LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — After putting up just 14 points against rival Louisville in the season opener, Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith had a lofty challenge for his offense before taking on Kent State.
"I told the guys, 'Let's get 50.' I texted them, 'Let's get 50,'" Smith said. "I thought we went out and got pretty close."
Pretty close, indeed. Smith had a career-best 354 yards passing and threw four touchdowns en route to a 47-14 win, Kentucky's seventh straight victory in home openers.
The Wildcats would have met Smith's goal if not for Craig McIntosh's 45-yard missed field goal in the first quarter.
Smith wasn't the only Wildcat with a career night. Raymond Sanders got the start at tailback for an injured CoShik Williams and added a career-high 115 yards rushing, including a 67-yard touchdown up the middle.
Aaron Boyd caught 11 passes for 100 yards. The senior, making his first start since his freshman season, eclipsed his career totals in receptions (nine) and yards (87) in this game alone.
"It's a dream come true, really," the younger brother of former Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd said. "I'm really grateful for this opportunity that I've gotten."
The Wildcats (1-1) started slow, punting and turning the ball over on downs in their first two positions. They trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, but racked up 539 yards to wear down the Golden Flashes.
Trayion Durham and Dri Archer each rushed for a touchdown for Kent State (1-1).
Boyd caught his first career touchdown in the back of the end zone with 14:04 remaining in the first half.
"It's always a big confidence boost, knowing that you can come out on the field and do something for your team," Boyd said.
Six minutes later, Sanders rushed 67 yards for a score, then McIntosh booted a 47-yard field goal to give Kentucky a 17-7 halftime lead.
After Durham's 26-yard touchdown run pulled the Golden Flashes within 17-14, the Wildcats scored 30 unanswered points in the last 22:06.
Smith's 18-yard touchdown pass to a diving Gene McCaskill capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive with 7:06 left in the third quarter. Kentucky forced its first turnover of the season on the first play of the ensuing Kent State drive. Quarterback Spencer Keith optioned left, pitching to Archer. Wildcats cornerback Martavius Neloms launched into Archer's chest, jarring the ball loose and Miles Simpson recovered, returning the ball 10 yards to the Kent State 7-yard line.
On first and goal, Sanders rushed six yards to the 1-yard line, but the Wildcats couldn't finish off the Golden Flashes, failing to score on three straight rushes. Pinned by their own end zone, Keith snuck for a yard behind center for breathing room for the Golden Flashes before handing off to Archer on second down. Archer tripped on the play, though, giving Kentucky a safety and a 26-14 lead with 4:20 left in the third quarter.
Kentucky scored touchdowns on its next three possessions. Four plays after the safety, Jonathan George scurried up the middle for a 38-yard touchdown run. Smith threw his third touchdown with 13:28 left in the game, an 11-yard fade to La'Rod King, to make it 40-14. Kent State pushed into Wildcats territory on its next possession but Simpson sacked Keith on fourth-and-10 from the Kentucky 32 for a 12-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
Smith's final pass of the game found Demarcus Sweat along the right sideline and the freshman broke the bubble screen for 56-yard touchdown and the game's final 47-14 margin. It was his first career reception.
Kentucky's 539 yards marked its best offensive performance since recording 580 yards against Vanderbilt on Nov. 13, 2010. Smith finished 30 of 39 and his 354 yards were the most for a Wildcats quarterback since 2007.
A crowd of just 48,346 attended, the fewest in Commonwealth Stadium since it expanded to more than 67,000 seats in 1999. It was the smallest crowd at a Wildcats' home opener since 1988.