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Kentucky Football: 4 Takeaways from Wildcats’ Opener vs. Southern Miss

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Including a few ways the Wildcats can improve.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it wasn’t beautiful by any means, but the Kentucky Wildcats football team kicked off its season with a 24-17 win over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

Here are four takeaways from the victory:

Both teams played with high emotion.

Who would think that an Southeastern Conference (SEC) vs. Conference USA game would be so intense? Maybe it had a little to do with Shannon Dawson, the former Kentucky offensive coordinator let go from Big Blue Nation after just one year who currently coaches the Southern Miss offense.

But it’s probably because of the Golden Eagles’ unexpected 44-35 victory over Kentucky last year. The ‘Cats gave up 34 unanswered points and blew a 35-10 lead held one minute before the third quarter ended. It was evident this year’s ‘Cats had revenge on their minds.

A few scattered altercations revealed this tension, including multiple penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.

And of course, in typical Stoops fashion, he was pretty theatrical on the sidelines.

Have a day, C.J. Conrad...

The Kentucky tight end notched 262 total yards last season, but grabbed a whopping 82 yards in Saturday’s season opener. One of those catches converted to a 23-yard touchdown. He was the star of the offense, especially the passing game. He looks like a legitimate weapon now versus being a nice toy with which Kentucky never seemed to play. Conrad looks poised for a huge season.

...but Benny Snell, not so much.

It’s not that 67 yards is bad, but that was with 20 carries, meaning he averaged about three yards per carry. And for a running back who is expected to lead the team in rushing yards this season, Snell will need to step it up. Last year, the ‘Cats running back averaged more than 83 yards per game, and he wasn’t even the team leader.

No worries. Sihiem King showed potential to be a strong member of Snell’s supporting cast. Though only logging nine yards with seven carries, he also picked up two solid kick returns, his longest at 46 yards.

Improvements for next game:

This year’s squad must learn how to convert on third down. Kentucky only successfully completed three of 13 attempts Saturday. More of these conversions could have helped the ‘Cats secure a larger lead early on. (But this problem could be solved if Kentucky’s run game improves.)

Finally, these players must learn how to keep calm under pressure. If the Wildcats are going to compete with the rest of the SEC, they can’t let a little taunting faze them. It will only cost them yardage.

The Wildcats host Eastern Kentucky at noon next Saturday, their first game in Kroger Field.