Western Kentucky played the spoiler role, beating UK 35-26 on Saturday at LP Field, the home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
The Hilltoppers, who won a 32-31 overtime thriller last season in Commonwealth Stadium, didn't need any late heroics on this night. The Sun Belt club raced to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions, and finished with 487 total yards against a UK defense that had no answers for a potent Bobby Petrino scheme in his first game as WKU's head coach.
Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty played nearly flawless in completing 27 of 34 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown for the Hilltoppers. WKU also got 99 and 92 yards rushing, respectively, from tailbacks Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen. Both also scored a touchdown, while Keshawn Simpson added two short TD runs.
Asked about the WKU offensive output, Stoops summed it up with: "Unacceptable."
"I told them that we didn't play good enough, we didn't coach good enough and we just lost," Stoops added. "We've got to get back to work."
Kentucky hurt itself repeatedly with penalties on both sides of the ball, finishing with 10 flags for 69 yards on the night and often put itself in second-and-long situations on offense. The Cats also had a crucial fumble by freshman receiver Ryan Timmons after he had ripped off a 33-yard run to the WKU 28-yard line with 6:33 left in the game and UK trailing by 15.
It proved to be costly as UK got a 34-yard touchdown pass from Maxwell Smith to Demarco Robinson to cut the lead to nine with 1:37 to go and set up a possible onside kick, but kicker Joe Mansour missed the extra point, effectively ending the faint comeback hopes.
Kentucky was inconsistent in its first game with the return of the "Air Raid" offense under new coordinator Neal Brown. The Wildcats finished with 419 yards in total offense, but had more via the ground (238) than the air (203).
The Cats started Jalen Whitlow at quarterback, who responded with a career-high 75 net rushing yards, but managed only 78 yards on 10-of-15 passing. Smith came on to complete eight of 13 attempts for 125 yards and a touchdown late in the game, perhaps sparking a continuation of UK's summer-long quarterback competition.
Stoops said the staff would revisit the question of the starting quarterback after reviewing film of the loss.
* Kentucky is now 3-3 in games played at LP Field, including 2-2 in the Music City Bowl and 1-1 during the regular season.
* UK running back Raymond Sanders moved into 28th place on the school's all-time rushing list with 98 yards against WKU, bringing his career total to 1,176.
* UK middle linebacker Avery Williamson recorded 14 tackles to lead the Cats. Outside linebacker Khalid Henderson added a career-high 10 stops.
* The Wildcats open the home schedule on Saturday, Sept. 7, against Miami of Ohio with a noon kickoff on FOX Sports South.