"It was obviously a big field position swing for us. It was a big play, particularly since it was our first block, or partial block, of the season, too," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said Sunday.
Special teams coach Steve Ortmayer asked Hopewell why he didn't go ahead and totally block the kick.
"He asked me what the guy (the Ohio blocker) did," Hopewell said. "I said I probably should have blocked the kick all the way. I came so free that I could have blocked the kick to Kingdom Come. But I didn't want to take a chance on roughing the kicker. We had that penalty for having 12 men on the field on a punt against Florida that turned that game around. I didn't want to make a big mistake."
Brooks understood that reasoning and didn't fault Hopewell's decision.
"He was pretty aggressive. He probably could have made a more solid block if he had completely laid out, but then if the guy pulled the ball down he would have run right around him," Brooks said. "His angle was good on the block. He was not going to have a problem roughing the kicker. But he made a great play."
Hopewell said blocking the punt was much more important than the touchdown he scored against Texas-El Paso in a 77-17 win when he became the first true freshman walk-on at UK ever to score a touchdown.
"That game was a blowout. We were behind in this game. The block was a lot more important," Hopewell, a former running back-linebacker on two state championship teams at Danville, said. "I'm just glad coach Ortmayer trusts me enough to let me make that play. He lets me make some of the calls on the line. It's a nice feeling to know I am doing something to help the team."
Hopewell also had a crushing block on a Derek Abney punt return in the second half that almost helped get him free for a touchdown return. It would have been Abney's first return touchdown this season and would have enabled him to tie the all-time NCAA record for touchdown returns.
"I just did it for Derek," Hopewell said. "I had the angle on the guy and knew I could get the block. We have a lot of pressure on us to get him a return this year. We owe him that."
One other part of Saturday's game pleased Hopewell more than his blocked punt, which was the first of his career, or the big block on Abney's return. He again got to cover a second-half kickoff with his brother, Dan, a senior receiver.
Dan Hopewell backs up both Bo Smith and Mike Williams, starting defensive backs, on kickoffs. He got his first tackle in the loss at South Carolina and Saturday was his first time to be on that special team at Commonwealth Stadium where his father, Dave, played center for three years for the Wildcats, including the 1976 Peach Bowl season.
"It's really special to get on the field with him," Andrew Hopewell said. "We played together two years at Harrodsburg before he graduated and I switched to Danville. It's nice to get one final chance to get on the field with your brother. That's something you remember a lot longer than a touchdown or blocked punt."