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Kentucky rolls past Miami (OH) in home opener

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Associated Press

LEXINGTON, KY - Maxwell Smith threw three long touchdown passes and Jalen Whitlow and Raymond Sanders each added scoring runs as Kentucky beat Miami (Ohio) 41-7 on Saturday.

The Wildcats made a winner of rookie coach Mark Stoops and Smith, who started for the first time since a season-ending ankle injury last September.

Most importantly for the Wildcats (1-1) was how Smith helped offensive coordinator Neal Brown's pass-oriented "Air Raid" philosophy take flight with TD passes of 48 yards to Jonathan George, 88 to Javess Blue and 56 to Jeff Badet. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 310 yards, 210 by halftime, as Kentucky outgained Miami 675-122 and allowed the RedHawks' only score on a fumbled punt return.

Whitlow, alternating with Smith, had Kentucky's first TD on a 9-yard run, and Sanders added a 5-yard score. Joe Mansour added two field goals.

Kentucky's win came before 54,846, delighted by the Wildcats' offensive excitement.

There certainly was room for improvement all around after last week's 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky, especially after a defense that was expected to be Kentucky's strength allowed 487 yards. Several personnel changes followed this week and the Wildcats rebounded by keeping the RedHawks out of the end zone and limiting them to just eight first downs.

Miami's only highlight came on special teams when Chris Wade returned Daryl Collins' fumbled punt from 6 yards after being stripped by Collins Boucher. That brought the RedHawks within 17-7 but only proved to be a minor blip on a day that belonged to Kentucky on both sides of the ball.

Especially on offense, where expectations of long passes and big points brought many to Commonwealth Stadium for Stoops' home debut. Athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy on Friday reported season ticket sales of 47,426, nearly 9,000 above last year's total with 40,028 paid non-student plans including 60 tickets to next month's Big Blue Madness thrown in.

Smith's passing and Whitlow's running helped the Wildcats fulfill Stoops' initial promise of giving them something to cheer about by scoring on their first five drives.

Named as the starter on Monday after directing two fourth-quarter scoring drives last week against WKU, Smith completed two quick passes for 33 yards to get Kentucky into Miami territory before Whitlow took over four plays later at the 18. After a 9-yard completion to Anthony Kendrick, Whitlow ran it in for a 7-0 lead to bring out the season's first siren.

Surprising as Whitlow's appearance might have been at the time considering early-week indications that Smith would be the man for Kentucky, coaches said that both would see action. The Wildcats successfully used the combination in an up-tempo strategy that the RedHawks struggled to keep up with.

Especially on Kentucky's second possession, when the two alternated plays in a drive ending with Mansour's 22-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead that quickly became 17-0 on the first play of the Wildcats' next possession when Smith found George wide open down the left sideline for the Wildcats' second score.

Collins' fumbled punt was part of a brief error-ridden stretch by Kentucky that threatened to slow its momentum. For example, the Wildcats began the ensuing possession with three penalties that left them with second and 25 on their 12.

Just as quickly, they were celebrating in the end zone to the sound of another siren when Smith hit an open Blue 30 yards downfield by the right hash mark with a pass providing a 24-7 lead. Sanders' 5-yard touchdown run on the next drive capped an 80-yard drive.

Whitlow finished 10 of 12 for 103 yards passing.

Kentucky's relentless pass rush recorded five sacks of Miami's Austin Boucher - who was 4 of 14 for 23 yards passing - and limited Miami to just 1-of-16 third-down conversions.

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