LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) For 22 minutes Kentucky coaches' worst fears about letting down after a big victory were coming true as missed assignments on both sides of the ball and an overall lack of intensity put the Wildcats in a double-digit hole to Louisiana-Monroe.
One minute changed everything as the Wildcats regrouped for a dominating finish that put them on the cusp of consideration for their first bowl since 2010.
Patrick Towles threw three touchdown passes and Kentucky returned two interceptions for TDs as the Wildcats erased a 14-3 deficit with 45 unanswered points for a 48-14 nonconference victory on Saturday.
The Wildcats (5-1) awoke to surge ahead on Towles' 83-yard TD pass to Javess Blue and linebacker Josh Forrest's 29-yard interception return 1:05 apart in the second quarter. Towles hit Blake Bone with a 4-yard TD pass before halftime and Kentucky poured it on en route to its first three-game winning streak since 2010.
''Our guys hung in there and made some big plays on both sides of the ball, that's the good news,'' said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose team has more wins than the past two seasons combined.
''We took care of business and I'm proud of them for that. There's an awful lot on both sides of the ball that we have to get cleaned up.''
For now Stoops can dwell on many positives that initially seemed unlikely for Kentucky.
Safety Marcus McWilson returned a pickoff 36 yards for another TD, a byproduct of Kentucky's fierce pass rush that recorded six sacks. Blue added a 21-yard TD reception and freshman running back Stanley ''Boom'' Williams returned from a one-game suspension to rush for 104 yards, including a 58-yard TD, after returning the opening kickoff 75 yards.
The Wildcats went on to break 45 points for the second straight week.
''This year's team has a different vibe, different swag, different mentality on offense and defense,'' said senior defensive end Alvin ''Bud'' Dupree, who had five tackles including 1.5 sacks. ''Coaches know us now. We know the coaches. ... We have a good feel for it, so we just go out and execute better.''
Kentucky's outburst followed a lethargic opening that players and coaches worried about following last week's stunning 45-38 upset of South Carolina, a game in which the Wildcats twice rallied from 14-point deficits.
Thomas' second TD pass followed Hunter Kissinger's 22-yard interception return of running back Jojo Kemp's wobbly attempt. ULM's first score was helped by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Kentucky linebacker/end TraVaughn Paschal that put the ball on Wildcats' 14.
''At the time, we thought those plays were the turning point and that we had a clear shot at winning,'' Kissinger said, ''but it did not turn out that way.''
It was all Kentucky from there as momentum shifted for good after Forrest grabbed Matt Elam's tip and charged into the end zone with 7:47 left in the half.
''I was dropping in my coverage and the ball fell in my hand,'' Forrest said. ''Then it was off to the races, find a hole, get north and south.''
Kentucky outgained ULM 352-264 but allowed just 71 yards in the second half. The Wildcats also recorded 12 tackles for loss along with returning interceptions for TDs for a second straight week.
''I thought we had a good game plan, I thought we were playing well,'' said ULM coach Todd Berry, whose team lost its second straight game. ''The second half got away from us a little bit.''
Towles completed 16 of 28 passes for 216 yards with Blue catching three for 109 yards. Dorian Baker had three catches for 38 yards in his return from the suspension along with Williams; the freshmen were disciplined for a campus incident last week involving shots fired from an air pistol.
Thomas was 20 of 31 for 167 yards for Sun Belt Conference member ULM, which went just 1 of 12 on third down in losing its second straight game.