, isn't alone in pursuing improvement.
Seniors Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are the cornerstones of the group styling itself the "Bad Boys," but the pair combined for just nine tackles against UT Martin, with none coming behind the line of scrimmage.
"I saw a couple instances when they were trying to do too much, and that's bound to happen when you have guys that want to be playmakers and they want to do is what they can do, make big plays," Stoops said. "But you have to do that within the scheme. Nothing earth shattering or anything like that. Nothing we can't get corrected. Simple little things that we'll get fixed."
Dupree and Smith will need to be on their game Saturday against Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick. The first-time starter was a terror against Kent State with both his arm and his legs, throwing for two touchdowns and 262 yards and running for 35 more.
"We have to execute the defense within the plan for athletic quarterbacks, but you don't have to do anything different," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You just have to be aware of what your responsibility is and aware that is a threat within the game."
Execution, in other words, will be the name of the game.
"With Ohio, they're obviously more talented, have some great experience," Stoops said. "They're good football players, they really are. Five straight bowl games, return eight starters on defense, a team that plays sound, good, tough football. They're not going to give you things easy. You have to go earn them."
For many freshmen, adjusting to the first semester of their collegiate careers, while also managing the strains of debuting on the soccer field, can be a difficult transition.
Kentucky sophomore midfielder Napo Matsoso managed that transition well as a freshman in 2013, immediately emerging as one of the top players in talent-laden Conference USA.
Matsoso hails from Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Matsoso's home country has a population of just over two million, with approximately 40 percent of the nation living below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day).
As a youth, Matsoso was adopted by Marc and Pam Maguire, a couple in Louisville, Kentucky. Matsoso joined his five brothers in Louisville, James (23), Lepe (22), Sunny (22), Marc (20) and Setho (19). During his high school career at Louisville's St. Francis, Matsoso totaled 72 goals in four years, earning all-state accolades.
Matsoso had four brothers playing collegiate soccer in 2013, with Lepe and Sunny completing their careers at Northwestern and Maryland, respectively, and Setho playing his debut season at Northern Kentucky University.
"It helps a lot because during the offseason, we get to hang out together and talk to each other about the experiences we all have through college," Matsoso said. "We all try to help each other as much as we can. My other brothers have a lot of experience and they share a lot with me about their college careers."
As far as his collegiate debut, Matsoso turned in a strong season as UK's lead attacking midfielder. Matsoso, a 5-foot-6, 138-pound speedster, started all 20 games for the Wildcats, one of only two players to start each game of UK's season.
"Being in Lexington has been really fun," Matsoso said. "Being around my teammates all the time has helped me a lot. We pretty much do everything together. One of my brothers goes to UK too (Marc), so it is like this is my third home. It has been good back home."
He ranked second on the team in minutes played, finishing with one goal and five assists, ranking second on the club. A member of the 2013 Conference USA All-Freshman Team, Matsoso finished with 32 shots fired.
"I learned it is all about the team," Matsoso said. "You have to put the team before yourself. If we work together as a team, then everything will work out how we want it to be."
Kentucky will need Matsoso's dynamic abilities as a scoring threat in 2014, as the Wildcats replace their top three scorers, including 11 goals between graduated seniors Brad Doliner and Tyler Riggs.
While UK must replace some goals, Matsoso and forward Justin Laird combined for 11 assists, and the Wildcats boast a bevy of talented midfield options alongside Matsoso.
"Our midfield has a lot of players that allow us to go forward and score goals," Matsoso said. "It will work out well this year because we have a lot of technical players that like to play and people that love to score goals and push forward more."
Matsoso appears to be an anchor in the midfield for the Wildcats, helping direct the UK attack from his attacking role.
"I like playing attacking mid because the ball basically has to find me," Matsoso said. "From there, I can help the team out a lot with playing with the forward and other players that play behind me. With the players we have, it will work out pretty well this year."
With Kentucky needing to supply some new faces to replace its goal-scoring punch, one question mark that doesn't need answering is UK's defensive unit. Returning preseason All-Conference USA goalkeeper Callum Irving, and three of four starters on the backline, UK is poised to have one of the best defenses in the league.
"It will help the team a lot," Matsoso said. "Those guys have been playing with each other for a while now. They understand each other well. (Head coach) Johan (Cedergren) talks to them a lot; they have a lot of individual meetings with Johan and talk about their roles. That will help the team a lot, and that they are only sophomores, they still have a lot of development to go."
Now, two games into his sophomore season, Matsoso's comfort level is drastically different than at this point in 2013.
"I am more comfortable this year," Matsoso said. "Last year, it was a lot of freshmen coming in and now the freshmen that were here last year are still coming back. Everyone tries to make everyone comfortable to be around and play with. It is getting a lot easier for me to get used to everyone and spend so much time with them."
Kentucky (1-1-0) returns to action on Friday with a grueling weekend in South Bend, Indiana, facing the last two national champions in two games over three days. UK will face 2012 national champion Indiana on Friday, before concluding the weekend with defending NCAA Champion Notre Dame on Sunday.
Following an otherwise strong performance, UK came out of its season opener with a clear area for defensive improvement.
This week in practice ahead of a Saturday matchup with Ohio, the Wildcats have gone to work.
"Did some good things," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "We're just concentrating on getting better fundamentally. So we have to get some depth, gotta establish some players at all positions for our backups. That's our emphasis."
Against UT Martin, UK pitched a shutout through the better part of three quarters. Afterward, the Cats allowed nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-14 victory. The UK backups, in other words, have some work to do to catch up to the starters.
Based on the way the first team played on Saturday, that won't be easy.
UK's starters handcuffed the Skyhawks to the tune of 164 yards through their first nine drives. Safety A.J. Stamps made plays all over the field, tying for the team lead with eight tackles on top of a one-handed interception that was No. 3 on SportsCenter's Saturday night Top 10.
"I really haven't seen it on SportsCenter yet, but I saw a couple videos," Stamps.
Incredibly, it wasn't even his personal top play, according to his coach.
"Well the best play that he probably made went unnoticed, but it was on a screen when he defeated a block, then the guy grabbed him from behind, then somebody else tried to block him and he got after it and he tackled him for a loss," Eliot said. "And they called holding on the play as well."
The blown-up screen and interception, together, show why Stamps is a perfect fit at his safety position. He played cornerback in junior college and has the athleticism to play on the outside, but also the physicality needed to play his current spot.
"We like to recruit safeties that could play corner," Eliot said. "That's what we saw in A.J. We saw a guy that was athletic enough to be a corner. He was a corner in junior college, but yet we knew he was big enough and strong enough and physical enough to be a safety as well."
When coaches sit down and start conceptualizing their lineups, one of the key elements to a strong defensive unit is a set of vocal personalities.
Kentucky is blessed with a vocal center back to anchor the backline in sophomore Jordan Wilson.
"As a center back, being vocal is a part of the game," Wilson said. "You can see the whole game in front of you so it is your job to be able to call things out and let them know what you are seeing. Being a leader on the team, that is something that I have always been like. Even growing up in Scotland, I just liked to take on a leadership role, just try to get other players involved and get them moving forward. We are all in this together, we have the same common goal, and we are just keen to reach that."
A native of Auchterarder, Scotland, Wilson stepped right into the UK lineup as a true freshman in 2013, starting all 17 games he played in.
"Playing a lot as a freshman, I can just take a lot from that as confidence going into this season," Wilson said. "Having had that experience and that extra knowledge when seeing the field can be a big help."
A 6-foot-3, 173 pounder, Wilson helped anchor a strong backline in 2013 that allowed 20 goals in his games. Wilson logged the fourth-most minutes on the club (1,531), despite missing three games.
Wilson helped lead the Wildcats to the Conference USA Tournament Semifinals, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.
Entering his sophomore year, a strength of the UK roster could be the defense. Led by first-team All-Conference USA keeper Callum Irving and three returning starters on the backline, UK's defense will be stingy.
"We have a really strong back four," Wilson said. "We played together a lot in the spring. A lot of the focus in the preseason has been on defensive structure and making sure that everyone coming in as a good base knowledge of how we play. We are working on getting that down first and then focusing on the attacking side of it."
In UK's first win of the season over Belmont last Sunday, the Wildcats started Wilson and sophomore Kaelon Fox at center back, along with fellow returning starter Charlie Reymann at outside back. Sophomore Matt Quick has slid into the outside back role opposite Reymann.
Fox, a 6-2, 155 pounder, has joined forces with Wilson at center back, giving UK a pair of athletic, physically imposing defenders. As a freshman in 2013, Fox played in 19 of UK's 20 games, seeing time all over the field.
"Kaelon is doing fantastic," Wilson said. "I really enjoy working alongside Kaelon. We have a good understanding of each other on the field and we are really good friends off the field as well. We think that partnership is good for the team. I really enjoy playing with Kaelon, he is a great player."
The Wildcat's defense as a whole will be looked to as a team-strength as the 2014 continues. UK has allowed one goal over its two games, posting a clean sheet in its home-opening win over Belmont, a 2-0 result.
Going forward, the Wildcats will hope Wilson along with Fox will anchor the team.
"When you look at Kaelon and Jordan we feel they are a really good partnership at the back," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. "You have Jordan who reads the game really well, and then Kaelon who likes to take chances and try to win balls. But he's fast so if he gets beat he can recover. Then with Jordan as that steady guy at the back, they play off each other well."
The Wildcats will return to action with a grueling weekend tournament in South, Bend, Indiana, facing the last two NCAA Champions, Indiana and Notre Dame. UK opens the weekend on Friday at 5 p.m. vs. Indiana, before concluding the tournament on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Notre Dame, a team that went 17-1-6 a season ago.
Solid Tuesday practices are no guarantee. With game day four days away, the urgency isn't always there.
Kentucky had no such issues this week, and that had something to do with the way the Wildcats played in a season-opening win on Saturday in Neal Brown's estimation.
"We had good work today," UK's offensive coordinator said. "A lot of good energy for a Tuesday. I think we're building some confidence after going out and playing well on Saturday, which we needed."
That's particularly true on offense, where UK gained 656 total yards, fourth most in school history, and scored 59 points against UT Martin. For a coach who grew accustomed to leading some of the nation's best offenses at Texas Tech and Troy, that was a welcome development.
"We threw the ball and caught the ball; that didn't happen one time last year," Brown said. "We threw the ball, we caught it, we were able to get it to them in a position so that they could run after the catch. Those things were positives."
A season ago, Patrick Towles was on the sideline as the Wildcats went through growing pains in the first year in Brown's system. On Saturday, he made his first start to the tune of 377 yards passing and another 30 on the ground, benefiting from the new dimension added by the 6-foot-5 Blake Bone and his fellow freshman wide receivers.
"It's super nice," Towles said. "It takes a lot of stress off me. Every ball I have doesn't have to be perfect. Coach (Tommy) Mainord always talks about, 'Hey, just get it in our zip code.' Blake really put that on display Saturday."
Bone's most impressive play came on a go route down the left sideline. Even though the defender shadowing him was flagged for pass interference, Bone jumped and made the play for a 36-yard gain.
Towles was able to make the throw because he had time. Relying on the protection of reigning Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week Jon Toth and his fellow linemen, the redshirt sophomore was not sacked on Saturday
"I'm extremely comfortable with those guys to not worry about it," Towles said. "Takes a lot for a quarterback not to have to worry about the rush. I take three steps back there and I'm not paying attention to what they're doing because I trust them to take care of it."
Instead of worrying about pass rushers, Towles is focused on working with Brown to fine tune his game after a solid debut.
"I think fundamentally there were some things he did," Brown said. "He was a little late on some throws that he got away with in that game that he won't moving forward. So getting the ball out on time. There's, like I said, a couple fundamental (things) - a little bit of some wasted movement in the pocket. We'll get those things corrected. But all in all, I was really excited about how he went out and performed."
That goes for the offense as a whole as well.
Throughout the offseason, Brown said that UK would be improved. It's clear now that was true, but the jury is still out on exactly how much. The Cats' next opponent, Ohio, will reveal a bit more.
"I think it's still to be determined, to be honest with you," Brown said. "I think UT Martin is a good football team, but we went out and performed like we needed to perform. I think a lot more of the story will be told this week. See how we do against a good football team that's been to five bowl games in a row, I believe."