The No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats picked up their fourth win Saturday night as they knocked off the Northern Illinois Huskies, 31-23.
The first half was one to forget.
Ethan Hampton and the Huskies marched right down the field to open the game and kept this experienced Kentucky defense on their toes. That continued throughout the first-half, as the NIU coaching staff’s game plan worked to perfection, limiting the amount of possessions for Will Levis and this explosive UK offense.
The huge turning point however was the fumble by Kavosiey Smoke with just over 30-seconds left in the first half that set up NIU with perfect field position. That led to the Huskies tying the game at 14-14 going into halftime.
Much like the win over Miami (OH) earlier this season, it was the explosiveness of Barion Brown that pushed the momentum in the Cats favor with a long reception touchdown to start the second half.
From that point forward, it was the defense that carried the day once again as the offense continues to establish some sort of rhythm.
It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win.
With the victory, Kentucky now sits at 4-0 on the season. Next up is a date with Ole Miss in Oxford on Saturday at 12 pm ET.
If you missed the game, let’s take a look at five things to know as the Cats outlasted the Huskies.
JJ Weaver Ruled Out
The talented outside linebacker was ruled out like many expected, as he is still recovering from the arm injury that happened last Saturday against Youngstown State.
Earlier in the week Mark Stoops said he was “week-to-week”, meaning there is a chance we could see Weaver take the field against Ole Miss. With the success the Rebels are having in the run game, having a game-changer that can help set the edge will be much needed.
In the meantime, Kentucky is hoping to get positive production out of true freshmen Keaton Wade and Alex Afari. Both have shown flashes over the last two weeks.
Offensive Line Continues to Struggle
It's no secret at this point, the Big Blue Wall is rebuilding, and they showed several holes against a bad NIU defense tonight.
Each and every play the Huskies seemingly collapsed the pocket that put pressure right in front of Will Levis’s face. The concerning thing here, if this defensive unit can get this much pressure; what will happen as we approach the heart of the SEC schedule?
The talent is absolutely there along the front five for the Cats, but it seems the communication is still an issue. We should still expect to see them take some steps forward, but at this point, it seems it will be what it is this season.
With two early touchdowns from Barion Brown and Tayvion Robinson, it is clear that this skill talent is arguably the best the program has ever had.
When you add in Dane Key, Chauncey Magwood, Keaton Upshaw, Jordan Dingle, etc... there are plenty of options to go to in any situation this season. That is only going to help as conference play begins.
The emergence of Brown has been critical for Kentucky, as the young wideout has already proven to be a difference-maker for a top 25 and unbeaten team.
With Chris Rodriguez Jr. returning next week it is only going to help this receiving core get open as the run game starts to get going. Going to be fun to watch.
Will Levis Takes Another Step Forward
Unlike most of the Mark Stoops tenure, this team is going to go as far as their quarterback takes them.
Will Levis took another step in the right direction tonight. He continued to show the ability to put the ball into tight windows, and use the arm strength to push the ball down the field.
During the Stoops tenure we have been used to running backs being the superstar of the offense, even with the return of Chris Rodriguez, this team needs to ride Levis.
What we saw tonight is why Levis’ name is rising in NFL Mock Draft boards, most notably No. 4 overall in Mel Kiper’s most recent projection.
Kentucky will need Levis to keep it up to have any chance of winning at Ole Miss next week.
Brad White had his unit ready to go once again against the Huskies.
Now to give credit where it is due, NIU did keep this unit on their toes for most of the first half, but once again the second half was great up until the very end.
In 2018, the Cats rode a great defense to a second place finish in the SEC East. Add in the talent at QB and wideout on offense, and this defense might get to play in some big-time moments down the stretch.
Still, there’s been bad lapses far too often that can’t happen if Kentucky is to beat teams like Ole Miss and Tennessee.
Now, let’s chat!