By GARY GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky has gotten some of its swagger back and now wants to get on a roll.
The Wildcats are looking for their second win of the year and hope that a victory against Western Kentucky on Saturday night yields some long-term momentum.
Needing a confidence boost after being drilled by No. 19 Louisville in the season opener, Kentucky got one with Saturday’s 47-14 blowout of Kent State in its home debut. The Wildcats’ offense rolled up 539 yards, their highest output in nearly two years.
Despite allowing a couple of big plays, Kentucky’s defense yielded nothing inside the 20 and rang up three sacks along with its first safety since 2009.
While a 2-1 start might not seem like a big deal, the Wildcats feel it could be.
“It would do a whole bunch for us,” linebacker Miles Simpson said. “You always want to have wins under your belt. Losses bring you down, so (a) 2-1 (start) would be awesome for us.”
And with next week’s visit to No. 18 Florida beginning a seven-game Southeastern Conference stretch, Kentucky needs as many wins as possible. It is 3-0 against Western Kentucky (1-1) including a 14-3 win last year in Nashville, Tenn.
Though the Hilltoppers are coming off a 35-0 shutout loss at No. 1 Alabama, Wildcats coach Joker Phillips is concerned because they can throw the ball and score. Quarterback Kawaun Jakes has completed 70.4% of his passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns, the latter coming in a 49-10 rout of Austin Peay in its season opener.
Kentucky’s defense remains a work in progress after yielding 409 yards to Kent State and giving up big plays such as a 47-yard touchdown run by Dri Archer. The Wildcats improved as the night went on, and this week’s emphasis is on cutting down extra-yardage plays.
Western Kentucky “was a real young team last year and improved tremendously from week to week,” Phillips said. Jakes “gives them another dimension in their offense. They’re already a physical team, a downhill-running team, and now it’s a team that can throw the ball also, so it’s another dimension you have to defend.”
But Kentucky feels more confident because of contributions from younger players such as linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas, who combined for five tackles in their first action. Phillips said that helped motivate some of the veterans, and the Wildcats ended up with six tackles for loss and six pass breakups.
“That’s going to give us the depth we need as the season goes on,” Simpson said.
Offensively, the Wildcats’ are feeling better about their multi-dimensional potential. Besides passing for 354 yards and four touchdowns, sophomore Maxwell Smith hit 10 receivers including senior Aaron Boyd, who had career highs of 11 receptions for 100 yards.
The Wildcats now rank 18th in passing (317.0) after two games, but their deep game might be taking flight. Smith’s final TD was a 56-yarder to DeMarcus Sweat, and Phillips said they’ll need to stretch the field often.
“We’ve got to get the ball downfield,” he said. “We’ve got to get people off (receivers) because they’d set on our routes if we didn’t take a shot downfield. We’ve got to give our receivers a chance to go up and make a play and gets guys off of you.”
That depends on the ground game, another area Kentucky hopes will progress against Western Kentucky. Junior Raymond Sanders broke a 67-yard touchdown run and finished with 115 yards on 13 carries in place of senior CoShik Williams, who missed the game with back spasms.
Kentucky rushed for 185 yards and could get Williams back this week.
Unlike last week, the Wildcats talked in positive terms and sounded like a team ready to string victories together.
Winning “always makes a difference,” defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. “A win’s a win, whether the margin’s by 40 (points) or by three. It always helps out. It helps us to rotate our younger guys, and since we won by a large margin we were able to get our younger guys in there who need to see some time against people other than our scout team.
“But it really helps when you’re able to put a lot of points” on the scoreboard.