On Saturday night, the Kentucky Wildcats kicked off the season against the Miami (OH) Redhawks.
On the first drive, the Wildcats fell victim to an efficient 5-minute, 75-yard drive from the Redhawks. However, Will Levis and the offense quickly answered with a two-minute, 79-yard touchdown drive of their own, which started with a 45-yard connection to Tayvion Robinson.
Despite the two quick scores to start the game, neither team could put together any real rhythm to follow that. Kentucky did make it to the red zone three more times, but it resulted in an interception and two field goals as they entered halftime with a 13-10 lead.
Coming out of the half, Barion Brown returned the kickoff for a touchdown, which was immediately followed by a Miami turnover that Kentucky was able to capitalize on. Just 1 minute and 2 seconds into the third quarter, Kentucky pushed the lead to 27-10.
Kentucky retained that lead fairly easily and extended it over the remainder of the game, winning 37-13.
While it wasn’t the flashy and perfect win the fans were looking for, the Wildcats played through their inexperience and performed much better in the second half, walking out with a 24-point win.
Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the game.
Replacing Wan’Dale with another good Robinson
Losing Wan’Dale Robinson, who produced the greatest single season for a receiver in Kentucky football history is no easy task, but Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson looks to be a great replacement.
In his Wildcat debut, Tayvion caught 6 passes on 8 targets for a total of 136 yards – the first 100+ yard game of his career. Not shown on the stat sheet, was his ability to make the big play – similar to Wan’Dale. On multiple occasions, when the Kentucky offense was flat, Tayvion made the big play to give the team momentum.
While Tayvion is not the individual talent that Wan’Dale is, he showed tonight – albeit against an inferior secondary – the potential to be Wan’Dale lite due to his speed and evasion.
Finally using the tight ends
For several seasons, one major complaint of the Kentucky Wildcat offense has been the lack of usage of the tight ends, despite having NFL-level talent at the position.
At media day, new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello – who comes from a 49ers offense that is heavily reliant on multiple tight-end personnel – talked about the tight ends and was quoted saying, “three or four or five in that room that are going to play on Sundays”.
After the first game, we may get to see more of them.
The first drive ended with a tight-end touchdown, caught by Brenden Bates and redshirt freshman Jordan Dingle had two receptions on his two targets.
I know targets to the tight ends don’t sound like a lot, but most of those came from the first half alone and that is a step up from previous seasons.
The freshmen receivers are going to be stars
Get used to the name Barion Brown and Dane Key because they are going to be stars at the University of Kentucky.
Both true freshmen have been raved about as they stepped on campus and it didn’t take long for the two to make an impact. In their first game, Key caught four passes for 53 yards and a touchdown, while Brown caught three passes for 45 yards and scored a touchdown on a kickoff return at a much-needed time.
Following the game, Rich Scangarello, Will Levis, and Tayvion Robinson talked all about the duo’s impressive performance, with each of them saying their best football is ahead of them.
It will be interesting to see how bright these future stars shine in Florida next week.
Chris Rodriguez was missed BADLY
Dating back to Benny Snell, Kentucky has had a running back with the ability to make a play and to provide consistent production, with Chris Rodriguez now in that role. On Saturday night, Kentucky did not have that.
When it was announced that Rodriguez would be missing multiple games, most still assumed that Kentucky would still have success running the ball against inferior competition, but that was certainly not the case.
Kentucky rushed for just 50 yards, which is the lowest since last season’s loss against Mississippi State (66) and just the lowest since a non-Power Five opponent since Eastern Michigan (53) in 2017, another MAC team.
Some of the struggles were at the fault of the offensive line, but there also just isn’t another back similar to Rodriguez on the roster who could make up for some of those mistakes.
If Kentucky wants to beat Florida next week, they must have a better running attack, and without Rodriguez, that may be a taller task than originally expected.
Line of scrimmage troubles
For several seasons, it has been taken for granted that Kentucky had a talented offensive and defensive line, but with a lack of returning starters and plenty of inexperience, there is cause for concern.
While the receiving core showed the ability to make the best of their opportunities, Will Levis was not consistently given ample time by the offensive line to read the defense and make a play. In fact, the offensive line gave up four sacks for a loss of 26 total yards. As mentioned earlier, the lack of protection was also a factor in the running back struggles, giving up several tackles for loss.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky only allowed six points after Miami’s first drive. However, they failed to get consistent pressure on Miami’s quarterback Brett Gabbert. While the stat sheet does show three sacks, the Wildcats only had one prior to the fourth quarter, in addition to one QB hurry. The rush defense was better, but they allowed Miami several key conversions.
Things need to improve at the line scrimmage because it is not going to be any easier against SEC competition.
Chris Rodriguez Jr. To Return Against Ole Miss
The Kentucky football team is 2-0, coming off a historic victory over Florida in Gainesville. This is even more impressive when you consider the Wildcats’ depleted depth at the running back position.
However, on Monday some good news was announced. Chris Rodriguez Jr. will return as Kentucky travels to Oxford to play a top-25 ranked Ole Miss team on October 1st.
With the confirmation of Rodriguez’s availability, the star running back will have missed the first four games of the season due to an off-the-field issue. While the suspension all but ends the hope for Rodriguez to break the school rushing record, his return certainly helps the Wildcats as they hope to challenge Georgia for a trip to the SEC Championship.
Averaging just 60 rushing yards through the first two games, the Wildcats have missed Rodriguez significantly through two games. Last season, Rodriguez averaged 106 yards per game himself.
Sitting at 2-0 and in the Top 10 in both the AP and Coaches polls, this could be a special season for the Kentucky Wildcats!
Also published on A Sea of Blue!
The Morning After: Recapping Kentucky’s Historic Win Over Florida
On Saturday, the No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats went down to Gainesville to face off against the No. 12 Florida Gators. It was just the second time in history (1952) that Kentucky and Florida were both ranked in the AP Top 25 heading into a matchup.
To start, the game was a defensive battle, but shortly after the start of the second quarter Will Levis connected with Dane Key for a beautiful 55-yard touchdown for the first of the game and put Kentucky up 7-3.
However, momentum swung mightily in the favor of Florida. The Gators converted on a 50-yard field goal; capitalized on a Kentucky interception, caused by the lack of pass protection; converted a two-point play; and blocked a punt for a safety.
Kentucky did receive some life right before half as Jordan Wright intercepted a pass from Florida’s Anthony Richardson, putting Will Levis in a 1st and goal position. Levis was able to score with a QB draw cutting the deficit to 13-16, but the Wildcats could not convert on the PAT after a bad snap.
Coming out of the half, it was all Kentucky, notably on the defensive end. Kentucky didn’t allow Florida to score at all in the second half, as Kentucky went on to kick a field goal and score a touchdown.
In a game full of emotional swings, Kentucky left the Swamp with a 26-16 victory.
For the first time in over 40 years, Kentucky won their second in a row against the Gators, and Mark Stoops passed Paul “Bear” Bryant in all-time wins at Kentucky.
Let’s take a closer look at the historical win.
Time to start worrying about the offensive line
It was clear to see that the offensive line did not perform well against Miami (OH). However, Mark Stoops insisted that the offensive line performed better than originally thought when looking at the film and there were some adjustments that could be made to solve the issues.
That was not the case.
Despite performing well when he had time in the pocket, Will Levis wasn’t given that luxury very often, being under pressure more than not. In addition, Kentucky rushed for just a total of TWO yards, and the offensive line allowed three sacks in the first half alone. This was worsened at times when tight ends had to be used as receiving targets instead of blockers.
It does need to be noted that the offensive line did step up in the second half, but it needs to be consistently seen in the next two games, as Kentucky faces inferior opponents.
Seeing how the offensive line has performed thus far, it looks like the offensive could be a weakness for the remainder of the season and a group that the staff will begin to recruit immediately.
Will Levis is on a different level than Anthony Richardson
Billed as the battle of the quarterbacks, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson was the head-to-head matchup that everyone wanted to see.
In the end, it was clear that Levis was simply on a different level than Richardson. I will just leave this comparison here.
Will Levis: 13-24, 202 passing yards, 1 pass TD, 1 rush TD, 1 interception.
Anthony Richardson: 14-35, 143 passing yards, 4 rushing yards, 2 interceptions.
This is going to be a passing team
While they struggled running ball for much of the game, Kentucky found success in the passing game early as Levis threw for a total of 202 yards. Even more impressive, Kentucky had eight different players with a reception, showing the versatility they have in the passing game.
Without Chris Rodriguez, one should expect this to continue, but Kentucky’s success in the passing game should help setup the running game develop.
On Saturday night, Kentucky’s passing attack allowed for the rushing to find some life in the second half, with Kaviosey Smoke leading the way. It was much needed when you see that the Wildcats had just 70 rushing yards – fighting back from negative 37 yards in the first half.
Tight ends emerging as major receiving targets
The wide receivers shined bright last week, but this week it was the tight ends. Three different tight ends caught a pass – Jordan Dingle (2), Brenden Bates (2), and Keaton Upshaw (1) – for a total of 74 yards.
This was expected when Rich Scangarello – who comes from a 49ers offense that is heavily reliant on multiple tight-end personnel – was hired. With the talent at the position, it is good to see them becoming a large part of the offense.
The defense was phenomonal
Without the defense, the game would could have very well gotten out of hand in the first half. However, the defense was able to step up as they have time and time again and made some big time plays.
As Florida jumped out to a 16-7 lead with all momentum, things looked bleak, but that was when the Wildcat defense changed the game. Here is what Brad White’s defense accomplished in the final 35 minutes.
- Zero points allowed
- 91 total yards
- Seven points scored (on a Kentucky pick-six)
- Two takeaways
- Two fourth down stops
It all started with Jordan Wright – just cleared to play on Thursday – when he made an impressive interception that led to a touchdown to cut the Florida lead to 13-16 right before halftime.
In the second half, Keidron Smith made the play that gave Kentucky the lead and the Wildcats never looked back.
It is not an exaggeration, without the great play of the defense, Kentucky loses to Florida.
Special teams Errors
After last week’s performance, special teams looked to be a strength. While that may still be the case for the rest of the season, it was not on Saturday night.
In the first half alone, Kentucky had two bad snaps resulting in a safety and a missed PAT. These mistakes caused Kentucky three points and without them, the game could have gone into halftime tied 14-14.
With plenty of close games left on the schedule, Kentucky can’t afford to shoot themselves in the foot as they did at times against Florida.
Barion Brown Rated as Fastest Player in College Football in Week 1
Entering halftime, the Kentucky Wildcats held just a 13-10 lead after not being able to capitalize in the red zone. Coming out of the half, true freshman Barion Brown immediately provided the Wildcats with a game-changing play, returning the half’s opening kickoff for a touchdown.
As impressive as Brown’s return was in the moment – being the first kickoff return touchdown in the Stoops Era – it may be even more impressive in hindsight.
According to a tweet from Recruiting Analytics, Brown was the fastest ball carrier in the country last week with a top speed of 22.0 mph. To put that in perspective, that is the speed of a brown bear and only three players in the NFL ran at the same speed or faster during the 2021 season.
Not too bad for the first game of a true freshman.
Also published on a Sea of Blue.