It wasn’t always pretty, but Kentucky’s first game after the 10-3, Citrus Bowl winning 2018 campaign ended up as a victory. 

The Wildcats trailed for most of the first half, drawing even with Toledo 14 at intermission despite being outgained by 62 yards. It was a different story in the game’s second stanza as the defense held strong, the offense came to life and Kentucky pulled away for a 38-24 victory Saturday.

The Wildcats opened the second half by converting a turnover into a field goal and then opened up a 2-score lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Bryce Oliver midway through the 3rd quarter. Toledo answered with a 46-yard field goal, set up by a targeting call on UK’s Chris Oats, on a play that knocked Toledo QB Mitchell Guadagni from the game. That made the score 24-17 and it remained at that count until UK running back Kavosiey Smoke broke loose on a 40-yard scoring run with 8:26 to play that finally salted away the game. Wilson added another TD toss in the final minutes. That was just the 3rd time he’s had multiple TD passes in a game.

Kentucky learned Saturday that life without Benny Snell and Josh Allen will be challenging, but it also learned that the loss of virtually an entire secondary that might be even more immediately pressing.

Early on, Guadagni was free to throw or run against Kentucky, amassing 122 passing yards and 56 rushing yards in the first half. Toledo was 5-for-8 on 3rd-down conversions in the first half, and used Guadagni’s dual-threat talents to hold a 231-169 total offense advantage at halftime.

Kentucky replaced Snell with a three-headed monster at running back. Junior A.J. Rose and sophomores Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez each popped a 20+ yard run in the first half. After a fumble recovery in the end zone by tight end Justin Rigg drew UK even at 7 on the first play of the second quarter, the Wildcats again drew even on an 11-yard scoring run from Rose. Smoke’s 4th-quarter touchdown finally sealed the victory for the Wildcats. 

Defensively, Kentucky picked up 3 sacks but struggled in coverage, particularly early. Linebacker DeAndre Square was a standout, eclipsed double-digit tackle totals by the 3rd quarter and picking up multiple tackles for loss, as well as a 4th-quarter interception. 

Wilson had a productive game as well, passing for over 200 yards for the 4th time in his career at Kentucky. WR Lynn Bowden lost a fumble, but he surpassed the 1,000-yard career receiving mark early in the 4th quarter.

Kentucky will host MAC foe Eastern Michigan in Week 2. That game could prove challenging before the Wildcats open SEC play the following week by hosting Florida.