Wildcats Drop Opener to Southern Miss

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite an explosive first half, the Kentucky football team was unable to fend off a dominant second half by the visiting Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a 44-35 loss in the season opener at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday. 
It marked the first season-opening loss for Kentucky since 2013. Southern Miss, a 9-5 team from a season ago, scored 34 second-half points in the comeback victory.

Kentucky hits the road for a date with No. 25 Florida in next week’s matchup. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET with the game set to air live on CBS. The Gators claimed a 24-7 win over visiting UMass to open their season.   

UK’s offense was directed by sophomore quarterback Drew Barker, who went 15-of-24 for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Barker set career highs in yards and touchdown passes. Wide receiver Garrett “Juice” Johnson hauled in six catches for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while running back Stanley “Boom” Williams posted 94 yards on the ground on 13 attempts. 

Defensively, the Wildcats were led by sophomore linebacker Jordan Jones who amassed 19 total tackles. Thirteen of those stops came by way of solo tackles. He also notched two tackles for a loss, including a sack and one quarterback hurry. Sophomore linebacker Kobie Walker was the other Wildcat to reach double-digit tackles with 10 total stops. Senior defensive back J.D. Harmon led UK with two interceptions, while Blake McClain added another pick and nine tackles.  

Kentucky trailed 7-0 with 9:37 remaining in the opening quarter, before Barker found Jeff Badet on a bubble screen that he took to the house for an electrifying 72-yard score, marking the longest haul of his career. 

That was just the beginning for the big-play Kentucky offense in the opening half as UK combined for six plays of more than 30 yards in the first 30 minutes. Barker was 11-of-19 for 287 yards and four touchdown passes in the opening stanza, while Johnson accounted for 108 yards on four catches, which included a pair of scores.  

Less than two minutes after the opening touchdown of the season for the Cats, Barker found Johnson for a 43-yard strike. With just 25 seconds remaining in the opening stanza, freshman Kayaune Ross hauled in his first career reception for a nine-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead for the Cats. 

UK continued its assault when Barker dropped a beauty between a pair of defenders into Johnson’s waiting arms for a 53-yard pitch-and-catch. Williams ignited another drive with a 36-yard scoot, before JoJo Kemp finished the drive with a seven-yard plunge for a 35-10 advantage. 

However, the Golden Eagles would not go away scoring 34-consecutive points to bring the final score to 44-35.

Southern Miss struck for a 71-yard score with 26 seconds remaining in the opening frame when Nick Mullens connected with Isaiah Jones to account for the 35-17 score at the break. 

The Golden Eagles scored on seven of their final eight possessions to complete the comeback effort. 

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