LEXINGTON – For the first time in five weeks, Kentucky players and coaches happily talked about building on a victorious performance instead of wondering what might have been in defeat.
In fact, the Wildcats executed so well against Charlotte that topping the effort might be tough.
Jojo Kemp rushed for three touchdowns, Boom Williams ran for two and Kentucky rolled up 544 yards in a 58-10 blowout of Charlotte Saturday night that ended a five-game losing streak.
“It was obviously a much-needed win,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “Our players needed that. The past couple weeks I felt like our team has been practicing and doing the right things to put ourselves in position to win and we just needed to play better and execute better. We’ll need to continue to work on that.”
Kemp broke TD runs of 6, 18, and 47 yards, Williams scored from 20 and 53 yards and Sihiem King added a 62-yarder as Kentucky (5-6) rushed for 415 yards, fourth most in school history.
Mike Edwards returned an interception 20 yards for another Wildcats score that handed the 49ers (2-9) their ninth straight loss.
Redshirt freshman Drew Barker added 129 yards passing in his first career start for Kentucky, which earned the first of two wins needed to reach the threshold for bowl eligibility. The Wildcats’ defense held Charlotte to just 233 yards, recorded four sacks and forced three turnovers.
Miles Butler kicked field goals of 21, 46 and 32 yards for Kentucky.
Kentucky registered 50 points for the first time since August 2014 against UT Martin, and their 48-point victory margin was its largest since beating UTEP 77-17 in 2002.
One skid was bound to end with 13 combined consecutive losses between the schools coming in. Charlotte’s growing pains were somewhat expected considering it’s a first-year FBS member, but the Wildcats’ slump was putting them on the cusp of missing the postseason for a fifth straight season.
Next week’s finale against in-state rival Louisville will determine whether Kentucky becomes bowl eligible, but the priority was getting past the 49ers first.
The Wildcats succeeded behind a powerful ground game led by Kemp and Williams, who rushed for 165 and 140 yards respectively. That gave Kentucky its first pair of 100-yard rushers in a game since Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke in November 2010.
“It was good to see the running backs do the best they could do to help the offense and put us in the best position to score points,” Williams said.
Barker was 16 of 29 passing in his first start for the Wildcats in place of junior Patrick Towles. His first offensive series wasn’t encouraging as the drive mostly went backwards, but he quickly recovered to direct four straight scoring drives, including two ending with Kemp TD runs.
Kentucky built a 20-3 halftime lead that soon exploded into a rout thanks to its running backs and an opportunistic defense that forced two turnovers leading to 10 points and Edwards’ interception return.
Blake Brewer’s 23-yard field goal in the second quarter and Zach Bumgarner’s 3-yard TD pass from Brooks Barden late in the game were Charlotte’s only highlights on an otherwise frustrating night against its first Power 5 conference opponent.
“We had a hard time blocking that defensive front,” said Charlotte coach Brad Lambert, whose team managed 146 yards rushing. “That’s the biggest difference when you make these jumps to the SEC, blocking those guys up front. We’ll have to go back to work and try to win our last game.”
So will the Wildcats, after a memorable performance following five straight losses they wanted desperately to forget.