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Kentucky vs. Louisville; Postgame Notes and Game MVP

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Tristan Pharis/KY Insider

If you asked in September who would win this year’s Governor’s Cup, it would be a near unanimous answer for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Through the first five games, the Wildcats were ranked No. 13 in the country and had a 4-1 record. Whereas the Louisville Cardinals were just 2-3, which included a loss to a Boston College tram that is is just 3-8 (as of this article).

Going into Saturday, the Wildcats were still favored by 3.5, but the matchup looked a bit different. Louisville came in ranked 25th in the country, winning 5 of their last 6, compared to Kentucky’s 2-4 record which pushed them out of the rankings after week 9.

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With that said, this matchup was not expected to be the blowout that is has in recent season, and it wasn’t.

After one half, Kentucky had the lead 13-7, but that score did not tell the story. In fact, Kentucky dominated much of the first half but scored a touchdown on just one of their three scoring opportunities – one of which was a recovered fumble at the Louisville six-yard line – settling for two field goals. Due to this, the Cardinals were still just one score away.

Coming out of the half, Louisville got the first possession but couldn’t capitalize and Kentucky responded with a field goal. This was followed up with an interception from Malik Cunningham at their own 16-yard line, and Kentucky was able to score a touchdown and extend the lead to double-digits, 23-7.

From that point, the game never was really in question as the Wildcats retained the Governor’s Cup for a fourth straight matchup.

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Defense

The Kentucky football program will be extremely lucky if Brad White sticks around too much longer. The fourth-year defensive coordinator has had a top-five SEC defense – in terms of opponent points and yards – in each season he has been with the Wildcats, but this year may be his most impressive job yet.

Replacing important losses on the defensive line and secondary, there were some question marks coming into the season. However, with an experienced linebacker group and plenty of young talent with big upside, Kentucky was actually able to improve on their numbers from last season – 21.7 ppg (2021) vs 19.6 ppg (2022); 340.8 ypg (2021) vs 321.2 ypg (2022).

On Saturday, that story continued.

Until Louisville’s last drive in the second half – where they rushed for 56 yards alone – the Kentucky defense held Louisville to just 84 total yards. In addition, they had two sacks, four tackles for loss, and a critical 4th & 1 hold in the red zone, but did drop two potential interceptions.

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To start the second half, the Kentucky defense carried that momentum, forcing a 3-and-out which was followed by an interception that Kentucky was able to score a touchdown on.

Change Will be Made

I say this with no inside information, but expect some coaching changes within the coming weeks.

Outside of an 86-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, which was highlighted by a 70-yard reception by freshman tight-end, Josh Kattus – Kentucky’s offense still has not performed up to their capability.

In total, Kentucky had 346 total yards – their highest amount since Mississippi State in October – but that was overshadowed by questionable play calling as Kentucky scored just two touchdowns within the Louisville 25-yard line.

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With the win, Kentucky moves to 7-5, but with the number of offensive weapons this roster has, it is still a disappointing finish.

Given the amount of negativity surrounding the offense and some of the comments that have been said by the players themselves, it is hard to imagine that Rich Scangarello will be welcomed back for another season.

Kentucky Has to Retain Their Young Talent

Five players caught a pass for the Wildcats on Saturday, four of those being freshmen (redshirt or true). This includes both of Kentucky’s touchdowns, with passes caught by Dane Key and Barion Brown.

On the other side of the ball, freshman Deone Walker had a career game as he tied a career-high six tackles, had .5 of a sack, and forced a fumble. In addition, freshman Jordan Lovett made the game-clinching interception on Louisville’s final offensive possession.

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On Monday Stoops talked about the “free-for-all” for his talented freshmen, and with a lackluster recruiting class so far for 2023, it will be important to retain Kentucky’s young and proven talent.

Goodbye Seniors

Another reason that Kentucky needs to retain its talent is because the amount of talent they are losing from this senior class. Just to name a few:

  • Will Levis
  • Chris Rodriguez Jr.
  • DeAndre Square
  • Jordan Wright
  • Tyrell Ajian

Unfortunately, the full list is much longer, but this group of seniors – with some dating back to 2018 – have helped contribute to some of the greatest seasons in Kentucky football history. In their last time at Kroger Field, they gave the Big Blue Nation another memory as they beat the Cardinals.

Let’s not forget about Chris Oats, who provided the loudest cheer and most emotional Senior Day moment, as he was honored after suffering a stroke back in May of 2020. He made sure to give an L’s down as well!

Game MVP

While there were some positives on offense including freshmen Barion Brown and Dane Key – who scored both of Kentucky’s touchdowns – the offense was too inconsistent today.

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With that said, Matt Ruffolo was Mr. Consistent on Saturday night, as he went 4-4 on field goals and set a single-game career-high. Not to mention Ruffolo almost outscored the Cardinals by himself if you include his two PATs.

With the struggles that special teams has had this season, it is promising to see this performance to end the regular season.

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Football

Kentucky Running Back, Dee Beckwith, Joins WWE NIL Program

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© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Some of the most athletic people in the world are professional wrestlers, and that level of athleticism is not found in abundance. This is why the WWE “Next in Line” program was created, a NIL program launched in December that serves to recruit and develop potential future WWE Superstars.

One of the most recent college athletes to be signed to such a deal is Kentucky football running back, Dee Beckwith, which was announced last week. Standing 6-foot-5, 235-pounds with a reported 4.5 40-yard dash time, he fits the mold of big and athletic.

Beckwith is not the only Wildcat in the program, as there are two others. UK women’s track and field hurdler Masai Russell was a part of the WWE’s first NIL class, and former Kentucky defensive lineman Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald signed with NXT, after a couple of tryouts with the WWE.

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The WWE NIL program is primarily used for a fast track to potentially signing with the WWE upon completion of the program. However, within that, the program gives athletes access to their training center in Orlando, where they provide guidance in brand building, media training, communications, live event promotion, creative writing, and community relations.

This is a unique opportunity for Beckwith, giving him another path as an athlete outside of football.

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UK Football Cancels Spring Game as New Turf Is Installed, Looking at Field Concepts

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@75toRupp/Twitter

Kentucky Football announced on Wednesday that there will be no spring game this offseason because as they are replacing the turf at Kroger Field. This would be the first time since 2015 that the field will be changing since originally switching from grass to turf.

The Spring Game cancellation can be bad news for a lot of fans looking to catch the football team and see what they are looking like before fall camp begins later his year.

The good news is that UK has announced that they are working on one and potentially two open practice opportunities for fans to attend from March 6th-April 8th, in light of the Spring Game being canceled. Also, this has allowed many fan-made concepts to be created, to see what Kroger Field’s new look can be imagined.

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Here are some field design concepts that people have created and shared on Twitter.

If UK wanted to throw it back to the 1980s, here’s a glimpse of what that would look like. It’s fair to say that the football stadium has transformed quite a bit.

The last design is likely what most Kentucky fans would be in favor of. Fans have missed the power K ever since it left the uniforms, and with throwback jerseys being so popular they have been pleading for throwback jerseys that incorporate it into the helmets.

The power K along with the state outline behind it would be an excellent addition, especially with how proud many of Kentucky’s residents are to call the state their home.

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While there are not a lot of details on what the new design may look like, it seems that the checkerboard may be no more in the end zones, according to the bid information.

There are many ideas for new turf designs and all fans should put their trust in the athletic department to make the best decision for the fanbase on this one. Let’s just hope there are no asymmetrical Kroger logos on the field (looking at you Rupp Arena and Central Bank).

It looks like some other enhancements are happening as well, and the players look excited about it!

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Kentucky Football’s Incoming Transfers Introduce Themselves

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UK Athletics

On Wednesday, the media had a chance to talk to six out of the seven new transfers that transferred to Kentucky during winter break, with the exception being Jantzen Dunn (Ohio State). Each transfer is expected to come in and play significant roles, as they fill roster gaps.

With the influx of veteran talent to go alongside the young weapons that Kentucky displayed last season, the goal is to improve on an underwhelming 2022 season.

Let’s briefly look at what each player had to say in their introductory press conferences.

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Devin Leary

Committing to Kentucky in mid-December, Devin Leary has only been on campus for three weeks and is still rehabbing from his surgery for a torn pectoral muscle he suffered back in October. However, he is still trying to make an early impact on his new team.

“Really just being able to get around the guys and really just, you know, prove to them through my hard work, prove to them, you know, I’m eager to be here,” Devin Leary says during a media interview.

“I am very happy to be here, but at the same time, you know, it’s an honor and privilege to be here. I need to prove to them that I’m going to put in the work that it takes, you know, a lot of time and that I take it very serious, but at the same time it’s grabbing those guys on the side and, you know, diving into the playbook, doing extra film, and just really building that camaraderie, like right now.”

Spring practice starts in about a month and a half, so we will see if Leary will be fully healthy to go for spring ball, if not he should be fully healthy to start off the season in 2023.

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Ray Davis

In Liam Coen’s ‘re-introductory’ press conference, he talked about how important Chris Rodriguez and his ability to guarantee positive yardage has been to Kentucky. Now graduated, Coen and the program had to find another high talent back, which they found in the transfer portal.

Coming from Vanderbilt, new running back Ray Davis was tabbed as a four-star transfer and one of the best running backs in the portal. Kentucky will be Davis’ third stop in college football as he played at Temple University his freshman and sophomore years and most recently at the University of Vanderbilt for his junior and senior years.

One reason why Davis committed to Kentucky is he thinks UK was missing a few pieces towards the end of the year, that he thinks he can help with and get the Cats’ to compete in the SEC Championship

“Offensively, just knowing that they were missing just a few pieces once the season ended and I felt that, you know, if I come in and try to earn my spot, earn those reps, and try to get the starting job. I think I could help out the team and get us through that threshold of potentially competing for an SEC Championship,” Ray Davis says during a media interview.

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Tanner Bowles

Tanner Bowles was one of two offensive tackles that Kentucky landed in the transfer portal. Bowles, who is from Glasgow (KY), recently transferred from the University of Alabama to Lexington. In four seasons with the Crimson Tide (including a redshirt season), Bowles never became a starter, but appeared in all 12 games this season for one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.

“There’s a point in time, where you can lead with your words, but before that, you have to lead with your actions, so I think while I’m here right now, I don’t know when the time would be if I, you know, had a chance to lead with my words, but for now I am focused on, you know, just leading my actions, doing the little things right,” Tanner Bowles says during a media interview.

Marques Cox

Marques Cox was the second offensive tackle that Kentucky added from the transfer portal, coming from Northern Illinois University as a redshirt junior. Cox, like Devin Leary, suffered a season-ending foot injury, four games into the season when NIU faced off against UK.

As a proven veteran, Cox knows that the offensive line will have to improve this season, and he will bear much of that load. If they can succeed, Kentucky will be more capable of using their offensive weapons.

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“Just me and Tanner (Bowles) helping improve the offensive line and offense so they got weapons,” Marques Cox says during a media interview. “We got key players to do so, so it is just fixing everything.”

Keeshawn Silver

Now to the defensive side of the ball. One of Kentucky’s latest additions from the transfer portal was defensive tackle, Keeshawn Silver from North Carolina. Ranked as a five-star recruit in the 2021 class, the talent is there, but he could never get to a healthy playing weight at North Carolina.

One reason why Kentucky added him was due to Justin Rogers’s transferring to Auburn, leaving UK in need of another defensive lineman, which is where Silver comes in. Since arriving to campus, he feels like he has been able to build some great chemistry with his teammates.

“We talk daily, it’s really like the same things at Chapel Hill,” Keeshawn Silver says during a media interview. “I mean the guys, we bond together, have a good time, they like to have fun, I like to have fun.”

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JQ Hardaway

Finally, the last transfer that was interviewed was defensive back, JQ Hardaway, coming from Cincinnati. A native of Columbus, Georgia, Hardaway is “happy” to be in the SEC, a conference many poked fun at him for not joining out of high school.

The SEC is the highest level of football in the country, but Hardaway believes that he belongs and is confident in his skill set.

“I’m just a ballplayer, man, I feel like I am very confident in myself,” JQ Hardaway says during a media interview. “I like to have fun, I got kind of a swagger on the field, I would say. I’m just very comfortable, I feel like I can be myself, I don’t have to be anyone. I just kind of let my talent speak for itself.”

Over the last four seasons, Kentucky has sent three transfer corners to the NFL – Lonnie Johnson (Garden City CC), Kelvin Joseph (LSU), and Brandin Echols (Northwest Mississippi CC) – and Hardaway committed to Kentucky with that in mind. Will he be the next?

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Kentucky added some talented transfers this off-season and it will be interesting to see how they will have an impact on the team. Several questions should be answered over spring football, and hopefully, this group can help lead Kentucky to a better record in 2023.

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