Following their historic win at Florida, the Kentucky Wildcats returned to the friendly confines of Kroger Field for a Week 3 clash with the Youngstown State Penguins.
The game saw a familiar script as the first two weeks, as Kentucky’s offense endured a painful start before eventually coming to life, while defense was great throughout the contest. Even the special teams shined en route to a 31-0 win over the Penguins out of the FCS. It’s Kentucky’s first shutout since 2009 vs. Miami (OH).
Here are five things to know from win No. 3 for the Cats.
J.J. Weaver Injury
One of the game’s biggest storylines came on Youngstown State’s first offensive possession when linebacker J.J. Weaver suffered an arm injury and missed the rest of the game. When healthy, Weaver is Kentucky’s best pass rusher, so losing him would be a significant loss for this defense.
Here’s to hoping the injury isn’t serious.
With Weaver out, that led to true freshman linebacker Keaten Wade getting more run, and he ended up grabbing his first career sack in the third quarter to force a YSU punt.
Wade was one of Kentucky’s top recruits in what’s shaping up to be a monstrous 2022 class, so perhaps he’ll be the latest true freshman to carve out a key role for the Wildcats.
SWARMING on defense! @Kahlil_Saunders @KeatenWade @octaviousoxend1— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 17, 2022
- @SECNetwork - https://t.co/KlLaJXWxFv pic.twitter.com/OsKOqHwqtS
One other injury note: Starting right guard Tashawn Manning dressed but did not play today due to injury. He was replaced by backup center Quinton Wilson.
Early Offensive Woes
The defense and special teams were fantastic to start this one, but the offense was the complete opposite.
The offense managed to get into YSU territory in each of its first three drives, but two of them ended in 3rd-down sacks, and the other saw Will Levis make a bad throw that was intercepted at the goal line, his second such turnover after doing the same Week 1 vs. Miami (OH).
A big part of the struggles continues to be the offensive line, which struggled to get push vs. an FCS front. It took three tries at the goal line, the last being a QB sneak, for Kentucky to get its first touchdown early in the second quarter.
But just like the first two games, thanks got better as the game progressed, as Kentucky ended up scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter and cruised the rest of the way.
Will Levis Erratic
For all the NFL Draft hype Will Levis got in the preseason, his first two games weren’t quite what you’d hope to see if planning to spend a 2023 first-round pick on him. Like the offense in general, Levis has typically started slow this season before settling in as the game wore on.
That was the case today, as Levis was stifled early on and threw a painful red-zone interception. But as the game progressed, Levis got going and made a host of nice throws that scouts will love seeing.
That is until he threw another bad pick in the third quarter. He made plenty of great throws today, but he has to cut down on the turnovers to become a complete quarterback capable of leading this team to 10+ regular-season wins and hearing his name called in Round 1 next April.
Bright Future at Wide Receiver
Bluegrass native Dane Key is off to a fantastic start to his college career. Thanks to his second quarter touchdowns, Key has scored in each of his first three games and is clearly becoming the favorite weapon of Will Levis.
But Key isn’t the only young pass catcher stepping up. Coming into the year, there was hope Kentucky could get good production out of redshirt freshmen Chris Lewis and Dekel Crowdus, but they didn’t start getting serious run in the offense until today.
Crowdus made his first career catches in the third quarter, while Lewis made his first career catch on a two-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Barion Brown also had a quiet five grabs for 58 yards.
Back-shoulder @will_levis ➡️ Chris Lewis for his first career TD catch!— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 17, 2022
- @SECNetwork - https://t.co/KlLaJXWxFv pic.twitter.com/ZQPe3x6BbR
There may not be a player on this team who’s made a bigger jump since last season than starting boundary cornerback Carrington Valentine.
After getting routinely picked apart last year in a serious trial by fire last year, Valentine used those struggles to help him become a shutdown corner thus far into the 2022 season. One improvement he made was not giving up when beaten deep, which is what happened when former Wildcat Bryce Oliver got just behind Valentine in the second quarter for what looked like a touchdown on 4th-and-10, but Valentine recovered and batted away the ball at the very last second after it looked like Oliver secured the pass.
Then in the third quarter after being called for pass interference, Valentine rebounded to make a beautiful red-zone interception the following play that prevented another touchdown for the Penguins.
INT @run_carri7!— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 17, 2022
- @SECNetwork - https://t.co/KlLaJXWxFv pic.twitter.com/p40h5MT3fQ
While this defense has talent and depth at every spot, Valentine’s emergence at corner is a big reason why this unit has yet to allow more than 16 points in a game this season.
Bonus: Pancakes for Tayvion
As a former high school JV offensive lineman, I love pancakes, and Tayvion Robinson got himself one on a downfield block while protecting his QB.
WR big block - @RobinsonTayvion on the @will_levis run!— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 17, 2022
- @SECNetwork - https://t.co/KlLaJXWxFv pic.twitter.com/pJx1WOBwpU
Now, let’s chat about what took place today!