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Recap: Kentucky overcomes strong Toledo start, edges Rockets 38-24

Kentucky’s 17 unanswered points swing the opener in favor of the Wildcats.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Candle couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start to the season for his Rockets.

After a solid return on the opening kickoff, Toledo quarterback Mitchell Guadagni fired a 39-yard strike to wide receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis to set up the Rockets in the red zone. Several plays later, All-MAC running back Bryant Koback bounced a carry outside the right tackle and galloped into the end zone for a touchdown. Only 90 seconds ticked off the game clock when Koback crossed the pylon.

But the solid start would soon turn into an ugly finish. After leading 14-7, Kentucky scored 17 unanswered points to reverse the game in its favor and claim a 38-24 victory in Lexington.

In a new-look offense without running back Benny Snell, Kentucky relied on a huge performance from quarterback Terry Wilson to lift the Wildcats to victory. Wilson delivered with 246 passing yards and two touchdown passes, including an impressive third quarter 32-yard lob to wide receiver Bryce Oliver in the end zone.

After a 7-0 lead 90 seconds into the contest, Toledo regained a 14-7 lead in the second quarter on a 21-yard Guadagni scamper. The touchdown transpired just two plays after Guadagni scrambled for 17 yards on 3rd-and-8.

Guadagni fulfilled his duties in the ground game with a team-high 73 yards on 14 carries. But as a passer, Guadagni only threw 12 times and completed seven passes, recording 122 yards for the air.

To close the first half, Kentucky re-tied the score at 14 thanks to favorable field position and an 11-yard touchdown run on a burst up the middle by A.J. Rose. The Wildcats gained their first lead of the afternoon in the following quarter on a 46-yard field goal by Chance Moore.

Trailing 24-17 in the late third quarter, Guadagni scrambled for a first down into Kentucky territory, but his helmet popped off at the end of the play on a hit classified as targeting. Guadagni would not return to the game and was replaced by Carter Bradley, the son of Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Bradley completed 4-of-13 passes and threw an interception which created a three-touchdown and ultimately knocked the Rockets out of the game. Bradley would see a redemption drive late in the game, scoring on a 7-yard touchdown run — the final points of a 38-24 game.

The turnover battle was split at an even 50-50, but Toledo’s defense struggled against Wilson’s passing attack. The Rockets surrendered three passes of 30 yards or greater, allowing eight different Wildcats to record a reception.

Offensively, Toledo’s passing game took a leap backward after losing its top three wide receivers this offseason. When Toledo completed passes, they were often for large gains. Four of the Rockets’ seven pass catchers averaged 17 or more yards per reception.

After dropping the opener, Toledo looks to rediscover its offense under Jason Candle and rebound in two weeks against Murray State of the FCS.