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Five positive takeaways from a 24-17 win vs. Southern Miss

UK safety Mike Edwards during a recent practice – Edwards totaled 3 tackles during Saturday’s 24-17 victory vs. Southern Miss – photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)


The Kentucky Wildcats didn’t make it look easy in their 24-17 season opening win vs. Southern Miss on Saturday. All of the off-season optimism and hype soon turned to worry for many Wildcat fans and most took to social media to share their concerns.


The good news is Kentucky began the season with a victory, something that was a must if they not only want to live up to the hype, but also continue to reach bowl eligibility.


Like any game that is played, there is always something to take away from it. So, let’s take a look at five things from Saturday’s victory.


Josh Allen and Denzil Ware are legit


If Allen and Ware were on a team such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida, or Georgia, they would be talked about much more than they currently are. Regardless, they deserve more attention around the league than they garner, but I’m glad they are making plays for the UK defense.


The two UK linebackers accounted for 8 tackles (Allen 5, Ware 3) during Saturday’s victory, while both added a quarterback sack. During the first quarter, Allen sacked Southern Miss quarterback Keon Howard, who fumbled on the play. Ware was there to recover the fumble, which set up the Wildcats first touchdown three plays later. Ware added another fumble recovery in the third quarter that he scooped up and returned for a 20-yard touchdown.


The duo looks to wreak havoc on SEC tackles this season. They are one of the best pass rush duos in the SEC, if not the best. Look for #41 and #35 to be in the opposing teams backfield a lot this fall.


Darius West made an impact


The Lima, Ohio, native made his first career start for the Wildcats on Saturday. West has battled injuries his entire career, long before arriving at Kentucky as a member of the 2014 class. West had played in just 10 games during his three seasons at Kentucky, but finally got to showcase his talents on Saturday.


The UK safety made his presence felt on a key play in the game. Late in the third quarter, West delivered a hard hit to quarterback Kwadra Griggs, who replaced starter Keon Howard, causing a fumble. The fumble was picked up by Denzil Ware and returned for a touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 24-10 lead.


In addition to causing the fumble, West made six tackles, including one for a loss. Let’s just hope he remains healthy, because he showed what he could do on Saturday.



Matt Panton is really good


Matt Panton, a graduate transfer from Columbia, made his debut for the Wildcats on Saturday and it didn’t take long for fans to take notice of the Aussie punter.


Panton punted nine times for an average of 42-yards, but the impressive stat is five punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including two at the 1-yard line. Last season for Columbia, Panton landed 17 of his 42 kicks inside the 20-yard line, so Saturday was no fluke.


The addition of Panton is a significant improvement from last season. Sophomore Grant McKinniss served as the punter last season, averaging 39.2 yards per punt on 58 punts, which was the worst average in the SEC.


Coaches have praised the strides McKinniss made during the off-season; stating last season’s issues were related to lack of confidence.


They found the tight end


Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has said that he would like to get C.J. Conrad more involved in the offense. Gran attempted to do that last season, but the chemistry between UK quarterback Stephen Johnson and Conrad was not the best.


Following Saturday’s game, that chemistry looks to have improved, but you know Gran wants to use the big target more often. Conrad caught three passes for 97 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The touchdown was the sixth of his career.


1-0 is much better than 0-1


Regardless of what it looked like or how it went, the Wildcats picked up a victory to start the season on a positive note, the third opening game victory of the Mark Stoops era.


All of the optimism and buzz that led up to the start of the season still remains, and that was the main goal of week one. Fans need to look back to this exact day a year ago, and remember the loss to the Golden Eagles. We were able to wake up this morning and have a 1 on the left side of the record column, rather than on the right side.


It is much easier to learn and teach from a win than a loss. The Wildcats will be fine heading into week two vs. Eastern Kentucky.

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