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Wildcats escape with win over Chattanooga: 4 things to know and postgame banter

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3-0.

Tyrell Ajian. Quandre Mosely. Drew Brown - Sea of Blue

Coming off an emotional SEC win against Missouri, the Kentucky Wildcats entered Saturday’s game with a heavy dose of momentum as a 31-point favorite over the Chattanooga Mocs, an FCS-Division school of the Southern Conference.

Little did we know that quarterback Will Levis would have to lead a come-from-behind scoring drive in the fourth quarter to help the Cats escape with a 28-23 victory on Saturday at Kroger Field.

The Mocs used a pair of touchdowns and three field goals to give Kentucky a scare as Chattanooga led 16-14 in the fourth quarter after a 49-yard field goal. Levis would then find tight end Izayah Cummings for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 10:18 remaining to lift the Wildcats to victory.

Chattanooga then responded with another deep drive that resulted in a 95-yard interception return by Tyrell Ajian, the third longest in school history. The Mocs would bounce back with one final scoring drive on a two-yard run by quarterback Cole Copeland to set up a final on-side kick with 1:20 left in the game. The Wildcats recovered and will now take a 3-0 record on the road next week to South Carolina.

Here’s all you need to know from today’s win over Chattanooga.

Loss of Focus

Head coach Mark Stoops was fuming during halftime interviews, calling out the team for “lack of discipline “ with too many penalties, balls on the ground, missing open receivers and self-inflicted wounds for an offense that looked out of sorts much of the first half.

Plenty of concern reared its ugly head in this one as the offensive line struggled, Chris Rodriguez seemingly disappeared in the run game and Levis continues to struggle with turnovers, throwing two interceptions and make some hurried throws.

It will take a much better effort next week as Kentucky plays its first road game of the season at South Carolina.

Run Game Disappears

After rushing for 519 yards on 52 carries a week ago against Mizzou, Kentucky ran the ball just 14 times in the first half for 52 yards and Chris Rodriguez began the opening series on the sidelines. Kavosiey Smoke led the way with 24 yards on four carries in the opening half as the offensive balance flipped to the passing game, where Will Levis was 18/28 for 192 yards that also included a touchdown and interception.

The Wildcats finally turned to the run game in the third quarter but still struggled moving the chains. This is a major concern as Kentucky heads into the heart of its SEC schedule.

Rodriguez led the rushing attack with 46 yards on 13 carries.

Offensive Woes

With a stalled run game, Liam Coen turned to Levis and the passing game to move the chains and keep Kentucky in the game.

Levis had his worst game of the season. However, he was able to hit some deep balls down field, but he also threw two interceptions, fumbled in the pocket after being stripped by a Chattanooga defender, and overthrew receivers on multiple routes.

Levis, who played solid in the first two wins of the season, looked rattled for the first time on Saturday against a solid Mocs defense that returns key starters at every position.

The highlight of the day for the Penn State transfer was back-to-back completions to Wan’Dale Robinson and Isaiah Epps — the first a 37-yard pass play and the second a 20-yard touchdown pass — capping a seven play drive to give the Wildcats a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. But outside of that, it was an offensive disaster given the opponent.

Levis finished 23 for 35 for 246 yards.

Big Play Receivers

It was a game of first for a trio of Kentucky receivers as Isaiah Epps and Izayah Cummings each caught their first career touchdowns, while Ali racked up his first rushing touchdown on a jet sweep play that’s become a staple of the Liam Coen offense. Wan’Dale Robinson has had big gains running the ball out of this formation and both give the Wildcats an added dimension in the running game.

Robinson finished with eight catches for 111 yards. Ali had five for 53 yards, including his 100th career pass, placing him 17th in school history.

Kentucky, now 3-0, travels to South Carolina for a 7:30 pm ET start on ESPN 2.