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Kentucky Football: Takeaways from the high-scoring win over New Mexico State

While it wasn’t the prettiest game, the Cats have a lot of positives to take away from their first win of the season.

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

A win is a win, and when Kentucky scores 62 points there’s a lot to praise. While the defense struggled against one of the weakest teams Kentucky will play, our takeaways from Week 3 are a lot better than the takeaways from Weeks 1 and 2.

From getting to see a versatile Stephen Johnson at quarterback, to the running game looking dominant, to a punt return touchdown, the Cats had a lot of good things going on against New Mexico State. Let’s just hope that continues into next week.

Here are some takeaways from the 62-42 victory.

C.J. Conrad was a star

Many people probably didn’t know who Conrad was until this week, but he was by far the best pass catcher on the field for Kentucky.

With 5 receptions for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns, it’s safe to say that he’ll be utilized more in the offense the rest of the year.

Stephen Johnson at quarterback opens up the playbook

Can’t guarantee that we’ll see the same explosiveness against SEC defenses, but Johnson’s dual threat ability blew the playbook wide open for Kentucky. He stuffed the stat sheet through the air and on the ground, throwing for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns to go along with 51 rushing yards on 10 rushing attempts.

Along with Johnson’s versatility, we saw his explosiveness translate into the running backs getting better opportunities. I don’t know if NMSU had to contribute more attention to Johnson than they expected, but something changed that gave Boom Williams and Benny Snell a lot of great opportunities that they capitalized on.

A lot of bad things come from injuries, and Drew Barker’s is certainly unfortunate, but Johnson’s play has to have opened the eyes of the coaching staff. If nothing else, it’s likely we’ll see both Barker and Johnson getting first-team work going forward.

Benny Snell provides yet another great rushing option

Going into this season, Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp were getting national recognition for being a great 1-2 punch. But with Kemp out this week, we got to see a lot of freshman Benny Snell, and it was very impressive. He tied a school record for rushing touchdowns with 4, and he racked up 136 yards.

Speaking of 1-2 punches, Williams was just as good as Snell, racking up 181 yards and 1 touchdown himself.

Having every running back healthy will make Kentucky’s offense that much more versatile, which would help them turn the corner and improve on the rough start this season.

Even Mark Stoops’ direction can’t help this defense

We all felt a bit more confident about the defense after finding out that Stoops would call plays on that side, but now that confidence is gone. Giving up 500 yards and 42 points to a school like New Mexico State is extremely troubling, and gives you little hope for this unit regardless of who’s calling plays.

They let NMSU quarterback Tyler Rogers dominate, putting up over 300 all-purpose yards and scoring on the ground and through the air. There are a few SEC quarterbacks that will make those numbers look mediocre if Kentucky’s defense doesn’t improve.

On the bright side, the secondary made some great plays again, picking off 2 passes. Even with a struggling defense, the secondary is the strength of that unit.

Charles Walker made the special teams look a little better

Early on in the game, the Wildcats made their bad special teams look worse by fumbling a punt return and giving it up to the Aggies.

However, in the 4th quarter Charles Walker made an extravagant punt return touchdown to end Kentucky’s six-year drought of not having a punt return for a touchdown.

In total, Walker racked up 101 return yards on 5 attempts, putting him over 20 yards per-return.