Football

The Morning After: Recapping Kentucky’s Season Opening Win Over Miami (OH)

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UK Athletics

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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